apologetics, atheism

The “One Step Further” Argument/Phrase

The “one step further” argument/phrase is one that is frequently used by atheists. I hesitate to say it is an “argument” as it would be hard to determine exactly what the argument is asserting. Normally, the phrase/argument is put forth in one of the following ways:

1) We’re all atheists to other religions, we (that is, avowed atheists) just take it “one step further”

2) We’re all atheists

Sometimes it is actually put forth as an argument, following a form something like this:

1. An atheist doesn’t believe in [any] God.

2. Christians don’t believe in Allah, Vishnu, Odin, etc.

3. Therefore, the Christian is an atheist to every other religion.

Or, put more simply. “To other religions, the Christian is an atheist, we just take it one step further.”

The problem with such argumentation is that it is utterly false on a number of levels. The argument form itself has conflation of terms, taking [any] God to be equivalent to all but one God, but that is beside the point. The core problem is calling Christians (and others) atheists! For, necessarily, for any human b, b is either theist (T) or ~T. But Christians are T, therefore they are necessarily ~~T. In English, it is true that any human being is either an atheist or a theist. Christians are theists, therefore, they are necessarily not atheists.

But what of the argument that Christians are atheists to other religions? This is obviously false as well. I am not an atheist to the Muslim, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. Rather, I am a theist to them. I believe in a theistic God which is not the same as their theistic/deistic/pantheistic deity. It would be absurd for a Christian to see a Muslim and say “Oh, they’re an atheist!” For the Muslim is clearly not an atheist, rather, he/she is a theist!

But that’s not really addressing the heart of the issue. The real problem here is that the atheist is trying to say that the Christian has used his or her reasoning to come to the conclusion that all other Gods are false. In other words, “You Christians believe in just your God, but you’ve rejected all others. We just take it one step further and reject yours too.”

It seems rather logical at first, but it holds to a few basic assumptions. The first is the assumption that the epistemology of the atheist and Christian are the same. That is, that they are approaching the problem from the same point. This will become more clear when we inspect the second assumption, which is that the supposed reason the Christian has rejected all other faiths is because of lack of empirical evidence. This is the real heart of the matter. The atheist has unfairly assumed that the Christian is approaching things from the same empirical view that he is. He believes the Christian has examined the evidence for other gods and found none, so the Christian rejected them. The atheist then believes that if the Christian would “just look at the evidence” for or against his or her own God, the Christian would reject Christ… or at least the Christian should.

There are a few responses to this. The first is that it simply is not necessarily true. The Christian may have rejected other gods because he or she has personal revelation. He or she may have the self-verification of the Holy Spirit within, and this automatically leads to the rejection of all other faiths (cf. Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief). He or she may have an entirely different reason to reject other gods–perhaps he/she doesn’t like something trivial about other religions, and rejects them for this reason (which may not be epistemically justified, but it would be if his/her Christian belief has warrant and therefore serves as a defeater for other faiths). The second point is once again that the definitions are bastardized in order to try to play a semantics game with the Christian. By definition, the Christian is not an atheist, so when an atheist claims that the Christian is an atheist, this can be rejected immediately.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

55 thoughts on “The “One Step Further” Argument/Phrase

  1. Christians, Muslims and all believers are atheists in the sense that they lack the belief in other creeds. You’re right that ‘atheist’ is reserved for lacking belief in any god, so I’ll grant that.

    The point is that it is distorting to place true atheists in a separate category; a better way to think about it is on a spectrum. I don’t know anyone who believes in everything, but that would constitute one extreme, say at the left. In the middle would be people who believe in half of the world’s religions, again, very few. At the far right, we would see the world’s 5.7 billion believers all bunched up, with only the 1 billion nonbelievers farther to the right, toward complete nonbelief.

    >The Christian may have rejected other gods because he or she has personal revelation. He or she may have the self-verification of the Holy Spirit within, and this automatically leads to the rejection of all other faiths

    If your religious experience is reliable, then you have to grant that all religious experiences are reliable. Since they would lead to the rejection of your faith, we again have the religious diversity problem. Religious experience can not be reliable since it leads to contradictory conclusions.

    Posted by Don Severs | May 22, 2010, 9:58 AM
    • “Christians, Muslims and all believers are atheists in the sense that they lack the belief in other creeds.”

      Absolutely not. This is not what atheism is. It is saying “there is no God”, as you specifically stated. Not believing in other creeds means I am a theist of one sort, not another. Stop trying to equivocate the two. They are not the same, and you’ve already acknowledged this.

      “If your religious experience is reliable, then you have to grant that all religious experiences are reliable. Since they would lead to the rejection of your faith, we again have the religious diversity problem. Religious experience can not be reliable since it leads to contradictory conclusions.”

      False again. I grant that I need to say some other REs are reliable. Naturalistic explanations do take precedent, so that would seem to eliminate at least some REs. But plurality of mutually exclusive REs isn’t a problem, as I believe Alston demonstrates in Perceiving God. He argues that it is possible that experience of a deity is so different from our every day experience that it isn’t unlikely interpretations of such experience would vary wildly. The key is that the core part of the RE is still intact (i.e. I am being presented to thusly). Now, further, there is no reason for me to think that someone else’s experience of Allah, for example, negates my experience of Jesus, and not just for the reason Alston gives, but also because I have personal access to my own experience which grants me prima facie justification for my belief. Unless I experience Allah, I have no reason to take that as a defeater for my own belief. I don’t want to get into the nuances of this as I have before on my posts on RE, particularly in the comments sections.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 22, 2010, 10:06 AM
  2. “Absolutely not. This is not what atheism is. It is saying “there is no God”, as you specifically stated.”

    Don’t know how Don feels, but your definition of atheism isn’t mine.

    Atheism is saying “I don’t believe in any god or gods”. And that’s it.

    Which means that someone who does say ‘there is no God’ would also fit the definition. But one not need go that far. I don’t, as I see no particular reason to do so.

    Posted by morsec0de | May 22, 2010, 2:04 PM
    • Thank you for the minor clarification. The point, of course, stands regardless of the semantics games.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 22, 2010, 10:55 PM
      • Actually, I’m not sure I take your clarification as possible. It seems that your definition of atheism is really agnosticism, not atheism. You are defining atheism negatively, but a better definition would be a positive definition, “Atheism is the belief that there is no God.” Semantically, there is a subtle difference here, rather than saying “Atheists do not believe in gods,” it is defining atheism by belief. This is a warranted definition, as agnostics also say “I don’t believe in any god or gods.” But agnostics are not atheists. Atheists are agnostics, but must be distinguished from agnostics. How, on your definition, do you propose to do this? It seems clear to me that atheism must be defined positively rather than negatively, by saying, as before, “Atheism is the belief that there is no god.” This is also warranted by the simple definition of the word atheism, which is adding negation to theism. But theists don’t just claim to believe in a God, they claim there IS a God, after all. The definition should be propositional and positive, not negative.

        Again, a primary reason for this is that I see no way to distinguish agnosticism from atheism on your definition.

        I’ve had to play such word games before. I think part of it is because it’s “cool” to be an atheist, but not “cool” to be agnostic. I could note, for example, Dawkins’ rant against agnostics. I’ll not claim you’re a closet agnostic, but, again, I think atheism must be defined in “harder” terms than you are willing to do. If not, then there is no line between atheist/agnostic. There is, however, such a line, so my definition is preferable.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 22, 2010, 11:56 PM
      • You are defining atheism negatively, but a better definition would be a positive definition, “Atheism is the belief that there is no God.”

        Incorrect. Morse’s definition is the correct one. Agnosticism is a statement of knowledge, atheism is a statement of belief. They are independent. I can be agnostic in terms of the evidence in support of the claim that a god exists and at the same time believe that no gods exist. They are completely compatible.

        Posted by Shamelessly Atheist | May 23, 2010, 12:10 PM
      • Ah, that is much more clear, and I accept that distinction. That’s as precise as I’ve seen anyone define it. I’m curious as to whether most who consider themselves “agnostic” or “atheist” utilize these terms in an independent way. (It seems not–see David E’s comment “…Agnosticism is a subset of atheism…”

        So perhaps there is a distinction here between ordinary usage and precise usage. Hmm… Thanks, Shameless (correct me if you want to abbreviate in some other way), for your excellent response.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 23, 2010, 12:34 PM
      • Yes, it is a fine point, but it is crucial. Even most atheists don’t really grasp it. I know I didn’t for the longest time. But this is what agnostics and atheists really mean even if they don’t realize it or articulate it well.

        I would say that atheism includes agnosticism, rather than it being a sub-category. It’s pretty hard to be agnostic about one’s own belief. I mean, really. How does one not know that they do or do not believe in a god?

        Neil DeGrasse Tyson categorizes himself as an agnostic, but I think he’s being pedantic. He just doesn’t want to be associated with those atheists that scratch off “In God We Trust” on dollar bills and the like. But that doesn’t make him not an atheist.

        For the record, I agree with David that the whole thing is pithy (though it is true that we atheists believe in a mere one less god than most…). But this brings up another issue. I am starting to agree with Sam Harris that we non-believers should stop calling ourselves atheists. We act on what we believe, not what we do not believe. So I’m toying with the idea of going by ‘secular humanist’ rather than ‘atheist’ from now on.

        Posted by Shamelessly Atheist | May 23, 2010, 1:15 PM
  3. I’ve seen the “I just believe in one less god than you” comment, in one form or another many times. However, I’ve yet to see it used as an argument. It’s a quip. A pithy, humorous observation. That’s all—at least in my experience.

    Maybe somebody out there has tried to use it as an argument and if so I’d like to see it. Can you actually quote (and link to) anyone doing this?

    Posted by DAVID E | May 22, 2010, 5:10 PM
  4. Then why are you criticizing it as an argument? The whole post seems rather pointless and silly.

    Posted by DAVID E | May 22, 2010, 11:09 PM
    • I always hesitate to say things like this, but did you actually read the post? In the title, I call it an argument/phrase, in the first part of the post, I state that I hesitate to say it is an argument, in the following section, I take it as an argument in the sense that it is a propositional claim about the theist, specifically, that they are atheists who don’t take it “one step further”, in the last section, I examine possible reasoning behind this phrase. The whole post therefore may seem pointless to you, if you see the frivolity of the phrase itself, but then you are not the person I am addressing. As I said, I don’t like to ask whether people actually read my posts, but your comment has forced me to do so. Unless you wish to argue against the points I raise, you may acknowledge that I have shown the phrase to be “pointless and silly” (borrowing your phrase) and encourage others to drop its usage (I point to the comment section here for one possible place to start).

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 23, 2010, 12:04 AM
      • Atheists use it as an argument on Sodahead and Christian Forums but since they are so far in the past I could not send a link. I will next time it comes up.

        Posted by tnmusicman | January 27, 2013, 9:04 PM

  5. I always hesitate to say things like this, but did you actually read the post? In the title, I call it an argument/phrase, in the first part of the post, I state that I hesitate to say it is an argument….

    Yes, I read it. And calling it an “argument/phrase” doesn’t change the fact that it’s pointless to treat as an argument something that ISN’T any such thing—even with the qualifier.


    ….in the following section, I take it as an argument in the sense that it is a propositional claim about the theist, specifically, that they are atheists who don’t take it “one step further”, in the last section, I examine possible reasoning behind this phrase.

    And, as is almost inevitable, create a caricature that bears no resemblance to the thinking of any atheists I know.

    Again, a pointless exercise.


    Unless you wish to argue against the points I raise, you may acknowledge that I have shown the phrase to be “pointless and silly” (borrowing your phrase) and encourage others to drop its usage (I point to the comment section here for one possible place to start).

    The “points you raise” in trying to find the “possible reasoning behind this phrase,” create nothing but a straw man.

    If you want to know the background thinking of a person who uses this phrase and what they mean by it I suggest what may be a rather counter-intuitive concept for you:

    ASK 0NE OF THOSE PEOPLE.

    It’s much more effective than speculation.

    Posted by DAVID E | May 23, 2010, 7:14 AM
    • Indeed, I did have to try to create something behind the argument. The problem is that it is vacuous to begin with. It is a contradiction from the start. “We’re all atheists” is utterly false. I suppose I could formulate the post as the following “To say ‘We’re all atheists’ is a contradiction, as we are not. To say a theist is an atheist is false.”

      But then people would come to defend their contradiction. I felt it need to preempt such attempts by pointing out the fallacies in whatever argument could be constructed from such a phrase. I feel these responses are, again, to use your terms, “pointless and silly.” Again, you’ve not presented any reason for thinking this phrase should not be dismissed from any usage any where. I suggest that you either stop trying to play word games or encourage others to stop using such a clearly false phrase. I already linked you in one direction you could head. Unless you have anything constructive to add to the table (i.e. some reason the phrase is not “pointless and silly”) I believe my points stand. There is no way to defend the phrase, it has no warrant in any discussion. I therefore submit that you stop trying to defend it (if that is what you’re doing) or go and tell others to stop using it.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 23, 2010, 11:13 AM
      • I sure wish people would stop using it but seemingly I see it virtually every day on Christian Forums and Debate.org. I received a comment tonight trying to refute my proclamation that it is a silly statement!!

        Posted by tnmusicman | January 27, 2013, 9:15 PM

  6. Atheists are agnostics, but must be distinguished from agnostics.

    You’ve got that backwards. Agnosticism is a subset of atheism. Not the other way around (and, by the way, I just love when religious people presume to tell us atheists we’re wrong about what atheism means—I’ve only been an atheist for 23 years so I suppose a newcomer like me can be expected to make such rookie errors as to not understand the meaning of the word).

    However, I too, am not eager to get into the semantics debate yet again. So that’s my last comment on the subject in this discussion.

    Posted by DAVID E | May 23, 2010, 7:27 AM

  7. Indeed, I did have to try to create something behind the argument. The problem is that it is vacuous to begin with. It is a contradiction from the start. “We’re all atheists” is utterly false.

    Of course it is in any literal sense. Obviously, then, the people using that phrase probably don’t mean it to be taken literally. Perhaps, then, you should ask them what they DO mean instead of constructing straw men to knock down. Being an atheist myself I suspect I’m a little better at reconstructing into the typical background thinking behind the comment which I’d guess, in most cases, amounts to something like this:

    I as an atheist disbelieve in all the millions of deities that have been proposed for our belief throughout human history. You disbelieve in one less than I do.

    Congratulations, you’re just one god away from a reasonable position on the issue!

    Posted by DAVID E | May 23, 2010, 12:39 PM
    • Except most so called atheists say they lack belief, not disbelieve. In fact, they go to great lengths to point out they do not disbelieve so I’d say your definition is not necessarily the common adhered to definition by so called atheists.

      Posted by tnmusicman | January 27, 2013, 10:10 PM
  8. And, again, it’s not an argument. It’s merely an opinion phrased in way intended to poke fun at an idea they disagree with.

    Posted by DAVID E | May 23, 2010, 12:42 PM
  9. Anyway, this is getting tedious. I’ll consider that my last word on the subject.

    Posted by DAVID E | May 23, 2010, 12:43 PM
  10. The point of the argument (and yes, it is used as an argument) is to undermine the credibility of a Christian perspective (and these arguments are almost universally directed at Christians) by falsely characterising the Christian belief of the supernatural. The implication is that there is a close accord between the beliefs of atheism and Christianity, and that Christians are in fact “almost atheists”.

    Apart from the obvious (and equally banal) point that the Christian believes in infinitely more Gods than the atheist, Christians do not actually just believe in “one God”. In acknowledging the existence of the supernatural order, Christians believe that there is one supreme omnipotent creator God, but many “gods”, i.e., other supernatural entities.

    Posted by Sentinel | May 26, 2010, 11:05 PM
  11. We got bogged down on usage. Here’s the deal:

    Atheists believe in one fewer god than you do. Nitpick if you like, but that’s it. Really.

    Posted by Don Severs | May 29, 2010, 5:38 PM
  12. btw, I’ve expanded my comments into a post over on my site – you might find it interesting:

    http://spiritualmeanderings.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/having-the-wrong-conversation/

    Posted by Sentinel | June 25, 2010, 2:59 AM
  13. Just because religions do not agree, this does not automatically make ALL of them false. However, neither does it make any one more plausible than the others…

    Logically, religions are in a zero sum game: i.e. not more than ONE religion COULD logically be possibly true, as they all contradict each other on numerous irreconcilable points of dogma; therefore, based on the lack of any compelling evidence for the truth of one faith over another and the birth, proliferation, and death of multifarious religions throughout human history, one SHOULD reasonably conclude that the probability of any one particular religion being true and the rest false is so unlikely as to be practically zero. Therefore, the most reasonable belief, as Nietzsche put it, is that religions are “Human, All Too Human.” This is the indubitable and obvious truth behind the “atheists just go one god further” argument: almost all peoples’ religions are indoctrinated into them as an incidental happenstance characteristic of the diverse cultures they are born into! There is simply no other plausible reason why they happen to believe what they believe. Atheists are simply people who have realized this, questioned it, and rejected the religion (if any) that they were raised to believe based on lack of evidence!

    Posted by Benjamin Forbes Griffith | October 27, 2010, 6:51 PM
    • “not more than ONE religion COULD logically be possibly true, as they all contradict each other on numerous irreconcilable points of dogma; therefore, based on the lack of any compelling evidence for the truth of one faith over another and the birth, proliferation, and death of multifarious religions throughout human history, one SHOULD reasonably conclude that the probability of any one particular religion being true and the rest false is so unlikely as to be practically zero.”

      Let’s put this argument into syllogistic form:

      1) Not more than one religion could be logically possibly true
      2) There is no compelling evidence for the truth of one religion over another
      3) Therefore, one should conclude that the likelihood of any one religion’s truth is about 0

      1) I agree with. 2) begs the question. 3) doesn’t even follow from 1) and 2). I reject your argument.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 27, 2010, 7:08 PM
  14. I realize I’m jumping into this discussion almost a year late. But people still Google this topic. So I’d like to add a thought.

    The “one step further” phrase, which has been around at least since I first encountered it in the late 1960s, clearly isn’t any sort of disproof of God. But I doubt that it was originally offered as such.

    Rather, in my experience, it was presented as a way of responding to those who were shocked to learn that one doesn’t believe in a god. Its purpose was to build bridges–to say, in effect, “Why be so stunned? You and I really aren’t that different from each other. In fact, we both agree on more things than we disagree on. Just look at the vast panoply of gods we equally don’t believe in. Think of all the believers past and present who would condemn the two of us for failing to ascribe to their faith. We would be condemned as infidels! So why stress our differences? I only disbelieve in one god more, one religion more, than you do. So why can’t we just get along?”

    Of course it wasn’t actually phrased in this long and conciliatory way. It was put as a quip, a comeback, a bit of a dig. As such, despite this thought’s potential to promote a shared identity between theist and atheist, it hasn’t so far succeeded in building such bridges.

    But in an advertisement unveiled yesterday (March 28, 2011) by the American Humanist Association (www.AmericanHumanist.org), Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” In the press release about this, AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt says, “People don’t realize how common it is to reject the principles of other faiths.”

    Note the distinction Dawkins makes. He doesn’t say everyone is an atheist, per se. He says we are all “atheists about” all these other gods. This is a qualified atheism, an atheism narrowly applied to a particular god. And Speckhardt then reminds us how “common” it therefore is to “reject the principles of other faiths.”

    Put simply, just about every religion engages in nay saying of the competition. So please don’t brand atheists as the only nay sayers in the room.

    Posted by Fred Edwords | March 29, 2011, 12:26 PM
    • Fred, thanks for taking the time to stop by and read/write here.

      I think that you’ve fallen victim to the very fallacy I pointed out in the post. To say that “This is a qualified atheism, an atheism narrowly applied to a particular god” is simply false. Christianity is not “qualified atheism.” It’s to be an adherent to another religion. To the believer in Thor, I am not an atheist, I am a theist who believes in YHWH rather than Thor.

      To the Hindu, I am not an atheist, I am a theist–a believer of a rival religion.

      And here’s where this abuse of words (“one step further”) breaks down even further. To the atheistic Buddhist, I am obviously not an atheist, I am a theistic believer of a rival religion.

      The way you put your comment, the atheist just wants to pull others into his/her camp and say, “Hey, we’re all atheists here! You’re an atheist to religion x!” But that’s false, as I rather clearly outlined in the post you’re commenting on.

      The principle of bivalence states that for any x, it is the case that either x or ~x. Take theism to be x, it is the case that Christians are x. Therefore, Christians are x, period (law of noncontradiction).

      So the saying is completely irrational. Let’s examine what Dawkins says in your quote, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” So according to Dawkins, to the Hindu, I am an atheist. I charge that this is simply false. To the Hindu, I am a theist, not an atheist. I believe in a God, not their gods. I believe in YHWH, not Vishnu/Shiva/et. al.

      Simply put, you must explain how belief in God makes me an atheist.

      Perhaps your final analysis is the most truthful, “please don’t brand atheists as the only nay sayers in the room.” Maybe it’s atheists just trying to “fit in.” They don’t want to be seen as the “only nay sayers”. It’s a longing that all humans have, and an understandable one. “Guys, you’re really just like us, we just take it another step!”

      Perhaps instead it would be best to not state that, irrationally, theists are atheists. Atheists typically pride themselves in being logical (generalizing here) and yet go around saying phrases like “Christians are atheists!” Interestingly, it’s a challenge the paganistic Romans made about the Chrisitans when they showed up on the scene. St. Augustine showed it was ridiculous then, and it’s ridiculous now. Belief in YHWH doesn’t mean I’m an atheist to other religions, it means I believe in YHWH, not [insert other god]. Atheism is the belief in no God.

      So to sum up, the atheist, to maintain the use of this phrase, must hold that Christians are both theists and atheists. Because I hold to the principles of rationality (law of noncontradiction), I reject the phrase utterly. I suggest that any rational being should do the same.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 29, 2011, 11:49 PM
      • Dear J.W.,

        I think you’re getting hung up on words, taking much too literally what is essentially a figure of speech, an expression, a quip. As I indicated, there’s no serious philosophic argument being made here. So you needn’t parse it so.

        Perhaps I can put it a different way. You write, “I am a theist who believes in YHWH rather than Thor. ” Fair enough. And not only “rather than Thor” but also rather than Zeus, rather than Ahura-Mazda, rather than Vishnu, and so on. These gods you reject or disregard. And so do I.

        So we’re on the same page so far. Where we part company is when it comes to YHWH. He’s on my “reject or disregard list” but not on yours. Otherwise our two lists are almost the same length. There’s a value to making that point, which I’ll address further in a moment.

        But, to regard our mutual listings as examples of being “atheists about” those gods is merely a euphemistic usage of language, a creative and strikingly counter-intuitive expression designed wake up the mind and inspire a shift in perspective. It’s like when Zen Buddhists talk about “the sound of one hand clapping.” I’m sure you aren’t so literalistic that you disallow all euphemisms. For example, if Christ is the light of your life, you don’t mean to say that his invisible presence increases the number of photons that strike your body.

        Turning to the value in making this point, let me give three reasons.

        First, this point draws attention to the fact that sometimes the Jewish or Christian reasons for rejecting all other gods but YHWH are rational ones. Upon investigation these gods simply don’t warrant belief. And the sorts of reasons Jews, Christians, and humanists might give for that rejection can sometimes overlap.

        This reality was particularly brought home in the arguments that the early Christian thinker Arnobius gave in his book “Against the Heathen.” He rationally analyzed and rejected belief in the Greco-Roman pantheon. Humanists and freethinkers have long admired the persuasive approach used by Arnobius, applying many of his arguments to a number of Christian beliefs as well.

        Second, this point is a way of drawing attention to the many mythic and folkloric similarities that exist between the various gods that have come down to us from antiquity. It’s a humanist way of saying that, from this perspective, YHWH looks an awful lot like the others.

        Third, using this quip is a way of noting that, despite disagreements, Christians and humanists both share the general practice of making positive cases for their own philosophies and negative cases for those they reject.

        Now, if this last observation strikes you as a minor or a trivial point, please take into account some of the things that we humanists often hear. We are told that because we don’t believe in a god or gods we “believe in nothing.” We are told that because we reject or disregard all the deities of all the religions that our outlook is essentially negative. Both of these statements are false. And one way of drawing attention to that error is by pointing out that you too disbelieve in many things and you too challenge, question, or reject many ideas.

        Indeed, I’m personally struck by the virulence I find in some of the Evangelical polemic against liberal Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, New Age mysticism, and even Harry Potter. So, in this respect, the use of the “one step further” argument isn’t an effort to “fit in,” as you characterize it, but a way of pointing out that maybe the pot has been calling the kettle black.

        Posted by Fred Edwords | March 30, 2011, 11:24 AM
      • Simply put, Christians are not atheists, by any semantic twisting of words. To say otherwise is to speak irrationally, as I’ve pointed out. Whether it is meant as a “quip” or not, that does not remove the irrationality of calling a theist an atheist.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 30, 2011, 11:24 PM
      • Actually, it seems you’re even granting the argument. I wrote “I am a theist who believes in YHWH…” You granted this. That should be the end of the discussion. By definition, then, I am not an atheist to any other religion. I am a theist. To say otherwise is simply false.

        Perhaps the underlying point you want to make is that I’m a “skeptic” to all other religions. This is just as offensive as calling me an atheist, because it has the implicit assumption that I uncritically accept Christianity, whilst applying “reason” to my examination of all other religions. It begs the question by assuming I have no solid evidence for Christianity. It further assumes atheism is a kind of neutral epistemic ground, which is false.

        So I still see no reason to accept the phrase. The more I see it in discussion the more I realize it is either meant to directly insult Christians by assuming they uncritically accept Christian faith; or it is meant to be a jab at Christians by trying to call them atheists. As I pointed out before, Pagans made this charge before. It failed then, and it fails now.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 30, 2011, 11:31 PM
  15. Well, I suppose we’ve gone round and round on this enough. From the looks of things we don’t seem likely to convince each other. But we’ve clearly stated our thoughts. Anyone may read what we’ve said and draw their own conclusions. I thank you for the opportunity.

    The only thing I need do at this point, then, is make reference to the original formulation of the quip and summarize its intent.

    The original formulation didn’t use the word “atheist.” It simply said, “You disbelieve in all the gods of all the religions other than your own. Well, we godless folks only disbelieve in one more than you do. We disbelieve in them all.” Stated this way, your hair splitting over the poetic use of “atheist” becomes irrelevant and the central point stands.

    And with it stand the following implied questions (among others): (1) Can any of the arguments you use against other religions and their gods be applied against your own religion and god? (2) Why do you prefer your Bronze Age deity over other Bronze Age deities? (3) Aren’t you, too, an unbeliever and an infidel? (A Muslim, for example, wouldn’t call you an atheist but might well call you an unbeliever and an infidel, since you disbelieve in and hence are unfaithful to their one and only true god.)

    I don’t need you to answer these questions. That would get us into a separate train of discussions. I only state them for the record as examples of where this quip takes us. (And if you regard number 2 as insulting, please consider that this isn’t its intent. From my perspective it’s simply an honest and serious expression of wonderment.)

    Posted by Fred Edwords | March 31, 2011, 10:12 AM
  16. The statement in question is false given the definitions you used, but the point is accurate and you ignored it in the initial post and every subsequent comment.

    It is not simply a question of god versus no god. If the Christian proposal of god is true, then the Islamic proposal cannot be true. Said differently, both Muhammad and Jesus cannot both be what is claimed. If there is one god, there cannot be many. If there are many gods, there cannot be one.

    You believe that 99.99% of all religions and gods that have ever ‘existed’ are false. Their prophets were not prophets. Their deities were not deities. Their worldview and belief system were, at best, untrue. (Correct me if I am wrong, e.g. if you think the nature of the universe was correctly explained by the Egyptians and Christ)

    Now, you make up the .01% – meaning that 99.99% of the world (not just the living, but everyone ever) believes that your religion is similarly false. (forgive the numerical simplification, use 99% if you like)

    No matter what your beliefs are, nearly everyone that has ever existed (who by the way believe in their religion as whole heartedly as you believe in yours, and feel the evidence is on their side as opposed to yours) believes your religion is simply wrong – and wrong in this sense means your god, as you believe in him, does not exist.

    They do not believe in your god and you do not believe in theirs, no matter because everyone is always in the minority. You believe in .1% of proposed gods, atheists believe in .1% less, or 0. From the atheist point of view, all religions and gods have about the same amount of evidence, all of which is hearsay.

    So again – it is not those who believe in god versus those who do not. It is people who believe in your particular god versus everyone else – whether they are part of another religion or reject the notion all together.

    I respect (but disagree with) your point and hope my comments were not taken as insulting. Looking forward to a reply.

    Posted by Charlie | December 15, 2011, 7:06 PM
    • You wrote, “It is not simply a question of god versus no god.”

      Yes, it is. Atheists believe in no gods. I believe in a God.

      You wrote, “No matter what your beliefs are, nearly everyone that has ever existed (who by the way believe in their religion as whole heartedly as you believe in yours, and feel the evidence is on their side as opposed to yours) believes your religion is simply wrong – and wrong in this sense means your god, as you believe in him, does not exist.”

      I don’t grant this. I in fact assert that most other religions have at least elements of truth in them, and that in many of them, the ‘gods’ they worsip[ed] do exist in the form of spiritual powers or demons.

      You wrote, “They do not believe in your god and you do not believe in theirs, no matter because everyone is always in the minority. You believe in .1% of proposed gods, atheists believe in .1% less, or 0. From the atheist point of view, all religions and gods have about the same amount of evidence, all of which is hearsay.”

      The problem is that from this, it does not follow that I am an atheist. All that follows is that I am a rival theist, which is exactly what I pointed out in the post. It’s not merely a matter of not believing in their god[s] (which I may–see above–I just disagree about them being God[s]), rather it is a matter of me being a rival theist. I do not merely disbelieve. Rather I believe in a rival tradition.

      By simple definition I am not an atheist, in any sense of the term. To the Muslim, I am a Christian, to the Jew, I am a Christian, the Hindu believes I’m a Christian, etc, etc. Across the board, I’m a theist, not an atheist. Atheists conflate terms when they make this argument. You’ve yet to offer any evidence of me being an atheist. Really, your only points are “you don’t believe in other religions.” Fair enough, I don’t. But I do believe Christianity is true, and that therefore means that to other religions I am a theist. This is an extremely poor argument, and I hesitate to call it that.

      [From now on I will restrict the comments to the newer post–please comment there.]

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 15, 2011, 7:21 PM
  17. “Perhaps the underlying point you want to make is that I’m a “skeptic” to all other religions. This is just as offensive as calling me an atheist, because it has the implicit assumption that I uncritically accept Christianity, whilst applying “reason” to my examination of all other religions. It begs the question by assuming I have no solid evidence for Christianity. It further assumes atheism is a kind of neutral epistemic ground, which is false.

    So I still see no reason to accept the phrase. The more I see it in discussion the more I realize it is either meant to directly insult Christians by assuming they uncritically accept Christian faith; or it is meant to be a jab at Christians by trying to call them atheists.”

    I have read many of your posts and enjoyed the discourse, but the way you treated Fred here was nothing short of a childish response to a maturely and respectfully articulated position. You seem very easily offended, why if you are so sure you’re right?

    For the one talking about insulting nature of (benign) comments, you really took Fred’s incredibly gentle and conciliatory argument and went on an umbrageous rampage. When you say that the what Fred pointed out implies that you “uncritically accept Christian faith” this is UNBELIEVABLY insulting to every other religion, insinuating in turn that they (other religions) accept their faith uncritically, or otherwise have critically reviewed religions and simply came to the wrong conclusion.

    It begs the question I first asked at the age of eight – “what makes us (Christians) right and everyone else wrong?”

    Posted by Charlie | December 15, 2011, 7:36 PM
  18. Reblogged this on Tnmusicman's Blog and commented:
    This is the STUPIDEST atheist trick in the book. Trying to say a Christian is also an atheist. This blog has a great explanation for why this little semantics game the atheists are playing is utter nonsense!

    Posted by tnmusicman | January 27, 2013, 8:09 PM
    • Calling it stupid doesn’t help anything and it certainly isn’t a trick. This article established a very narrow depiction of the argument and utterly missed the point. The argument actually states “In regards to [other religion] you are an atheist.” A Christian cannot be a Hindu and a Hindu cannot be a Christian. Each, therefore does not believe in the central tenants of the other religion. The very title of the post is ignored in the subsequent argument, that “Atheists take it one step further” meaning that you reject Thor, Zeus and Ra. You do not believe in those Gods whatsoever. What does that make you IN REGARDS TO THOSE RELIGIONS? You’re a non-believer. You reject their claims. That’s exactly what an atheist is to ALL religions. Is it semantically correct to say that a Christian is an atheist? No, of course not – but that simply is not the argument.

      Posted by C | January 28, 2013, 12:42 PM
      • Once more, just to tie it off because I’ve responded to this so many times: to other religions I am simply not an atheist. I am a rival theist. Period.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 28, 2013, 4:53 PM
      • Your view of THEIR religion is indistinguishable from mine. It’s not true.

        Posted by C | January 28, 2013, 5:10 PM
      • You are trying to assign to label me an atheist to other religions. That is simply false. I am a theist. Therefore, to someone of another faith, I am a rival theist. That really is the last I’m going to comment on this frivolous word game.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 28, 2013, 5:13 PM
      • At no point have I said you’re an atheist. Because 1) You’re not an atheist and 2) That’s not the argument.

        Posted by C | January 28, 2013, 5:21 PM
      • I’m sorry if that was unpolished to say but I truly feel it is the stupidest convoluted comparison. I know precisely the point behind this silly little saying and it’s a point that doesn’t need to be made. I’ve grown weary of all the atheist talking points which is likely the source of my shorter fuse. When you start mentioning how theists are atheists to other gods is where I say “enough with the nonsense”. If it makes you feel like you “won” by using it, fine but just know how banal the statement really is.

        Posted by Tnmusicman | January 29, 2013, 10:21 PM
      • Yeah, I think this whole exercise of trying to point out people’s supposed atheism is an exercise in futility.

        Would it be more appropriate / accurate to point out that your disposition to Islam is the same as mine? Or your disposition to the merits of Norse paganism?

        That is, you reject Islam and Norse paganism, and so do I. In turn, we agree on the rejection of the vast majority of beliefs people have held or rejected over the ages.

        That doesn’t make you an atheist and it too irritates me when it is brought up…

        Anyway this is completely off topic but do you game at all? Knowing your affinity for fantasy, you would love Skyrim if you’re not playing it already…

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | January 30, 2013, 9:09 AM
      • I’m not sure if this comment is directed at me (as it is in reply to “C”, but I think it is… so forgive me if you meant to ask C instead. You can see my comment in response to Fred to see what I think about the notion that my disposition is the same.

        For you, Islam is false for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that they believe in God. But of course, I think they are correct in holding to a monotheistic deity. Furthermore, one of my problems with Islam is that they assert that Jesus is not God. But you agree with them on that score.

        Thus, it seems to me that my disposition towards Islam is actually quite different from yours.

        Regarding gaming. Yes I play video games, but not nearly as much as I used to. I have played Skyrim and enjoyed it greatly, but I haven’t played a lot of it. I am more into JRPGs than WRPGs. Right now I’m playing through Xenoblade Chronicles and enjoying it quite a bit. I’m also playing through Eternal Sonata on 2 player co-op with my wife, which has been really fun.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 31, 2013, 5:56 PM
      • How would you react to the following formulation?

        “A Christian asked what it was like to be an atheist. I asked him if he believed in Islam. He said, ‘no.’ I said, ‘Like that.’ ” — C.J. Werleman

        Posted by Fred Edwords | January 31, 2013, 11:29 AM
      • Well that quote is extremely ambiguous. What does it mean to say “what it was like to be” something? Do they mean how it feels? What one’s beliefs are?

        But again, the person who says that quote seems quite confused. I, as a Christian, do not feel atheistic towards Islam. I feel as though they have their concept of deity incorrect, along with their beliefs about their prophet and a number of other OT stories. I believe they are incorrect about Jesus. But how absurd is it to say that I am like an atheist to Islam? After all, the very problems I have with Islam have to do with God. For example, I believe Jesus is God. Yet this quote suggests that makes me like an atheist? What!? Again, I am a rival theist to other religions.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 31, 2013, 5:53 PM
      • yeah sorry for the reply confusion…there wasn’t a reply button on your comment so I picked the closest one…

        In terms of our disposition to other faith-worldviews, I was speaking in more of a broad-brush generalization. That is, in broad terms, I reject Islam as a true worldview. So do you. Now, I understand that, in a more detailed sense, there are aspects with the Islamic worldview with which you agree and I may disagree…

        The point I failed to make in my previous comment is for everything that makes us different, there’s a lot that we probably agree on too.

        And by the way, I may be an atheist, but I don’t hold the claim that there is no god. At least not definitively. There may very well be, and in fact the existence of a deity would make more sense than any current explanation of our universe. But its the transition from generic deity to the YAHWEH where I get hung up. That’s a discussion for another time though.

        I will have to check out those games. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of the categories of JRPGs and WRPGs. I am glad you mentioned them! I am currently a console gamer looking to cross over to PC because it just seems so much more robust in terms of hardware and modding options. Until then, its likely Skyrim and PS3 for me…

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | February 1, 2013, 8:27 AM
  19. It has been made pretty clear here that atheists and theists view collective religions differently. Atheists see many distinct religions and many distinct gods and theists (JW at least) see God(s) and various interpretations of them. This makes both (somewhat) arguments valid in their own right, evidence for that is the basic repetition of each side. An atheist says “atheist IN REGARD TO [rival religion]” simply meaning if you don’t believe the Hindu gods you’re an atheist only to those gods. Since people only have one religion, you can repeat that statement for every religion except one.

    What I’m now understanding from theists on this post is that this argument makes no sense to a theist because an atheist is an atheist and a theist is a theist, either of the same religion or rival (JW’s word) religions. Said differently, you cannot be an atheist ‘in regard to’ anything because atheism is all or nothing.

    I really like CJs post because it shows when this discussion actually arises for an atheist. (“A Christian asked what it was like to be an atheist. I asked him if he believed in Islam. He said, ‘no.’ I said, ‘Like that.’ ”) It has no use as an argument against the existence of God, but if a theist genuinely wants to know what it is like to be an atheist, it usually gets the point across.

    Posted by C | January 31, 2013, 9:34 PM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Having the wrong conversation « Spiritual Meanderings - June 21, 2010

  2. Pingback: William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss-Thoughts and links « - April 1, 2011

  3. Pingback: On the statement that “we are all atheists” « - April 4, 2011

  4. Pingback: “I just believe in one less god than you”, Part II « Theosophical Ruminations - April 26, 2011

  5. Pingback: On the statement that “we are all atheists” | A disciple's study - July 16, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,566 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
%d bloggers like this: