Can a struggle between a few Near Eastern tribes explain away monotheism?

In a recent post, Prateek tries to contend that arguments for monotheism "don't make sense": monotheism arose simply because one polytheistic god favored by a certain faction defeated other polytheistic gods, because "His" faction won. All philosophical cases for this single god are just post hoc rationalizations for Elohim's victory.

What can we call a theory like this... divine ignorance?

Because what we see happening at this time, and not just in Israel, but in Greece, Persia, India, and China as well, is the supersession of a multitude of tribal gods, and of tribe-based morality, with the idea of divine transcendence, and of universal morality. (This movement is extensively demonstrated in Jaspers' work on The Axial Age, and Eric Voegelin characterizes it as a turn from intracosmic gods to transcendence.)

Of course, these events took place in the context of various peoples bickering about this and that... as have all other historical happenings. But it is juvenile to try to explain away this intellectual movement by pointing to these quarrels. It's like telling students of mathematics that "Calculus really doesn't make sense: it only came about because Newton and Leibniz were trying to show each other up," or of physics "Don't worry about violations of locality: Aspect was just trying to demonstrate that he is smarter than Einstein."

All ideas arise in a context, and given the nature of human life, that is bound to be a messy context. Nevertheless, the ideas have to be addressed on their own merit, not dismissed based on the circumstances in which they arose.

Comments

  1. Was the emergence of monotheism in South America also due to the spontaneous 'supersession of a multitude of tribal gods, and of tribe-based morality, with the idea of divine transcendence, and of universal morality.' or did the fact that the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists rigorously and often ruthlessly encouraged the practice of Catholicism play a predominate role ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. rob, you've now won "the most irrelevant comment of the year" award!

      Delete
    2. Not at all. This is one of the examples where we have been able to observe the spread of monotheism most closely. We have better sources, closer in time for this one. And we don’t see your philosophical debate theory as the right explanation in this case.
      Maybe it’s like ulcers. We used to think they were stress induced. We had lots of stress induced ulcer anecdotes. Then we got a more careful look. Do we believe that the cause of ulcers changed? It's pylori now but it was stress in Ancient Greece, Persia, and India?

      I'm curious to know if Keshav agrees Islam spread in India by your method, vanquishing the disgraced polytheism?

      Delete
    3. "This is one of the examples where we have been able to observe the spread of monotheism most closely."

      So Ken, you've decided to go *full moron mode* again, hey?! Because it does not matter AT ALL how an idea spread in determining whether or not it is correct! If the theory of evolution was imposed in South America at the point of bayonets, that would make *arguments* for the theory invalid? What absolute, moronic stupidity!

      Delete
    4. Maybe it is like an ulcer has eaten away your brain, huh Ken?

      Did you realize that Hitler had German teachers teach German children that 2+2 = 4 ?

      That surely proves it doesn't right?!

      Delete
    5. And by the way, pea-brained moron, I DON'T HAVE A "PHILOSOPHICAL DEBATE THEORY"! You just made up that idea completely on your own.

      Delete
  2. Gene, slightly off-topic, but since you mentioned divine transcendence, how do you feel about pantheism and panentheism? Do you reject divine immanence and/or think it's incompatible with divine transcendence?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why do we use the diphthong th rather than the thorn? Because one tribe of lexicographers and printers won out over another. This is the problem with the “th is perfect” crowd. Had say Caxton adopted the thorn all might be different. All the apologetic arguments for th might have been made for thorn. This undercuts them, don’t you §ink?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We can't decide whether or not "th" is preferable, nor whether the choice was arbitrary, just by citing the fact that one group won out over another! We would actually have to EXAMINE THE ISSUE, wouldn't we?

      Delete
  4. Hey Ken, a lot of people embraced set theory because its teaching was enforced in government run schools: I guess that means set theory is nonsensical, hey?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey Ken, Leibniz's notation for calculus won out on the continent because continental mathematicians favored another continental over Newton. I guess that means his notation was nonsensical!

    ReplyDelete
  6. If we read in a history book that the Blues had thoroughly defeated the Greens and blue became the official color of the empire, would we need to examine the merits of blue to see if it was the right choice? All ideas arise in a context, but not all ideas have value. For the ones that don't have value, the context is the most interesting and important thing to discuss about them.

    ReplyDelete
  7. In a very neat example you once showed on your own blog, the scientists who believed in Einstein's theory of relativity simply ignored all the falsifications, assuming someone would validate the theory later. In my view, it did not vindicate them, only the ones who came to the conclusion later after actually providing evidence for it. It's not enough to have a view - it should be backed by the right reasoning and steps.

    The arguments for God include the ontological argument, the teleological argument, the unmoved mover argument, the first cause argument, and so on.

    The Canaanites and the Hebrews never used these arguments to believe in their gods or God. They simply believed in them.

    Imagine if after some investigation, reasoning, and possibly even visible evidence, we discover that Bhaal was indeed the real god. It would not really vindicate the worshippers of Bhaal from centuries back. Nobody back from the era of Bhaal would have said, "Oh, I am sure someone will come along centuries later and prove us right."

    Apologist arguments for gods or God are a few centuries old. But belief in gods or God is millenia old. If it were turn out that man's intuition came across the truth thousands of years before man's science, thought, and reasoning could validate it, then the entire Scientific Revolution has been worthless. We would have to believe that human reasoning is worthless, and even a hindrance to man's progress, because human intuition was always sufficient, and reasoning did nothing but add extra steps.

    And if that is the case, then we have to believe that mankind has done nothing but gone backwards for the last 500 years.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yeah, diamonds are just a marketing ploy made in the 1930's! No need to get your fiancee one!

    ReplyDelete
  9. "If this nonsense were actually true, so what? The validity of an argument for X in no way depends on whether I believed in X before or after the argument."

    So conditioning on Prateek being right about Abrahamic monotheism coming from an earlier polytheistic religion. It seems to me that this would matter in ways that "The Nazi's taught 2+2=4" does not. For one thing it would contradict the story of Abraham being called by god away from his polytheistic ancestors (and we are talking about the biblical god right?). For another what do we conclude if we stick to a belief in god and acknowledge this history? That god used to have a wife and then killed her to be the only god? That the earlier polytheistic guys had some idea fo god and made up a family for him? How do you make the story work (again conditioned on taking Prateek's history as given).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "For one thing it would contradict the story of Abraham being called by god away from his polytheistic ancestors..."
      No, it would not. The world can contain multiple events, not all of which fit one narrow story!
      "and we are talking about the biblical god right?"
      No, we weren't. You are the first one who brought up that notion. Before this only "monotheism" was being discussed.
      "For another what do we conclude if we stick to a belief in god and acknowledge this history? That god used to have a wife and then killed her to be the only god?"
      Say what? What if we just believed the earlier stories were, say, *wrong*. Or as more mature interpreters of mythological thinking do, actually understood what myths are and like grown-ups understand they are not supposed to be competing *factual* narratives at all?!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Central Planning Works!

Our precious