Stephen F. Roberts said“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.”1
There are numerous things wrong with this quote. They are identified and broken down below.
1. "we are both atheists"
Simply put - no.
Atheism2 is a non-belief in any god(s). It's the belief that the world and universe exists and functions without a god ever being involved. You're not an atheist one hundred times over for not believing in one hundred gods. You're an atheist if you rule them all out without exception.
Theism3 is belief in at least one god. You can't be a theist and an atheist. They're mutually exclusive positions.
Agnosticism4 is the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge; a religious orientation of doubt; a denial of ultimate knowledge of the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist).
Ergo, this phrase is an oxymoron. So yes, you can believe in one god and none of the others, even though the phrasing is ridiculous. I guess that's the point that was trying to be made.
2. "I believe in one fewer god than you do"
This betrays a bias that's common among those carrying the banner of atheist. They really dislike the God of Abraham. The 'one god less' phrase shows it’s weakness when said to a Hindu or someone who still believes in the Greek pantheon. Hindus have millions of gods. Does the number change anything? Does their having several million mean they are more likely to be correct? Somehow the phrase "We're both atheists, I just believe in three million less gods than you" doesn't have the same ring to it.
3. "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours"
This is clearly making assumptions about the doxastic theists have regarding the other gods, and assuming they dismiss them for the same reasons the atheist dismisses the theists’ god. It's assuming the other gods are similar to the Christian God in every way. I see no valid basis for any of those assumptions.
It seems to me that the “Stephen Roberts” of the world tend to have a line of reasoning such as "I think Greek stories of gods are myths, therefore the Greek gods never existed. I also think the Bible stories are myths, therefore the Christian God never existed."
But that doesn't even work anyway, because the Greek gods and the Christian God are a different class of being. The Greek gods are always something like Zeus, son of Cronos. They are created beings, they live on the planet and have physical bodies. They are very powerful, but they have more in common with Superman and the Flash than Yahweh. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, is a purely spirit being, who is the uncaused first cause of the universe. He's the prime mover - nothing would exist without him and nothing existed before him. Additionally, the Bible is rooted in history. Archaeology and ancient literature support much of the Old Testament and all of the New. To date, I am not aware of a single archaeological discovery that contradicts events described in the Bible.
- Stephen F. Roberts, quote: http://freelink.wildlink.com/quote_history.php
- Atheism: The doctrine or belief that there is no God; a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods; https://www.wordwebonline.com/search.pl?w=atheism
- Theism: The doctrine or belief in the existence of a God or gods; https://www.wordwebonline.com/search.pl?w=theism
- Agnosticism: https://www.wordwebonline.com/search.pl?w=agnosticism
- The premise of this rebuttal (which was cut back and then reworded) came from here: https://godsrocker.blogspot.com/2015/05/i-just-believe-in-one-less-god-than-you.html
- WordWeb, wordweb.info