One Fewer God?

By Derrick Stokes

There’s a popular quote by atheist Steven F. Roberts that many nonbelievers cite or paraphrase when debating Christians that says, “I contend we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer God than you do.”

The atheist is saying that since we Christians don’t believe in Baal, Zeus, Odin, Vishnu, Quetzalcoatl, or any other god other than the God of the Bible, then we assume the same lack of belief system. They just take it one deity further.

One Fewer God

So what’s the difference?

Well it doesn’t take much to realize that this argument is constructed in a way to throw the believer off guard. Let’s look at the two members of the argument. An atheist and a theist. The word atheist comes from the Greek atheos.  The prefix a meaning “without” and theos meaning “god”. In other words atheism is the belief that there is no god or gods. No Supreme Ruler whatsoever. The atheist’s worldview is completely shrouded and perceived in the material realm. That anything outside it is pure speculation and unprovable (or not proven yet).

However, for the theist (Christian in our case) the material realm is just another dimension of reality. For us there is also the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is, in fact, the truest reality because it existed first. God is spirit (John 4:24) and He created all that exists (Genesis 1, John 1:3) in the spiritual and material world.

Now let me point out that Christians during the 1st century were called atheists because they rejected the pantheon of greco-roman gods of the surrounding culture. This was also because the Christians of the day had no temple, priest, or sacrifice, as Romans would have recognized. Yet, believers in Christ saw Jesus as the temple. He is the only way to the Holy of Holies. Believers in Christ saw Him as priest because He is the Ultimate High Priest. Believers in Christ saw Jesus as the sacrifice because of the work He accomplished on the cross. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God and no sacrifice is needed after Him. (John 1:29; Hebrews 4:14; 10:10-11, 19-20)

After the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church there was no “physical” representation of their God like the Romans had. The Romans had statues and Caesar.  If you didn’t worship as they worshipped and whom they worshipped then you worshipped nothing. Therefore, the term atheist was applied to early Christians out of ignorance and out of insult.

In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Polycarp is brought before the Roman governor for trial. The governor has the intention of making Polycarp betray his Christian brethren. Polycarp must say, “Away with the atheists” or else be condemned. He looks around at “the crowd of lawless heathen”(the pagan Romans) and says “Away with the atheists” flipping the name on to his accusers. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:2)

But, let’s be reminded. Atheists reject all gods. They reject false gods and the true God, Yahweh. They don’t just reject one more god than Christians. They reject THE God. The only true and living God. Even though God has made Himself plainly evident through His creation, atheists won’t come to the knowledge of the truth. (Romans 19:21)

However…

Atheists might reject the notion of gods as supernatural, ethereal beings, but they still have gods. We all serve something or someone. We all worship something or someone. Whether it be ourselves, pleasure, fortune, fame, other people, hobbies, pets, nature, gods made of wood or gold, or the God of the Bible; something gets our worship whether we choose to accept the notion or not.

This brings us to the first two commandments:

1)You shall have no other gods before Me [Yahweh]
2)You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them. (Exodus 20:3-4a)

If we have broken these commandments, and we all have if God is not who we worship, then we make ourselves idolaters. Anything other than God that gets our worship has become an idol. These are Paul’s words in Philippians 3:18-19

18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

If this is true of you today, please understand that God wants to be the object of your worship. He knows that anything else that competes for your attention above Him is a false god. He knows that no other god can bring you true joy and fulfillment. Anything else is an imitation and will never come close to the perfect love, holiness, and eternality of God. Don’t be blinded by passion for the things of the world. Things will break. Trends will fade. This world and everything in it will pass away. God and His Word are forever. And don’t place any person above God. Human beings are imperfect and all have fallen far short of God’s glory. But, God is not man that He should lie or change His mind. Nor will He ever leave us or forsake us. So, give your worship to God and to God alone because He alone is worthy.

Derrick Stokes

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This post was originally published as “…ONE LESS GOD…”? at https://theologetics315.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/one-less-god/

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33 replies
  1. Kalmaro says:

    I like the article but I don’t think it does a good job of showing why the argument is flawed. You kind of make the assumption that they will readily accept that there is one God and that they should follow him.

    Reply
    • Mark says:

      Acts 17:23 is instructive where Paul sees that even the polytheistic Greeks had an altar to the “unknown God”, in recognizing that they had missed something despite the multitude of “gods” they worshipped. Paul used that aspect of their culture to introduce the one true God they acknowledged but did not know!

      Reply
  2. Mike says:

    It’s more of a red herring than an actual argument. Even if the atheist were correct in their usage of the word “atheist” in regards to this argument (which they are not), it doesn’t address any argument presented by the theist or the lines of reasoning used in the formulation of those arguments. It doesn’t address anything really and it appears to be merely a trolling argument. An attempt to confuse or bamboozle the theist because “they haven’t thought of it like that” before, which again, isn’t an argument for or against anything of significance.

    I think what they don’t understand is that it is the unbelief in the CATEGORY of deities. The word atheist means a belief that no deities exist. It affirms the proposition “deities do not exist”. If you believe there are no deities in existence, whether one or many, you are an atheist. However, if you believe there are deities, whether one deity or many, you are a theist, as you affirm the proposition “deities do exist”.

    As an example, if you get married whether to one woman or many, you are no longer a bachelor or in the category of bachelors. You move to the category of “married man”. Most importantly, you are not a bachelor to every woman you are not married to. The term bachelor no longer applies to you as a married man. No on says, ” I am bachelor to every woman who isn’t my wife”. That is nonsensical and we all know it.

    The concept is the same in reference to this argument. If you are an atheist and then become a theist or even a deist, the term atheist no longer applies to you because you are in a new group or category. You affirm something as a theist/deist that you once denied as an atheist. To use the word atheist as something to be applied to each individual deity “I am an atheist towards Ra, Mithras, and Thor, but not towards Zeus” is simply to misuse the word. That’s not how anyone uses that word in technical writings, popular literature or even verbal communication and atheists know this. Atheists don’t say “who are you atheist towards?”.
    The statement in question just ignores so much about how we use language to communicate and settle on certain words meaning certain things and carry this meaning or that meaning. And for a group that claims the intellectual high ground, it’s sad to see people view this as a formidable remark.

    1. The word just isn’t used ANYWHERE the way they are trying to use it.
    2. It isn’t a statement that carries any weight against any argument or line of reasoning for arguments for justification in belief in theism or deism.
    3. If you deny that deities exist, you are an atheist. If you believe that deities do exist, whether one or many, you are no longer an atheist, but a theist or deist.
    4. They are essentially saying it is possible for following statement to be true, “I believe in God, and am also an atheist”. This is a nonsensical contradiction. “I believe a deity exists, and also that no deities exist.” The word atheist isn’t to be applied to each individual deity not believed in, rather, it is the denial of the category as a whole, while theism/deism believes deities do exist, even if it’s just one.

    Come on guys.

    Sorry if I sound repetitive.

    Reply
    • Kyle says:

      This article as well as your response completely miss the point. You try to attack the use of the word atheist in order to side step the main thrust of the quote. Why do you not believe in all the other possible gods that have been worshipped or are still being worshipped? Have you given them any more consideration other than, “They are at odds with Christianity and therefore cannot be true.”?

      Reply
        • Kyle says:

          I don’t follow. If multiple people are accused of the same crime, you can bet they would each be scrutinized with the innocent ones let go and the guilty one/ones charged.

          Reply
          • Beck says:

            That’s why I used the term “courtroom” and didn’tsay “sscrutinized”. If someone accused Obama of gunning down a man in California the same time you saw him giving a speech in DC you wouldn’t take very much time, thought, or effort to dismiss it as nonsense. What this conversation would eventually develop into is each person’s definition of nonsense, it could possibly just be a decoy president after all and Obama was on a killing spree in California.

          • Kyle says:

            And the courtrooms of today are not an accurate depiction of the circumstances. The point still stands you can’t settle on one culprit. It could be no one, multiple people, or someone completely different than who you initially thought. Sighting in on a single suspect and summarily dismissing all others does not work.

          • Beck says:

            It works for me cause it makes the most sense of the facts I see in the world, and its not filled with nonsense like the others.

          • Beck says:

            The whole Greek creation story from the birthing of the titans and the gods to the creators of humans and animals running out of gifts,it’s all nonsense.
            Like I said this conversation will just lead to people’s different thresholds for nonsense.

          • Beck says:

            No, Christianity doesn’t meet my threshold for nonsense. I don’t feel my threshold for nonsense is unreasonable, it’s not like I believe a big bang happened somewhere in the universe, inflation happened and then stopped for no reason, then stars formed (even though the best theories available require a star to already exist to form one),and eventually random chemicals come together to form a self replicating organism.

          • Ed Vaessen says:

            Beck:
            “No, Christianity doesn’t meet my threshold for nonsense. I don’t feel my threshold for nonsense is unreasonable, it’s not like I believe a big bang happened somewhere in the universe, inflation happened and then stopped for no reason, then stars formed (even though the best theories available require a star to already exist to form one),and eventually random chemicals come together to form a self replicating organism.”

            Please study these things before presenting us a caricature image of them.

          • Beck says:

            It may be a slight caricature but you are just assuming I’m uneducated about it and present no argument. You’re basically making an ad hominem attack, if it makes you feel better about yourself though…

          • Ed Vaessen says:

            Beck:
            “No, Christianity doesn’t meet my threshold for nonsense. I don’t feel my threshold for nonsense is unreasonable.”

            But is it reasonable? Christianity tells us that God creates all human beings in such way that they must make mistakes. He cannot save these cranky creatures from eternal damnation unless He takes human form and has Himself killed by them. So He is born from a virgin.
            But wait, one might say! Could He not also have been born from a drug addict prostitute named Maria who on a daily basis was beaten by her pimp Joseph?
            No, of course not. What a silly thought that is! Only virgins will do or else the sacrifice trick won’t work as anyone with brains in his head will realize. That whole sacrifice, by the way, should not go unnoticed for we have something to enjoy, haven’t we? So He throws in an earthquake, a solar eclipse and has the zombies walk around to inspire future Hollywood movies.

            Having read this, I think the story how Ganesha got his elephant head sounds quite reasonable. Gods, anyway, are unfathomable, aren’t they?

          • Beck says:

            When thinking about other mythologies to showcase my point I actually skipped the elephant head one cause not only does it depend on who you ask its not particularly outrageous, so you are addressing an argument I did not make.
            As for the rest of what you said, I find the eyewitness testimonies very compelling about who Jesus said he was and what he did which can’t be said about any other religion.

          • Ed Vaessen says:

            Beck:
            “It may be a slight caricature but you are just assuming I’m uneducated about it and present no argument. ”

            If you are not uneducated, then at least behave like an person so well educated that he can present an argument and at least knows how to avoid the pitfalls of logical fallacies.
            Study science and do not collect your information from those sites where it’s findings are distorted because they don’t match with a particular religious dogma. There are enough evangelical Christian scientists that would advise you likewise.

          • Beck says:

            Again you make no real argument. You simply attack my position and say it’s distorted but present no evidence to prove your statement you simply insinuate it exists. That sort of argument style may be convincing to other people that think like you and can not consider an alternate worldview but to me it’s a cop-out.

        • Ed Vaessen says:

          Beck:
          “Again you make no real argument. You simply attack my position and say it’s distorted but present no evidence to prove your statement you simply insinuate it exists. That sort of argument style may be convincing to other people that think like you and can not consider an alternate worldview but to me it’s a cop-out.”

          If you are educated, it doesn’t show.

          Reply
  3. Mark says:

    Acts 17:23 is also instructive where Paul sees that even the polytheistic Greeks had an altar to the “unknown God”, in recognizing that they had missed something despite the multitude of “gods” they worshipped. Paul used that aspect of their culture to introduce the one true God they acknowledged but did not know!

    Reply
  4. Mr Smith says:

    I think this author is trying to say that, by definition, an atheist doesn’t believe in any gods at all, so we can’t be atheists with regard to one god and not others; it’s all or nothing. So when atheists use that argument they are merely showing that they don’t really understand their own worldview. But then the author goes further and suggests that even atheists are not really atheists at all because they have their own gods which are physical and material.

    Finally, a better title would be ‘One god fewer’ as it’s better English … or it is in the UK at least.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      You’ve got to stretch the idea of ‘God’ quite a bit to say something physical or material is a ‘God’ to atheists. If you’re saying that atheists makes Gods of ‘fortune, fame, other people, hobbies, pets’ etc, then by that definition, you could say that many or even most Christians are actually polytheists, given that they probably attach themselves to pets or hobbies just as much as atheists do.

      It’s a strange use of English to say ‘Atheists with regards to other Gods’, but the meaning is fairly clear – Christians reject the idea of the Muslim God, the Hindu Gods etc. Atheists just reject one more than Christians. Perhaps the idea is to suggest Christians apply the same skepticism or rigour to their own God that they do for other religions.

      That said, I do actually agree that it’s a flawed argument. Imagine one guy thinks Marlowe actually wrote Shakespeare’s Hamlet and someone else takes the traditional view that Shakespeare was in fact responsible. They can both have decent reasons for that. Now imagine a third person claims that no-one wrote the plays, and says to the other two, “You both believe billions of people did NOT write Hamlet, I just go one further than you”. That would be a bad argument.

      That is not to say that I think the universe is like a play that HAD to have a creator; but if one has already determined that the universe MUST have been created then the next step is to decide which God. For such a person, the ‘One fewer God than you’ argument makes no sense.

      Reply
  5. Ed Vaessen says:

    “18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
    19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.”

    Some people seem to have severe difficulties with accepting other viewpoints and attach unfavorable traits to those supporting them.

    Reply
  6. Ed Vaessen says:

    How strange is the assumption that when I think that gods do not exist, I still worship gods:

    19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

    This nr. 19 verse must have been written by a religious fanatic.

    Reply
  7. Ed Vaessen says:

    Beck:
    “As for the rest of what you said, I find the eyewitness testimonies very compelling about who Jesus said he was and what he did which can’t be said about any other religion.”

    The fact that earthquakes and solar eclipses and zombies are introduced in stories raises quite some doubt about the reliability of those eyewitnesses.

    Reply
  8. Ed Vaessen says:

    Beck:
    “Again you make no real argument. You simply attack my position and say it’s distorted but present no evidence to prove your statement you simply insinuate it exists. That sort of argument style may be convincing to other people that think like you and can not consider an alternate worldview but to me it’s a cop-out.”

    In case you do recognize what constitutes an argument: every of your comments about the Big Bang, inflation, star formation and the origin of life is what we call the argument from personal incredulity. Which is a logical fallacy.
    You are like an old Viking, telling us that thunder and lightning had to be caused by a God because no natural explanation was known by then.

    Reply
    • Beck says:

      You must have missed the car ntext, let me help. I was asked a question and was answering, that wasn’t supposed to be taken as an “argument”. You’re so pedantic you fail to see context.

      Reply

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