Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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Is Yahweh made in man’s image?

If he is, why do nearly all (presumably man-made) religions line up against Christianity on many key doctrines?

In a Facebook discussion about God’s reasons for creating and acting in the world (for his own glory), an unbelieving friend made the comment:

Seems like a very human trait to desire glory. Along with all the other human traits I see in Yahweh. I guess you could argue we were created in his image, but I see it more likely we created him in ours.

Is it a human trait to desire glory? Definitely. But the definition of what it means to seek glory is markedly different for God than it is for us.

In the past, I have defined God’s glory as the manifestation of his perfections. But when we talk about humans seeking glory, do we mean they seek to manifest their perfections? No, definitely not. What perfections? If anything, humans seeking glory manifests their most egregious flaws—pride, arrogance, self-aggrandizement etc. When God seeks his glory, conversely, he exercises and reveals his complete goodness. So the two are diametrically opposed.

That’s strikingly different from a god made in man’s own image. But that’s not the only thing that’s different. Here are a few more:

Salvation

Human beings by nature want to earn their salvation. They think they have to do good things and avoid bad things to go to heaven. Christianity is the only religion I know of where this is not the case. Yahweh does not make us work for salvation (he says there’s no way we could). Rather, he unilaterally chooses whom to save as an act of unmerited favor. If Yahweh had been created in our image, we should expect to have to try to please him with good works like any other god.

Penal substitution

Name another religion (not based on Christianity) where a god pays the penalty for man’s sins. It’s unheard of. In fact, it’s so counterintuitive that it’s a major obstacle to many people believing the gospel—they can’t accept that there’s nothing they can do to save themselves; or that God would take their guilt on himself. One of the prime features of man-made religion is that it preserves human autonomy in some way. Christianity radically removes it.

Triunity

Again, this is unique among religions. Most man-made gods are a single person in a single being, because that is all we know from our own experience: persons just are beings in our view of the world, and it wouldn’t occur to us that it could be any other way. Triunity is completely foreign, and ultimately inexplicable to us. Indeed, it is hard to see how this doctrine could even develop in a man-made sense, except out of polytheism. But the triunity of Yahweh is in the opposite direction: Yahweh is first revealed as one (the Shema; Deut 6:4), and only much later fully explicated as three.

Incidentally, while triunity is bizarre from a human perspective, it just happens to make Yahweh the only God adequate to ground existence itself, by drawing unity and plurality together. (Look up Plato’s problem of the one and many.) Yet the Hebrews can hardly be credited with inventing a deity to appease Plato! And in case you’re thinking that, wait a minute, can’t Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva meet this requirement too…no. Despite being called the “Great Trinity”, they cannot—because they are simply manifestations of Bhagavan. Christians would call this modalism if it were applied to God, and it breaks the one/many ontology. (Mind you, I think the broad strokes of Hinduism are too strikingly similar to Yawhism to assume no connection, especially since Vedism, which Hinduism grew out of, originated in Iran, while Yahwism originated in Iraq…)

Aseity

With the exception of religions based on Christianity, man-made deities are typically contingent, changeable, emotional, compound, and generally also physical in some sense. Yahweh, conversely, exists necessarily, is unchangeable in his being, does not experience emotions in the sense of undergoing changes in disposition, is not made up of parts but rather is a simple being who just is existence, and is independent of space/time and matter/energy.

The only other religion that looks vaguely like this is, again, Hinduism—but even ignoring the possible links to Yahwism, Hindu philosophy maintains that God in his supreme “form” is supposed to be beyond human experience or reason. So how could we predicate attributes like aseity of him? Moreover, the common representations of God in Hinduism are in the distinctly contingent-seeming manifestations of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, and their even more human-seeming avatars (again, there is a superficial similarity to Christian doctrine here, this time in the incarnation—but again the resemblance is only skin-deep since the Hindu view is akin to modalism).

Total depravity

Not strictly an attribute of God, but worth mentioning because it is central to Christianity, which atheists would claim is man-made just as much as Yahweh is. Other religions do not claim that man is wicked in his very nature, that his righteous deeds are like filthy menstrual cloths, nor that every imagining and thought of our hearts is continually only evil (see Gen 6:5). It doesn’t make sense for people to make that up about themselves. We typically take ourselves to be generally good. Ask anyone you like whether they’re a good person and the answer is yes. Are they going to heaven? Sure. Why? Because they try to be their best (with apologies to Dollhouse). Christianity is the only religion I know of that says the exact opposite of what we like to assume about ourselves.

Socio-historical context

The fairest way to examine the claim of whether Yahweh is just another man-made deity is to compare him to the gods of other ancient near eastern religions. Judaism was, in effect, competing with these ANE religions; and many scholars believe it borrowed significantly from them. But when you start studying ANE comparative religion, and particularly how the Torah (aka Pentateuch) compares with other ANE texts and myths, you can’t help noticing how strikingly different it is.

There are so many examples of this that it’s hard to pick just a few. For a good primer, John D Currid’s Against the Gods is a very strong starting point. Currid makes a persuasive argument that the Old Testament does not merely borrow existing ANE myths, as many scholars suppose, but uses them precisely to show how these myths are false, and how Yahweh is unique among the gods. A few brief examples will have to suffice:

So these are just a few reasons that it’s very hard to take seriously the claim that Yahweh just looks like a made-up god. Of course, none of this proves that he isn’t made up. But if he were, we’d expect him to be more like the made-up gods of other religions. We’d expect to find similar characteristics and attributes—especially to other ANE gods which he was supposedly copied from. Since that isn’t what we find, the evidence certainly doesn’t weigh in favor of the atheist.

* Genesis seems to indicate, and Exodus takes for granted, that there are actual beings, often called elohim or “gods”, which the pagan nations worship. So the Egyptians are not merely worshiping false idols, but actual false gods—powerful spiritual beings created by Yahweh. Notice the wording of Exodus 12:12: “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments”. This doesn’t seem to make sense if the gods don’t actually exist in any other form than crafted idols. See my notes on “The Serpent in Genesis 3” for more.

8 comments

  1. Tony

    “it just happens to make Yahweh the only God adequate to ground existence itself, by drawing unity and plurality together. (Look up Plato’s problem of the one and many.) ”
    you got it backwards its existance that grounds god not vice versa. God cannot exist unless existiance first is real, also not only that but that “problem” of plato is pure inchorent pychobabble that is utterly irrelevant

    “Name another religion (not based on Christianity) where a god pays the penalty for man’s sins. It’s unheard of. In fact, it’s so counterintuitive that it’s a major obstacle to many people believing the gospel—they can’t accept that there’s nothing they can do to save themselves; or that God would take their guilt on himself”
    that;s because its irrational, its unheard of because of how irrational it is-they can’t accept that because of the fact that it makes no sense what so ever, you should have no problems with a murder getting someone else to go to prison for him if you believe thats okay.

    “Yahweh shares his authority and even aspects of his very nature, like goodness and wisdom and love, with Adam. ”
    dont forget how he set adam up to fail too

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    you got it backwards its existance that grounds god not vice versa. God cannot exist unless existiance first is real

    This just sounds like Randian objectivism, which tbh isn’t worth responding to. Classical theism takes God as the ground of existence, as a matter of metaphysical necessity; whereas contingent beings are compounds of essence and existence, God’s essence is his existence, and vice versa. (And by convertibility of transcendentals, these are necessarily identical to his other attributes also, since God cannot be compound but must be utterly simple in order to ground existence in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with these ideas, it behooves you to get acquainted with them before trying to offer a critique of theism.)

    that “problem” of plato is pure inchorent pychobabble that is utterly irrelevant

    A conclusion conspicuously unaccompanied by an argument. But I’m sure you’re right—no doubt you are vastly smarter than one of the Western world’s greatest thinkers. I’m sure your writings will go down in history and be studied millennia after you are gone.

    its unheard of because of how irrational it is-they can’t accept that because of the fact that it makes no sense what so ever

    You need to explain why it is irrational. In what sense? Is it means-end irrational? Proper function irrational? To paraphrase Inigo, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

    you should have no problems with a murder getting someone else to go to prison for him if you believe thats okay.

    You need to show that there is a relevant point of analogy here for your argument to hold.

    dont forget how he set adam up to fail too

    What’s your point? Is God not entitled to run his creation in the way that will most reveal his perfections?

  3. Tony

    “Classical theism takes God as the ground of existence, as a matter of metaphysical necessity; whereas contingent beings are compounds of essence and existence, God’s essence is his existence, and vice versa. (And by convertibility of transcendentals, these are necessarily identical to his other attributes also, since God cannot be compound but must be utterly simple in order to ground existence in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with these ideas, it behooves you to get acquainted with them before trying to offer a critique of theism.)”
    if god is the ground of existance then its utterly and irrationaly absurd, as if he was, he would be outside of reality and if god is outside of reality then he cannot be real. There is no metaphysical necessity with god as its foundation as nothing can exist if there was no existance at first

    “A conclusion conspicuously unaccompanied by an argument. But I’m sure you’re right—no doubt you are vastly smarter than one of the Western world’s greatest thinkers. I’m sure your writings will go down in history and be studied millennia after you are gone.:
    there is no need to anwser an inchoerent question like the one Plato posed,besdies the appeal to “the Trinity” does not solve “the problem of the one and the many.” The notion of “the Trinity” is not even coherent; it’s just a tangle of contradictions. Also, it has no objective basis: we do not discover this “Trinity” by looking outward at the world –you have no alternative but to imagine it. And notice how wide the disagreements are among those who imagine it. One believer imagines “the Trinity” one way, and another imagines it another way. Moreover, pointing to a supernatural being which somehow (“mysteriously”) solves the problem does nothing to explain what our minds do when we form concepts.
    Consider for example Steve Hays’ remarks in his recent blog entry Sources of knowledge where he writes:

    <>

    Hays’ worldview provides no understanding of how concepts of numbers can be formed ultimately from perceptual input. I must say, that’s quite a liability! (This means that, for his worldview, there is no objective basis for such concepts as numbers.) So he posits the need for “a preconception of numerical relations,” which he does not explain, but which he would likely say is installed in his mind by some supernatural (i.e., magical) force. It’s just there, and since he does not know how to account for it objectively (“I don’t see how viewing quarters enables me to bootstrap the concept of six…”), he will naturally point to his god. It’s like a reflex with believers: if they don’t know something, just point to the god they enshrine in their imagination. Problem solved. (god of the gaps fallacy)

  4. Tony

    oops there was an editing problem what i meant to put in Hayes remarks was that he said “Suppose I have six quarters. Unless I have a preconception of numerical relations, I don’t see how viewing quarters enables me to bootstrap the concept of six, which I then use to number the quarters. I must have the concept before I can use it. I can’t derive the concept from sensibles, then turn right around and apply it to the sensibles.:

  5. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    if god is the ground of existance then its utterly and irrationaly absurd, as if he was, he would be outside of reality and if god is outside of reality then he cannot be real. There is no metaphysical necessity with god as its foundation as nothing can exist if there was no existance at first

    You’re just a walking advertisement for the Dunning–Kruger effect. I’m curious…do you think that some of the world’s greatest thinkers, for centuries, have failed to notice that their conception of God—which they arrived at as a matter of metaphysical demonstration, not mere speculation or probabilistic reasoning—is “utterly and irrationally absurd”? I mean, which is more likely—that these remarkable philosophers all missed the completely nonsensical nature of the ideas they spent their lives developing, refining, and defending…or that you are an arrogant twit who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

    Quite.

    Hays’ worldview provides no understanding of how concepts of numbers can be formed ultimately from perceptual input.

    You’d have to ask Steve, but since he is not an empiricist, it’s very possible his entire point is that they can’t. Which ironically demonstrates your inability to understand basic arguments, and reinforces my comments about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    (This means that, for his worldview, there is no objective basis for such concepts as numbers.)

    Lol, you’re kidding right? Because Steve argues you can’t derive the concept of numbers from empirical data, therefore his worldview has no objective basis for such concepts? Assuming I’m understanding you correctly, I don’t even know what to say to such laughably question-begging garbage. What’s the point?

    some supernatural (i.e., magical) force

    Here’s the low-down. If you can’t refrain from blatant strawmannery, don’t post again. To say something is super or supra-natural is not remotely the same as saying that it is magic, except in the minds of village atheists who have such unsophisticated intellectual machinery that they can’t process obvious categorical distinctions.

    Problem solved. (god of the gaps fallacy)

    You’re so prejudiced against even considering arguments for the existence of God that you can’t tell the difference between metaphysical demonstration and an argument from ignorance. *slow clap*

  6. Tony

    “Assuming I’m understanding you correctly, I don’t even know what to say to such laughably question-begging garbage. What’s the point?”

    you dont have a clue whats going on period. your “one and the many proof” approach brings us no closer to understanding the nature of the activity of the human mind in forming concepts, in integrating new units to concepts one has already formed, why concepts apply regardless of time and place, how their meanings relate to their definitions, etc. Fundamentally, your approach gives us no understanding of how the conceptual level of cognition relates to perceptual awareness. Indeed, many think that some concepts have no ultimate basis in perception at all.

    “You’re so prejudiced against even considering arguments for the existence of God that you can’t tell the difference between metaphysical demonstration and an argument from ignorance. *slow clap*”
    your are so prejudiced against even considering arguments against your god that that you can’t tell the difference between metaphysical demonstration and an argument from ignorance. *extra slow clap*”

    “I mean, which is more likely—that these remarkable philosophers all missed the completely nonsensical nature of the ideas they spent their lives developing, refining, and defending…or that you are an arrogant twit who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?”
    Actually all those “remarkable philsophers” as you put it gave up on the trinity, not one of them could rationally explain it, and just tried to handweave it away and yes none of them could account for a theory of concepts within a christian worldview

  7. Tony

    oh yeah and one more thing, i read your testimony- the trancedental argument is utterly absurd, the fact that you think it exposes major problems in an athiestic worldview shows how easily you fell for the tricks of calvinist conmen, as well TAG is nothing more then one big fat equvication fallacy with some question begging and stolen concepts added in. Non-believing philsophers dont even bat an eye at it because of how absurd it is, and actually even pretend to care about it would be like giving a mathmatican giving a person who thinks 2+2= 5 creidability .

  8. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Tony, I’ve left your last two comments up to allow others to see how atheist “argumentation” amounts to nothing more than shrill assertions. But I will delete any further ones that follow the same format.

  I don’t post ill-considered articles and I don’t sponsor ill-considered comments. Take a moment to review what you’ve written…