Why I Don’t Believe in Thor, Zeus, Horus & All the Other “Mythological” Gods.

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On what grounds can one reject the existence of, say, the Greek god Zeus, the Norse gods Odin and Thor? Or the thousands of other gods believed to be invented by human beings?

I would approach this question from what might be termed as “perfect being theology.” When one says “God” in this respect, God is thought to be the greatest conceivable being. There is no being that can be conceived of that is greater than God. In fact, if something greater than what we believed to be God existed, then that greater being would be God.

Now, the greatest conceivable being must possess what we might call great-making properties, namely moral perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence. For example, a God that is not omnipotent (all-powerful), such as in its inability and power to control, say, nature or the natural world, cannot be referred to as the greatest conceivable. In other words, in some sense this God would be subject to the physical universe. But surely God, if he exists, is supreme over creation. Moreover, a God that is not omniscient (all-knowing) in that, for example, there are facts in the world that he does not know also cannot be the greatest conceivable being. A being that is infinite in knowledge is greater than a being that is limited in knowledge. Further, a God that exists contingently is limited in that it must owe its existence to something else, and is even at threat of going out of existence at some point in the future.

Thus, quite rightly, if some individual came up to me and said that he is God, I’d reject his or her claim on the basis that human beings are limited, finite, contingent things. Human beings are limited in knowledge, power, and moral goodness, and cannot claim to possess great-making properties, and therefore be God. Thus, a being that is not contingent is greater than a being that is. This presupposition seems to be intuitively and necessarily true, since nothing can be greater than God, and therefore provides a sound framework through which we can understand these other gods of other religions.

Human beings believed/thought to be deities or descended from deities – In a very same way as I mentioned above, human beings are limited, finite, contingent things. In other words, a human being cannot be rightly called God. Human beings were born, the greatest conceivable being must exist eternally. Human beings die, the greatest conceivable cannot die. Human beings possess limited and sometimes inaccurate knowledge, the greatest conceivable possesses both infinite and accurate knowledge. So, humans historically considered to be God or divine, such as pharaohs, some Japanese, Chinese and Roman emperors, Romulus, Homer, Alexander the Great, the Buddha, and so on were nothing of the sort since none of them possess great-making properties.

Finite gods – This is also known as “finite godism,” which is the term used to refer to gods that are limited in some way as in, for instance, goodness, strength, or wisdom.

i. Morally bankrupt gods – Many mythological gods, specially those invented by the Greeks, were morally evil. On one hand many of them were capable of compassion and justice while on the other cruelty and spite. Take Ares, for example, he was the god of war which no doubt entailed slaughter, bloodshed, and carnage. Such a god or being is morally evil and repulsive, and given that the greatest conceivable being must be morally perfect, such a god cannot rightly be called God. The same can be said of Poseidon of whom committed moral evils such as rape, and Aphrodite who was petty and vain (for instance, it is believed she had an arrogant view of herself due to her sexual attractiveness). Countless other Slavic, Viking, Egyptian, and Roman deities similarly qualify.

ii. Contingent gods – One way to determine if these gods are finite is on whether or not they are contingent. It is clear that these gods owe their existence to other things. The Aztec God, Huitzilopochtli, was born, Mithras was born from a rock, Sekhmet, an Egyptian deity, owes his existence to a divine eye from which he came, Hephaestus was born (a cripple nonetheless), and Sedna, in Inuit mythology, had a birth and was later killed. These, and countless other deities, are not eternally existing, nor are they all-powerful. An eternally existent entity does not owe its existence to anything else, like a birth or some other creative agency. Moreover, an all-powerful being cannot be killed, nor is it subject to elements within creation.

iii. Omnipotently limited – Gods thought to exist or account for certain facts and workings of nature and natural laws are limited, especially the nature deities believed in African, Egyptian, Norse, Aztec, and Japanese circles. They are often associated with ruling limited domains such harvests (Demeter, Osiris), fertile lands (Poseidon, Ash), forests (Berstuk, Oko, Dryads, Negen), mountains (Latobius, Dali), animals (Diana, Aranyani, Yum Caax), weather (Brigid, Jupiter), the sky (Horus, Anshar, Hathor), and cosmological objects (Amaterasu, Ekhi). Even the greatest gods in Greek and Roman mythology, Zeus and Jupiter, are limited. Jupiter’s domain is limited to the sky while Zeus’ control is over lightning. The Egyptian gods Horus and Amun, like many other gods, were limited in power and even susceptible to bodily harm. Thousands and thousands of deities from dozens, if not hundreds, of cultures are limited in this scope, and therefore cannot satisfy the criteria for being the greatest conceivable being. The greatest conceivable being will necessarily be one that has power over all domains, including the natural and spiritual worlds, and exist as a being that could never be at risk of physical harm or death.

Theism & Mythological gods, the Difference – A last point I want to make is one that for many will be intuitively obvious, or will be assumed to be obvious by many modern people. This is that, from the privileged vantage point of modern science, we don’t need these deities as explanations for natural phenomena and natural laws within the universe. For example, we know that things like pregnancy, childbirth, and the growth of vegetation occur naturally, hence we don’t need the Aztec god Xochiquetzal to explain them. Likewise, there is no reason so associate things like agriculture and wine with the Celtic god Sucellus, and we know that growth in nature occurs through natural means, hence we don’t need Persephone to explain that either. The more science progresses the more these thousands of gods are seen to be irrelevant. However, these mythological gods differ enormously to a theistic concept of God traditionally believed by Christians and Jews. The theistic God is one that is transcendent over and above creation, existing eternally beyond space and time, and who is the creative agent responsible for creating the entire universe with all its natural laws. Thus, rather than progress in the hard sciences making such a deity irrelevant it would seem to be quite the opposite. The further the sciences progress the more human beings learn about the creative acts of God, one who is responsible for the beautiful complexities in nature and biology, from the immense fine tuning of the cosmological constants to make the universe compatible for biological life to the biological organisms themselves and the wonders of DNA, and so on.

So, on these grounds alone, I believe that we are sound in rejecting the multitudes of mythological gods invented by human beings.


20 responses to “Why I Don’t Believe in Thor, Zeus, Horus & All the Other “Mythological” Gods.

  1. Good article.

    What do you mean by the term, “great-making”?

    I would, also, refer you to Genesis 6, which is probably the origin of the “gods” that you mentioned.

    • By “great-making” one means the necessary properties that an entity must possess, such as moral perfection, omnipotence etc., in order for it be the greatest conceivable being.

  2. I would add Yahweh to your list of mythological gods. The evidence for his existence is no better than that for Zeus.

          • Please kindly answer my question (and not with a question). I am not asking for evidence for a Creator. I already believe that there is good evidence for a Creator. I am asking for specific evidence for Yahweh’s existence.

            • Gary, what you initially did, whether you realized it or not, was to put the ontological and epistemic warrant of Zeus on par with the God Christians believe in, a theistic, transcendent creator God. That’s fair, if you can actually defend that position. However, I responded by asking you to give me five arguments for the existence of the Greek god Zeus. Since you did not, it would seem that you yourself don’t believe the epistemological warrant is the same or on par with the God Christians believe in, even if you reject that God’s existence in favour of some other God.

              Now, if I wanted to defend specifically a Christian theistic God I would point to the argument from Jesus’ resurrection, and his deity and ministry.


  4. Ok, good. You believe that the evidence for the existence of Yahweh is the alleged resurrection and acts of a man living in first century Palestine.

    Imagine if I claimed that Zeus is the Creator based on the fact that a small minority of Greeks in the first century believed that Zeus had brought back to life one of his miracle-working prophets living during that time period.

    However, the overwhelming majority of Greeks then, and for the last two millennia do not believe that such an event occurred. How good of evidence would my “evidence” be for this very extra-ordinary claim?

    • I’d say that you have misunderstood the arguments for the resurrection, or at least haven’t fully considered them. https://jamesbishopblog.com/2016/10/09/the-minimal-facts-apologetic-to-jesus-resurrection-short/

      If there ever were Greeks making such a claim I would look to analyze their arguments and see if there is merit for them. Also, your criteria for determining truth of a proposition, P, is incorrect. You seem to conflate the evidence for a specific P, with the number of people who believe P, which is an unwarranted argument for rejecting P.

      • So you have evaluated every truth claim that has ever been made on the planet since the beginning of human existence? I don’t think so.

        We humans typically only investigate new, very extra-ordinary claims that other people whom we respect take seriously. For instance the issue of space aliens: If some guy with a high school education in rural America is publishing a newsletter about space alien sightings, hopefully you as an educated person will not waste your time reading this guy’s anecdotal claims. Now, if NASA starts reporting good evidence for the existence of space aliens, we will ALL take that seriously. See the difference?

        So your claim that a first century Jew was raised from the dead and appeared to his former associates starts out as a weak claim since the majority of people in the culture in which this alleged event allegedly occurred did not believe it really happened. The burden of proof is now higher for you to convince educated people today that we should believe this very extra-ordinary, supernatural claim when the society in which it allegedly occurred did not.

        • Again, as I explained, your argument are based on fallacious reasoning. Here are the reasons why:

          1 – “you have evaluated every truth claim that has ever been made on the planet since the beginning of human existence? I don’t think so.” – Well, have you? If not, then you holding to a double standard.

          2- This criteria (i.e. that most people did not witness a specific event, therefore we should be skeptical over its occurrence) for establishing any claim of history/today is preposterous. For example, Jack is the only witness to a midnight theft in his home. All the 10 000 other residents in the neighbourhood did not witness the theft. According to your criterion we’d have to dismiss the truth of Jack’s testimony because “all” the people in the neighbourhood did not witness it.

          3- The challenge you are faced with is the gospel and Pauline testimony that a number of people ‘did’ witness a risen Jesus. An early creed in Paul’s letter says Jesus appeared to 500 people, including himself, James, the disciples, and Peter. Moreover, the gospels and Acts both claim that Jesus appeared to many people, followers, skeptics (paul), and the disciples, some dozen or so times in different contexts. So, we are dealing with multiple eyewitnesses.

          And on this point I think your objection is weak in establishing doubt of a testimony. The proper point of inquiry is not necessarily on how many people witnessed a specific event, though that is important, but whether or not the witness of the people to an event are reliable. Where Jesus is concerned, if an individual’s testimony to an event is deemed reliable, as we have with the resurrection, then we can trust his testimony even though 599 500 Jerusalemites did not see the risen Jesus. If we can determine a specific testimony to be reliable then I see no reason as to why I should doubt it, rather, you’d need to provide arguments in favour for doubting it.

          4 – That you would compare testimony for a risen Jesus with “space alien sightings” is a severe misunderstanding of the relevant history surrounding the claims made by his early followers. It would be very hard to take that seriously, especially since it does not consider any historical data that theists have used to argue for the resurrection. I thus strongly doubt that you have actually read, or understood, those books you’ve listed. You’d find that most historians will agree to the basic facts surrounding the resurrection (crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, resurrection appearances) that theists argue is best explained by an actual resurrection.

          • My original statement was this: “We humans typically only investigate new, very extra-ordinary claims that other people whom we respect take seriously.”

            “very extra-ordinary claims”

            Those are the key words in that statement.

            If you say that you saw a red car yesterday, most people including myself are going to take your word for it. It you say you witnessed a man break into your house last night, grab your flat screen TV, and run out the door, most people including myself are going to accept your word regarding this theft as long as no one informs us that you are a habitual liar or that you are a person who files frequent false police reports.

            Now, let’s examine a very extra-ordinary claim: You claim that last night you were robbed by a gang of three foot tall, green, antennae-toting Martians who not only took your flat screen TV but took YOU…up to their Mother ship which then flew at the speed of light to Mars were you were mind-probed for three hours and then brought back home and tucked in bed before sunrise.

            Not only I but most people on the planet on not going to believe this claim no matter your reputation for honesty and integrity nor how many stacks of Bibles you are willing to swear on!

            Do you see my point? Educated people in today’s modern world demand better quality evidence the more extra-ordinary the claim.

  5. Regarding the alleged Resurrection of Jesus, here are the books I have read on this subject.

    How about we pick one specific piece of alleged evidence for this claim and discuss the strength for this one piece of alleged evidence. We can then move on to other alleged individual pieces of evidence if you wish.

    1. “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
    2. “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham
    3. “The Death of the Messiah, Volume I by Raymond Brown (currently reading)
    4. “Making the Case for Christianity” by Maas, Francisco, et al.
    5. ” The Resurrection Fact” by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
    6. “Miracles, Volumes I and II”, by Craig Keener
    7. “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
    8. “Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
    9. “The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
    10. “The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
    11. “The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
    12. “Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
    13. “John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
    14. “The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre” (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
    15. “Israel in Egypt” by James Hoffmeier
    16. “The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
    17. “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices” by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
    18. “Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?” by Jodi Magness, Jewish scholar, SBL Forum
    19. “Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography” (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
    20. “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (not a work of scholarship per se, but it is endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)
    21. “The Book of Miracles” by Kenneth L. Woodward
    22. “Why I Believed, Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth W. Daniels

  6. “The challenge you are faced with is the gospel and Pauline testimony that a number of people ‘did’ witness a risen Jesus. An early creed in Paul’s letter says Jesus appeared to 500 people, including himself, James, the disciples, and Peter. Moreover, the gospels and Acts both claim that Jesus appeared to many people, followers, skeptics (paul), and the disciples, some dozen or so times in different contexts. So, we are dealing with multiple eyewitnesses.”

    Not true. We have multiple CLAIMS that multiple persons received appearances from the resurrected Jesus but we only have ONE first person account of one of these appearances, and that is Paul, and all he says is, “have I not seen the Christ”?

    That is not a lot to go on.

    I doubt that you would believe any modern claim of a person coming back from the dead based on this level of evidence.

  7. “You’d find that most historians will agree to the basic facts surrounding the resurrection (crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, resurrection appearances) that theists argue is best explained by an actual resurrection.”

    Are you referring to Gary Habermas’ Minimal Facts Hypothesis? I certainly agree with the majority of scholars who believe that Jesus was crucified, (probably) buried, and that shortly after his death some of his followers believed that he had appeared alive to them in some fashion.

    But that is very different from alleging that “most historians will agree with the basic facts surrounding…the resurrection appearances!” The majority of scholars do NOT agree that the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are historical fact nor that ANY form of Jesus appearance (bright light, etc.) was an historical fact. I certainly hope as someone who has studied the evidence like you have that that is not what you meant.

    And since you seem to respect majority expert opinion, I’m sure you agree with the majority of scholars/historians who do NOT believe that eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. Is that correct?

    • I don’t find much controversial in your comment. In fact, I must agree. My claim was initially that all historians hold to those four facts, which you rightly identify as the minimal facts (the exception being the empty tomb which is between 66 and 75%).

      Speaking from New Testament Studies at uni., regarding the resurrection, many historians don’t actually make claims either way (for or against the resurrection). That aside, I think many don’t actually believe in an actual resurrection. However, that aside, a number do and those numbers have grown, as Habermas notes in his research (this includes non-Christian historians too: https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/06/29/jesus-really-did-appear-to-the-disciples-and-skeptics-after-his-death-40-quotes-by-scholars/).

      However, to make my case I’d argue that the resurrection best explains the facts, which I think is a strong argument, far stronger than ad hoc, contrived explanations traditionally proposed.

      Regarding eyewitnesses that’s an old most irrelevant trope and, in my opinion, doesn’t affect the argument from the resurrection in any way.

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