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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"I contend we are both atheists..."

"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." (Stephen F. Roberts; link)
Not only the existence of this quote but especially its abundant popularity among atheists is simply additional evidence that the average atheist is compelled more by ill-thought slogans and rhetoric than consistent rationality and critical thinking. (We shall disregard the worst of them, who find themselves compelled by fallacious antitheistic censure and invectives, which results from a complete abdication of reason.)

Stephen Roberts was once an acquaintance of mine; I would not be so presumptuous as to think that we were friends but I can say that we were friendly, and we did enjoy conversing. At the time he was a channel operator in #Atheism on the Dalnet IRC network, a channel in which I had spent considerable time for three or four years. He was known as 'wubwub' then and I, as always, was known as 'Ryft' (my online name for the last sixteen years). I remember Stephen as a good-natured fellow with a fantastic sense of humour who seemed to enjoy debate, as long as it did not go too deep; whenever it did, he was more content to sit back and let the likes of Sastra or KonKan address the finer points. For this reason I cannot fault him too harshly for originating the quote. Even if someone were to examine its merits with Stephen, it is more likely that he would abandon the exercise than pursue it too deeply. Musings and ramblings were his foray, not philosophical precision. If it wasn't fun then he wasn't interested, it seemed. And that is his prerogative.

But I do fault any atheist that embraces this quote while passing himself off as a rational and critical thinker, because this quote simply does not hold up under scrutiny. It is delightful rhetoric as far as it goes, but rhetoric never goes very far in the intellectual arena. When we attempt to apply this proposition to the real world, it soon falls apart.

"I contend that we are both atheists; I simply believe in one god fewer than you." Although this first clause of the proposition per se is nearly acceptable, it nevertheless possesses a minor but obvious difficulty. The one making this statement is an atheist who rejects all gods, and the one to whom he is speaking rejects all gods but one. Please note: How can the latter be referred to as an atheist when he affirms a belief in one God? To affirm a belief in God contradicts the basic definition of 'atheist'. A commitment to sound reason necessitates that this first clause be deemed erroneous and nonsensical for contending that "we are both atheists" when the one to whom it is speaking affirms a belief in at least one God—the person to whom it is speaking is a 'theist', not an 'atheist'.

"When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." This is embarrassingly false. In reality, when it is understood why I dismiss all other gods, the error of this clause becomes starkly evident. For example, one reason why I dismiss the god of pantheism as illegitimate is because, by the pantheist's own admission, his god is none other than the world in which we live. The god of pantheism is nothing more than 'nature', which is an entirely appropriate and suitable term already; to replace the term 'nature' with the term 'god' is superfluous and obfuscating outside the scope of sentimentality. Now, will Stephen claim that he rejects the God of Christianity because God is nothing more than 'nature'? I surely hope not, for by that he would commit the straw man fallacy.

But this clause is false on an even larger scale. Why do I reject all other possible gods? Because the Scriptures declare that "there is one God," that "besides [him] there is no god," that all other gods "by nature are not gods," and so forth. My commitment to the truth of Scriptures is ultimately my reason for rejecting all other possible gods. I think we can be quite certain that this is not Stephen's reason for rejecting the God of Christianity. When one understands the reason why I dismiss all other possible gods, we do not thereby find Stephen's reason for rejecting the God of Christianity after all. Both clauses of this proposition are, in reality, nonsense and false.

  • Stephen F. Roberts Home Page - http://www.wildlink.com (accessed 13-Oct-06)

  • The History of 'The Quote' - http://freelink.wildlink.com/quote_history.htm (accessed 13-Oct-06)