Friday, February 03, 2012

The same god?

I was talking to a friend the other day who teaches young children, and she told me that one of her pupils had said that there were lots of gods. My friend corrected her, saying that we all worship the same god, but in different ways. As an atheist, I can see a sense in which this is true from my point of view, since all nothings are the same. On the other hand, if there is a god, does it make sense to say that Ganesh is the same as Allah? Perhaps this is a case of "Hesperus is Phosphorus", the sentence used to illustrate the distinction between 'sense' and 'reference' due to Frege.


Sam said...

I don't think it's possible for all gods to be the same god, even if they are all fictions. That would be like saying all fictional characters are the same fictional character just because none of them exist in reality. It would mean that Harry Potter is the same person as Frodo Baggins. But they're clearly not.

If you take different religions to be different narratives, or different stories, or whatever, then the gods contained in those different religions are not the same gods.

But besides that, it's obvious that different characters in the same story cannot be the same persons. Harry Potter obviously isn't the same person as Ronald Weasley because in the story, they are portrayed as different persons.

Likewise, Zeus and Athena cannot be the same god because they are portrayed as distinct gods in the stories that contain them.

The ambiguity comes when religions branch off from other religions and claim some continuity with them. This is the case with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Christians claim to worship the same God that Jews have always worshipped, and Muslims claim to worship the same God that Jews and Christians worship. I think there is room for debate here.

Psiomniac said...

Which raises again the issue of truth values of propositions about fictional characters. On the one hand, 'the present king of France is bald' is said not to be truth-apt by some, due to referential failure. But fictional characters don't exist and so there is an apparent lack of referent problem, as in the Michael Frayn example citing Pushkin, when we want to say something like 'Onegin shot Lensky' is true, whereas 'Lensky shot Onegin' is false. I think the problem of referential failure (neither character exists) can be solved via specifying a context of evaluation. In other words, I agree with you!

Sam said...

This reminds me of that blog I wrote a few years ago on whether Dumbledore was gay just because J.K. Rowling said so after the books were finished and even though she never mentioned him being gay in the stories.

Psiomniac said...

You've got a good memory! I used the Lensky example when I commented then too, but I'd forgotten about Miller.