From the comments section of this article:
On the subject of Theism, I’m in 99.9% agreement with you. That is, I believe there’s insufficient evidence to support the existence of 1,000 different gods and religions. You believe there’s insufficient evidence to support the existence of 999.
Please accept my sincere best wishes that you manage to gain that last one-tenth of one percent understanding. I’ll cheerfully accept your best wishes (or call them prayers) that I receive evidence that would let me believe that your 1 of 1000 gods proves true, however unlikely I think that may be. (commenter Malis)
Remember, if you cling to a particular religious belief, you are by definition atheistic to all the other myriad religions in the world… and thus, you have that in common with me. I simply deny one more religion: yours. (commenter Spinoza)
This argument is clearly working for the atheists–I encounter it about every seven and a half minutes these days. I suspect Dawkins is the one who popularized it, although I think I’ve seen ancient versions of it. It’s pretty clever, in that it gives every conceivable religion equal standing (so Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism are given the same status and likelihood as a cargo cult or the Hale-Bopp UFO cult), and thus argues “You have good reasons for believing that the 999 other religions are bunk, and therefore you already understand why I think yours is, too. You are almost an atheist, you just have one more illusion to break.”
Nine hundred ninety nine is probably an inflated number, although I won’t pretend I know exact what the actual number of religious systems in the world is, and I don’t think you could really quanitify that very easily. It obviously works in the atheists’ favor to say “you think 99.9 % of possible religions are wrong,” rather than “you think that only the two billion people who are Christians have it right.” Of course, Christianity has much greater standing than the Hale-Bopp suicide cult, and to take a religion espoused by one third of the world and treat it as just one option among 1000 isn’t really being honest with the situation as it stands.
And, of course, Christians don’t think that all other religions are purely bunk. We can affirm that we agree almost completely with Judaism. We can affirm all that Judaism does, but in additionwe affirm that Yahweh was seen on earth in the form of his incarnate son. We can affirm a great deal of Islam as well. For a great many faiths we say “yes, yes, yes, and yes” to significant doctrines, mixed in with our “but no, not that” to other propositions. Atheists see all religious people as completely deluded, but Christians see all religious people as partially correct, and sometimes mostly so.
I simply reject this kind of black and white thinking that wants to divide the world into “completely wrong” or “completely right.” There are a lot of” mostly wrong”, “very mixed”, and “mostly right” systems out there. To say that I oppose 99% of the world when I affirm Christianity is badly in error. I affirm the third of the world who are my co-religionists and partially affirm a great many more besides that. It is much more honest to say that the atheist disagrees with me and the other 90% of humanity who believes there is some sort of God.
As C.S. Lewis wrote: “And it should (at least in my judgment) be made clear that we are not pronouncing all other religions totally false, but rather saying that in Christ whatever is true in all religions is consummated and perfected.”
2 responses to “Playing With the Numbers”
There is a difference between argument and illustration. Arguments support my position. Illustrations help you to know what my position is.
The statement you describe here, “Same Reason You Don’t Believe In Zeus” (or “srydbiz”) is usually posed as an illustration. Srydbiz is helpful with the vast majority of Christians we encounter, who are amazed that atheists exist and wonder how it is possible. Is it that we are full of hatred? Insanity? Brainwashing? Demonic possession? Rabies? Late-stage syphilis? What is the cause? It can’t be that we just chose it like you chose your position.
But that is exactly what it is. Our positions are no less the product of informed consent than the alternatives. Srydbiz is not useful to create new secularists; however, it has been helpful as a tool in assuaging fears and hostility among some religious people that secularists are freaks beyond normal comprehension.
Srydbiz illustrates a second thing as well. Atheism is often a position on very specific gods and goddesses. I have no position on the existence of “some kind of God”. That phrase is devoid of information. I deny the existences of the particular versions of gods that were described to me.
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