There’s a pattern I’ve noticed in atheist/ theist debates in the blogosphere.
And the pattern in this: Christian theology — specifically, the belief that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good — is making these debates a whole lot easier for atheists. The religious apologetics consistently founder on one of these rocks: God’s supposed complete knowledge, or total power, or perfect goodness. Or, as is more usual, some combination of the three.
You know the arguments; you’ve seen them a hundred times. If God is all these things, then why is there suffering, what’s the point of prayer, isn’t everything pre-ordained, why were we created with the propensity to evil, blah blah blah. I won’t get into them all here. And I’m not even talking about the logical conundrums, the “Could God create a burrito so big that he couldn’t eat it?” stuff. What I’ll say is this: Theists always have to either concede at least part of one of the Alls, some degree of God’s power or knowledge or goodness… or they have to cop out with some version of “mysterious ways” or “I know it in my heart.”
And if they weren’t so stuck on God being the All Everything, they’d have an easier time of it. I still think they’d be mistaken — I think the case against the supernatural is strong, even without the Omnimax Divine Theater — but the debates wouldn’t be quite so much like shooting the same slow fish in the same barrel, over and over and over again.
Or, as Eclectic has said in this blog: “All-knowing, all-powerful, all-good — pick two.”
Take my own now- abandoned religious beliefs. Back in my woo days, I believed in a World-Soul, a metaphysical substance that infused all conscious life forms with, well, consciousness; a being made up of all the souls of all the living things in the world, but that was more than just the sum of its parts, a being that had some sort of selfhood or identity.
It wasn’t a belief that was supported by any evidence. It wasn’t supported by anything, particularly. Except by my own personal vague feeling that consciousness couldn’t just be a function of the physical brain, because… well, because it couldn’t be. Because it just didn’t seem that way.
But at no point did I think that the World-Soul was all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-good. In fact, it was very clear to me that it wasn’t. I didn’t think it was any of these things, much less all of them. Actually, back in my woo days, I often said that the meaning of my life was to add to the learning and enlightenment of the World-Soul. I thought of the World-Soul as a powerful being, certainly wiser and more powerful and more knowledgeable than me… but I still saw it as limited, flawed, with room to learn and grow.
And this made my belief much easier to cling to… and much harder to let go of.
It wasn’t a tremendously defensible belief. But it was a lot more defensible than the belief in the completely perfect, completely powerful God who created, and regularly intervenes in, this profoundly flawed world full of cruelty and pain.
In a way, I appreciate the desire to have one’s God be perfect. The old polytheistic pantheons weren’t much to admire or aspire to. Selfish, small- minded, mean- spirited, dishonest, backstabbing, gossipy. They were a lot like my junior high, actually, except with more incest and murder and devouring of body parts. I can see why people wouldn’t want their creator of their universe to be like that. I can see why people would want their creator to be… well, perfect.
But in many ways, the old, flawed pantheon made a lot more sense. It was certainly more consistent with the world we live in: a flawed, complicated, messy world of mixed motivations and conflicting forces. I love this world, I feel more passionate about it and connected to it every day… but it sure as hell doesn’t look like a world created on purpose by a perfectly powerful, perfectly knowledgeable, perfectly good being.
And every time a theist tries to defend and explain and rationalize that being, I feel like they’ve handed me a gift.