Today we will be looking at one of the most powerful atheist arguments that has been used to turn many people away from their faith and converting them into atheism or something closer to agnosticism.
The argument goes like this. There are many gods and religions people believe and have believed throughout centuries and millenniums. There is the Christian god, but there is also Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, just to mention a few, all of them with their own truths, and gods. Additionally, there are also ancient religions and gods that people don’t practice or believe anymore, such as Zeus, Aphrodite, Loki, Osiris, that are now considered mythology.
All religions claim to have the truth and most claim to have it exclusively. Since they differ widely on their truth claims and they cannot all be right at the same time it is quite reasonable to conclude that they are all in error and mistaken. In fact, they all look quite silly when looked at from an all-encompassing modern view. Certainly, in their own bubble each religion could make sense as each religious group thought they were right and were raised believing that, while all the others that were outside were considered wrong or were just simply ignored. But looking at the wide scope of knowledge of religions from different cultures we now have, and the historical scope of religions since antiquity it is quite silly and pretentious to keep on thinking only our own small group is right while all the others are wrong. It is quite more reasonable and likely to infer in the same way other religions are wrong, so are we, and hence all religions are in error and invalid. Some atheists go on to say “Christians don’t believe in hundreds of gods such as Zeus, Loki, …, I Don’t believe in just one more.”
This argument looks quite reasonable and has gained strength particularly because of the increase in multiculturalism. Societies, especially in the West, are increasingly composed of people from different religions so that people are exposed and come to learn a lot about other religions. Media, literature, and travel, among others, have also contributed greatly to the increase of knowledge of other religions and their truth claims.
So how are we to respond to this quite strong and reasonable argument that has gained a lot of adherents and converts?
Here is one one way.
In Mathematics, mathematicians have discussed for ages considering whether Mathematics is an invention or a discovery. There are facts that point to it being a discovery because the field of mathematics has developed with many similarities in different regions of the world that had no contact with each other. One can reasonably infer that mathematics is present in nature and the surrounding world, and with time man have learned to recognize mathematical patterns and ideas and to abstract those and form mathematical systems. On the other hand one can also see that in the process of discovering and abstracting Mathematics from the field of reality and developing it, there was also a process of invention. The extraction can be made in many different ways and many mathematics differ on their approach and models.
Applying this to the problem of religions and gods, then one can also ask, is God and religion a discovery or an invention? A similar argument can be used. The fact that there are so many religions, religious people, and beliefs in God is a strong argument not for the non-existence of God as atheists proclaim, but for his very existence. It means people from so many diverse backgrounds and places grew even before there were religious systems having a sense that there is something out there – some kind of god or gods that exist and exert power and influence over their beings and lives. In their process of exploring and trying to discover that, they have arrived to different explanations that hold many similarities but also many differences among themselves. It is like man can partially see and grasp the reality of God but cannot see and know it clearly, like a person that is looking out the window trying to see someone while it’s still dim. In that sense revelation is compared to a light or a lightning. A moment in time where one can see more clearly what he couldn’t see before. That aligns with the claim of Jesus that only he knows the Father and only he can reveal the Father to others.
Then there is the additional problem of expressing the person of God. First, God cannot be fully known, much less fully described. Even when it comes to man, how difficult it is to describe a person and especially his essence. Let’s say there is a person called Mark and an experiment is made to try to know Mark. Researchers go and ask Mark’s family members, his friends, and his acquaintances to individually describe what kind of person is Mark. Certainly, after gathering the descriptions each person had and gave of Mark, all those descriptions would greatly vary and in some cases even contradict each other. That would not mean that Mark does not exist, quite rather the opposite – he does exist – and so many people have interacted with him and come to have some kind of knowledge of him. And one can say the same is true regarding God.