My God controls the countless stars—
The sun, the moon, the seasons—
Your god is indefensible…
My God created everything—
The celestial Mister Fix-it
Your god is weak and impotent
My God created physical
And even moral laws;
Your is not believable
Inspired by a particularly frustrating edition of Gary Gutting’s series in The New York Times on various philosopher’s takes on the god question. This one, featuring Yale philosophy prof Keith DeRose, is “Why Take a Stance on God?“, and it is every bit as teeth-grindingly annoying as the title suggests (although, in fairness, Gary Gutting comes off better in this one than in some previous). A sample:
G.G.: Of course, what strikes us as bizarre can turn out to be true. It once seemed bizarre that the earth was round, and that the earth revolved around the sun.
K.D.: Right, but that just shows that what we once had good reason to think we knew can turn out to be false. It doesn’t change the fact that, at a given time, the bizarreness of a belief may give us good reason for claiming that we know it’s false.
In any case, the situation is very different with God. The thought that God exists does strike many atheists as bizarre. But, in contrast to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, there are all of these theists and agnostics who do not find the thought of God’s existence bizarre, and I really think they ruin our atheist friends’ hopes for easy knowledge here. The basic point is that, when there are many other apparently sensible people who disagree with you, you need a good argument to claim that you know they’re wrong.
G.G.: Are you saying that the mere fact that many disagree shows that we don’t have knowledge? Most of us deny without argument the existence of the gods of many religions (the gods of the ancient Greeks and of contemporary voodoo, the pantheon of popular Hinduism). Don’t we rightly claim to know these gods don’t exist, although many have and do disagree?
K.D.: When your basis is not evidence or argument, but just how the matter strikes you, yes, the fact that the matter strikes others differently can undermine your claim to know. So, in particular, I am very skeptical about claims to know that the beliefs of major religions are false just because they strike us as bizarre.
I used to drive Cuttledaughter and her friends to theatre rehearsal. One of her friends was quite taken with the Flying Spaghetti Monster (mea culpa)–I can honestly picture her bringing up her own kids with an ironically sincere pastafarianism… and them (since kids may or may not get irony) sincerely believing in the FSM. At that point, DeRose is going to have to take seriously the possibility that reasonable people find the FSM compelling. If not before that.
And Richard Carrier’s grandchild will have to write a book on the historicity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, making the extraordinary case that, just maybe, there was no historical FSM.