On Comparing God To The Tooth Fairy

On Comparing God To The Tooth Fairy September 18, 2009
As I argued to Clergy Guy recently, there is a qualitative difference between talking about the possible scientific/metaphysical principle of a ground of all being defensibly called “God” and talking about one of the personal deities of historical religions who are claimed to engage with each other and with humanity in highly specified ways by their corresponding traditions.  ZJ is right that there is no compelling evidence whatsoever for a Yahweh, an Allah, a Vishnu, a Thor, a Zeus, etc.  All such beings are as credible as the tooth fairy. There are scientific and metaphysical mysteries about the source of all being and so there are at least defensible arguments one can make for some sorts of theism. The problem is when people use a speculative and uncertain, but nonetheless minimally plausible, belief in some principle of “being itself” as at all justifying their belief in a deity of historical religion—such as Yahweh or a divine Jesus—they try to derive from their arguable concept to claiming it gives them justification to believe in something which is no more likely than the tooth fairy to be real.

UPDATE:  ZJ was gracious enough to reply to my remarks on her facebook fan page.  She wrote:

1. As with Daniel Dennett, I certainly have to recognize the lack of knowledge we currently have regarding cosmology and what, if anything, preceded the big bang. At the present time, I see no reason to assume that if a prior cause is discovered, it must have been supernatural, an intelligence, or something we should call God. I don’t rule it out as a possibility, but natural causes have a considerably better track record than supernaturalism. Throughout history, there have been recurring episodes of progress where a phenomenon that was thought to be supernatural in origin is found to have a natural cause. What’s particularly notable is that this has never, yet, been reversed.

2. I don’t think we should use the word “God” carelessly, as in simply attributing it to anything especially significant regarding our origins — that would be like calling the big bang “God”; perhaps some people have vague enough religious beliefs that they’d be fine with this, but for many (billions) more people, “God” means a personal being, with a real and ongoing presence in our reality, who issues moral commands and the like. Even if we did discover that our universe was the product of an intelligence, that intelligence might not be anything like what we would consider to be a god. A being advanced enough to make universes might think it’s rather stupid that anyone would want to “worship” it.

And I agree completely on both points, (succinctly and accurately stated on your part as always). Whenever we don’t address those two points explicitly in refutations of God’s existence we frustrate educated theists because they go on assuming we didn’t refute the god of philosophy but ignored him. It’s a loophole they keep using to say that the New Atheists are dodging the real questions when saying there’s no evidence and they feel free to shut us out and ignore all our other arguments when we skip those issues (even though I know, for example, that in his case he treats them in other videos).

We need to stress that that the principle of being (if an explicable question at all) is (a) an issue for complicated cosmology and irrelevant to people’s faith beliefs, (b) doesn’t get you to a personal God, (c) gives no credence to Yahweh or any other interactive gods of religious traditions, (d) offer no foothold for supernaturalism, and (e) is irrelevant to explaining or defending morality. These points about the difference between the possible deist god of philosophy and metaphysics and the gods people actually talk about and worship need to be pounded home much more than they are in my estimation. (And none of that is to say the deist gods are LIKELY—they’re just not as ludicrous as the tooth fairy, one of them might yet admit of a coherent physical, mathematical account).

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