Arguing for a Tiny God

I hope this time my design choices for “size” and “direction” become usefully obvious in my diagram below. The bottom part of the diagram now illustrates why it is important to keep god-definitions clear. When arguing about ‘god’, spelling out the qualities of the god being debated will save lots of time.

Some Theists feel they have good philosophical arguments that support their god. Here are the big ones:

But these arguments, at their best, would only support a stripped-down, tiny god like the deist creator god. At their worse, they fail miserably. Nonetheless, these arguments don’t work as proof from their big god. Yet these theists, consciously or unconsciously, use these tiny-god arguments to sneak in their big god.  They do this because the word “God” carries the connotations of the bigger, falsely puffed-out gods: the Judge, the Miracle Worker or The Divine Presence.

So when debating a theist, be sure to ask them more about their god. Ask them which god they are trying to prove. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they have argued for their big, miraculous, tribal, anthropomorphic god.  Keep them focused on how tiny the god of their “proofs” actually is.

For an excellent short post on this same issue see Luke Muehlhauser’s: “I Don’t Care if God Exists“.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “Arguing for a Tiny God

  1. Great post! This touches on one of the points I often come to when Christians argue to me that atheism is irrational based on evidence of the universe itself. Sometimes I’ll just say: “OK, let us say that there is a god who created the universe. How can you possibly connect that god with your God with any degree of certainty?”

  2. @ The Wise Fool
    You got it. I sketch pictures for my patients all the time and they seem to understand much better than when I just talk. I would think this sketch would help people get your point more easily.

  3. Earnest

    I think this is really useful. A terriffic god model. The one modification I would like however is for 5 through 8 to be brought outward by a couple of layers. Maybe this is just personal preference. But I think the redesign would be more congruent with the Roman Lares/ household gods concept for example. My understanding is that the Lares were more thought of as ancestor figures rather than omnipotent creator gods.

  4. @ Earnest
    Thank you.
    I had never heard of the guardiand deities called “Lares”. Shinto (Japan) has similar entities but they are called by a broader term, “Kami“.

    Your point is well-taken, but I think it is not only a personal preference but also culturally and historically variable. I switched Mover and Presence at the suggestion of another reader — but was never 100% satisfied with that. Nonetheless, for this post, the present order worked nicely.

    As with many of my diagrams, I am not so much trying to capture reality as to give mind tools to help understand deeper principles. Sort of like a myth, perhaps: Not expressing historical truths or reality but instead to be used as a tool to wrestle with reality — to see sides of it.

  5. As a side note, the arguments that theists use to prove their (small) god do not necessarily rule out multiple gods. Thus, their belief in a “big” single god would not necessarily jive with their arguments.

  6. Your diagram strikes me as doing two things rather well: simplifying the complexity of the issue so that it can be readily understood, and provoking thought.

  7. @ Ahab
    Indeed, the “many gods” issue is not one that theists think about much.

    @ Paul Sunstone
    Wow, you put a smile on my face. That is my goal with most of my diagrams. I am most pleased you thought so of this one. I wrestle to simplify issues in order to bring forward the important components and to offer some visual way to represent that since I think visually.

  8. This is a great visual aid illustrating the vast god-concept spectrum ranging from fewer and more generic attributes on the one end to many and more specific ones on the other. It makes me think of Antony Flew and the curious phenomenon of theists claiming metaphysical victory through his conversion from atheism to weak deism, as if his assent to an Aristotelian “prime mover” in any way approaches the manifold dogmas of contemporary Evangelical Christianity. As an anaology, imagine an exchange between a skeptic (S) and a pink-unicornist (P.U.):

    P.U.: “So what do you make of this pattern in the dirt? Isn’t it likely that it was caused by an animal of some sort?”

    S: “Well, I suppose it’s possible that mark in the dirt is some kind of animal track.”

    P.U.: “Aha, so you do admit the evidence supports the existence of pink unicorns after all!”

  9. @ Louis
    Thanks mate. You nailed it!

  10. Curt

    THieists do not think much about many Gods simply becasue if there were many they would not be Gods. They would just be us, only better, or perahps worse depending on which lawyer they could get to defend their behavior.

  11. I think I have more clarity now, yet I am still not sure. I see you stating that all god-proofs eventually boil down to an ontological or cosmological argument and those are, in fact, tiny god arguments easily disproved. Or not even easily disproved, but predictable from your view even though the theist might be blind to it.


  12. You are getting a little closer, Luke.
    Let me see if I can restate it:

    The cosmological and ontological arguments are merely aimed at a creator god. The god of most theists has many more traits. So even if those arguments work, they don’t get us even close to showing the possibility of a Yahweh or a Jesus god.

    I am not saying anything about these other definitions. I am making no judgement about big or small gods. I am not criticizing the arguments. I am trying to make clear that the arguments don’t accomplish what many Christians would like to think they accomplish.

    Is that a bit clearer?
    Like I said, James McGrath (a Christian religion prof) agrees with my points, btw. You don’t have to, of course, but you still seem to be misreading my post. I think your are being distracted by what you may expect me to say.

  13. I don’t know about the misreading, maybe misunderstanding. I don’t expect you to say anything, I have no agenda or followup questions; simply seeking clarity on what you have written.

    I guess I’m still baffled by the numbering and the size and your thinking behind that. I think I get the idea that “the arguments don’t accomplish what many Christians would like to think they accomplish.” That has always been clear.

    I guess what I’m seeking is the rational of the size and numbering. I am caught on that more-so than the concept you are conveying. The details are unclear but the overview I get, if that makes any sense.

  14. @ Luke
    The numbers are just there because I can’t crowd the qualities’ names inside the circles.
    The circles get larger as more qualifiers are added. Larger circle = more qualifiers.
    It ain’t difficult.
    If you can think of a better or more informative or more accurate chart, please post it on your site. I’d love to see it.

  15. Ahhhh, QUALIFIERS! It now makes perfect sense. Thanks for sticking with me. Things have clicked into place.

  16. Yeah. Wheeeeew.
    As my third sentence in the post said:

    ” When arguing about ‘god’, spelling out the qualities of the god being debated will save lots of time.”

    Glad it makes sense now.

  17. Random thought.

    I find it interesting that the Deist conception is described as the “smaller” God. One of the paradoxes I’ve encountered is that the more people try to make the Christian God really care about a particular people, tribe, or singular person…the smaller that God seems to me. While being more active and involved and invested in particular outcomes in human history, it makes that type of God very small.

    I had the same reaction when reading NT Wright and his portrayal of the historical Jesus. He so emphasized his reality, emphasis, humanness and Jewish ethos, all in an effort to stave off mythicists or mystics who may not believe in a physical resurrection, that he made Jesus smaller….while also trying to maintain that he was the Son of God. To me, it seemed as if he had just undercut his own desire to defend Christian Orthodoxy.

    It was very strange.

    Simple ideas and systems of thought always develop into complex arguments weighed down by their own intricacy. It’s a natural process. So those basic arguments(on either side) are stepping stones to the more detailed analysis of what comes next in the train of thought.

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