In recent days I have noticed several of the “new atheists” employing a clever and rhetorically effective soundbite while evangelizing for atheism.  Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens come to the top of my mind, but no one has encapsulated this sound bite better than Stephen 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.”

I consider myself a fairly seasoned apologist, but I must admit that this little rhetorical gem stopped me dead in my tracks.  “How in the world should I respond to that?”, I thought.  Fortunately for me, others have been thinking about this as well.  Michael Patton has done a good job formulating the beginning of a response already.  I would encourage you to read his thoughts on the matter.  He even takes on the claim that belief in God is like belief in Santa Clause, so you get a “two-fer.”

I think my first response would be that the atheist’s claim that “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you” is a misuse of language.  To be an atheist means one does not believe in the existence of any God or gods, so it would be inappropriate to call Christians “atheists.”  The claim is rhetorically effective, however, because it makes it sound as if the Christian and atheist differ in only one minor detail (the Christian denies all gods but one, while the atheist denies all gods).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A world in which even one deity exists is a radically different from a world in which no divine being(s) exists.

How would you respond to the claim?