10,000 gods versus one?

Peter Fitzsimons (a skeptic) recently wrote in the Sydney Sun Herald: “There have been 10,000 gods worshiped since the dawn of time. You (Brian Rosner, a theologian he is debating) have rejected 9999 of them as arrant and obvious nonsense. I counted up, and I have rejected just one more.”

He is pointing out a very important point! Human beings go through the same process in their individual lives as mankind has gone through over eons of history, regarding their beliefs in God. We Christians call this process salvation history and see God’s hand in the human and individual journey of belief. The skeptic believes that only man’s unaided reason has and must accomplish this awesome feat. That is definitely a point worth debating.

Christians start with today’s reality — the real presence of God in their lives — and look backward at history to see God’s loving hand in human history. I suppose skeptics also start with their current reality, seeing ‘facts’ and what science makes of them. Christians “believe and see;” skeptics “see and believe” only what their “facts only” paradigm permits.

So, at the root of the argument about 10,000 gods versus one lies an epistemological question, too deep for most people to examine let alone decide what is true. What can a man know? Is there truth beyond human reason? Science simply says that, for something to be scientifically true it must have certain attributes: be based on observations and measurements that can be verified by other independent observers, and so on. Christians don’t dispute science’s competence within its defined and limited field of study. Philosophy is still debating these questions. Theology — about which, in circular reasoning,  Peter Fitzsimons quotes another skeptic Sam Harris: “Theology is little more than a branch of human ignorance” — starts with the reality of God, as God has communicated this to us, and seeks answers about what we know.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Christians and skeptics see the world — and the world’s 9,999 false gods and the one true God — in utterly different ways. There is no common meeting point, other than Christians must love the skeptics according to Jesus. The questions of educating children about God, and prayer in schools, are also points about which where there is no common ground. In a pluralistic society, with both skeptics and Christians, it seems to me that the question to be debated is, are we going to teach epistomology in public schools? Should children be taught that science is all that there is or that some people “believe and then see” God’s hand in the world? Can skeptics allow that flexibility in the public education system — or must families and churches be the only permissible sources of this deeper education? That is a public policy question worth debating.

4 Replies to “10,000 gods versus one?”

  1. Great post – the biggest problem people have is that they can’t conceive of a god bigger than themselves – if they did, they wouldn’t look through some limited and separating ways!

    Please don’t leave us to the god of science alone – an enormous relinquishing of responsibility goes on by professionals who allude to science without speaking from their own knowing and convictions!

    1. Excellent point. People say they think like a scientist when they have no idea what that entails — the tentativeness, the willingness to be proven wrong, the long years of study in a narrow speciality and the honesty of admitting that you have gone beyond the limits of what you know. If only we all were as rigourous as scientists when we offered our opinions on issues about which we have little knowledge. And that includes our religious beliefs!

  2. A thought-provoking post. Epistomology would be an appropriate area of study in our public schools. The limits of one’s knowledge is an intriguing question, and we should be more open minded about the way believers, atheists, and skeptics view the world. I support the separation of church and public schools. To paraphrase Santiyana: “We defend more vigorously those things we know least about!”

    1. I think we defend the things we believe the strongest, which is independent of whether we know much about them or not. For examples, scientists defend their theories (and indeed the scientific method itself) very strongly and have a great deal of knowledge while a primitive person will defend theirs belief in gods with little knowledge. Isn’t it better to know a lot about your beliefs AND defend them?

Leave a Reply