This is part 3b of a critique of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (2015) by Andy Bannister (part 1 here). The book promises to critique a number of atheist arguments.
This post wraps up my critique of Chapter 3, “The Aardvark in the Artichokes.” In the first half, I responded to Bannister’s critique of the atheist argument that the Christian rejects hundreds or thousands of gods, while the atheist just goes one god further. He’s now moved on to argue that Christianity is special, and lumping it in with the unwashed masses of religions is wrong.
Why Christianity is unique
Christianity’s big difference compared to Zeus, Thor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the other gods is:
Every single one of those other entities is an object inside the universe. God, on the other hand, according to Christianity is the creator and sustainer of the universe, the author of the story.
So then make up a new character and call him the Creator. Make him outside. Now Yahweh has a competitor.
You don’t like that he was just invented? All right, then revisit this character after 2000 years has passed so that the origins of this tale are clouded and it has become legend and mythology. That’s Christianity’s advantage—not that it’s correct but that it’s venerable and uncheckable.
Bannister simply declares that God is the creator. That’s not good enough: he must prove it. Without evidence, this is just theology, not an argument.
I’d also recommend that he read up on the Combat Myth and then tell me that Yahweh is in a completely different category. Today’s timeless, outside-the-universe god isn’t what Yahweh was initially. He’s evolved. (Y’know how Superman at first was just pretty strong and could “leap tall buildings in a single bound” but then became insanely strong and could fly? Like that.)
And let me take issue with this claim of uniqueness—that the Christian god’s relationship with the universe is somehow unique. The Greek creation myth (to take just one) has Chaos creating Gaia (Earth). She created Uranus (heavens), and their offspring were the Titans. Cronus (the youngest Titan) was the father of Zeus, the ruler of the pantheon that’s now in power.
That sounds about as sensible (or ridiculous) as the two creation stories that Genesis opens with. Bannister wants you to ignore the man behind the curtain and look instead at the modern Christian view where God walks hand-in-hand with modern cosmology. God is now said to have triggered the Big Bang, sustain the laws of physics, exist outside of time and space, and so on, ideas that would mystify the original audience for Genesis.
No, that won’t do—you’re saddled with the pre-scientific thinking in your holy book that makes your origin myth no more compelling than the Greek one.How can you dismiss religions without understanding them?
Bannister next complains:
The atheist making [the claim that the world’s religions are essentially the same] has not investigated all of them—probably not any of them—and is instead assuming that they must all be more or less similar to the characterless Catholicism or pedestrian Protestantism they half-remember from their youth.
Bannister has a PhD in Quranic Studies, so he has studied at least one additional religion in great depth. I wonder though if he and I are much different with respect to the other religions. He’s right that I’m no expert in the other thousand (to pick a number) of religions in history, but how can he criticize me for rejecting those thousand religions without cause? Didn’t he do the same thing?
Sure, let’s acknowledge that Christianity is different from all the other religions, but why is that a bold claim? Each religion is different from all the other religions. And as far as I’ve been able to determine, they all have the same unmet burden of proof. You’re right that I haven’t thoroughly investigated Santeria, Baha’i, Raelianism, and the hundreds of others. If you’ve compared them all against Christianity, show us.
Christianity vs. Islam
Returning to Bannister’s expertise in Islam, he tells us, “On almost every major point of Christian doctrine, I think it is safe to say that Islam teaches the opposite.”
But they’ve got the same god! Islam accepts the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), so whatever properties you pull out for Yahweh you must assign to Allah as well. You can say that Mohammed took things in a very different direction to give Allah a unique character, but Christianity did the same with its New Testament.
You can focus on their common origin or their divergence, but let’s go where Bannister is pointing. He says Christianity and Islam are very different—okay, they’re very different. So what? This example only emphasizes the made-up nature of both religions. How does this support his thesis that Christianity is not just different from all the other religions but the only one that’s true?
Atheists aren’t allowed to play with God’s toys
Bannister wants to banish atheists from the field of intellectual discourse, though not for any good reason.
Truth, the pursuit of knowledge, the existence of ultimate values such as justice—those are grounded, ultimately, in God. And so to pick these things up and wield them as weapons against God is to play by his rules.
Give me a break. These things come from humans. Don’t flatter yourself that your God gives truth, justice, and so on to humans when they were humans’ to begin with. But if you have evidence of your remarkable claim, provide it.
And if this turns on the word “ultimate” (as in objective or absolute or God-grounded), I await the evidence for that as well. Ordinary justice is defined in the dictionary without the word “ultimate.”
Continue with chapter 4.
I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation,
whose purposes are modeled after our own—
a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.
— Albert Einstein
Image credit: Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis, flickr, CC