Soft Theism: Atheism’s Weaker Arguments

Soft Theism: Atheism’s Weaker Arguments March 6, 2021

We’re responding to a dialogue between an imaginary atheist and Miklos Jako, who advances a spiritual worldview he calls Soft Theism. It’s basically Christianity without the baggage (God’s Old Testament rampages, the Trinity, Creationism, and so on). Can jettisoning Christianity’s crazy bits turn it into something plausible? Read part 1 here.

This is a fresh approach compared to the countless posts I’ve written responding to conservative Christians. I think it’s worth a look.

We continue with two more questions that wrap up what Jako calls atheism’s weaker arguments. They are: Who made God? and Why not multiple Gods?

(A note on format: The many ellipses in the green and blue dialogue indicate pauses, not omitted text, and are part of the original script.)

Who Made God?

Atheist: You can’t assert that everything must have a cause and then arbitrarily claim that God does not need a cause. You’re destroying your own argument before it even gets off the ground . . . That’s special pleading.

Soft Deist: Yeah, it IS special pleading . . . legitimate special pleading, because God, if He exists, is the special case, the logically necessary uncaused First Cause. Besides, you’re doing exactly the same thing . . . under Occam’s Razor, YOU are special pleading for the universe, as a major . . . uncaused effect.

Cross Examined Blog: “Logically necessary”? “First Cause”? We may want to avoid relying on 13th-century theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas to answer our tough cosmological questions when he didn’t even know the earth went around the sun.

The universe might have come from a quantum mechanical event, and those don’t always need causes.

If common sense were enough to figure out science, Aristotle would’ve been able to do it 2300 years ago, but common sense is not sufficient. If you say that something doesn’t make sense to you, I believe you, but that’s no guide to resolving science’s open questions.

But, if you’re going to grant . . . self-causation, why not just grant it to the universe instead of postulating an extra entity?

Because . . . the universe is physical, and physical entities need a cause. Whereas a non-physical entity, like God . . . admittedly a hypothesis . . . would not need a cause.

But some physical entities don’t need causes. The positron and neutrino emitted from a decaying nucleus did not exist (as a positron and neutrino, that is) in the nucleus beforehand. We can express the probability that any such nucleus will decay in a certain amount of time, but we can’t point to a cause.

Maybe you’re making a category level error. If everything IN the universe needs a cause, that doesn’t necessarily mean the universe itself needs a cause.

(It sounds like he’s referring to the fallacy of composition. An example: a car causes less pollution than a bus, so cars must be less of a pollution problem than buses. Or: tires are made of rubber, and since cars use tires, they must also be made of rubber.)

Yeah, right, maybe not, who knows? But, it seems far more likely to me that some ultimate, non-physical power caused the Big Bang than . . . nothing caused it . . . that . . . it just happened.

Okay, I can accept that—a Creator seems more likely to you. But this is just the results of your musing. Why think you can resolve this question?

Let’s consider other open questions. The Millennium Prize problems are six open mathematical problems, each with a million-dollar prize. (There were originally seven, but one has been solved.) Why not tackle some of these? If you’re not a professional mathematician and must dismiss them as impossibly difficult, why think you have a chance figuring out the grandest question, as someone who isn’t a professional cosmologist?

Here’s a more humble stance: “Personally, I like the idea of a Creator. But Science doesn’t know, and Religion (having reliably answered zero questions) certainly doesn’t know, so ‘We don’t know’ is the best answer. I’ll have to content myself with that.” What do you think?

(More on “But who created God?” here and “Why is there something rather than nothing?” here.)

Why Not Multiple Gods?

We . . . observe . . . that complex things are designed usually by teams. Why not posit multiple gods?

Because then none of them would be the ultimate power. You can’t logically have more than one ultimate power.

Assuming the supernatural, which still needs evidence, you could have a pantheon of gods, each contributing their unique superpowers. Why isn’t that as good as one ultimate power? Using the Greek Olympians as an example, Zeus may have been the king of the gods, but was he the one ultimate power? He wasn’t for the sun (Apollo took care of that) or the ocean (Poseidon), or the underworld (Hades), and so on.

And if smart and powerful aliens in the universe somewhere could be the “ultimate power,” now we’re in the realm of science fiction. It’s possible one being is far above the rest, or one civilization, but maybe “ultimate power” is ambiguous. How would you decide whether civilization A’s destructive power counts for more than B’s transportation and colonization power and C’s refined wisdom and peace?

(Speculating about aliens may not be relevant to your thinking because you could ask where they came from.)

. . . Hah, you’re implying that belief in multiple gods is superstitious nonsense, but belief in one God . . . makes sense?

Hah, yeah, yeah. I think historically humans have progressed from polytheism to monotheism, as a more mature concept of God . . . I find that you atheists tend to have a very undeveloped, I’ll say . . . adolescent . . . concept of God. You think of God as this . . . anthropomorphic comic book character, instead of . . . an ineffable source of reality.

Huh? What does “mature” mean here, and how is monotheism more mature? And why is “mature” a good thing? We see plenty of evolution of religion (yet more evidence that religion is untethered to reality and adapts to society’s changing needs), but that’s what you’d expect from a manmade religion. Religion is a response to human needs, but that’s no evidence that it’s a reflection of an actual supernatural. And is the Christian Trinity monotheistic as claimed? I realize that Christians are desperate to say so (perhaps this is where you’re getting the maturity idea), but skeptical outsiders like Muslims say it’s not.

“Evolution” is a continual process of change, but “mature” suggests an end. Once something is mature, don’t you stop evolving? Judaism evolved into Christianity, which has continued to evolve. Was Islam a maturation of Christianity or just more evolution? Mormonism was another refinement of Christianity, and there were many more splinter groups substantial enough to be called religions rather than denominations of Christianity.

You’re doing it yourself with your own post-Christianity soft theism. I assume you’re trying to leave behind its weaknesses and make it more defensible. Is your spiritual worldview more mature than Christianity, and how do you know?

When you read the Bible, we find that Yahweh is indeed, as you say, an anthropomorphic comic book character. Atheists usually have a literal take on the Bible, but that doesn’t make it an adolescent one. Forcing Christians to back up the claims in their holy book isn’t adolescent; atheists are simply unwilling to give Christianity a pass. If Christians don’t like frank critiques of the Garden of Eden, the flood, God’s support of slavery, and other absurd Iron Age stories, they should rethink what’s in their holy book.

Up next: How atheists think: objective meaning and reification

Faith—because admitting
you believe in magic
is embarrassing.
— commenter Bob Jase

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Image from Vincent Lau (license CC BY-SA 2.0)
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