Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Illogic from an Internet Quote

"I contend that 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."

—Quote commonly repeated on the Internet

This is what passes for a reasoned argument on the internet.  The problem of course, not only is it not a reasonable argument, it fails to grasp the basic point of contention.

Problem #1: "I just believe in one fewer god than you do"

First of all, the argument of "believing in one fewer god" sounds cute but there is a problem with it.  The difference between believing in two gods and believing in one god is not just the difference of one god.  It is the difference between polytheism and monotheism, which is a pretty substantial difference, as it is the difference between a belief in a group of imperfect higher beings, each with sovereignty over a specific area, and a perfect higher being.

The difference between believing in one god and believing in zero gods is an infinite difference, as is atheism and theism.  Believing there is a God holds a dramatically different view from a view that there is no God, as it reflects on one's outlook on the meaning of existence and our obligations towards our fellow men.

So the statement shows either a great ignorance or a great contempt for the issue in question, and demonstrates a failure to understand the dispute between theism and atheism.

Problem #2: "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours"

Such a statement, again, sounds cute but it also betrays an ignorance of why we monotheists actually disagree with polytheism.  A look at fourth and fifth century authors like Arnobius of Sicca (I am referring to the actual author, not this blogsite) and his Ad nationes; or St. Augustine and the first ten books of City of God shows a challenge to a polytheistic view, stating that such beings were by nature finite beings and had no such a power to compel worship, and demonstrated logically that such a view of deities was irrational and so on.

Even outside of Judaeo-Christian views, Greek philosophers recognized the flaws of the system of polytheism.

The author of the quoted statement, and those who cite it or copy it into their sig files, demonstrate that they have no idea why polytheism is rejected by a monotheist, assuming that the monotheist simply uses their arguments against other religions.

The problem is, these arguments against polytheism cannot be applied to monotheism because polytheism and monotheism hold incompatible views.  Disproving polytheism does not disprove monotheism.

This brings us to a second issue with this second statement.  No matter how many false religions one debunks, one has not proven all religions are false.  It is like saying "All swans are black."  No matter how many black swans one sees, it does not prove the case.  Yet the sighting of one white swan disproves it.  So the disproving of the Greek pantheon, the Hindu pantheon or whatever does not say "there is no God."  It can merely say "this system is not reasonable and can be dismissed."

Unfortunately, in this age of "bumper sticker philosophy," people do throw that quote around thinking it proves something, when examined, it is quite empty of meaning. 

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