I must start with a confession, and that is — I’m cheating with the numbering of this list. You see, “arguments” (and I use to the term loosely) one, two, and three are all related and quite similar. Though the points discussed in each of the three sections flow from one another, it is still worth listing each of the arguments seperately, if only for the nostalgia of recognizing them, like when we saw the Millenium Falcon in the new Star Wars. “I saw my friend in grad school comment that on an unrelated Facebook post five months ago!”
It warms the heart.
Last time, we spoke about the idea that what is at issue in monotheism is merely an incomplete form of atheism, or, as the famous quote goes, “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” This was noted to be a generally wonderful point, because it forces the monotheist to think of his god differently. We noted (very) briefly that the answer to this claim is that the monotheist G-d is very different from other “gods.” If we do not believe in Hercules or Loki, it is for very good reason, and a reason that does not apply to the One G-d of monotheism.
Not convinced? That’s why we have
2. “Believing in G-d is like believing in the tooth fairy.”
Or as Queen put it, “You say, ‘Lord,’ I say, ‘Christ, I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Super Man.'” Or Santa Clause. Or Poseidon. Or whatever. The point is, there are these imaginary people that they tell us about as kids, but some of us never grow out of believing in the “G-d” one. If you think that G-d exists you’re stuck in your childhood, foolish, buying into the big lie. The atheist has merely managed to stop foolishly believing in one more contrivance than the monotheist.
Now, just who exactly is supposed to be pulling the wool over whom’s eyes, or whether someone need be deceitful for someone to be fooled is an issue for a different time. What we’re dealing with here is the substance of Freddie Mercury’s point, i.e. that not believing in G-d is the same as not believing in any other character or being we have never actually seen with our eyes.
This is, unfortunately, not true, because everyone agrees that the criteria for reality does not involve actually seeing something with our eyes. Sure, if G-d were like a person, if He were a demigod like the pagan deities, who are basically like superman with less Jewish backstories, then the only way to affirm His existence would be through seeing Him or believing the testimony of those who have. This is because these beings are basically people, like anyone else. You know they’re there if you see their body, same way you know your aunt has shown up at the family reunion and it’s time for slobbery kisses.
G-d, if He doesn’t have a body (a point that, like G-d’s existence I’m sure, is still widely considered to be up for debate), would be rather hard to spot. That’s okay; there are other things that don’t have a body and have never been seen, and we believe in them. Some of these we know through their effects, like recalcitrance or love or the wind. This is unhelpful in trying to determine whether G-d exists, since His effects are just as up for debate as his existence, and this sends us down the rabbit hole of the whole “science vs religion” thing which, no matter its outcome, is utterly unnecessary.
It is unnecessary because there are other things we know to be true, but not through seeing their bodies, and not even through their effects. These we know with a more arcane, thoroughly human form of perception, that is, through logical demonstration.
Take, for example, Euclid’s magnificent proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers, still beautiful and true after 2300 years. This proof does not involve anything physical, nor does it affect anything we can observe. It is an example of deductive logic whose premises and conclusion deal in purely abstract concepts. As far as I know, very few people go around saying, “Believe in Euclid’s Theorem? I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, either.” The reason very few people go around saying this is because it’s stupid. You are comparing something that can only be known to exist through witnesses or the testimony of witnesses (the tooth fairy) to something that is said to exist because basic premises and logic itself leads us to that conclusion (Euclid’s theorem).
Now, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to argue with deductive mathematical reasoning. What it means is that if we are to argue, we should really argue with either the premises or the logic of the demonstration. On the contrary, if you do not believe every number can be broken down into prime factors, or you are a fervent skeptic of modus ponens (having read that thoroughly disturbing Lewis Carroll story), by all means — argue these things. But comparisons to the existence of mythical figures accomplishes nothing at all.
If you haven’t yet guessed it, it’s worth saying now: I really do believe G-d is more like Euclid’s Theorem than the tooth fairy. That is, His existence is classically known through a process of demonstrative logical deduction, not through seeing Him or His effects in some way.
Very well, you may be thinking. What is the demonstration? Where is the proof? What are the premises or logic that we must criticize, rather than saying G-d is like Peter Pan?
But that’s for next time, when we’ll discuss the perennial question, “What caused G-d?” For now, for those of us who believe in G-d, it is worth meditating on the difference between Frankenstein and G-d. And rest assured: The great religious philosophers of all three major monotheistic religions have always said that the difference is sizeable indeed.