Nov 17, 2011

Straw man arguments defending straw man arguments

It happens like this: An atheist (or New Atheist) attacks the idea of God as implausible. Someone, a theist of some sort, typically a monotheist, counters that the idea of God being attacked is not, actually, the idea of God held by the theist, or indeed by the majority of the major world religions, and certainly not by the monotheistic ones. I.e., the God you say you don't believe, no one does.

I.e., you are attacking a straw God.

Then, almost invariably, the atheist counters the counter thus:
"the majority of believers believe in an 'anthropocentric, grey-bearded being.' They believe in heaven, hell, angels, demons, and all the other clap-trap that goes along with these bronze-age era beliefs."
But wait. Really? They do?

I've certainly never seen any evidence of this. Even some of the most conservative, anti-intellectual versions of monotheism, the ones who maybe think the "bronze age" had some things going for it, reject that idea of God. Explicitly. And popularly.

All the traditional versions of Islam adamantly affirm that God cannot have a body, for example. This is one of the standard explanations Islam proselytizers give for not believing in an incarnate God such as Jesus. They hold to and teach the "divine oneness" of God, which, if nothing else, makes the idea of God more complicated than the 'anthropocentric, grey-bearded being.'

Even the most fundamentalist Christians, likewise, hold to a more complicated idea of God. Even children will tell you, for example, "God is love," a claim which is not exactly as philosophically complicated as the "obscurantisms" one would be accused of it arguing against an atheist with, say, apophatic theology. It's a simple idea. An idea taught to and repeated by children. Yet more complex and worked out than their being given credit for.

That, of course, is not even going into the orthodox Christian doctrine of the trinity, which millions of Christians confess to believing on a weekly basis.

Second, so?

Really. So?

Even granting that it's true, a majority of people have this idea of God which is being refuted, why would one reject an idea based on popular, mistaken conceptions of that idea? I'm persuaded, for example, that almost all talk about "black holes" are complete nonsense, and "black holes," as popularly conceived, do not exist. As far as I can figure, that shouldn't have anything at all to do with whether or not I hold that there are black holes.

All this to say, it really is a straw God, being attacked, and the argument that, well, that's "really" the belief of theists is also made of straw.

Which is to say, I wish we had better atheists.