Due to the prevalence of such flamboyantly impassioned anti-religious rhetoric, confected (almost obsessively, it would seem) by quintessential intellectual-yet-idiotic writers, speakers, and online influencers, dialoguing about God has gone severely south in recent years, resulting in countless people of easy influence becoming encouraged not to offer any substantive arguments against God, but merely, whenever the conversation takes hold, to issue a fantastically condescending pronouncement of their otherwise trivial possession of this or that psychological belief state, imagining in doing so they’ve surmounted some otherwise insuperable (for us theists, anyway) logical crag. That, or they simply resort to pejoratives. But as they often discover, two can play at that game, and thus conversations between believer and skeptic regularly morph into a volley of insults getting nowhere and accomplishing nothing.
“I don’t believe in God,” they say. “Let’s just say I remain unconvinced.”
“Wonderful,” I’ll tell them.“And I like blueberry yogurt.”
Now, does anybody have anything important to say?
The problem, here, is I don’t think people are overmuch concerned with some online stranger’s personal cognitive catalog of beliefs, preferences, clothing habits, etc. People are concerned with truth, I would imagine. They want to know not what a person believes, but what a person should believe to be in correspondence with reality, and why. This is where conversation used to be had. When arguments were given, and not just some ostentatious bookkeeping of one’s subjective state of mind.
As I’ve noted before, it seems the only sort of interesting things the New Atheist crowd has to say these days are those quippy, little one-liners acquired unwittingly from their regional archbishops Ricky Gervais, Bill Maher, and so on. Perhaps the most archetypal being the one along the lines of atheists believing only in one less god than the rest of us.
Side note: For those curious about the origin, development and historical persistence of impressively pointless ideas, like I am, a much funnier and better presented “one less god than you” argument (if we’re calling it that) can be found at least as far back in the writings of H.L. Mencken, namely in his essay “Memorial Service.” No doubt Mencken borrowed this expedient cliché from his own lineage of village atheist ancestors and epitaphs, just as Gervais borrows it now. Original modes of thinking, it would seem, are not altogether common among mainstream personalities against God, now, or then.
Anyway, they say it often only takes 30 seconds to issue a falsehood, but 30 minutes to refute it. And this, I am sorry to report, is one of those instances. The skeptic, after all, is always philosophically — rhetorically, anyway — advantaged, since it is considerably quicker and easier to pose questions and objections and puzzles and riddles than to provide full and complete responses, especially when it comes to topics that admit of any degree of complexity or nuance. So, one must be intellectually mature enough to recognize this natural asymmetry less they be routinely taken in.
With respect to the “one less god” objection, there is not much respect that ought to be given to it, quite frankly. A crime is committed. One hundred people come under suspicion. We evaluate the evidence and conclude only one of them is the perpetrator. The atheist with respect to criminality, clutching his copy of Skeptic Magazine, objects with a self-satisfied grin: “Listen, fellas, I only believe in one less criminal than you. Why not let them all go?” Nobody takes such a person seriously. And nobody should.
Primarily, the reason God is taken seriously and not Loki or Moloch or Dagon is because none of these lesser beings properly occupy the same – or even similar – logical space with which any respectable discussion of God is held. If Loki or Moloch or Dagon (or Santa Clause, sky fairies, etc.) existed, they would not be God, but gods, and therefore creations existing within the natural order of things, not, as it is with God Himself, the reason for why there is any natural order existing at all. Further, it is the absence of evidence where there should be some that cause people (most of us, anyway) to be skeptical of gods. If Zeus were real, we should expect to find him atop Mount Olympus, or perhaps at least a strand of his hair from how much he apparently loved to twirl his beard. As it happens, Zeus is not there, and neither are any remnants reminding us of him. But if God exists – not a being, but the very ground of being itself– then we should expect evidence of an entirely different sort, of which there is an overabundance. Reality itself (that there even is one) – and the exquisite fine-tuning of it for intelligent life – are just two examples. So, it would appear, is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I believe in one more God than the atheists because of the positive, clear evidence for such a God on the one hand, and the lack of evidence for any lesser, physical deity on the other – plus the supreme silliness of atheism, specifically metaphysical naturalism. The theist position I find to be utterly reasonable and defensible – it’s why I became a theist in the first place, after years of nihilistic rumination and doom and gloom. (Let’s be fair, however: we were all teenagers, once.). There are, furthermore, the arguments from natural theology – ranging from the radical contingency of physical, space-time reality, to the foundation of objective moral truths— each of them pointing away from any finite, restricted entity as the possible, foundational explanation for why anything exists over nothing, and instead to a transcendent, immaterial, conscious act of self-transparent understanding. In other words, God. Additionally, the reason I don’t believe in hovering spaghetti monsters (however intelligent they may allegedly be) – again, it’s unfortunate this has to be explained, but whatever – is such a being, if it did exist, offers zero explanatory benefits and would be physical, material, and limited: essentially, everything we know God is not.
The point of all this, of course, is not so much to eliminate all possible questions or skepticism about either God’s existence or nature (I leave such investigations open, remaining optimistic than any sincere voyager will find the answers they’re looking for. Here, here, and here, would be a good start), but merely to demonstrate the utterly callow understanding many of these so-called New Atheist skeptics bring to conversations about God. One wishes the conversations could be better – a lot better. God is a serious subject; indeed, the most serious subject of all, such that wherever one falls along the spectrum of belief, the matter should be taken on with the same intellectual courteousness, carefulness, precision, and patience as any other line of intellectual inquiry –philosophical, or scientific – which seeks to better understand not only life’s mysteries, but the mystery of life itself.