Another argument atheists shouldn’t use

This is a sort of continuation of an earlier post.

So this one is very common. It’s used often by Dan Barker, a former evangelical fundamentalist Christian turned atheist debater and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Here’s how Richard Dawkins puts it in The God Delusion on page 53, just after a brief outline of Russell’s Teapot:

“I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.”

I know Dawkins and Barker aren’t the only ones who make this point, and it seems like a good way to make freethought seem less frightening to believers. But I’m picking out this Dawkins quote here because he appears to refute it just two pages later:

“As I shall argue in a moment, a universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without.”

Now here Dawkins is trying to counter the accommodationist, NOMA-friendly hypothesis which holds that the existence or nonexistence of a deity is somehow outside the realms of scientific inquiry. But if it’s true that a universe with a creative superintendent is very different than one without (and I would agree with Dawkins on this point), then it’s disingenuous to say that nonbelievers “just go one god further” in their disbelief.

Sure, mathematically it works out that the differences between believing in two gods and one on one hand and believing in one god and none on the other are equal. But looking at the Universe without any gods at all is a different kind of difference than the one between monotheism and polytheism. If a religious believer decides that there is no such thing as a trinity of gods but rather one, they’re just moving around amongst different positions which all involve there being at least something supernatural. On the other hand, going from theism to atheism (usually) involves adopting a naturalistic worldview where there is no such thing as anything supernatural or magic at all.

So even if it’s more inviting to believers who are starting to doubt that atheists “just go one god further,” this problem is going to present itself as a stumbling block at some point to them if they really accept it. And then they’ll look back and think to themselves that those atheists were lying to them all along and just coaxing them into a skeptical position – and they’ll be right to think that. So we should just be honest and upfront about the real differences between theism and atheism instead of trying out these lame and deceptive marketing pitches.



9 Responses to “Another argument atheists shouldn’t use”

  1. C.L. Dyck Says:

    Hey, not wanting to intrude as a theist here, but I wanted to let you know I really liked this and your earlier post, regardless of holding a different overall perspective myself. Good reasoning, above-par common sense, and a tone I certainly appreciate and find refreshing.

    Have a good one.

  2. Shamelessly Atheist Says:

    I think there is a bit of a logic error here. Being an atheist does not require that one also be a metaphysical naturalist. It really does need only involve believing one less god’s existence. And the argument is certainly a lot better than the ‘I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist’ as if it takes more faith (rather than the logically less faith)to believe in one less god.

  3. nanobotswillenslaveusall Says:

    Yeah, there are atheists who still believe in supernatural things and ghosts and stuff like that – which is why I said it usually is the case that going from theist to atheist means being a naturalist. There are irrational, non-skeptical atheists who believe in all kinds of weird stuff, for sure. But the kind of atheist perspective advocated by people like Dawkins and Barker and other people who use the “one less god” argument is a naturalistic one.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about with the not having enough faith to be an atheist business.

  4. Shamelessly Atheist Says:

    Really? You’ve never had that argument from a foaming-at-the-mouth theist? You have to be the first one I’ve met that hasn’t!

    Some theists claim that being an atheist takes more faith than believing in a god, which is prima facie nonsense. Their reasoning is based on the fallacy that we atheists are making the claim there are no gods. Of course, we make no such claim. We just reject the claim of existence for any god that has ever been made. A significantly different position lost on such people.

    • nanobotswillenslaveusall Says:

      It’s not that I haven’t heard that argument before, it’s just not apparent to me what that has to do with anything I said. I probably should have made that more clear, but there you go.

  5. National Day of Prayer ruled unconstitutional « Atheist Hobos Says:

    […] precedent, and even though it’s easy to make fun of Dan Barker on the Daily Show, and maybe his debating leaves something to be desired, the FFRF also sometimes wins in court, and wins […]

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