The Silly “One Less God” Argument

The Secular Student Alliance has a silly stunt backed up by a silly argument:

Graveyard of the Gods is a farewell to humanity’s forgotten deities. It is an opportunity to demonstrate that there are thousands upon thousands of gods that have been worshipped throughout history, and most of them are no longer worshipped. The Graveyard of the Gods activity is not an attack on religion, but is primarily a very visible way to demonstrate why Blaise Pascal’s infamous Wager doesn’t work because it assumes only one possible god to place bets on.

From my use of the Wager, this stunt/argument goes nowhere.  The Wager is a wager, not some deductive argument.  Thus, the only relevant issue is whether the Wager is a smart or wise one.  And the answer to that question will depend on a) the actual wager being made and b) the person who makes the wager.

Now, I accept and embrace Christianity because I think it is true because of my use of reason and evidence.  Therefore, the Wager comes into play after the evidence is considered.  In this case, we have evidence about the thousands and thousands of gods that have been worshipped throughout history – most of them are no longer worshipped.  It would seem to me that if a God did exist, the deity would be able to sustain the existence of some significant community of believers across time and space.  The Christian God qualifies.  Christianity has a significant presence on every continent on the Earth.   The thousands and thousands of gods that have been worshipped throughout history don’t.  As the SSA notes, “Most of them are no longer worshipped.”

Now, what rational person would wager on the existence of a god that nobody else worshipped?  That’s not exactly the smartest bet in the room.

The Graveyard of Gods stunt is just another way to express a popular New Atheist meme:

atheism-one-less-god

It’s ironic who this meme leads us to Pascal’s Wager.  Yes, we both agree that all non-Christian deities do not exist, leaving us with Christianity vs. Atheism.  I think when it is an issue of choosing between atheism and Christianity, the Wager is wise.  As I have mentioned before, if I am wrong, and the atheist is right, I’m left with the unanswerable question – So what?  When I die, I simply cease to exist.  No problem.   I have incurred no cost.

But at this point, the New Atheist might challenge as follows: “Ah!  But what if Allah exists?  The wager will have failed you.”  Okay, at that point, the Gnu would have abandoned the “One less god” position for a “Two less gods” position.  Meme defeated.

But yeah, I would agree.  I would have wagered and lost.  So it doesn’t look like the Wager is going to help in this instance.  But here is what I would say to the Gnu:

If Allah exists, we would both be wrong and we both lose.

If the God of the Bible exists, you would be wrong and you would lose.

If Atheism is true, you would be right, but no one loses.  And you don’t even get the satisfaction of knowing you were right.

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25 Responses to The Silly “One Less God” Argument

  1. mechanar says:

    I would not call it losing if allah is the one true god, more that we were wrong about the specifics. I dont think a omnipotent beyond our comprehension is more interested in morals than pedantic details like our own identification. (not to say that I think christianity is just another religion, infact I think its the best faith there ever was but most religions share more or less the same moral basics)

  2. FZM says:

    It is an opportunity to demonstrate that there are thousands upon thousands of gods that have been worshipped throughout history, and most of them are no longer worshipped.

    This argument probably relies on the equivocal meaning of the term god, where in different religious belief systems it can refer to different entities with different natures and properties, as well as different levels of interest in human worship and attention.

  3. Regual Llegna says:

    Atheism: “When I die, I simply cease to exist. No problem. I have incurred no cost.”

    For me the fall to a soul to non-existence is one of the worts descriptions of a hell, worst than eternal torment or insanity, because non-existence in the future make the past and the present “equaly” worthless.

    “If Atheism is true, you would be right, but no one loses. And you don’t even get the satisfaction of knowing you were right.”

    And for that they take the scienctism approach, because they want the worthless satisfaction of knowing they are “right” while they are alive and don’t know nothing about non-experienced/don’t visual/don’t testeable things like mind/non-physical/soul, because at the end the info don’t change their equaly non-existencial fate and future. They want to preach their nihilistic/worthless/that nobody desire to archive if they are not insane views of life.

    That expain why an transhumanist can convince most atheists easily to be transhumanis or to add transhumanism together with atheism too, they sell “future inmortality” to the people that go too much with tech and don’t know their limits.

    You could say that the atheistic beliefs for the gnus are the opposite of beliefs of the mayority of people in a demograpic area where the gnus live, that explain why the gnus as we know only exist in nations with a more than 50% people that are christians or are trying to be christians, the new atheists are especificaly anti- or ex-christians, the anti- or ex-muslims are only escaping for their lives and their atheism to be 100% socio-political concern (mainly anti-sharia, anti-arab traditions), the anti- or ex-buddhists are basically 100% comunists, marxists or foreign to full buddhists beliefs (not only meditation), the anti- ex-jains don’t exist because there is no mayority political important zone of the world that follow jainism (i believe that every time the gnus talk about jainism, like muslims, they talk about the jains are pariahs/extremely poor/non-important people, politicaly/the minority religious group to feel pity/people that never damage a flea and that don’t post a threat for my world domination), anti- or ex-“pagans” (what beliuefs exactly?) there people associate with gnus unless the gnus are full in their scientism (this actually cover most of the non-mainstream religions, the gnus simply don’t talk about them), anti- or ex-polytheists (what religion) they exist in India and are mostly anti-monotheistic muslims/anti-islam, in the western nations the gnus talking points don’t work with any polytheistics at all… others.

  4. Regual Llegna says:

    FZM says: “This argument probably relies on the equivocal meaning of the term god, where in different religious belief systems it can refer to different entities with different natures and properties, as well as different levels of interest in human worship and attention.”

    And for that in my own methodology i separate the words god (control over power or a power), deity (power in itself or spirit) and divinity (most important thing or things), those for me are simply traits.

  5. Dhay says:

    > … thousands upon thousands of gods …

    So presumably “thousands upon thousands of” creation accounts and presumably “thousands upon thousands of” origin of life accounts. But only one account, or perhaps few accounts, acceptable to those committed to the railroad of physical determinism.

    I note that according to Richard Carrier (Footnote 8 The End of Christianity) the prior probability of a self-existent god who is also an intelligently designing god is but one in four, calculated as follows:

    Note that I have selected this maximum prior [Of Gods existence] of 0.25 for an additional reason: because no higher prior can be developed even by pure logic (i.e., assuming no information exists in b other than bare propositions and logic). Given such zero knowledge there would be no more than a 50–50 chance any self-existent god exists, and a 50–50 chance such a god would be an intelligently designing god (as opposed to one who was not), and 0.5 × 0.5 = 0.25, which is therefore the maximum possible probability God can have prior to considering any evidence for or against his existence.

    https://www.scribd.com/doc/296697791/Richard-Carrier-s-rough-fine-tuning-argument (P. 9)

    As Carrier critic Tim McGrew says, “This argument is itself more suspicious than a man in a thick trench coat at a playground in the middle of the Arizona summer …”

    Odd, then, that Aristotelian Metaphysics should apparently tell us the odds are not one in four but certainty, on logical grounds. (No, I don’t understand it, go argue the toss on Edward Feser’s blog.)

    But let’s take Carrier’s silly argument seriously, and in like silliness and seriousness consider “thousands upon thousands of” god possibilities versus one or a handful of non-god possibilities.

    One in four starts to look quite good compared with one or few in “thousands upon thousands”.

  6. Regual Llegna says:

    Dhay says: “One in four starts to look quite good compared with one or few in “thousands upon thousands”.”

    Yes, but it can be better “thousands upon thousands” of non-god possibilities that never become the belief of more than one person because they not even try versus “thousands upon thousands” of god possibilities that were in the minds of more than one person and “thousands upon thousands” that go mainstream in every human group in history.

  7. stcordova says:

    As someone who has beaten the casinos for tens of thousand of dollars using Pascal’s theories and was mentioned in the credits of the Holy Rollers documentary about card counting Christians who took the casinos for 3.5 million dollars (also using Pascal’s theories), I can say the GNUs aren’t understanding the modern refinements of Pascal’s wager at all.

    The original Pascal’s Wager was the Christian God vs. Atheism, but from Pascal’s mathematics, it can be seen this was a simplification but can be extended to the Muslim God, etc.

    When an outcome has multiple-possibilities, there will be multiple probabilities assigned as well as payoffs for each outcome. This is true of card games, video poker games, blackjack, etc. as well as the religious version of Pascal’s wager.

    The Muslim religion, when scrutinized carefully vs. Chrsitianity does not stand up. This is demonstrable by ex-muslims who articulate the case quite well. Mohamed himself said Christ is seated at the right hand of God to this day, but Mohamed is dead a buried. Seems to me, Christ takes precedence over Mohamed even on those grounds. More could be said, but assume the Muslim way is 1 tenth as credible as the Christian way. Then the Christian way is the better bet. Weighting Christianity against other religions should yield a similar inference, and it is not too different than skill gambler wagering on one outcome out of several (such as in video poker or whatever). So with those ASSUMED probabilities, Christianity is the wise bet.

    The issue is not whether our estimates of probability are right (no one knows if they are), but whether the way people are living their lives are self-consistent with their own estimates of what is true. If an atheist is 6.9 on the scale of 7.0 he is estimating that he could be wrong 1 out of 70 times. That is more frequent than him getting into a car accident in the next 6 months, whereas most likely he will pay for insurance for an event that has a 1 in 1000 chance of happening in the next six months. I’ve never met an atheist willing to actually systematically weigh the way he lives his life against his estimates of various deities existing and the associated rewards and punishments. Prior to seat belt laws, would an atheist wear seat belt? His chances of going to hell, perhaps by his own estimate are greater than getting hurt from not wearing a seatbelt, but GNUs show more recklessness with their own souls compared to their (hopefully) more sensible driving habits.

    Pascal’s wager doesn’t not formally demonstrate which way one should choose, it does show the lack of critical thinking by GNUs given their own probability and payoff estimates. None of them over the last 16 years from the day I nearly left the Christian faith have given me a plausible and reasoned response. Hence I’m remained a Christian to this day.

  8. cookiejezz says:

    As with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it seems that the one less God (“one God fewer”, in good English…?) argument is one of those silly defences of atheism that started out as a joke, yet most atheists haven’t had the wit to know when to stop taking it seriously.

    What it does point up is that fact that atheists think the whole God thing is a joke, and therefore they don’t feel the need to take any of it seriously. Which always amazes me when I consider that most of my atheist friends appear to respect me (and their other Christian friends) most of the time, yet still manage to convince themselves that we’re easily deluded simpletons when it comes to faith.

  9. Michael says:

    What it does point up is that fact that atheists think the whole God thing is a joke, and therefore they don’t feel the need to take any of it seriously.

    Indeed. And this is precisely what we would expect if they were closed-minded about the whole issue.

  10. SteveK says:

    I recommend responding to that silly atheist meme with something like this:

    “I just believe in one more God than you do. When you understand why I don’t dismiss my God, you will understand why I do dismiss all the others.”

  11. FZM says:

    SteveK,

    That’s an interesting point:

    “I just believe in one more God than you do. When you understand why I don’t dismiss my God, you will understand why I do dismiss all the others.”

    It also occurred to me that lots of the ‘thousands upon thousands of forgotten deities’ will come from polytheistic pantheons and are likely to be gods who never claimed to be the only true god nor expected exclusive worship and belief. Likely they are also mostly gods who weren’t considered to have any particular role or interest in what happened to human souls after death and didn’t offer immortality/heaven in any kind of systematic way (or at all).

    So they wouldn’t be relevant in Pascal’s Wager type arguments.

    I think an interesting perspective on Wager type arguments can arise with polytheistic-syncretic religions like Hinduism where the same God can have thousands and thousands of different forms and manifestations (apparently the Hindu mother goddess has more than 10,000 known forms and names already), it seems to raise questions about objections along the ‘too many gods’ type lines.

    Secular arguments against Christian beliefs, but which turn out to be irrelevant to other forms of (poly)theism maybe aren’t really doing much in terms of validating atheism unless there is an assumption that all god/God concepts and related teachings in all religions are just the same as Christian beliefs about God under a different name.

  12. pennywit says:

    Is it “one less god” or “one fewer god?” I’m never sure …

  13. Dhay says:

    pennywit >Is it “one less god” or “one fewer god?” I’m never sure …

    As any reader of The King’s English can tell you, it’s always “fewer” when counting.

  14. TFBW says:

    Another way to deal with “less” and “fewer” is to consider whether it’s a “how much” or “how many” question. “How much” is associated with “less”, and “how many” is associated with “fewer”. Interestingly, both terms are associated with “more” in the other direction, although I expect that “greater” was originally the appropriate antonym for “less” (as per “greater than” and “less than” in mathematics).

    My take on the “one fewer gods” thing is that it’s technically incorrect (even if it’s grammatically correct). If an atheist tells you that he simply believes in one fewer gods than a Christian, correct him by saying that Christians don’t believe in gods either. There’s a distinction between believing in a god and believing in God, much as the average New Atheist would like to deny it.

  15. pennywit says:

    As any reader of The King’s English can tell you, it’s always “fewer” when counting.

    Didn’t we have a revolution about that?

  16. pennywit says:

    There’s a distinction between believing in a god and believing in God, much as the average New Atheist would like to deny it.

    It’s semantics, as nearly as I can tell. If you believe in a monotheistic god, you believe in a monotheistic god. If you believe in a pantheon, you believe in a pantheon. If you don’t believe in any of them, then you don’t believe in any of them.

  17. pennywit says:

    IMO, it’s better to just state your beliefs and defend them, or not, instead of dancing the theological hokey-pokey.

  18. TFBW says:

    @pennywit:

    It’s semantics, as nearly as I can tell.

    It’s semantically significant. If you had a pantheon of gods, all fighting for supremacy, and one god eliminated all the others, that last remaining god would still just be a god, not God. Monotheism is not the special case of polytheism where N = 1. Of course, if you have no interest in understanding this point, that is your prerogative, but don’t presume that your lack of interest implies an inherent lack of significance.

  19. Vy says:

    @FZM, there’s also the issue of apotheosis where they deify humans that never even claimed to be gods.

    You can delete the “*Silly wordpress email issues*” comment

  20. TFBW says:

    Ricky Gervais used this talking point in his conversation with Stephen Colbert recently, as reported by Hemant Mehta. In the same conversation, Gervais explains why science isn’t faith.

    Science is constantly proved all the time. You see, if we take something like any fiction, any holy book… and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time, that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book, and every fact, and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would [produce] the same result.

    I think this is delightfully naive, and shows just how unspoiled Gervais is by experience with the practice of science, or knowledge of its history. Mind you, I’ll bet that all the 20th century’s leading experts in Geosynclinal Theory harboured a belief in the immortality of their grand unifying theory of geology, so the naivety is hardly constrained to lay-folk like Gervais.

    So … a cartoonish comprehension of both theology and science … illustrated by memes. Hmm. New Atheism seems to have shallowness as one of its defining characteristics.

  21. pennywit says:

    Perhaps I should amend — it’s mostly semantics, and it’s atheists trying to get a rise out of people.

  22. TFBW says:

    When you say “it’s mostly semantics”, what do you mean, exactly? Semantics relates to meaning, and I agree that there is a semantic difference. You seem to be using the phrase to express “it’s a distinction without a difference”, or “it’s just using different words to say the same thing”. Care to clarify?

    No argument about the “atheists trying to get a rise” part. It’s all part of the culture war.

  23. pennywit says:

    By “mostly semantics,” I mean that as far as an atheist is concerned, there’s really not much difference between a polytheistic faith and a monotheistic faith. Both monotheism and polytheism involve supernatural or divine forces. The atheist doesn’t believe in any of them. When he says “I just believe in one less god than a Christian does,” he’s just reframing the same belief in a different way — it’s mostly semantics as far as the atheist is concerned.

    Now, if somebody who DOES believe in a faith starts arguing about a number of gods, that’s an entirely different can of worms.

  24. TFBW says:

    @pennywit:

    By “mostly semantics,” I mean that as far as an atheist is concerned, there’s really not much difference between a polytheistic faith and a monotheistic faith.

    In other words, “I don’t really care about the details of what you believe, as I dismiss it all categorically.” It would probably be clearer if you stated it that way.

  25. pennywit says:

    Keep in mind that’s my summary of the atheist “one less god” stance, not necessarily my own.

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