One less god?

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“You don’t believe in 3000 gods, I just happen to believe in one less than you.”

It’s one of the great claims atheists make against Christianity.[1]  The argument is that there are so many possible options for a god to believe in, what is to say that your god is the true god? What makes your claim stand out above all the others?

Now, belief in the one true God can only come through revelation as he speaks to you, reveals his true character and causes you to see your need for him. However, for a moment, I just want to pause here and identify the problems with the atheist argument. You see there are some serious logical missteps here.

First of all, because there are many different options does not take away from the potential truth of one option and that truth is not diminished by the sheer quantity of alternatives. Indeed, the atheist would not want us to put his “no god” option alongside the 300 “god” options for comparison and with good reason.

Secondly, the atheist argument is asking us to approach our decision in an unstructured way that simply does not fit with good logical thinking.  You do not have to counter all of the other options in one go to demonstrate the truth of your position. Rather, we can quickly sort our thinking into category choices.

So first of all the choice is between there being a god or there not being a god.  In other words, the choice is binary.  From there we move to consider what type of god. Now, even at this stage we are not putting all the god options in competition with each other. Rather, we have a few categories to choose between. These include:

  • One God over many gods (polytheism)
  • The God who is transcendent and distinct from his creation over pantheism and panentheism where god and creation merge into one.
  • A God who is knowable and personal, immanent as well as transcendent over and against a God who is distant and unknowable.

When we come to those choices, it is worth considering three things.

  1. The discussion is now between people who do believe in God’s existence. The priority now is to make sure that we are talking about the true and living god. The aim is to make sure we know him correctly and worship him properly.
  2. Even when we talk about polytheism, such belief systems are not necessarily putting their many gods up as alternatives to a single creator God. These gods are rivals to the Creator God not in that they claim a similar ontological status but in that they claim worship for themselves which belongs to God alone. However, polytheistic religions will often have a hierarchy with the original divine nature over and above the many gods and goddesses. This divine being is usually distant and impersonal bringing us to a third point.
  3. Theists, Atheists, Polytheists and Pantheists alike have, as we have frequently seen, all got to deal with the question of eternity.  This means that the choice always boils down to the one question. “Do you believe in an eternal, personal, loving God who created the World, continues to sustain it?” The true alternative to this is that whatever is eternal and higher or foundational must be impersonal, distant, unknowable.  There is always only one choice between these two options. 

The final point is important because it then enables us to look at the character of the God we claim to believe in.  If we claim to believe in God but we push him to a distance and/or deny vital attributes such as love, sovereignty, wisdom, holiness etc.  Then, we have in fact denied the eternal and personal God and in practice chosen the atheist option.

As we have argued elsewhere. God clearly reveals himself to all as the eternal, loving, just, sovereign, personal God.

[1] See e.g. Ricky Gervais in this clip  (accessed 17-03-2017).

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