I often compare God to Zeus, fairies, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Many Christians have complained that these are unfair comparisons. I disagree.
Christians seem to think I’m saying God is identical to Zeus, fairies, and the FSM in every significant way, even though I keep repeating that I’m only comparing them in very specific ways. For example, both God and Zeus have magical powers, both God and fairies can be used to explain the unexplainable, and both God and the FSM are logically possible even though this does nothing to show they are probable.
Let me give you some examples of how I’ve used these comparisons and how Christians have misunderstood me.
First, from the comments on a post at Jesus Manifesto:
Mark: You assume that lies, placebo, and hallucinations are more plausible explanations because of why? Evidence? Random “healings” happening because of an unknown un-God reason is more likely than a divine cause because why?
Lukeprog: For the exact same reason that I think lies, placebo, religious mania, and hallucinations are more plausible explanations for a given miracle of any religion than the hypothesis that the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it, or the hypothesis that aliens from another dimension did it, or the hypothesis that tiny invisible gremlins inside each subatomic particle conspired telepathically to do it. The reason is evidence. We have TONS of evidence that people lie, hallucinate, get wrapped up in religious mania, and can affect their own healing by positive beliefs that they will be healed. That stuff happens all the time. In contrast, we do NOT have good, well-tested evidence of [the FSM, tiny invisible gremlins, etc.].
Andrew: I think part of the objection to comparing belief in God to belief in a pink, unicorn or fairy is that those latter things obviously have physical characteristics.
Lukeprog: I never said that belief in God is like belief in fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in all respects. I used these analogies for very specific purposes, which I outlined in an earlier post. For example, whenever you give an argument that God is logically possible, I point out that this doesn’t get us anywhere towards plausibility, since unicorns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are logically possible but not at all plausible.
Or, see the comments on my post at Fallen and Flawed:
Lukeprog: The problem is all the “evidence” that is offered [for theism] is not evidence for what Christians think it is (usually, it is merely an argument from ignorance, like “Lightning is so complex we can’t understand it, therefore Zeus is the best explanation”), or else the argument fails badly.
Demian: You continue to lump Yahweh [and implicitly Jesus of Nazereth] with Zeus demonstrating your fundamental lack of understanding the difference between a myth and a historical religion.
Lukeprog: You keep forgetting that I have NEVER made a claim that Yahweh is much like Zeus or Mbombo. I have only give SPECIFIC comparisons. For example, it is simply TRUE that all three are gods once worshiped by men. This is not “lumping them together”, it is making a true claim of a specific similarity.
The same goes for when I point out that all three gods can be justified by “faith.” I can have “faith” in Mbombo just like I can have “faith” in Yahweh. But I cannot have good evidence of either if they don’t actually exist.
Likewise, it is also true (I argue) that Yahweh is a very poor scientific explanation for abiogenesis or the origins of the universe in the very same way that Zeus is a very poor explanation for lightning. What I mean by that is very specific, relating to Pierce’s abductive reasoning. Positing Zeus as an explanation for lightning or Yahweh as an explanation for abiogenesis has very little explanatory scope, explanatory power, etc… These “answers” also fail Occam’s razor very badly.
Or, in some comments on my first post:
Lukeprog: Is it necessary to have disproofs of the existence of fairies to be justified in disbelieving in fairies?
unkleE: Luke, the two cases (God and fairies) are very different… Fairies are postulated to be creatures that exist on earth… There are no ontological, cosmological, teleological or moral, etc, arguments for fairies. So there is no argument to meet. But there are many arguments which have been developed to high degrees of precision about the possible existence of God.
Lukeprog: I have not made any sweeping claims of similarity for God and fairies, not any argument by analogy. All I have done is to point out that we are justified in disbelieving in fairies without knowing any arguments against their existence. But you can substitute “fairy” with Vahiguru, magical teapots, unicorns, or whatever. All I’m saying is that I don’t need a disproof of God to be justified in disbelieving in him… What I’m saying is that a rebuttal of the positive arguments for the existence of God is enough to justify my disbelief in him, just like a rebuttal of positive arguments given for the existence of psychic powers is enough to justify disbelief in them.
Even after all this, many of my readers don’t get it. So let me take a moment to explain how comparison works.
A comparison happens when you notice that two or more things share the same property, and you say “Hey, look! These things share property X!” This does not imply that they share any other properties. Nor does it imply that they share all significant properties. Rather, it claims that those things share the property being called out.
So, if I say, “Both Clifford the dog and the Wrigley Field welcome sign are red,” I’m saying that both things share the property of being red, but they don’t necessarily share any other properties.
For example, one is fictional and one is real. One is alive, the other is not. One has legs, the other does not. They do share many properties besides being red – for example that of originating in the Midwestern United States – but this was not assumed by my original statement that “Both Clifford the dog and the Wrigley Field welcome sign are red.”
Now, let’s consider the comparisons I’ve made between God and Zeus, fairies, and the FSM.
I’ve often compared God and Zeus to show why an argument from ignorance doesn’t work. The Christian often says:
Consciousness / morality / abiogenesis / cosmic origins cannot be explained by current science, therefore God probably did it.
To which I reply that the ancient Greek could just as sensibly have said:
Lightning cannot be explained by our current science, therefore Zeus probably did it.
The comparison I’m making here should be obvious. I am not saying that the God and Zeus are identical in all ways. I am certainly not saying they are equally silly. The ‘ground of all being’ God of the philosophers is more plausible than Zeus the lightning-hurler who battled with the Titans. (However, Zeus is not particularly less plausible than the Biblical God, who hurled rocks from the sky at the fleeing Amorites, appeared to Moses in a burning bush, and took Elisha into the sky on a chariot pulled by horses of fire.)
What I am saying is that both God and Zeus share the property of being a poor explanation for the unexplained. What I’m saying is that just because I say “I don’t know” when faced with the unknown and Christians say “Goddidit” does not mean the Christian answer has any plausibility. Having an answer does not win you any points unless you give me reasons why your answer is plausible. A nutjob may proclaim undetected alien surgery as the cause of his mother’s cancer remission, but this explanation does not gain any credibility simply because the doctors can’t explain the remission.
This is such an important point I must highlight it:
There are still millions of things we still don’t understand about this universe, and “It must be magic!” is not a compelling explanation, whether the name attached to that magic is Zeus or Yahweh or Vahiguru.
That is the comparison I make between God and Zeus.
Fairies and the Flying Spaghetti Monster
When I compare God to fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I’m usually trying to illustrate the point that just because something is logically possible does not mean it is at all plausible. Christians often go to great lengths to show that:
- Despite the amount of superfluous suffering in the world, it’s still possible an all-powerful, all-good God has moral reasons (that we can’t understand) for allowing it all.
- Despite the immense confusion and violence that has arisen from people receiving ‘revelations’ of hundreds of conflicting religions, it’s still possible that this was the best possible way for God to reveal himself to mankind.
- Despite the unfathomable size, age, and violent waste of the universe, it’s still possible God created all of it for the purpose of slowly and painfully evolving a barely-conscious, ignorant race of humans on a tiny dust speck in the suburbs of an insignificant galaxy.
- and so on
Yes, that’s all possible. It’s always possible that the Christian story is true, no matter how many absurdities you have to bend over backwards to explain away. It’s also possible that all this is the work of fairies, even though that makes little sense. It could also be the work of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, though FSM theology has to explain away lots of absurdities, too.
So what’s the comparison I’m making? I’m saying that God, fairies, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster all share the property of being logically possible but not necessarily plausible. And in fact, that’s generous of me. There are many popular conceptions of God that are not logically possible.
So, when I’m making these comparisons, please note the specific comparison being made. I am not saying that God is identical to all these silly things. Obviously not. I’m always making a specific comparison in order to illustrate and important point that theists often forget, like the failure of arguments from ignorance.