There is a popular saying that suggests, “We are all atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do” used when replying to Christians (typically) on the charge of being “another atheist”.

The argument is based upon the idea that primitive man’s belief in many gods (pan-theism) has evolved into a belief in one (mono-theism) and that one less god equals no gods at all.

It’s true that the three great monotheistic religions are all descended from a common ancestor and even have sects analogous to species and sub-species - hey, there’s evolution again - but the very idea that atheists believe in fewer gods (1 - 1 = 0) is flawed.

The problem with the argument is one of semantics.

Theist (theology, theologian, etc.) all derive from the greek word “theos” meaning god. However, the critical thing to realise is that prefixing many words “a” actually negates or reverses their meaning. Some dictionaries define the a- prefix as “without”, others have it as “not” but the sense is the same.

Aplastic anemia is an interesting example because both words use the “a” to negate the meaning of the original root words (both of which are greek or ancient greek).

OK, so to atheist. We can see from this that our word atheist descends from a-theos and it’s here the response presented earlier becomes fallacious. Atheists are without god so to suggest in any manner that any monotheist is an atheist who’s lost the other gods is semantically incorrect. This because both the pantheist (pan- = many) believer in many gods and the monotheist (mono- = one believer in one god) are both theists.

I mention this is because I’ve seen the argument used on this site and the last thing I wish to see is one of us being hung by our own petard (which, by the way, means blown up with your own gunpowder).

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Although, you have pointed out another problem with argument/debate. It is possible to get too carried away with semantics just as it is impossible to have an intelligent conversation without operating from the same basic set of definitions. The technical meaning, important as it is, may not be the commonly shared meaning of a given word or phrase. I think it is a valid point that everyone has atheistic tendencies. If you disbelieve one god or set of gods I think it a legitimate question to ask why you don't disbelieve any other or all gods. Personally, I don't see that much of a difference between monotheism and polytheism. Like you point out they are both theists and they both have the smae philosophical underpinning.
Yeah. I guess I did. That's what happens when I have to spend 1/2 the night listening to my ex. tell me how short of money she is and how it's all my fault.

As a complete departure (and just for fun) - if anyone can remember Perry Marshall's silliness over random numbers, the following silliness struck my addled mind.

"George Walker Bush" is just one letter away from having a name that describes him far better. Now, given Perry Marshall's hypothesis, what are the odds of that change happening the first time you press the button? The solution for this relies on the fact that you pick two random values - one for the position in the sentence and a second for the value of that letter.

I think it's just shy of 500:1 (assuming all lower-case letters and a proper random number generator) - how's my maths? Statistics isn't my poisson - that's an even worse gag - and I might be way off. So shoot me.
I do not believe the quotation refers to polytheism at all. It is my understanding the genesis of the quote was that if you are a believer in one religion (e.g. a Baptist), you are rejecting all of the other religions and their gods. So that Baptist is an atheist when it comes to Islam or Judaism. So if I am an atheist when it comes to all other religions, I am just going one god further than that religious person who only believes in his own version of god.
At least that is how I understand it.
"I contend that 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." - Stephen F. Roberts

With thanks to Juam I think for that full quote.

Baptist is a sect (if I recall correctly) of Christianity; but it descends from what I alluded to as the "great" monotheistic trio: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Roberts is referring to Yahweh (?sp.) the most popular "god" in the modern West.

If you're an atheist, but the strict logic you don't believe in any gods, but as Don (and others) so beautifully put it, Roberts is using a rhetorical device to prove the point. We shouldn't necessarily take him literally.

I'll get me coat.


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