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January 17, 2012

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I've always liked that little "I just believe in one fewer god" catchphrase. It's so easy to retort with "That's great! You're so much closer to the truth than the people who believe in ten thousand *more* gods."

Or, if they'd like to be more serious (unlikely if it's sloganeering time, but still) you can point out that one wife is the difference between a husband and a bachelor. One child is the difference between a mother and a spinster. One infidelity is all that stands between a happy marriage and my wife snapping my head off.

As you point out, our God is not like "others". Because there is no God but God. There may be scads of pagan gods, and indeed, believing in a dozen or a million fewer of those would be progress. But that disbelief is only connected to disbelief in the Almighty if one's method for discernment was to simply adopt a blanket attitude of incredulity.


"God is not like "others". Because there is no God but God."

Right. If your religion is the correct one then your God is special because he is real. Good for you.

The "I just believe in one fewer god" phrase is usually meant to show how much we have in common. It's supposed to make the whole atheism thing a little less scary. That's how I used it when I first talked to my family anyway.

"These statements can only come from a misunderstanding of the radical differences between the ancient pagan gods and the Christian God"

"Can only"? You really sell us unbelievers short sometimes Amy. I understand the difference between modern pagan Gods and the many branches of modern Christian Theology. I also realize Christianity has had two thousand years to evolve and change in reaction to criticism. I also understand that the Yahweh we see in the old testament has been modified through the ages to meet the needs of the people who followed him. It is in this light that I put him in with the pagan gods. Because that is his lowly origin. I put Jesus in that category because I find it just as unlikely to be true as the rest of them.

Then Josh, if you understand these things so well, why does your post tell otherwise? How, pray tell, has Christianity "evolved" over two thousand years?
Perhaps you should go back and read the church fathers. Jerome, Origin, Augustine and, in particular, Athanasius of Alexandria.
It would also be a good idea for you to read Richard Bauckham, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses"; N.T. Wright, almost anything he has written; C.S. Lewis, ditto; Alistar McGrath "Christianity's Dangerous Idea".

No, actually God's status as the sole existent deity is not why he would be special. Even if the Greek gods existed, they would still not be of the same substance as God. That was sort of the point.

You sell atheism short when you try to "make it less scary", though. If it isn't scaring anyone, then you really aren't doing it properly. It scared the bejeezus out of the really gritty philosophers who proposed it, because they explored its implications on a level deeper than "Now I'm free from the chains of religious dogma. Good for me."

Have the courage of your convictions.

I have a long list of books from almost every point of view for you. After reading all of these, including much smarter atheists than Dawkins, I have to say, the best explanation for the data still falls on the god of the Bible.

I'm sure Amy wasn't intending to sell you short. But just as there are many reasons to group believers into such (often egregious) groups and stereotypes, there are just as many reasons for unbelievers to get the same treatment. Esp when authors such as Dawkins or Dennett are so loud and predictable.

Mea culpa there, I failed to tag my post. I was actually replying to Josh. I believe you and I pretty much agree, James.

But the idea that everything is one and everything is unified appeared in India before Christ, the whole concept of emptiness is a much better explanation of how things work. Science is not as recent as some think.

Jack,

Are you asserting that there is a marriage between Eastern monism and the Western scientific method?

@ Josh: "If your religion is the correct one then your God is special because he is real."
You've got that backwards: If the God of the Bible is real, then our religion is the correct one. So you're just presenting a straw man here.
"But the idea that everything is one and everything is unified appeared in India before Christ, the whole concept of emptiness is a much better explanation of how things work."
I'm not quite sure where you're going with this, what you mean by "the concept of emptiness", why you believe it is a "much better explanation of how things work" or how any of this connects with the origins of science or Christianity.
"Science is not as recent as some think."
Then feel free to, ahem, enlighten us.

I don't understand why Atheists have a problem with Christians we just believe in one more God than they do.

@Tokyo James

"Then Josh, if you understand these things so well, why does your post tell otherwise? How, pray tell, has Christianity "evolved" over two thousand years?
Perhaps you should go back and read the church fathers. Jerome, Origin, Augustine and, in particular, Athanasius of Alexandria.
It would also be a good idea for you to read Richard Bauckham, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses"; N.T. Wright, almost anything he has written; C.S. Lewis, ditto; Alistar McGrath "Christianity's Dangerous Idea"."

I've read Augstine, (both confessions and COG) Origen, (all of the against Clesus and the commentary on Mathew)
some Luther, Calvin. I've also read NT Wright's Simply Christian, almost all of CS lewis works, some Francis Schaeffer, Norman Geisler, Gregory Boyd and on and on. I've been steeped in it enough to make an educated decision. In the same way you know enough about Mormonism and Islam to make an educated decision. How about reading some of the works documenting the foundation of your faith that is from a more neutral perspective? Might I suggest "Diarmaid Mccullough's History of Christianity: The first thousand years."


Nice reframe, Damian. It cuts both ways and your way shows the absurdity of both statements.

Whatever your position, there are profound differences between one God and no God.

"I don't understand why Atheists have a problem with Christians we just believe in one more God than they do."

That statement makes sense in a world where 90% of the population is atheist and you are trying to explain to your atheist mother why you changed your world view and all she keeps doing is screeching out the word "CHRISTIAN!!!?" "You became a CHRIStian??!!"

Because in that world, people like her have a "problem" with Christianity because they are afraid of it out of ignorance. They really don't know anything about it. Nor have they met someone who was one. Its the same with a lot of Christians out there (You know the Christians I'm talking about. Not most of you here.) They have a "problem" with atheism that is beyond the difference in belief. the statement: “I just believe in one less god than you do." is meant to sweep away the misconceptions and show that they very same reason they reject another god is the same reason Atheists reject their's.

"No, actually God's status as the sole existent deity is not why he would be special. Even if the Greek gods existed, they would still not be of the same substance as God. That was sort of the point."

I agree. I see what you are saying now. I misunderstood you earlier.

Everyone has a constitutional right to believe anything they want and practice any religion they want.........as long as no one publicly acts other than as an atheist.

It is offensive to know that people disagree with you.

Seems to be a common sentiment these days.

Josh,

And I think I see what you mean, as well, about trying to make it "less scary." From how you describe it, you were pressed into having a discussion that you'd rather not have had. When I was an atheist, I simply didn't talk religion at all with my folks. I also don't discuss religion much with them now, because while they are Christian, they're also very, shall we say, denominational. That I believe anything different from them is troublesome, regardless of the case for or against, for reasons that seem more tribal than philosophical.

In both cases, what seems to come up in the older generation is a panic that you, their offspring, came out different, rather than a richly-sourced concern for *why* or what the real paradigm clash is.

Atheism can be a defensible position, and you're well within your epistemic rights to (un)believe as you will. Obviously I won't support your conclusions, but I'm hardly about to belittle you for drawing them.

My misreading was that, in trying to make it "less scary" you were being disingenuous about its implications. Christianity is pretty scary, too, if you dig into it enough. But of course, most folks who adhere to either view do so for primarily sentimental reasons, and with very little introspection or examination.

Thus, you get culture wars between scads of atheists and Christians who are utterly unrepresentative of the the strongest versions of their respective worldviews.

My condolences, sincerely, on your family troubles. That said, the whole "One less God" thing isn't going to help in that situation--reasoning with unreason is spitting into the wind. Nor will that slogan do much for you in this neck of the woods, where half of us would argue with you just for something to do on a slow day at the office ;)

It looks nice on a bumper sticker, but I think you do have to be honest that a lack of belief in Zeus is about the same as a lack of belief in Poseidon, and a belief in Thor is about the same as belief in Odin, but even Thor-belief would conflict with Zeus-belief. And the respective mythologies entail very different ideas about how the world begins, ends, and operates (in terms of both Is and Ought) in the meantime. Ditto for Hinduism vis a vis Islam, or Judaism versus LDS, etc.

They really only look "the same" if you're piling them into a category tantamount to "things that are untrue" along with a geocentric solar model, or most politicians' promises. But of course, from that perspective, a Theist would say that atheism and Jehovah's Witnesses are "the same", which is obviously untrue... The local atheists usually wait until a decent hour to wake me on a Saturday ;)

"Thus, you get culture wars between scads of atheists and Christians who are utterly unrepresentative of the the strongest versions of their respective worldviews."

Exactly. And kudos for "Scads"

As for "spitting in the wind" Thing have gotten much better. But it took a lot of conversation and discussion. Which I'm glad I had. I mostly agree with what you are saying though. Enough not to nit-pick anyway. :)

Josh, I don't think the point most atheists are trying to make with that statement is that atheism isn't scary (even if that's your point when you say it). The point they're trying to make is that we Christians reject thousands of gods, and we ought to look at Christianity as an outsider and recognize that we ought to reject our God for the same reasons that we rejected those other gods.

Here's a quote from Stephen Roberts that describes what I mean: "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."

That's the context in which I always hear this statement made. This is why my response in this post is to say that they're missing why we would reject a whole host of pagan gods and accept the single Christian God. He's a completely different kind of God from the pagan gods, and I don't think atheists are recognizing the differences. (I also think that there are good reasons to believe in the necessity of one God, but not a plurality of gods. Dismissing many other gods doesn't mean it's just as reasonable to dismiss one necessary God.)

Josh,

"I mostly agree with what you are saying though. Enough not to nit-pick anyway. :)"

My kudos to *you*, amigo, for displaying the very soul of civil discourse there. :)

Amy,

I wouldn't want to speak for Josh, but I think the case in which he used this phrase actually exemplifies the point you're making, rather than contradicting it. It wasn't an apologetic for atheism designed to persuade anyone, it was just a way to soften the blow to his loved ones that he didn't share all of their beliefs.

In that sort of instance, it might work just as well, even humorously, if some young person comes home from a William Lane Craig debate and tells his atheistic mom and dad "Well, I only believe in one more God than you..." It's a deflection, meant to assuage feelings, rather than an argument, used when argument wouldn't really help anyone.

Stephen Roberts there doesn't even seem to know what an atheist is. Socrates wasn't an atheist, although he did deny the Greek Pantheon and affirmed something like Aristotle's Prime Mover. He was a nonbeliever in paganism. In that sense, we're *all* nonbelievers of *something.* It's common ground, sure, but weak tea for persuasion.

@Josh,

Thanks for that. Well, you do seem well read. And MacCulloch's book is a pretty good one, very well referenced - and he mentions one other book which I think is good for study too, Chadwick's "East and West; the Making of a Rift in the Church"

I'm not sure though, considering the writings of the early fathers and much of the beliefs today, if there is enough evidence that the theology has actually "evolved." Grown, perhaps in some aspects, but it is still largely the Fathers, the epistles of Paul and the 4 gospels that are the foundation for church theology.
There is a thing called Progressive Revelation as you know, as well as Common Grace. Lets take these into account. But even then, I'm not sure there is enough evidence, even in the writings of MacCulloch, Ehrman, etc. to say that the core tenets have changed.

The church, on the other hand, being chock full of fallen, imperfect people and often power-hungry and arrogant leaders -sadly "scads" of them- is bound to change and flow with the times.
Movements pop up all the time; intellectual fads, etc. The Enlightenment, post-modernism, thechurchowhatshappeninnowism, to name a few.
But to say that Christianity itself evolves to react to criticism seems rather blind to the fact that new questions require new answers (though often they don't - after all, we are very grown up now, and ask very grown up questions, eh?). But I would find it very difficult indeed to believe in a static Being that had nothing to do with, or could relate to, the living, changing world.

James,

"thechurchowhatshappeninnowism" might be the best name I've seen for the so-called Emergent Church Movement.

One claim of the OP is: The universe 'came out of nothing.'

There's no observation of this 'nothing' and, therefore, no need to explain it.

The Big Bang was a transition.

On our side of this transition, we observe what we see around us.

On the other side: we have no observations.

This is quite different from: we observing nothing.

(We have no observations of anything prior to the time when the universe became transparent to light. This was 379,000 years later than the Big Bang itself - assuming the model is right.)

RonH

I think that the key phrase in Amy's commentary relates to the idea that as we learn more and more about science God will become more and more revealed. How ironic would it be if we get to a place where the notion of everything from nothing through a process of blind chance becomes unworkable by virtue of the scientific enterprise... This would be the materialists worst nightmare. Thats why blind faith in science as the path to ALL knowledge must be so exclusive and encompassing... we will see!

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