I Believe in One Fewer God than You Do
The two detectives stood around the body lying supine on the floor. "Well, what'dya think?" the first inquired in a voice coarse from too many cigarettes.
The second, a large, younger broad-shouldered man with jet black hair looked over his notes. "While the crime lab needs to take some samples, I think it's pretty clear that the victim was poisoned. I think we need to bring the business partner in for questioning. He had a strong motive and he was seen in the area within half an hour of the time of the murder."
"I agree," the rumpled older detective muttered. "Ya' better . . . aw, crap. Here comes Dawdins."
A third detective with bright, alert eyes and wispy grey hair entered the room. "Parsons. Anderson," he said, addressing the two detectives by name. "Guess we're done here, eh? Let's call the morgue and let them clean the place up."
Parsons, the older detective, looked at Dawdins incredulously. "Done? What the hell are you talking about? There's been a murder. We have a lot of investigating ta' do if we hope to identify the murderer."
"Nonsense," Dawdins retorted. "The man obviously died accidentally. There's no murderer to be discovered."
"No murderer?" Anderson was now becoming animated, raising his large frame up in a show of intimidation. "How can you so callously proclaim that there's no murderer?"
Dawdins was nonplussed. "Look, do you think that his wife is the murderer?"
"No," said Parsons, "his wife is in Sacramento on business."
"How about his son? Is he the murderer?" Dawdins pressed.
"No," said Parsons, "the son is in the military serving in Korea."
"What about his secretary? Is she the murderer?"
"No," Anderson chimed in, "she can't be the murderer. She has an air-tight alibi."
"There you have it," Parsons concluded. "You ask how I can think there's no murderer. In fact, you don't think any of the other thousand possible people I could name are murderers. So, really, I just think there's one fewer murderer than you do."
Last night, Richard Dawkins made a brief appearance on Bill O'Reilly's program on Fox News. During an early moment in the conversation, O'Reilly is talking to Dawkins about the fact that he had faith of a sort (in atheism) and Dawkins, in his usual lame way, pulled out the old standby of "I believe in just one fewer god than you." Of course, this is a standard rhetorical tool used by atheists. In fact, I find it always so interesting when so many of the self-styled free thinkers all say the same thing like this. But what's really interesting about the "I just believe in one fewer god than you" argument is how hopelessly flawed it is.
When someone makes this argument the first counter should be, "so what?" I mean, what does saying "I believe in one fewer god than you," prove? Does it prove that there's no God? As my little dialogue above illustrates, it really doesn't prove anything. Just because I don't think that Zeus is god or that Odin is god or that Brahma is god doesn't mean that there isn't a God. All it shows is that we are in agreement that those other entities (whether real or mythical) aren't God. It does nothing to prove that there isn't really a God any more than establishing the wife, son and secretary aren't the murderer proves that there isn't a murderer.
Second, the argument would make more sense if the entire argument for the existence of God was that we should have blind faith. Then the argument could show that if I don't have blind faith in one god then there really isn't any reason to hold blind faith in another. But the Christian faith is not a religion of blind faith. It is a religion that calls on people to "come and see". It calls on people to look at its claim and evidence in its entirety. In other words, it gives reason to believe that God exists and that Jesus is His one and only Son. When a person tries to put belief in Zeus or Odin on the same level as belief in Jesus or the God of Christianity it simply demonstrates how little they understand Christianity or the truth claims that it makes.
Third, there aren't really thousands of other gods that are taken seriously, and anyone who sees religions as the same except that they have "different gods" has a very childish grasp religious belief. Sure, a thousand and more years ago some people believed in Ishtar and Odin and Zeus, but only a handful of people (if any) really give those types of religions credence today because, unlike Christianity, they don't ring true. C.S. Lewis addressed this question back in 1945 in an essay entitled "Christian Apologetics" when he made the following observation:
For my own part, I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn't really, for an adult mind, an infinite variety of religions to consder. We may salva reverentia divide religions, as we do soups, into 'thick' and 'clear'. By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I eman those which are philosophical, ethcical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now, if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfil this condition are Hindusim and Christianity.
Additionally, many atheists use this to try to give the impression that there is little difference between believing in one God and holding no belief in God. But there is a much larger difference between atheism and theism than there is between those who believe in different gods. The believer in Brahma, Allah, and Jesus, while differing in important ways, all believe in the fact that there is a supernatural reality that is beyond scientific measurement. A person who rejects all gods lacks any belief or comprehension of the supernatural -- in fact, they almost certainly reject the idea that the supernatural realm exists at all. That is a huge leap that many people, especially those who have experienced the supernatural, cannot and should not make.
To me, this infantile argument about believing in one fewer god is repeated time and again in the "freethinker" echo chamber (together with the flying spaghetti monster and the "Jesus Myth"-myth), yet it proves nothing. It is mere piece of rhetoric that Christians need to be better equipped to identify and critique.