I Believe in One Less God Than You Do

Some popular atheists register this objection: 

You do not believe in 2999 other Gods like Zeus, Thor, or Krishna. You should be reasonable and take that logic one step further. I follow the pattern to it’s logical conclusion. I’m an atheist, and I believe in ONE LESS God than you do. 

Atheist comedian Ricky Gervais rehearsed this argument in a short clip with Stephen Colbert this year: 

Lawrence Krauss made a similar point in his debate with William Lane Craig.

Answering the Point

Greg Koukl suggests the following reply, “Yes, he believes in one less God and that makes all the difference. That is what makes you an atheist and me a theist.” That’s a good start.

Also, the fact that the atheist disbelieves 2999 other deities is not evidence that the 3000th is also worthy of disbelief. That might follow if all gods share an equal likelihood of existence. But the atheist provides no defense for this claim in the short sound bite. 

The underlying assumption that all gods share an equal likelihood of existence gives the quip its rhetorical force. However, this assumption is precisely what any theist would deny. There are good reasons to believe that God exists, so it means little that we discard belief in gods of ancient mythology. 

An Effective Illustration

Consider this scenario. There is a robbery during a parade. Someone stole a young woman’s diamonds. Law enforcement searches through the crowd for suspects. So far, they have no good reason to think any one of the thousands of potential suspects is the thief.

The police later find the diamonds in the hands of a man named Sal. One detective thinks Sal is the thief. Another officer is skeptical. The skeptic explains, “You searched the crowd for thousands of potential suspects, and you found no evidence that any one of them is guilty. I just believe in one less suspect than you do.” Is this a helpful reply? Clearly not.

It’s obvious that new information gave the detective a good reason to think Sal is the thief. Unless the skeptical officer provides justification for discarding the evidence, his skeptical objection consists of mere hand-waving. Similarly, the I-believe-in-one-less-God-than-you-do objection shows nothing for or against the existence of God on its own. 

Broadening the Point

Suppose the skeptical detective does not merely believe this suspect is innocent. Rather, he thinks that because thousands of other potential suspects were shown to be innocent, there is no thief at all. Why is this position absurd? It denies what we clearly know: someone stole the diamonds. It is much more reasonable to think there is a thief even if one has falsified thousands of other potential thieves.

Now, draw a parallel between the stolen diamonds and the beginning of the universe, the contingency of the universe, the existence of objective moral values and duties, and the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, and other facts that point to the existence of God (as diamonds point to the existence of a thief). 

In the face of such evidence, it is much more reasonable to think there is a God, even if one has falsified thousands of other potential gods.

A Tactical Question to Ask: Do you think all gods share an equal likelihood of existence? If so, why?

For more detail on Answering Atheism in depth, check out Trent Horn’s book: Answering Atheism.


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