Tuesday, August 09, 2016

It's False That an Atheist Just Believes in One Fewer God Than a Theist Does

Card, in a store in Detroit's Cass Corridor

I heard this again, so I'll post my response again. Heard what? The Internet-atheist cliche, given to a theist such as I: "We atheists just believe in one fewer "god" than you do." 

That's cute. But not really. The person who quotes this thinking they are making some profound point is commits the fallacy of equivocation.

I don't believe in "Zeus." Here are some things about "Zeus":

  • Zeus is not omniscient - he got tricked by Prometheus, e.g.
  • Zeus is a pervert - he changed his shape into a swan, e.g., when he impregnated Leda. When he abducted Ganymede he changed his shape into an eagle. And so on..., kind of like the atheist Bertrand Russell would disguise himself so as not to be recognized when he engaged in adulterous behavior in seducing women. (See Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, pp. 212 ff. Fellow philosopher Sidney Hook said Russell "would pursue anything in skirts that would cross his path.")  Anyway, Zeus is far from all-loving, and Zeus has a physical body.
  • Zeus has a beard and long hair.
  • Zeus lives on Mount Olympus.
  • Zeus is married.
  • Zeus fathered many children.
In the philosophy of religion no scholar is interested in "Zeus." The real question that is found in every academic philosophy of religion book that exists is: does a being with the following attributes exist:
  • personal-causal agent
  • atemporal (therefore changeless)
  • immaterial (therefore nonspatial)
  • omniscient (knows everything that can be known)
  • omnipotent (is able to do everything that can be done)
  • omnibenevolent (in morally perfect)
  • necessarily existent (never began to exist and never will cease existing; therefore uncaused)
  • cause (creator) of all that exists.
Philosophers (atheists and theists), when they argue for or against the existence of "God," refer to this kind of being. The philosophical question is: Does this kind of being exist? Theists say yes, atheists say no. But note they are both referring to the same kind of being, and not to "Zeus" and his many anthropomorphic kin.

So, to call "Zeus" and the theistic God examples of "gods" in the cliche-quote is to equivocate on the meaning of "god." Because the attributes of "Zeus" and other anthropomorphic gods are not the declared attributes of the God of classical theism. Thus, they are two different kinds of beings.

That's irrational. Illogical.