Here’s one-liner that Richard Dawkins is fond of using: “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
This, of course, is just a paraphrase of Stephen Robert’s famous one-liner: “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.”
It’s striking that so many atheists seem to think that’s a compelling reason to be an atheist. After all, they pride themselves on their rational superiority. So why are they impressed by such a lame argument?
1. If I reject every explanation but one, is it more logical to reject every explanation whatsoever?
Suppose I feel ill. I go to the doctor. Before he can cure me, he must diagnose me. He asks me to describe my symptoms. He runs a battery of tests. He is attempting, by process of elimination, to narrow the possible candidates down to one culprit. After having excluded all of the other things that aren’t wrong with me, would it be logical for him to take the extra step and conclude that nothing is wrong with me?
Suppose a widely-hated man is murdered. This leaves the homicide detective with a large pool of potential suspects to weed out. They all had the motive, yet some had the means without the opportunity while others had the opportunity without the means. After running through the list, only one suspect had the means, motive, and opportunity. But would it be more logical for the detective to take the extra step and conclude that no one murdered the victim? He just happened to die from a gunshot wound to the back of the head?
Suppose an airplane crashes. Investigators sift through the wreckage. Listen to conversations between the pilot and the control tower. Examine the flight-data recorder. Was it mechanical failure? Pilot error? Sabotage? If mechanical failure, what type of mechanical failure?
But would it be more logical for investigators to take the extra step and conclude that nothing caused the plane to crash?
2. On another note, how does knowing why I reject Mormonism (to take one example) mean that I know why you reject Mormonism? How does one entail the other?
You can’t simple combine one man’s reason for rejecting something with another man’s reason for rejecting something, for they may have different reasons.
Several voters may reject the same candidate. Some voters are single-issue voters. For other voters, if a candidate is right on two out of three key issues, they will vote for him.
Two single-issue voters may not have the same issue. Voters for whom two out of three key issues is good enough may not agree on which two out of three issues are key. I can’t extrapolate from why I declined to vote for him to why you declined to vote for him.
An atheist rejects Mormonism because he rejects theism generally, of which Mormonism is a special case. A Christian rejects Mormonism, not because he rejects theism generally, but because he has specific issues with Mormonism.
So understanding why I reject Mormonism doesn’t mean I understand why you reject Mormonism. The inference is blatantly fallacious.
3. Moreover, it’s not true that Christians simply reject all other “gods” save our own. Although we don’t believe in Thor or Zeus or Quetzalcoatl, we do believe in something behind the pagan pantheon. Heathen idolatry isn’t purely a figment of the human imagination. There’s an occult reality which motivates, animates, and empowers paganism. From a Christian standpoint, there is something that roughly corresponds to heathen divinities.
It’s like a shell corporation. Does the corporation really exist? In a sense, no. But there’s something that lies behind and hides behind the shell corporation.
Same thing with a puppet-state. The head-of-state may be a figurehead, but somebody is pulling the strings from behind-the-scenes.
What does it say about “free-thinkers” and “rationalists” when they find a fallacious slogan like this convincing?