Friday, October 27, 2017

God vs. Pan: Spitting at a Firefly

"When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

(Note: the main part of this article has now been published as an article at The Stream.  I'll retain additional points below.)

II.  The "gods" are ignoble and incoherent, if taken seriously.  

Pan is said to be half goat, half human.   He is depicted as having sex with goats, and also chasing nymphs and other humans and quasi-humans.  

This is, of course, not only disgusting, but also incoherent.  Species mate with their own, and reproduce true to form.  Of course God, as Creator, is in a sense behind all reproduction, but not by means of his own physical body.  

Or take Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, sun, and human sacrifice, and the patron god of Mexico City.  Take him, please, so he doesn't stain our alabaster cities with the hemoglobin of thousands of sacrifices every year, while his priests butcher the left-overs.  

No doubt there are difficult passages in the Old Testament.  But anyone who thinks there are simply no arguments for God which do not equally apply to Pan or Huitzilopochtli, is to fools roughly what Xerxes was to the Persian Army in its encounter with Greece. 

III.  Do Christian dismiss "all other possible gods," anyway? 

I am not sure that we do.  The early Christians were sometimes quite open-minded about the existence of the beings the Greeks called "theos" or "daimon."  Of course Christians like Augustine argued, from pagan sources themselves, that they tended to be either malevolent or ridiculous, but the pagans often knew that.  Indeed, the Arcadians were not averse to beating Pan's idol when the hunt failed.

Christians believe that other spirits besides God do, in fact, exist.  Some of those might possibly be spirits who have been given particular names by various cultures.  Some are good, some are bad, and some might have other business in the universe.  C. S. Lewis described these beings as eldila in his Space Trilogy.  The Chinese are indeed flexible about "gods, ghosts and ancestors," since spirits might turn out to be any of the three, without conflating them with Shang Di, who alone was above the Emperor.

We theists are thus able to be far more open-minded and empirical than skeptics like Mr. Roberts.  God is one thing.  If evidence turns up for the existence of other spirits, we do not automatically reject that evidence without looking at it first.  Nor do we automatically accept it.

Apple only has one CEO at a time.  But apples, there are many.  Whether or not one struck Sir Isaac Newton's nose, is an empirical question, not a matter for a priori and hasty decisions.  Let us not confuse ourselves, then, when the differences between objects with similar spelling are far vaster.

Image result for fireflyIf you refute, or prove, the existence of some local spirit, that will have no effect whatsoever on God.  You cannot refute our Ground of Being by scoffing at some tall tale about a half-goat half-man, anymore than you can put out the sun by spitting at a firefly.


Sethius said...

Lovely post, completely agree.
I'm surprised you didn't mention Acts 17 when Paul uses a pagan altar and a pagan poem to Zeus to point to Yahweh and away from pagan gods.
I would add that Dr. Sommers in the Bodies of God shows that the ancients did view their gods as more than just superhumans. Their being was more than just a difference in degree than humans but also of kind. They weren't omnipresent perhaps but they could be in multiple places at once, fragment into independent lesser divinities, as well as temporarily combine with another god to become a new individual. I don't know if that applied to lesser beings like Pan, though.
Still, an excellent post that shows how these kinds of atheistic arguments show a lack of understanding in what they attempt to criticize.

David B Marshall said...

Sounds like an interesting argument. Fluidity is certainly a trait of these beings, so perhaps I was being a little overly simple.

I focused on Acts 17 in part of my doctoral dissertation. I would say that Paul recognized that the Greeks (including Plato, Cynics, and Stoics) were becoming dissatisfied with polytheism and were reinventing theism, and he played on that chord effectively. I think he was mainly addressing Stoics, indeed his argument on Mars Hill closely resembles the argument for God given by the Stoic in Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods.

the mediocrecommission said...

Fascinating post David. Back to Acts 17 - do you think Paul thought Zeus and Artemis were "real" in the sense that he thought demons, angels and Satan were real? Then when I read 1 Cor 8 and his discussion about food offered to idols, I'm not really sure what he means, especially vv 4-6: "4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live."

Do you think Paul may have thought that the other pagan gods existed? Thanks

David B Marshall said...

Of course Corinthians was just across a small canal and a short military march from Athens. I can't think of much on the spur of the moment that sheds more light on "what Paul really thought" about the Greek gods in general, though early Christians did suppose there to be real spirits associated with them. However, in Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus, which Paul may have read, Zeus most often seems to be a High God more like Yahweh than the Zeus of Homer or Hesiod, and there was that tendency in other Greek thought of the time, too, including Plato's Timaeus and Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods. Augustine developed this point. Paul was sophisticated enough that he didn't get hung up on vocabulary, it seems -- I bet he recognized that words evolve, and that Zeus could mean either a local and petty polytheistic tyrant, which spirits may make use of for their purposes, a bit of artistic story-telling, or perhaps a place-holder for the "real God." But I'm speculating a little, consistent with his approach in Acts and Romans.

Unknown said...

Yes, there is an astounding amount of errors with this Stephan F. Roberts fellow.
One you din't catch is that Ahura Mazda is listed with the pagan gods despite being the Zoroastrian/Old Persian term for God (my coworker is a Zoroastrian). It reminds of the astounding number of Western Christians who will go to any lengths to say that الله and god are two separate beings when they are not.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Victor. As I recall, the Zoroastrian scriptures have a particularly long and complicated provenance, but you appear to be right about the meaning of that name.

Unknown said...

Excellent post! I appreciate you pointing out the equivocation of "god" and "God" in this meme.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Eric!