I came across an interesting comment at the blog recently. Miklos Jako sent a link to his video, “DEFENDING SOFT THEISM against ATHEISTS.” He’s arguing for what he calls Soft Theism, and he made his case through an imaginary discussion between him and an atheist.
Most of my posts explore a new idea or respond to an argument made by a conservative Christian. This video is something new, an interpretation of God without the baggage of any religion. Take Christianity and pare away the Bible, a couple of dozen ecumenical councils, church tradition, a long history of political meddling, and fear of science, and what’s left? Jako calls this Soft Theism. You know all those Nones who aren’t atheists? This is one of them.
The video is over an hour long, but Jako send me the script. I’ll print his conversation and include my reactions.
What am I going to say if I’m not responding to the typical narrow-minded fundamentalist? It turns out, quite a lot. I think you’ll find it interesting.
The first category of topics is what he calls “Weaker atheist arguments.”
We live on a speck of dust
Atheist: I think, it is a childish conceit, to think the world revolves around . . . us. Our planet . . . is just a speck of dust in a vast, VAST universe.
Soft Deist: I don’t think it’s childish. We’re the only planet we know of, that has intelligence on it. I think . . . objectively . . . that’s pretty damn special.
(Jako’s imaginary atheist speaks in green, and Jako’s soft theist response is in blue. My comments are in black.)
Cross Examined Blog: There are an estimated 70 billion trillion (7×1022) stars in the observable universe. Thirty years after discovering our first exoplanet, astronomers understand a bit about how common they are and estimate one planet per star, on average. That’s a lot of planets, about which we know little.
We also have a lot to learn about life. We don’t even understand life on the one planet where we know life exists. Biologists continue to be surprised at the extreme environments that life can adapt to. Let’s get excited about the earth’s specialness after we’ve shown that it’s special. (More here and here.)
God of the gaps
Alright . . . But, to say, God is the cause of something . . . explains nothing. That’s not science. It’s lazy thinking, “God of the gaps” thinking. Like Michael Shermer says . . . God is just a . . . word, a linguistic placeholder, until science discovers the . . . real reason for why things work.
OK, I agree, that invoking God . . . for the trillions of things that happen, is a lazy, and valueless way of thinking, but, invoking God for the ORIGIN and sustenance of . . . THE WHOLE DEAL . . . makes sense to me. I don’t posit God to explain lightning, but I do posit God to explain . . . the universe.
But if you do this without evidence, then you are guilty as charged. As you note, this would be God-of-the-gaps thinking where science explains more and more and the theist responds, “Ah, yes, but you haven’t shown God doesn’t exist in these gaps in between, where science still has unanswered questions!” True, science has unanswered questions, but it’s hardly an argument for God.
It’s a bit like Creationist thinking where they demand answers to this or that attack on evolution. What those Creationists ignore is (1) they should be talking to biologists (who likely have an answer) rather than laypersons, and (2) their theory can only displace evolution once it explains the facts better than evolution.
If you want to displace naturalistic explanations, (1) you should see if cosmologists share your concern that there’s a big gap at the top of the pyramid that only a deity could fill, and (2) your supernatural explanation can’t raise more questions than it resolves.
I could accuse YOU of being intellectually lazy, because you refuse to even consider anything outside the boundaries of science. I find it more reasonable to think some power created the universe than that the universe created itself.
I’m happy to consider arguments outside science, and when religion and theology can get its own house in order, let me know. Theists across religions can’t even agree on the most fundamental questions: how many gods are there? What are their names and properties? Worse, they don’t even have a reliable mechanism for resolving these questions! They can only fall back on the non-supernatural tools of arguing, charges of heresy, threats of hell, mutual excommunication, schisms, and the occasional war.
But why posit God? Why can’t I posit . . . ANYTHING to explain the universe—a purple cube, farting fairies, the flying spaghetti monster?
Well, because those things are defined by limiting characteristics. They don’t represent a reasonable concept of God, which is . . . an ULTIMATE power that transcends limitations like color, shape, and so on.
A “reasonable” concept of God? How is your concept of God reasonable and any other one unreasonable? Is there any evidence for a god with any properties, let alone ultimate power? Some religions posit a supernatural with no god having ultimate power. It sounds like you’re sketching out possible properties of the ultimate being, but this is just your own contribution to the discussion. If you know the properties God must have, show that everyone would come up with the same set.
This reminds me of the flimsy “God is love” argument made by some Christians. These Christians have made God a puppet, forcing him to mouth platitudes that sound good in the 21st century. God was a good old-fashioned fire ’n brimstone god in the Old Testament, where he supported slavery, demanded human sacrifice, and drowned the earth.
A super-smart alien could’ve created our universe without having “ultimate” (that is, infinite) power. But in that case, I imagine you’d want to go back to find out what created that guy, tracing things back to a god with infinite power (in particular, with omniscience and omnipotence). Perhaps you make a stronger case going forward, but I don’t see your justification yet. Let’s see how your argument plays out.
Next topics: Who made God? Why not multiple Gods?
undisputed, undefeated, heavyweight world-champion
worst method EVER of making decisions!
Nobody ever uses faith for anything
that can be tested or measured
or that really matters in real life.
— commenter RichardSRussell