XFiles Friday: Tackling polytheismMay 9, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 8 )
At this point in Chapter 8, Geisler and Turek think they’ve proven that the universe must have a theistic cause, and that this deity must be infinite, omnipotent, personal, intelligent, purposeful and moral. Having ostensibly eliminated atheism (as they suppose), the next step is to rule out polytheism so that they can restrict the field to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Unfortunately, Trinitarianism is just polytheism with incoherent definitions, so they can’t disprove polytheism without shooting down traditional Christianity as well. Geisler and Turek don’t notice this, of course, but we certainly shall.
[W]hy does the existence of a theistic God disprove polytheism? It disproves polytheism because God is infinite, and there cannot be more than one infinite Being. To distinguish one being from another, they must differ in some way. If they differ in some way, then one lacks something that the other one has. If one being lacks something that the other one has, then the lacking being is not infinite because an infinite being, by definition, lacks nothing. So there can only be one infinite Being.
Two problems are immediately apparent: 1) Geisler and Turek are assuming that the deity has to be infinite, which they never actually proved, and 2) polytheists don’t claim that there are multiple infinite deities. G&T attempt to deal with the second difficulty, but don’t quite succeed in addressing the problem because of the first difficulty.
Now one could argue that finite beings (or “gods”) exist that are more powerful than human beings. In fact, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach the existence of angels and demons. But that’s not polytheism, which denies that there is a supreme, infinite, eternal Being to whom all creatures owe their existence and to whom all creatures are ultimately accountable. Since theism is true, polytheism is just as false as atheism, pantheism, and all other non-theistic worldviews.
In other words, the reason polytheism is wrong is because it’s not monotheism. Astounding, isn’t it? Let’s recap: G&T argued on the first page of Chapter 8 that God created the universe, therefore God must exist outside the universe, therefore God must be infinite. Polytheists, however, hold that the cosmos was created by deities who, while being greater than the universe, are not necessarily infinite. It is quite conceivable that the universe could have been created by a Being only slightly greater than the creation (and in fact, it’s also possible that our cosmos is self-emergent and self-creating, making the Creator equal to, and not greater than, the Creation).
Geisler and Turek “address” this possibility by the simple expedient of assuming that their conclusion must be the correct one, essentially co-opting the term “theism” to mean only and exclusively monotheism, and thus implicitly rejecting pantheism, polytheism and, unintentionally, Trinitarianism.
Let’s go back to the first paragraph above, where G&T argue that there can only be one infinite Being. If this is true, then Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot each be infinite, since that would be three infinite Persons. As Geisler and Turek inform us, the only way there can be a difference between Father and Son, for instance, is if the Son has something the Father lacks, which would mean the Father was not infinite, because an infinite being must lack nothing. Likewise for Father and Spirit and Spirit and Son. By the argument above, none of the three Persons of the Trinity can be infinite.
If, however, none of the three Persons of the Godhead is infinite, how then is God infinite? Three finite Persons do not combine to create one infinite God, and therefore the Trinity is also excluded from being “theism,” as G&T define it above. The same test which disproves polytheism also disproves the Trinity in the same way. The only way out is to either concede that God does not need to be infinite, or to admit that more than one deity can be infinite at the same time. Either way, fixing the argument so that it does not disqualify the Trinity also fixes it so that it no longer disqualifies polytheism.
In fact, by the argument above, the only deity which can possibly qualify as infinite is a pantheistic deity like Alethea, our patron goddess. Any deity which creates something that is not part of itself is creating an entity which has one or more qualities that the deity lacks, such as “createdness.” According to Geisler and Turek, an infinite being lacks nothing, and therefore can only be infinite if each of His/Her/Its creations is also a part of Him/Her/It, so that all of its qualities are also God’s qualities. (Interestingly, Geisler and Turek never try to argue that pantheism is wrong, though of course this is probably due to the lack of evidence against pantheism than to any pantheistic sympathies on G&T’s part.)
Geisler and Turek want us to think that their religion is the “box top” to the jigsaw puzzle of life, the only view of things that lets all the pieces fall into place in a meaningful and coherent way. Yeah.