Questions About Other Gods – Part 1
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2000|
|There are many different “gods” competing for the hearts and minds of people today. The way we think about what God is like and His relationship to the world determines a lot about the way we see other things in our everyday lives. Over the next few weeks we will examine some of these views, beginning with Atheism.|
Questions About Other Gods—Part One
(from Dr. Geisler’s book When Skeptics Ask, Victor Books, 1990)
There are many different “gods” competing for the hearts and minds of people today. The way we think about what God is like and His relationship to the world determines a lot about the way we see other things in our everyday lives. For example, people with different beliefs about God might approach the problems of world hunger or civil rights in different ways. A person who believes that everything is part of God, as Eastern pantheists do, will consider anything painful or evil to be unreal; so he might conduct seminars on meditation to make the victims realize that their problems are only illusions. A person who thinks of God as developing along with the progress of the world is very likely to be involved in famine relief programs and Amnesty International in a firm belief that he is helping to make God better. One who has faith in the God of the Bible would show compassion to those in need and provide food, clothes, and shelter.
These persons have different ways of looking at the problem and different motivations for solving it because of their diverse views of God. How one understands God determines so much about the way he sees the world. We call these different concepts worldviews. There are six worldviews that oppose Christianity which we want to discuss:
- Atheism—the view that there is no God
- Deism—the view that God exists, but doesn’t perform miracles
- Pantheism—the view that all is God
- Panentheism—the view that God is developing along with the world
- Finite Godism—the view that God exists but is limited and/or imperfect
- Polytheism—the view that there are many gods.
For each of these we will discuss its view of God, the world, evil, miracles, and values or ethics. This chart organizes the various worldviews according to the logically possible options concerning God.
Each level of the chart asks one of the four basic questions about God: How many gods are there? Are they finite or infinite? Are they identified with the world or not? Are miracles possible? Each worldview is found in italics and the road leading to the Christian conclusion is in bold type.
Atheism—What if There is No God?
Though a recent poll indicates that only about 5 percent of Americans do not believe in God, the influence of atheistic thinkers in our time is certainly widespread. Most college students have studied the writings or the thoughts of existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, communist Karl Marx, capitalist Ayn Rand, or psychologists Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner. In the 1960s, the following passage from Friedrich Nietzsche became a motto for the “God is dead” movement:
- “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him— you and I! We are all his murderers! … Do we not hear the noise of the grave diggers who are burying God? … God is dead! God remains dead!”
Not all atheists are quite as militant, however. Karl Marx echoed the sentiments of many modem atheists when he wrote, “Nowadays, in our evolutionary conception of the universe, there is absolutely no room for either a creator or a ruler.”
While a skeptic doubts that God exists, and an agnostic says that he doesn’t know if God is out there, the atheist claims to know that there is no God. There is only the world and the natural forces that operate it.
What Do Atheists Believe About God?
There are different kinds of atheism. Some believe that God once existed, but died in the body of Jesus Christ. Others say that it is impossible to talk about God because we can’t know anything about Him, so He may as well not exist. Still others say that there is no longer any need for the God-myth that once flourished among men. But the classic view holds that there never was and never will be a God either in the world or beyond it. Those who hold this view object that the arguments used to prove God’s existence are faulty. God is simply a creation of human imagination.
What Do Atheists Believe About the World?
Many believe the world is uncreated and eternal. Others say it came into existence “out of nothing and by nothing.” It is self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. They argue that if everything needs a cause, then one can ask, “What caused the first cause?” So they claim that there must have been a series of causes that reaches back into the past forever. Some simply say that the universe is not caused; it is just there.
What Do Atheists Believe About Evil?
While atheists deny God’s existence, they affirm the reality of evil. They think the existence of evil is one of the primary evidences that there is no God. One atheist philosopher even wonders what could possibly make a Christian admit that his beliefs are false if he still believes in the existence of God while evil is present in the world. Some also argue that it is absurd to believe in God since God made all things, and evil is a thing, so God must have made evil.
What Do Atheists Believe About Values?
If there is no God, and man is merely a collection of chemicals, then there is no reason to believe that anything has eternal value. Atheists believe that morals are relative and situational. There may be some enduring ethical principles, but these were created by man, not revealed by God. Goodness is defined as whatever works to achieve the desired results.
Atheist philosophers have asked some questions which challenge us to think about our faith. However, the objections that are raised about God’s existence have already been addressed in a previous series of articles: Questions About God (see Archives). Briefly stated, an infinite series of causes is impossible and unnecessary, because Christians never said that everything needs a cause—only events or things that change need causes. Asking, “What caused the first cause?” is like asking, “What does a square triangle look like?” or, “What is the smell of blue?” It is a meaningless question. Triangles can’t have four sides; colors don’t smell; and first causes don’t have causes because they are first. (The questions about evil will be addressed in a later series.)
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom, trans. by Thomas Common (New York: Frederick Unger Publishing Co., 1960), section 125, pp. 167-168.
- See Marx and Engels on Religion, ed. By Reinhold Niebuhr (New York: Schocken, 1964), p. 295.