Thinking Like A Christian - Defending Your Faith
Session 4: What About Other Religious Views of God?
1) Other Major Religions: Without delving into specifics of denominations, orders, or sect-specific practices, can be categorized as Atheism, Deism, Modern Practical Deism, Pantheism, and Polytheism.
A) Atheism – the belief that God does not exist
i) Includes secular humanism, certain schools of Buddhism, and Taosim
ii) Famous Atheists: John Dewey, Frederic Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Ayn Rand, Bertrand Russell, and B. F. Skinner
iii) A skeptic doubts God’s existence, an agnostic claims it isn’t possible to know, but an atheist claims to know for a fact that God does not exist
iv) Interestingly, most atheists deny the existence of God but affirm the existence of evil, and use the presence of evil as a pseudo-argument that a holy, perfect God could not logically exist simultaneously with the presence of evil
v) “God Is Dead” Movement: God once existed, but no longer does
(1) Also known as “theothanatology” (Greek: theos = God, thanatos = death)
(2) Primarily derived from Gabriel Vahanian's 1961 book, The Death of God
B) Deism: The view that God exists, but does not perform miracles. There are two major variations of this view:
i) Historical Deism is the belief that God exists and that he created the universe. But after creating the world, God does not intervene with the world. This means God never performs miracles but always allows the world to operate following the principles of unchangeable natural laws; the idea of God as a watchmaker
(1) Popular during the colonial and early post-Revolutionary War periods.
ii) Modern Practical Deism. Very few people today call themselves Deists. However, there are millions of people that are Deist in their worldview. Like Deists they affirm the existence of God. When a pollster asks them if they believe there is a God they answer yes. However, also like the Deist of old, the existence of God makes no difference in either the world or their personal life. God may exist, but they act as if he never answers prayer or intervenes in human affairs.
iii) Rebuttal of Deism – the problem with Deism is that it is important. This is true of both historic Deism and the practical Deism of today. Historical Deism rejects the possibility of miracles while affirms the biggest miracle of all – the creation of the universe. It accepts the big miracle while rejecting the possibility of lesser miracles.
(1) Geisler and Brooks explain why this position is inconsistent.
(a) “If God was good enough and powerful enough to create the world, isn’t it reasonable to assume that He could take care of it too? If He can make something out of nothing, then He can certainly make something out of something; as for example, Jesus made wine out of water.” (When Skeptics Ask, p.41).
(2) Practical Deism claims to believe in the existence of an all powerful God, but then acts as if God does not care about his creation, nor interacts with it.
C) Pantheism is the belief that God is everything and everything is God. In other words, Pantheists believe that the universe is God.
i) Eastern Religions
ii) God is impersonal, not personal
iii) The doctrine of creation is denied.
(1) According to Pantheism, the universe was not created by God but rather the universe is an emanation of God – God thinks about Himself, and all the universe flows from that self-realization of God.
(2) The separate existence of matter is an illusion according to Pantheism
iv) By definition, Pantheism denies the possibility of the supernatural.
v) Since the nature is God, there is nothing beyond nature.
vi) This does not mean that Pantheism rejects the possibility of occultic magic. Rather occultic powers are understood as the manipulation of the divine power that permeates the universe
vii) Good and Evil do not exist in the Pantheistic worldview.
viii) Rebuttal of Pantheism
(1) If the physical universe is an illusion, then why does it seem so real to our senses?
(2) And even more importantly, why do Pantheists act as if the universe is real when they claim to believe that it is an illusion? If they answer that it is because they are still unenlightened it is fair to ask why should we accept the beliefs of someone who by their own admission is unenlightened?
(3) Also, according to Pantheism God is impersonal. This implies that the impersonal is closer to deity than the personal. It is reasonable to conclude therefore that the impersonal is of more value than the personal since it is closer to deity. However, no Pantheist acts as if this is true! In their day-to-day lives Pantheists consistently behave as if the person is of more importance than the impersonal.
D) Polytheism is the belief that there are many gods.
i) These deities are finite and rule over only a limited area of the universe. These deities had a beginning and are not eternal as far as the past is concerned.
ii) While Polytheists do not believe that the gods are eternal in the past, many of them do believe that the universe is eternal. According to them, there was no first cause and no act of creating the universe out of nothing.
iii) Polytheism has experienced resurgence in the West.
(2) Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft
iv) Polytheists reject the concept of there being only one absolute being.
(1) From one of the Mormon scriptures, Book of Abraham 4:1: “And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.”
v) Polytheism is not incompatible with Pantheism. Many Polytheists are also Pantheists.
E) Rebuttal of Polytheism & Pantheism:
i) If the deities are not eternal in the past then they must be derived from something else and cannot be universally supreme. Why should anyone worship a created being which is not supreme? Logically, we should worship only that which is supreme and not that which is of lesser value.
ii) If the polytheist says that it is the universe which is supreme then he is really a Pantheist and the same objections that were raised against an external universe in the discussion on Pantheism also apply.
iii) Ultimately Polytheism should be understood as the worship of the creature rather than the creator. (Rom. 1:18ff).
2) Other noted worldviews/religions: Panentheism & Finite Godism.
A) Panentheism: The universe is God’s body, though God's awareness is sometimes seen as transcending the rest. All the universe freely cooperates with God in co-creating the entirity of itself.
i) Also known as “process theology,” and is a key component of liberation theology (in all its variations, including the now-infamous black liberation theology of Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ)
ii) The world needs God to exist, but God also needs the world in order to express Himself
iii) God is evolving and changing as the world itself changes
iv) Social change and social justice are indistinguishable from the process of salvation, as God and the world are so intermeshed.
v) Response to Panentheism: If God and the universe are both intertwined and evolving, what started the whole process? A counter argument might be that they simply always existed in harmony, but as we have already established, you cannot have an infinite series of regressions. Also, how can you be sure something, even God, is changing, if there is not fixed standard by which to measure any assumed change?
B) Finite Godism: God is subject to limitations, and is not all-powerful.
i) Popularized by Rabbi Kushner in his When Bad Things Happen To Good People.
(1) “God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes He can’t bring that about…there are some things God does no control.”
ii) Base their theories on part on the fact that evil exists in the universe.
(1) This is seemingly a problem for Christians because we believe that God is All-powerful and that God is Good, so in theory evil should not exist.
(2) This argument is based on an assumption of singularity, where two opposing forces cannot simultaneously exist.
(3) This argument is also based on an assumption about the purpose and nature of evil. We will have a prolonged discussion on the topic of evil in the next session
iii) Also base their theories on the idea that an imperfect universe demands an imperfect Creator, a simple logical fallacy based on assumptions about God's abilities
iv) Rebuttal: A finite god would need a cause, or creator, something greater than itself. Their argument is thus self-defeating. We will discuss other rebuttals referring to the nature of evil in our next session
Text: When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Norman Geisler & Ron Brooks
The Apologetics Study Bible, Holman CSB
Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences, H. Wayne House
Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Norman Geisler
Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson
Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview, J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig
Love God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason In the Life of the Soul, J.P. Moreland
The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
Unshakable Foundations, Norman Geisler
Who Made God?, Ravi Zacharias
Back to the main page...