Searching for God: Monotheism, Polytheism, and Atheism

Debating between monotheism, polytheism, and atheism leads to one of those famous “stay-up-late-in-your-dorm-room-and-talk-for-hours” conversations.  Typically these discussions bring in all kinds of off-the-cuff remarks, ranging from “well, what about aliens?” to “no, seriously, every scientist says so.”  Is there a way to approach this question with a bit more careful attention and diligence?

So first, who are the experts on this question?  Is it your grandmother, whose life of deep faith and humble prayer is accorded respect from everyone who meets her?  Is it scientists?  Is it professors at universities?  Authors of best-selling books like The Shack and The Da Vinci Code?  Your best friends?  Anyone and everyone?  Who could serve as a reliable guide for our investigation?

I’m convinced that everyone, on a question as important as this one, to the degree that they are capable of doing so, should have a good understanding of the different, most broadly accepted answers.  It is possible that a minority view, like the Heaven’s Gate cult, is accurate.  Numbers don’t determine truth.  But at least at the start of our investigation, given limited time and resources, it makes sense to start with the answers that most other human beings seem to have found intellectually and existentially satisfying.

Broadly speaking, there are three approaches to the question of a supernatural being:

  1. No.  There is no God.  At best, this is an uncertain and difficult thing to know.  However, there are still good approaches to life.  These are, broadly speaking, evolutionary naturalism, Confucianism, philosophical Buddhism, and don’t worry, be happy.
  2. Yes.  There is one God.  The name we should call God is…. Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah, to mention the top three candidates.
  3. Yes.  There are many gods!  Their names are Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, and so on.