My skeptic friend at the Facebook group Atheism vs Christianity (no holds barred) is at it again (see my last post), asking me questions. I guess that’s a good thing. However, every time I look for a nice canned answer already written by some apologist, I find it not to my liking. Ugh. Don’t make me write a book, I don’t like apologetics that much.
So here’s the question:
SKEPTIC: Why are there over 4,200 religions of the world if there’s only one god?
Again, it helps me to create a syllogism out of the question in order to discuss it. His argument *might* be stated thus:
- Premise 1: If the Omni God existed, there would only be one religion in the world.
- Premise 2: There are over 4,200 religions in the world
- Conclusion: Therefore, God does not exist.
There are many answers to this, some of them Christian, and some of them just based on human nature.
The Hiddeness of God – Justified?
This is a form of the classic Argument from Reasonable Unbelief – if an all powerful God existed, it would be obvious. But since God is largely hidden from the common measurements and natural faculties of man, it is much less likely that God exists. And this hiddenness causes men to invent other religions.
If God did not exist, the existence of many invented Gods would be an understandable artifact of some infantile need of humans to have a Daddy in the sky. But could God exist and still have reasons to remain partially hidden? If so, why would that be?
1. God is Spirit
As such, it is argued, God is separate from creation, and not part of the physical world He created. That might mean that all empirical research into God’s existence might fail, since he is not physically observable.
2. God’s existence is obvious in what is made
The fact that so many are theists (of many sorts) may be evidence of the fact that design and complexity in nature practically scream that there is an intelligent, omnipotent creator. Or as scripture says:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. ~ Romans 1:20
Of course, nature does not explain any specifics about Jesus or other more specific truths, but Christians do affirm that God’s existence is made clear by the creation.
3. Creation is fallen
If creation itself is marred by the fall of mankind, while it’s beauty and design may reveal a creator, it’s violence and death may be misinterpreted as intended by God, or stemming from God’s nature rather than the judgments of God on human sin.
With this in mind, many may interpret God to contain the evil that creates death, predation, infanticide among animals, etc.
4. Man is spiritually fallen
The fact that our perception and moral judgment are clouded by sin means that we are bound to mis-perceive God. Without access to any Divinely revealed truths about God, we are bound to go astray in our interpretations of spiritual experiences, or create a God that fits our own selfish aims.
In addition, even Jesus himself said that it is not primarily miracles that convert people, but moral conviction and intuitive confirmation of His claims:
But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. ~ John 12:37
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is suffering in the afterlife and begs to be sent back to tell his brothers. See Jesus’ reply in the parable:
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” ~ Luke 16:27-31
5. God does not force Himself on us
As finite, fallen creatures, if God was immediately obvious to us, it might destroy us, or our affections might be gained by mere fear of such an awesome God. In order to provide free will, God restrains Himself in order to woo us rather than wow us.
6. God resists the proud
Not only does the hiddenness of God make faith necessary, the credulity involved, albeit reasoned faith, is a stumbling block to the intellectually and morally proud person.
For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness ~ 1 Corinthians 1:22-23
So then how does that explain the multitude of religions?
If God is justified in being hidden, then the existence of multiple religions is easy to understand.
1. If man and creation are fallen, we can not get all our info on God from them
And so, when it comes to God, then, we are apt to misunderstand our spiritual experiences.
2. In order to know specifics, we would need more than empirical truth, we would need revealed
This is supposedly what the Prophets have existed to do – to give us God’s direct communication. Of course, if these men too are fallen, how could we trust their impressions?
The Bible addresses this directly – first it says to test every prophet, especially when they claim knowledge of future events. Secondly, we are to use our logical and moral faculties to decide if they are correct. Despite our fallenness, our intuition is designed to respond to truth even when we are warped, and eventually, we can be unwarped. For more on intuition, see this post.
Other than that, it is true that false prophets have abounded. But this does not mean that are bound to believe that ‘all religious claims are equally implausable. I have addressed that ploy in Pascal’s Wager 2: debunking the ‘all religions are equally improbable’ ruse.
3. Without proper revelation, men will make Gods to please themselves
This clearly follows – if revealed truth about God is absent, then men will either make Gods to support their desires or their image, and certainly, may reject any moralism that puts restraints on their appetites (or in the extreme case, moralism can lead to a God who is against all appetites!).
In summary, God’s hiddeness and the imperfect revelation of a fallen creation, along with the morally compromised human race makes for misunderstandings and many imaginations about God.
Without some direct enforcement or constant badgering by God, religions will abound.
I know that for the confirmed skeptic, Occam’s razor might dictate that the simpler solution of God’s non-existence may seem much more reasonable – but Occam would retort that this truism only counts when the simpler solution incorporates all of the relevant data.
In our case, the historicity of Jesus and the Biblical record, the extraordinary and inspiring claims of Jesus, and the impressive fruit that the Christian faith (though mixed) has produced for humanity (hospitals, universities, valuing human life, abolition, spread of literacy, etc.) indicate that perhaps the ‘no God’ solution should not be jumped to.
Hence Pascal’s wager (often misunderstood) still stands to challenge the reasonable man.