Believing in One Less God than You…Four Problems With a Terrible Slogan
It’s difficult to take “New Atheism” seriously when it keeps propounding “arguments” like this:
“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 is rather like arguing that a triangle is a square with one angle fewer, or that a bachelor is just a married man without a spouse.
To intelligently debate any topic, it is essential to define one’s terms accurately from the outset. When a McAtheist’s slogan mutilates the meaning of the key terms beyond recognition, you can tell he is no longer interested in a serious dialogue. It is true that “theism” can bear two meanings. It can mean “a belief in one God”, or it can mean “a belief in a god or gods.” However, while it is technically possible to describe polytheists as “theists”, a theist will typically believe in one God.
By contrast, atheism always means “a belief that there are no god or gods.” Atheism is the blanket denial that there are any supernatural beings worthy of worship, so a theist is not an atheist in any sense at all! Furthermore, a theist does not gain so much as a smidgen of insight into atheism by reflecting on his reasons for rejecting polytheism. Generally, polytheists tended to identify the gods with aspects of nature; but theists insist that any God worthy of worship would completely transcend nature. A theist rejects polytheism for theological and spiritual reasons; it is rather doubtful that atheists have similar motivations.
The sceptic could respond that the slogan isn’t referring to polytheism, but to the various, conflicting descriptions of God given by different religions. If so, it completely misses the point. We should not have to point out that the theistic religions are all theistic, and have nothing in common with atheism! Jews, Muslims, Christians and other religious groups might disagree about the character of God, and what God has done in history. However, all are agreed that there is one God, and that the universe is inexplicable if there is no God.
Theists point out that the existence of God explains facts like objective morality and the order of the physical universe. If the sceptic asks why we should not believe in many creators, the theist will reply that a simpler explanation is usually preferable, and should be sought whenever one is available. There is no point positing numerous limited gods, when one limitless creator will suffice. Atheists might contend that their explanation is simpler than theism, but the theist will reply that this simplicity comes at a price: atheism doesn’t seem to explain very much at all.
It even struggles to deliver a decent soundbite!