Soft Theism: Those Other Gods + Role of Evidence

Soft Theism: Those Other Gods + Role of Evidence March 18, 2021

We’re responding to an imaginary dialogue that explores Soft Theism, which is basically Christianity without the baggage. Can jettisoning Christianity’s crazy bits make it acceptable? Read part 1 here.

This is post 7 in this series, and up next are theists’ rejection of other gods and the role of evidence and science.

“Atheists just go one god further”

Atheist: Hmmm . . . You don’t believe in Thor, or Jupiter, or the thousands of alleged Gods throughout history, do you?

Soft Theist: No.

Well, we atheists just go one God further than you, and don’t believe in ANY God.

Cross Examined Blog: I discuss this argument in detail here.

I think there’s a big difference between one God and no God. But, I see your point, which is important, that we have no trouble dismissing all these alleged Gods, why not dismiss the one currently in question? And my answer to that is that my concept of God is much more credible than traditional ones, ha ha.

I’ll play devil’s advocate. I agree that you’ve jettisoned from Christianity many of the things that make it hard to believe. Dropping the Bible alone probably eliminates half of my arguments against Christianity. The arguments still available to you are the deist ones (that is, the ones not specific to the Christian god) that are also in vogue now with many Christian apologists—the Cosmological Argument, Design Argument, Fine Tuning Argument, Transcendental Argument, Ontological Argument, Moral Argument, and so on. Skipping ahead, I see that you think another deist argument, the First Cause argument, is your favorite.

Yes, you’ve just eliminated some of your vulnerabilities, but you need some strong points in your favor as well. “My argument isn’t as easily attacked!” isn’t much of a selling point.

[Michael] Shermer says belief in God has all the earmarks of wishful thinking. And that religions have been demonstrably shown to be socially and psychologically constructed.

Yeah, I think that’s true. But, that doesn’t mean a more modern, credible concept of God cannot be true . . . I’m a big fan of Shermer’s by the way. I think the whole thrust of what he presents is a real force for good. I think virtually everything he says is right on the money. I just happen to disagree with him on the God question.

I have no proof that a god doesn’t exist, so yes, your view of God might be true. But with “more modern,” it sounds like you’re arguing for your position by saying that your spiritual views are chic and trendy. Maybe you mean that these ideas come from a society informed by science rather than the Iron Age people who wrote the New Testament. Okay, that’s an improvement, but we’ll eventually look just as primitive to our descendants. But I’m guessing you admit that and are doing the best you can with the imperfect insights we have at the moment.

Where is the evidence?

What is your evidence for God? You have no evidence! You’re just ASSUMING the supernatural exists. The only reason for you to believe that premise is that you already accepted that conclusion in the first place.

No, no. After I rejected traditional concepts of God, I asked myself the open-ended question, “Does a more general God, not tied to any particular religion, make sense?” My starting point was not a presumption.

Sounds like one, since you started with the God hypothesis. A less biased question would be, “Is there any evidence for the supernatural?” Give yourself permission to conclude that there are zero gods, and that would’ve been a more honest quest.

I think it’s YOUR position that starts with a presumption . . . that science is the measure of ultimate reality, period. I mean, the very definition of science excludes appeals to the supernatural. So, not surprisingly you will conclude there is no God.

I don’t exclude the supernatural and am happy to consider it. That’s what I’ve done for ten years with this blog. As far as I can tell, the only route to the truth requires evidence. The supernatural continues to fail every test, but I still look for arguments and evaluate them charitably.

You’re quick to say that science isn’t the only game in town. Okay, let me challenge you on that. What route to the truth do you recommend that’s not some variation on the scientific method? Give us an algorithm, like the scientific method, that would guide someone to the truth. Then actually use it to find something new we can all agree is the truth.

Without this, you’re just handwaving, “Science isn’t the only method, y’know,” or “You haven’t proven there is no God.”

Knowledge from outside science

I agree there is no hard evidence for the supernatural. But, I think it’s reasonable to consider . . . softer “evidence,” like logical arguments and interpretations.

But . . . to say “I believe there is a God” is not proof. It’s just an assertion . . . which requires . . . irrefutable evidence. And since we do not know, then that is the best position to take, that “We do not know.” Making up an answer is not . . . finding an answer, it’s just, making up an answer, don’t you see? Hypothesizing that there is a God is fine, but then you must test the hypothesis, to see if it has any basis in reality.

Mr. Atheist: I don’t ask for irrefutable evidence and certainly not proof, just the majority of evidence.

Think about it: if you had 100% certainty in X, you’d live your life as if X were true. But if your certainty were only 60%, wouldn’t you still live as if X were true? You’d be more humble in your conclusion and maybe more receptive to new challenges, but what would you go with if not the one that has the majority of the evidence?

You keep arguing from a strictly scientific perspective, and I’m arguing from a philosophical perspective. Requiring “irrefutable evidence” is not a reasonable standard for a philosophical issue. The God question is not a matter of physics, but of metaphysics. It’s a matter of interpretation, approach, opinion; it’s not a matter of hard science. Hypothesizing . . . is the best we can do.

While I applaud your careful outline of what you can claim, you’re not helping your case. Science is the discipline following the evidence, and I don’t know what Philosophy is doing besides sitting there and looking important. Without that evidence, why take a leap of faith? Don’t you want your worldview grounded in reality? You’re the guy who values Reason, remember?

Every year we see lists of the top scientific discoveries of the previous year, but we don’t see that for philosophy or metaphysics. I never see philosophers contributing to a field to which they are outsiders (despite much self-important harumphing to that effect from Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig).

I’ll grant that the opposite is possible, that scientists or mathematicians can arguably be philosophers. Perhaps Werner Heisenberg (a physicist) was doing philosophy when he came up with his uncertainty principle. Perhaps Kurt Gödel (a mathematician) was doing philosophy when he discovered his incompleteness theorems. Theologian Alvin Plantinga proposed an even wider view of philosophy when he said that philosophy was simply thinking hard about something. But we don’t see philosophers actually adding value to a scientific field of which they’re not a part.

I agree that hypothesizing is the best we can do, but “Well, God might exist” is hardly enough to support a worldview.

Next time: Theologians vs. science


Do not try to explain something
until you are sure there is something to be explained.
— Hyman’s Maxim,
from psychologist and skeptic Ray Hyman


Image from Zach Vessels (free-use license)

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