Wednesday, 29 October 2014

God-Botherers Incorporated, How May I Misdirect You?

Does it occur to anyone else that there is some division of labour going on with theists, almost like they are part of some vast non-profit corporation with at least three distinct divisions: the sales department, the legal department and the in-service support department? If, when a sales representative starts spurting proselytising type guff, a non-theist challenges the notion of what is being proselytised ... the guy from the sales department says "Oh, you are arguing against me? I'll have to refer you to legal."

So the non-theist obligingly trots off to the legal department and begins presenting a case, at which point the defending theist (technically known as an apologist) will ask "What particular sort of god are you talking about here?" The non-theist will say something along the lines of it being the theist's responsibility to define their god, to which the defending theist will say "Oh no, fleshing out the meaning of god for you is the sales department's responsibility, we just do defence. If you want to argue god with us, you have to provide the definition. Of course that definition will be wrong, and we'll laugh mockingly at your naive understanding, but we can't tell you the right definition because, as already stated, that is the sales department's responsibility."

So the somewhat irritated non-theist trots back to the sales department and challenges them to define their god. "Oh dear", they say, looking despairingly at the non-theist, "It sounds like you are arguing again ... you'll have to deal with legal."

Of course, the legal, sales and in-service support departments never talk to each other so the legal department can happily mock the non-theist for foolishly accepting any details accidentally disclosed by the sales or the in-service support departments as indicative of any tenets of the faith.

Just because people talk on and on about a specific type of god every week at church, this doesn't mean that this is the sort of god they actually believe in. How foolish would we have to be to think that?

In this scenario, I guess that theologians divide their time between marketing and product development.


  1. Nice straw-manning. No doubt some theists are guilty of what you describe, but this clearly isn't some necessary feature of theism.

  2. Sure, not all theists do it. But look at the main arguments of people like WLC. He's almost entirely focussed on arguments that result in a generic god. His one exception is the argument from resurrection (possibly his occasional references to his personal experience with his god might count as another exception as well, but it's not an argument per se). In discussions I have had elsewhere, there are many "theists" who fit this mould as well. They never really describe their god, they just argue for generic existence via appeals to ignorance.

    You'd agree, surely, that such arguments aren't going to play well among those responsible for conversion?

  3. Sure, I understand what you are saying. For instance, Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God do not lead to the conclusion that God is triune. Aquinas says that this attribute is knowable only through divine revelation. So yes, it is true that philosophical argument is not always capable of defending all the attributes of God that a certain religion claims. But as any honest theologian from a specific religion will tell you, certain attributes of God are tenants of faith while other attributes of God can be discovered via unaided reason. But, at least for Catholicism, the attributes as known through divine revelation are not in incompatible with what can be known through reason. In fact, it is upon the foundation of unaided reason that one is to build their faith; faith begins only where reason ends. And unaided reason can get you quite far: philosophical arguments lead to the conclusion that God exists, is pure act and/or substantial being, is purely simple, is one, and is unchanging.

    I am personally not a Catholic, nor a Christian, but I am a theist. And your characterization of theists is just not as universal as you make out, even of religious theists.



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