Friday, 1 March 2013

"I just believe in one less God than you"

Every now and again I hear (or read) the statement from an atheist that Christians (or any other follower of a religion) is an atheist with respect to all other gods. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion says:
I have found it an amusing strategy, when asked whether I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just go one god further.” (Chapter 2, at end of The Poverty of Agnosticism)
Dawkins also uses a similar type of argument when taking questions from believers, pointing out that they are deluded. (He also appeals to cultural upbringing, failing to note that if he was brought up in an earlier time (say before Darwin) and in a different culture, he also wouldn't be an atheist).

Comedian Catherine Deveny (who went up against Peter Jensen last year on Q and A) perhaps quotes the original source of where this argument came from when she said in The Age:
A quote attributed to Stephen F. Robert sums it up for me: "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."
The website Common Sense Atheism on this point, and for justification of their site name, says:
When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. 
In a nutshell, that is what I mean by “common sense” atheism. What I mean is that if you apply the same reasoning to your god as you do to every other god (your “common” sense) then you’ll see that your god doesn’t exist, either. So what I really mean is “No Double Standards” Atheism, but that’s just not as catchy as Common Sense Atheism!
That website even has a massive poster dedicated to this point, although it does list "Yahweh",  "Jesus" and the "Holy Spirit" (also Allah) under the title "Gods you might believe in". It's nice they allowed you that.

These are just three examples, another one is Proof 28 on the God is Imaginary website, there is a lot more. Let me just say that online this can be a common argument, and with most arguments online, it's pretty lame.

This argument first off assumes all gods are the same. If I didn't like sport in general and then told a rabid football fan that they also don't like sport because they don't like pool, fishing, gymnastics and basketball and that I only like one less sport than them; this does not make the footy fan in the same camp as me. My rejection of all sports is not the same as his love for one and the rejection of all others. What if we applied the same logic to a married man with his wife? He must hate all women as he has rejected all others, except of cause for one.

The argument also assumes somehow that it has found the one conditioned by which they can filter out all religions. I forget where I heard the following example, but it goes like this: "What if I had a deck of names of gods on each card and I raised each one up as asked why you didn't believe in that one? Well the same reasons you give for not believing in the ones in the deck is the same reason I don't believe in your God." The massive issue with this scenario is that I believe in my God for the same reason I don't believe in the others. There is one condition that has me believing in one has me rejecting the others. That condition is historical reliability.

The ball game for Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus (it is "of first importance"). I would happily conceded lots of issue with Christianity, but when it is all said and done, for Christianity the issue is who Christ is (hence the name Christianity). If Jesus did not rise from the dead then He is just a failed prophet or leader. He said he was going to come back from the dead, and if He didn't how can we trust other things He said, like being God? The earliest followers of Jesus also agreed with this, in fact the Bible says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead than Christians are lying, their preaching and faith is useless and they should be pitied for believing such a thing (see 1 Corinthians 15).

So what I put forward is a common sense history test. If you can prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead, by the same historical methods that allows you to show that Tacticus, Thucydides or Diogenes the Cynic existed (remember no double standard history) then I will reject Christianity - and all other gods.

The thing is, in regards to the resurrection most first century historians and New Testament scholars hold to the following three facts. 1. Very early on Jesus was reported to have been alive. 2. the tomb was empty and 3. the disciples of Jesus had through to have seen him alive. Now once you remove all those biased scholars that are Christians you still get the same concession with historians. Have a look.

John Dominic Crossan states that very early on (right on top of Jesus' death) that people thought Jesus came back from the dead:
Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days. (Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts, p. 254).
E. P. Sanders states that the disciples experienced a resurrection:
That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know” (The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 279-280).
Pinchas Lapide also agrees:
If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself. (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, p. 126.)
and so does Bart D Ehrman:
Historians, of course, have no difficulty speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. It is a historical fact that some of Jesus' followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite  plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection. (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd ed, p. 253).
These scholars don't have a dog in the race so to speak. They are speaking as historians. Of cause this doesn't exactly prove the resurrection. Sanders flat out states he can not explain the disciples belief in the resurrection - even though they did believe it had happened  Lapide concedes a resurrection is the best explanation for the disciples behavior, and Ehrman sits on the historical fact that belief in the resurrection happened. The issue is then, what caused this belief in the resurrection of Jesus? The disciples of cause were not expecting a single resurrection as they were Jewish and the Gentile thinkers never thought of a material resurrection as being possible (you know the standard soul gets separated from the body idea).

What is needed to debunk the resurrection is a reasonable explanation for the disciples belief that aligns with the empirical evidence of history. So far, I haven't heard (or read) a good materialistic (or any other "istic" like say atheistic) solution. Because the followers of Jesus believed that He had risen from the dead (as they had witnessed it and no other historical explanation fits), they worshiped Him as Lord/Christ/Messiah/God.

So yes I am atheist towards Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf, the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Allah for the same reason I am a Christian. Because the other Gods do not stand up to historical reliability.

Related Links
How would you prove the God of the Bible? - Another post along the similar vain as this one


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