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.
This statement is very popular among atheists. To the extent that there's an argument buried in there, it seems to be along these lines:
Monotheists are inconsistent atheists. Monotheists reject polytheism for essentially the same reasons as atheists reject monotheism. The only difference is that atheists are more consistent. They simply take the monotheist objection to polytheism to its logical conclusion.
An obvious question this raises, although it doesn't seem to occur to atheists who are fond of quoting this statement, is what reasons monotheists actually give for espousing monotheism. Did Stephen Roberts bother to investigate that question before penning his oft-quoted statement? You'd think that would be a logical preliminary step. Let's take some examples.
William Wainwright summarizes an argument by Duns Scotus for divine unicity based on God's total causation of everything else. Wainwright thinks that as it stands, the argument is defective, but he also thinks it can be reformulated to eliminate the defects:
Question: do atheists reject the existence of any God for the same reason Scotus and Wainwright reject the existence of many gods? Surely not. Atheists don't think God causes anything, much less everything.
Likewise, Wainwright summarizes an argument by Al-Ghazali based on God's omnipotence. Once again, Wainwright thinks that as it stands, the argument is defective, but it can be reformulated to eliminate the defects:
Question: do atheists reject the existence of any God for the same reason Al-Ghazali and Wainwright reject the existence of many gods? Clearly not. After all, that argument is predicated on divine omnipotence. But you can't premise divine omniscience if you don't believe in God.
Let's take another example. Here's what Calvin says about polytheism:
Hence we must hold, that whosoever adulterates pure religion, (and this must be the case with all who cling to their own views,) make a departure from the one God. No doubt, they will allege that they have a different intention; but it is of little consequence what they intend or persuade themselves to believe, since the Holy Spirit pronounces all to be apostates, who, in the blindness of their minds, substitute demons in the place of God…Paul's declaration remains true, that the wisdom of God was not apprehended by the princes of this world, (1 Cor 2:8). Institutes 1.5.13.
Question: do atheists reject the existence of any God for the same reason Calvin rejects the existence of many gods? Do they attribute atheism to demonic deception and their blinded minds? But perhaps Roberts spoke better than he knew.
For my follow-up post:
For my follow-up post: