Perhaps you have heard the argument by Stephen F Roberts, “I contend 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.” He started using this argument back in the mid nineties, and of course its use and meaning has changed from time to time as different people used it and modified it from his original intention. Today my goal isn’t to go into detail why this quote is flawed from the beginning, there are no atheists who believe in one god, but to point out another flaw that often is over looked. Don’t worry I also am aware of the other major flaw in his argument, the mischaracterization of Christian belief, that he assumes all gods are equal in both definition and in the evidence for their existence and that Christians don’t dismiss all other gods for the same reasons he does. One last word to the positive of this error, Christians don’t believe in a God like any other. Christianity believes in a God who is the God of all gods, infinite, perfect in holiness, power, justice, and who is the only true and living God. All other gods in this world throughout history have been finite, imperfect, capricious, at times mean, and at other times indifferent and unreachable; all things that Christianity’s God is not.
Did you catch the other flaw in his argument? I am talking about the one that actually should make him the one pausing and asking the Christian for more information. Allow me the chance to help you see what I am talking about here. For this part please place yourself in the atheist’s chair and I am going to tell you a story that will show you what I am getting at.
One day you and I are on a game show and we are at the final stage. Before us are 10 boxes of equal size, shape, and color. There is no way to identify one box over the other from where we currently stand. Inside one of the 10 boxes there is $10,000,000 dollars of winning money. If one of us chooses the box we will win the prize, and if we both choose the same box we both will get $20,000,000. However, if we choose the wrong box we loss all our previous winnings from earlier in the game. There is another hitch, we could forgo choosing any boxes and instead spin a wheel with 20 spaces with prizes ranging from $0 to $100,000 in $10,000 increments, that is 10 winning spaces and 10 $0 losing spaces, and no matter what space we land on, we do not forgo our previous winnings. On the spin wheel one will have a 50/50 chance of winning a prize, and a 5% chance of winning the $100,000.
We are told to look at the boxes and choose the box we think has the money in it or decide to pass and spin the wheel. After walking around the boxes and studying them all from the outside, you declare that you do not believe any one of those boxes could hold $10,000,000 and thus you reject all of them as possible prizes and will go with the more “sure thing” in the wheel. At that moment the host asks us to choose our box, I immediately choose the 2nd box without hesitation and before you can even form an answer. You then ask to spin the wheel and reject all the boxes. The host then removes 5 of the 10 boxes that didn’t have the money, and he then asks if either of us want to change our previous decision, and again before you can even think I flat out reject his offer and declare that without doubt I want to stay with the first box I chose (note my box wasn’t one of the ones the host removed).
My question for you is, what do you think your response should be to my first and second choosing of the boxes? This is my point, if we both rejected 9 of the 10 boxes for the same reasons, and you went 1 further in your rejection than I, is the correct question, why you rejected 1 more than me, or why I rejected 1 less than you? Of course, during the game show, your response should have been (because we can ask questions during game shows) simply to ask why I chose that one box over the others. With $10,000,000 at risk wouldn’t you want to know why I stuck with the one box and did so with such conviction? If you had asked me I would have told you that it was because during the commercial break before the final stage they let me go up and study the boxes more throughly and all the evidence from my study pointed to that box having the money in it, and it was so clear to me that I bet everything on it.
Now that you know that my decision wasn’t just based on a whim but on study, would you approach your own decision differently?
Back to our first discussion, and my point is simply this: I believe in one more God than you because I believe the evidence warrants this God’s existence while at the same time I agree with you that the evidence disproves all other gods. So the difference really isn’t that I am holding onto one last myth having not gone far enough in my rejection of “deity” but I have studied the boxes and have found all wanting but this one, and I am putting all my chips on it being the true box with the reward within.
In other words we both reject the existence of all gods for probably the same reasons, and thus at least to this point I have proven to be as rational as you, so why then is it my liability that I stopped at this last God and you didn’t? Shouldn’t my pausing (again remember I have proven to be as rational as you in my rejection of all those other gods) really make you stop and ask me why I could reject all those other gods (proving I have no problem not believing in gods) but I didn’t reject this last God? Perhaps there is evidence that I have come across that give me good reason to bet all my chips on His existing over all others, and don’t you want to know what they are?