If you’ve ever dialogued with an atheist, or read anything they’ve written, you’ve no doubt come across the quote, “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” This quote was authored by Stephen F. Roberts (http://freelink.wildlink.com/quote_history.php) some years back. It has rhetorical power, it’s catchy, memorable, and apparently is popular amongst the atheist apologist crowd. The author doesn’t mention Christianity specifically, but says he originally used the quote while debating with “religious people.” Those who have come after him have used it against Christianity. Of course, the weight this statement carries is proportional only to its relevance to a given religion. With that in mind, let’s see whether or not Christianity is affected at all by it.
“I contend that we are both atheists…” – Given Christianity’s belief in 1 God (which is not equal to belief in 0 gods), it’s difficult to tell what the atheist hopes to accomplish. If “atheism” is supposed to describe belief in no gods (or no belief in any gods), then Christianity’s belief in 1 God cannot (without breaking certain logical laws, those pesky things) rightly be called atheistic. And so such a statement only serves to confound terms and bring the debate backwards a step.
“I just believe in one fewer god than you do.” – No contention there. 0 is one less than 1.
“When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Here’s where the relevance can be most clearly determined:
Why is it that the atheist dismisses all other gods? Typical responses include that he is not convinced by any alleged evidence for other gods. Of course, proof is different from persuasion, as many of them will even admit. He can also claim the prospect of any gods is self-evidently absurd (which assumes some objective standard for which he cannot account, but we’ll get to that another time).
Atheists often highlight the billions of alleged gods of the many religions around the world. It’s downright difficult to suppose that they’ve seen every piece of evidence for every one of these individual gods. This means that there are many gods they’re forced to reject simply out of hand, and assume inductively that they’re all equivalent, at least in the quality of evidence attesting to them. But for them to be certain no gods exist, and make a claim to that effect (expecting it to be taken seriously), they must evaluate (and perfectly, at that) every single piece of evidence for all of those gods.
So the first apparent problem with the statement is that the atheist cannot rightly make it. The second problem has to do with its insistence that Christians evaluate other gods the same way the atheists do. So why do Christians reject all other gods?
Isaiah 46:9 “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.”
The first and strongest reason for Christians’ rejection of all other gods is simply that there is only one God, and that it is God as the Bible describes Him. This can be further seen through demonstrating that by assuming some other god exists, absurdity ensues. But for the purpose of this post, suffice it to say that, if there is only God, then god #2 cannot exist. Would an atheist really say, “I reject all gods including yours because there is only one real God and it is yours”? Of course not. Clearly, the criteria by which atheists and Christians evaluate the prospect of other gods differs greatly. Furthermore, Christians can be more sure that no other gods exist than the atheist can ever be.
So here’s to hoping another carelessly thought-through piece of atheist rhetoric is laid to rest.