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24.8.06

Being "Atheist On One More God"

Amanda Marcotte approvingly cites a pro-atheism argument made by Michael Shermer:

So it turns out there are 10,000 gods and yet only one right one. That means we're all atheists on 9,999 gods. The only difference between me and the believers is I'm an atheist on one more god.


I think atheism is an entirely reasonable and respectable position to take. However, I don't think this particular defense of it makes much sense. It's based on a misunderstanding of how religious belief, or the lack thereof, is arrived at. It's not a matter of individually considering each possible god (or more properly, package of one or more gods) and making a decision as to whether or not you believe it exists. Were that the case, it would indeed be peculiar that so many people happen to find just one out of the many possibilities to be believable.

But finding religion is more of a two-tired question -- does the divine exist, and if so, what is its nature? (it may also be approached from the other direction -- if the divine exists, what would be its nature? And does a being with those characteristics exist?) The dispute between a Christian and a follower of Asatru is a dispute over the characteristics of the divine whose existence they both agree on, not two separate questions of whether the separate beings Yahweh and Odin each exist.

I recently bought a Chevrolet Cavalier. Would it make sense for my car-less friend Jonathan to tell me that we're not really all that different, because there are hundreds of models of cars out there, and we both decided not to buy a Ford or a Honda or a Buick -- he just decided not to buy one more car than I did. Similarly, feminists frequently point out that there are really many different feminisms (socialist, liberal, radical, eco-, etc.), with each feminist adhering to just one of them. But I doubt Marcotte would buy it if an MRA told her that he just disbelieves in one more feminism than she does.

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