One god less


Have you encountered the “one god less” rhetorical appeal before?  It goes something like this: “You don’t realize it, but you are an atheist too.  You already reject thousands of other gods.  I just believe in one god less than you do.”

Never mind that the correct grammatical form is “fewer,” not less. The slogan is clever but a poor truth claim. It treats the existence of deity as a quantitative rather than a qualitative issue. The appropriate question is not whether any number of deities exist, but is deity a quality of any part of reality?

In his debate with Alex Rosenberg last February, William Lane Craig laid bare the absurdity of metaphysical naturalism, which I identify here with materialism.  On such a view, science cannot find God.  But neither can it find persons!  Craig highlighted eight problematic implications of materialism.  Among them: first-person perspectives are illusory, individuals don’t persist through two moments of time, and no one actually thinks.  This last one follows from the premise that material cannot exhibit intentionality; it can’t inherently be “about” or “of” anything.  The conclusion contradicts our everyday experience; we think about things all the time.  The reality of mind is at odds with materialism.

Rosenberg deflected Craig’s metaphysical critique during the debate.  However, being more candid in the post-debate exchange, he did address a relevant chapter of his popular book, The Atheist’s guide to reality. The chapter is titled “The Brain Does Everything Without Thinking About Anything at All.” It recalls a book by Floyd Ferris, a fictional government scientist in Atlas Shrugged.  That work is amusingly titled, Why Do You Think You Think?

When it comes to building a worldview, the materialist is confined to a set of insufficient explanatory options. I’ve recently found that Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga, each coming from very different places, seem to be saying as much in their own respective works (Mind and Cosmos and Where the Conflict Really Lies).

Indulging the mystique of exotic sciences like quantum mechanics and brane cosmology, lay materialists illicitly attribute intelligence, awareness, and causal potency–hallmarks of personality–to their favorite model of reality.  No amount of quantitative work can make up for a lack of qualitative analysis.

Back to “one god less.”  Why should it not follow that belief in a negative number of gods is more true belief in zero gods? If the materialist seriously entertains this question on a qualitative basis, she runs the danger of believing the existence of one God more.


About Lewis W
I earned an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola University, and occasionally write on ethics, truth, science and politics.

7 Responses to One god less

  1. One god less is hardly a reduction to quantity. The whole point is rather to suggest that the one god shares many (perhaps all) of the same qualities as the other gods. Whether the stratigem is successful or not, it certainly isn’t a simple question of counting.

    • I think you’re saying that One God Less is used to suggest that the one god is similar to all other gods. Would it be more effective to just say “Your god is similar to all other gods”?

  2. No offence, but that’s a pretty terrible cartoon. Firstly it begins by undercutting the Atheist argument by pretending they’re Communists which is ridiculous. Second of all, it is obvious that you cannot believe in a negative number of Gods, that’s just absurd. Thirdly, instead of using actual Atheist arguments, it presents the straw woman Communist Atheist as an idiot.

    The whole point of the one God fewer argument is that explains to theists how atheists think. You’re reason for not believing in Hinduism, Islam, Paganism is the same as our reason for not believing in Christianity.

    • No offense taken. I agree that a negative number of gods is absurd. Intelligent people can attempt to live with absurdities they think to be real; Camus, who did this, was no idiot. Why should we conclude that the Mao cap character, who I’ve featured in past comics, is an idiot?

      It seems you’re saying the reason for my rejecting Hinduism as a true belief is identical to your rejecting Christianity as a true belief. What is that one reason?

      • Well the final panel of the cartoon portrays the Communist as an idiot and easily confused.

        All religions make claims that their holy book is true. You presumably don’t believe that other religions holy books are the word of God, whatever claims might be made. All religions claim miracles occurred supporting their religion. You presumably don’t believe these happened, instead they’re merely exaggerated stories changed as they were orally passed. Or tricks of the light, wishful thinking, cognitive dissonance etc. That’s what I think of Christianity.

      • Thanks for clarifying your point.

        I rejected Hinduism while unaware of any supernatural claims made in the Bhagavad Gita. The reason was because it contradicted the worldview that seemed most coherent and corresponding to reality: classical Christianity.

        Regarding oral changes, psychological considerations, and so on, there is academic consensus on Jesus’ death by crucifixion, the empty tomb, and masses believing they witnessed a resurrected Jesus, many who were later willing to die for what they believed to be true. Hallucinations are individual and not mass phenomena.

        Atheist Gerd Ludemann point out that the creed ascribing those things (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) had taken shape within three years of the crucifixion–a ludicrously brief time in which to distort testimony. The best explanation for these historical facts is supernatural resurrection.

  3. Arkenaten says:

    Do you believe in the veracity and historical and archaeological accuracy of the Pentateuch?

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