I’ve been thinking about the claims made by the video, “Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe?”, which is often beautiful in its depiction of human cultures. You can watch it here – Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? (ORIGINAL) – YouTube.
One of the points made in the video that I agree with is that religions are mutually exclusive. They teach different and incompatible doctrines, and so they cannot all be right. This is an important point that is often missed. Yet the video also proceeds to lump all religions together, stating that secular humanism is a better outlook. They don’t take religious claims on their own terms, preferring instead to reject them all.
It’s important to point out that not all religions believe there is a creator God, an author to all of time, space, reality and what they contain. Theistic religions (e.g. Judaism, Islam, Christianity) are distinct from non-theistic religions (like Buddhism), and very compelling arguments for the truth of theism have been proposed down through the centuries. Philosopher Alvin Plantiga gave a talk once called “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” and you can find a summary of some of the work that’s been done on these arguments here. There are many good reasons to be a theist.
Having said that – lets return to the Dear Believer video, and respond to their next objection:
Objection 3 – Religious believers are atheists too when it comes to other religions. They just believe in one more god than the atheist does.
“Truth is, you already know what it’s like to be an atheist for all gods but your own. The way you view them (other people) is the same way they view you. Every devout Hindu, for example, has embraced his faith for the exact same reasons you’ve embraced yours. Yet you do not find his reasons compelling, nor do you lose sleep at night wondering whether you’ll wake up in his hell. Given this, is it so hard to see why some of us just take our atheism one God further?”
In other words, every religious person is like an atheist with regards the gods taught be other religions. The atheist just goes one god further – saying there are no gods.
This was first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion book and has been picked up and used as a supposed axiom and conversation stopper by many atheists since. Perhaps these atheists don’t realise that – this claim has been clearly shown to make absolutely no sense whatsoever! It is the equivalent of saying, “the bachelor is married.” How can an unmarried man be married? That makes no sense – it’s a contradiction. So is the video’s “one god more” claim.
First – the “one god more” claim is a contradiction.
The “one god more” claim says the experience of atheism is like religious belief (“you already know what it’s like to be an atheist”). But is it right to do so?
Let’s define atheism as belief there is no god. Let’s define Christianity as the belief in the God of the Bible to the exclusion of every other God presented by other non-Biblical religions (Judaism and Christianity are on the same page till it comes to Jesus). Can you see why atheism and Christianity are not in the same category of belief? How can you liken atheism (there are no gods) and Christian belief (there is a single God)? You are trying to claim apples and oranges are the same when they aren’t. This claim makes no sense.
Second – the objection forgets that there are very good reasons to be a theist. I pointed towards some of those reasons above. There’s the argument from human reason, the moral argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and so on. If there are arguments for theism, then surely you must show how all of these theistic arguments are flawed before atheism becomes a reasonable belief. And then you’ve got to explain what kind of atheism you have adopted. There are many different kinds. The objection seems oblivious…sounding like empty rhetoric.
Third – the “one god more” claim is like an acid that eats away at many important human disciplines beyond religion. Andy Bannister observes that the argument just goes too far. In any situation where we have a number of possible options, and we decide to choose X exclusively over Y or Z, the “one god more” skeptic could say “no – we must reject X, Y, and Z.” This would be devastating to the legal system, where evidence is sifted to arrive at a single judgement and just conviction of the guilty person. It would also devastate science, where evidence is assessed, and multiple models are suggested to explain the data. Eventually one scientific model becomes the winner, leaving failed hypotheses by the wayside. But not if the “one theory more” skeptic had his way! Nope – all options must be rejected.
Fourth – the “one god more” argument acts like an acid because it assumes all possibilities in religious terms are equally likely. It doesn’t care about the evidence at all. It has decided all options are as unlikely as each other, and so it rejects all of them without assessing the arguments for each. Can you see why that would be a devastating approach to take in the other disciplines I mentioned? If the argument doesn’t work in law or science, why should it be used in religious belief?
Fifth – the “one god more” argument makes a category mistake when it says, “Believers are atheists with regard Zeus, Thor, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.”
When you include God in a list like that, you are trying to make out that God is like an entity inside the universe. Yet the Christian view of God is not like that at all.
Imagine if I tried to claim J. R. R. Tolkien was in the same category as the Hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin? You would probably laugh, saying “You’re crazy. Tolkien is the author, and these Hobbits are his characters.” Exactly! That’s why the “one god more” argument makes a category mistake.
God is not like the entities we find in our universe. Rather, “all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite well-spring of all that is, in whom … all things live and move and have their being.”
The problem with the “one god more” argument is that it is contradictory and makes God out to be something he’s not. Further, it is very uncritical. It doesn’t care to look at the evidence for a claim, rather it just assumes all options are equally unlikely, and so decides to reject them all. This is a bad way to reason about everything in life. It is just a silly argument.
Also – consider this.
I engage with a lot of people who spend time arguing against the existence of God. I wonder whether they realise that when they do this, they tacitly admit that God exists.
- To write books, tweets, blogs, or blog comments arguing against Christianity (for example) is to admit truth is important. If truth isn’t important, why does it matter what anyone believes?
- Consequently, pursuing knowledge is a virtuous thing to do. It is beneficial to pursue a hard truth over a comfortable lie (as Carl Sagan said).
- It is right to claim that justice matters, and morally bankrupt belief systems must be rejected on moral grounds.
Yet truth, the pursuit of knowledge, the existence of ultimate values like morality and justice cannot be grounded in atheism. They can only be grounded in a transcendent, personal God. They reflect his character, and they are therefore reflected in the universe he has created. A truly consistent atheist position would be to say:
nothing means anything because there is no ultimate meaning in the universe. So, it doesn’t matter what anyone believes and life is absurd. So my absurd beliefs can coexist with the Christian’s absurd beliefs. It doesn’t matter.
How interesting that – by seeking the truth of God’s supposed non-existence, the atheist often plays by God’s own rules!
In the next blog, I’ll address the next objection – “Religion is a crutch to make people feel better.”
 Ibid., 06:43.
 Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist Or: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments, (Grand Rapids:Monarch Books, 2015), 52.
 David Bently Hart, “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss,” quoted in Bannister, 57.
 Bannister, 59.