Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Monotheism and anthropomorphism

Xenophanes famously lambasted Greek religion for its anthropomorphism:

if cattle or lions had hands, so as to paint with their hands and produce works of art as men do, they would paint their gods and give them bodies in form like their own-horses like horses, cattle like cattle.

Two and a half millenia later, accusations of anthropomorphism continue to be made against monotheistic religions, typically by naturalists.

I was thinking about this, and had an odd thought. According to monotheism, the root of all explanation is the activity of God. According to standard naturalism, the root of all explanation is the activity of the fundamental physical entities, either particles or fields. But humans are more like fundamental physical entities than like the God of the monotheistic religions. The difference between us and the fundamental physical entities is merely finite. The difference between us and God is infinite. Thus, in an important sense, it is standard naturalism that is more anthropomorphic in its fundamental explanatory agents than monotheism.

If we do not feel this—if we feel ourselves more God-like than electron-like—then we are infinitely elevating ourselves or infinitely demoting God or both.

That said, the three Western monotheistic religions do think that the physical universe is made for us. Thus, while the religions are not anthropomorphic, they do have an anthropocentric view of our physical universe. Interestingly, though, to some (albeit lesser) extent so does the most plausible current naturalist view, namely a multiverse theory together with the weak anthropic principle.

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