The Generic God

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Simply put, the Generic God concept is the idea that even if all known religions are wrong a god could still exist.

So a god could still exist even if people in history who claim to have dreamed dreams or seen visions or talked to angels or received divine messages were all either mistaken/self-deceived, or lied or were themselves stories made up by future generations.

A god might have created the universe and might still interact in some way with humanity so as to prompt belief and yet, people’s explanations for who this god is could be wrong since this God never actually revealed his identity to mankind or that revelation has been lost.

This concept makes a differentiation between personal experiences where god intervenes in order to help a person and experiences that lead one towards some form of theological belief system.

For example, say a Hindu family has a child that is dying from a brain tumor so they gather together with relatives and beg god to heal the child. But, when the child gets better the family attributes the healing to one of the Hindu gods. At the same time a Muslim family has a similar experience but, during the intensity of the trial, they have a dream about Allah healing the child. So the actual experience is similar but the theology used to make sense of the experience is different from culture to culture.

And sure, such a god does bring up a number of questions like, if he hasn’t ever revealed himself, what exactly does he want? But an immediate answer to those questions is not necessary in order to use the concept as a tool to help facilitate the conversation.

There are several reasons that this concept is important in a discussion between theists and atheists.

First, if the atheist successfully disproves the Christian god or the Muslim god or whatever God the person believes in, the logical fallback position for this person is not atheism but the generic god. So for an atheist to justify his own position he must go further than just disproving some particular religion’s god. Or, to say it differently, proving that the Koran is false or that the Christian god concept is self-contradictory is insufficiency to justify atheism.

Second, the gulf between the atheist and any individual theist is so wide that it is almost impossible to encompass the entire subject in any conversation. The Generic God is a sort of island between two extremes that makes it possible to reduce the topic to a more manageable size. The discussion could be framed as atheism vs. the generic god or the generic god vs. a specific god (i.e. even if god exists, he couldn’t be THIS particular god).

Third, and this is the reason why I always insist on using this concept when debating atheists, it makes it difficult for the atheist to attribute more weight to his own arguments than they actually have.

For example, lets say an atheist comes to me with 50 arguments: 5 arguments against god in general, 20 arguments about contradictions in the Bible, 10 arguments about archeology and the Bible, 10 arguments about the morality of the Christian God and 5 arguments about god’s attributes being self-contradictory. And, at the end, he states that he has provided 50 arguments making a compelling case for atheism.

But, in actually, he has only provided 5 arguments in support of atheism. And, it’s not that I cannot answer the other 45 arguments, but I simply don’t need to since, it only takes responding to the 5 to prove him wrong. And neither am I going to give him credit for 50 arguments that disprove god when he only provided 5.

Probably the best way to explain this such that an atheist can relate is to compare it to a topic where the atheist is the one arguing in support of a claim: Evolution.

Very often when atheists debate creationists the creationist will bring up the emergence of life from non-life (abiogenesis) as an argument against evolution. This since obviously for life to evolve it must first emerge.

And, of course, the atheist will respond that evolution and abiogenesis are two different topics since evolution has nothing to say about how life emerged. The creationist on the other hand considers this a cop out; an attempt by the atheist to avoid having to give an answer for something he knows he has no answer to.

But that isn’t the point. There are several reasons why it is reasonable to discuss evolution and abiogenesis separately:

1) They are each very broad topics that require a lot of time to address even individually,
2) The mechanism for evolution is completely different than that for abiogenesis,
3) Even if abiogenesis is not possible evolution could still be true and vice versa, i.e. whether one is true does not affect whether the other is true,
4) Most importantly, it is to avoid a situation where the creationist mixes arguments against abiogenesis with arguments against evolution and creates the impression that the arguments against evolution have more weight then they actually do; as if the weakness of one claim has implications about the soundness of the other.

Thus, the most efficient way to do justice to both topics is to discuss them separately. In the same way the Generic God is a logical boundary in the theist-atheist debate that allows us to fairly evaluate each aspect of the debate.

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