Wednesday, 18 May 2011

One less god

Cross posted at MandM

I have read a few posts on the one less god proposition. Stephen F Roberts originally put it,
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.
elsewhere he says,
We are all atheists, some of us just believe in fewer gods than others.
I have read a few responses against this illogical claim.

One retort is to state that Christians do believe in several gods, it is just that the lesser gods are demons and Christians claim allegiance to the true God. Yahweh is not just a local deity (1Ki 20:23) but the true God, creator heaven and earth
And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: "O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. (2 Kings 19:15)
the most high God,
Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,..." (Genesis 14:22)
Though there is truth to this, depending a little on how one defines God, I do not think this rebutal gets to the crux of the problem.

Another response is to state that polytheists believe in gods for different reasons than monotheists believe in God. Polytheists believe X and monotheists believe Y, thus the monotheist's refutation of X does not refute Y, which the atheist is claiming. In other words, the reason Christians reject other gods is not the same as the reason they accept the Christian God. This is logically true, and hints at the atheist error, but does not get to the heart of it. It is inadequate though because it is not immediately obvious that polytheists and monotheists have significantly different reasons for theism. Romans 1 suggests that there are some basic reasons why all people are theists, but our fallen nature means this may be distorted such that theism becomes polytheism or, as per Romans, animism and pantheism.

A related response is to state that Christians see polytheism is a distortion of monotheism. As such, removal of the distortion does not remove the argument. The dismissal of the wrong elements of theism is not an argument against theism. This gets closer to the problem.

The primary problem with the atheist position is that it makes a category error. The following analogy demonstrates this central issue. As such the analogy is useful, but for several reasons I think it is inadequate and could be improved upon. Nevertheless, if it illustrates the problem it is helpful.
Let's say that people are debating the best colour for stop signs. One person may prefer red for stop signs. Another green. Still others think that any colour can be used and no standardisation is necessary, and others promote the use of all colours on every sign.

The atheist response is like saying you can’t agree on what colour to use because there are in fact no colours. Colours do not exist.
Debating colour preference is not the same as debating the existence of colours. Dropping from one god to no gods is not a continuation of the number-of-gods argument, it is a completely different argument.

Consider the deity set. It is either empty: atheism; or not empty: theism. The argument over the number of members in a non-empty theism set is unrelated to argument about whether or not the set is in fact empty.

Douglas Wilson put it well in his response to Sam Harris,
You say, "Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devote Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions." Well, no, not exactly. And well, actually, no, not at all.

Suppose we are considering a phenomenon that is, by most accounts, inexplicable by an unsupervised occurrence—three of us attend a sophisticated party uptown, and halfway through the evening at the party we find a trout in the punch bowl. At this point, the three of us divide into three schools of thought. I think that Smith, a practical joker, put it there; our friend Murphy thinks that Jones, the avant-garde performance artist, put it there; and you think that it has simply shown up as the result of natural forces. My central point is not to interact with the truth or falsity of your naturalistic position—except perhaps through the use of this absurd example of the punchbowl—but rather to show that you are arguing for something completely different from what Murphy and I are arguing. We all have an explanation but your explanation is of a different kind altogether.

The differences between two of us (between Murphy and me) concern who put the trout in the punchbowl. The difference between the both of us together and you is whether someone put a trout in the punchbowl. And who and whether represent different questions entirely. Quite apart from who is right and who is wrong about this, it is important to note that we are not disagreeing in the same way or over the same kind of issue at all. Murphy and I are disagreeing over the relative behaviours of Smith and Jones, but not over whether the trout calls for an explanation. Maybe I am more hostile to Smith than I ought to be, and maybe Murphy is deeply prejudiced against Jones. Maybe we are both wrong about who put it there. But thinking someone's explanation is inadequate (when we agree the phenomenon must be explained) is quite different from arguing with someone who says it calls for no outside explanation whatever. (Letter from a Christian Citizen)

1 comment:

  1. If all things were equal, the question might be reasonable. Things are not equal between all claimaits to divinity.

    I believe in one less form of nihilism than the atheist. naner naner naners

    ReplyDelete

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