If I was going to evaluate what made a bad argument it would be some combination of the fallaciousness and popularity of the argument. If it’s extremely egregious and obviously wrong but also very popular, then it becomes a contender for one of the worst, and this one ranks up there.
I’ve seen it in comments on my videos and popular atheist celebrities love to use it. Ricky Gervais famously uses it whenever he gets to exfoliate his atheism in front of an audience, and Richard Dawkins used it in The God Delusion when he said, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
In the context of something like a late night tv exchange, it’s extremely effective because it’s succinct, it carries an air of cleverness about it which makes it, at least, appear to be logical.
As a rhetorical instrument, it hits the right notes, but rhetoric without sound logic is just sophistry. That’s why in a classical liberal arts education, they taught dialectic before rhetoric. You had to have a sound understanding of logic before you could apply persuasive speech to your arguments.
But at some point in history, our educational superiors decided we didn’t need to learn logic any more, which is why sophistry has such free reign over our conversations about big ideas. From politics, to advertising, to books like the God Delusion.
From a theist’s perspective, it’s hard to reply to because it’s a targeted shot and it seems clever, but refuting it would require a much less witty exposition of why it’s fallacious. The truth is, it’s a non sequitur to the highest degree and that’s a compliment.
It doesn’t follow that because you only believe in “one less God” than I do that I’m practically an atheist too. It also doesn’t follow that there is no God or that atheism is true or that theism is false.
There’s nothing valid in its content and it doesn’t even seem to assert a conclusion. We’re only left to try to infer what the conclusion is.
But because it’s so common and popular, it does seem to require a reply, so I’d come at it by way of an analogy.
If it’s valid to assume that by rejecting the majority of claims about God or divinity that we might as well follow through on that instinct and reject ALL claims about God or divinity, then the following would be true as well.
Let’s say, I’m a math denier. I reject all math as invalid and to persuade you to adopt my extreme skepticism, I say this. 1+1 = 2 right? 1+1 isn’t 3, it isn’t 4, it isn’t 5 or any other of the seemingly unlimited variations we could offer to that equation.
So when you say that 1+1=2 and not any of the other possible answers, you’re rejecting the innumerable alternative options. You deny the validity of all the other responses. Well, I just go one step further and deny 1+1=2. It’s just one more step of denial and since you reject all the other responses, you might as well reject this one too.
All of truth works this way. To accept anything as definitively true is to reject all incompatible alternatives with that truth. Truth is exclusive. To say yes to anything is to say no to everything else.
It’s like telling a married man that he’s practically a bachelor because he refused to marry every other woman out there except for one. The only difference between him and a real bachelor is that the real bachelor just rejects one more woman.
That would be embarrassingly absurd if someone were to make that claim. It should be dismissed completely out of hand, but commentators like Dawkins are so unfamiliar with anything resembling valid philosophy that they don’t seem to appreciate that it makes them look stupid when they say things like that!
Another big problem that this rhetorical flourish suffers from is an apparent false equivalency which is common in a world that likes to compare religions and think of them as all making claims about the same fundamental parameters.
So, as many atheists insist, rejecting the existence of Thor, or Zeus or the Tooth Fairy is no different from rejecting the God of the Bible.
But this betrays a fundamental lack of appreciation for what it is that Jews and Christians believe about God which is that God isn’t some higher being in the universe. As Bishop Barron often points out, God isn’t one being among many. God is being itself.
Because, the thing about Zeus or Santa Claus is that you can provide evidence contrary to their existence. If it’s claimed that Zeus lives on top of mount Olympus, well, we can just climb up there or scour through satellite imagery to determine if there is a dwelling there or not. And if there isn’t, then somebody has some explaining to do.
And too many people think this is what’s being claimed about God in the Bible. They think we’re talking about a bearded old man living in the clouds who watches over us. Or if not the clouds, then somewhere remote in the cosmos.
In fact, what is being claimed about God is that he transcends the universe altogether. Instead, he’s the ground of all being. He doesn’t exist within some reality. He is the source of all reality. So, you can’t fly a space shuttle up to a certain spot and say, aha, he’s not here. He must not exist.
So when you put rejection of God as the creator of all that is in the same category of consideration as other gods who exist within that creation, you’re betraying a fundamental misunderstanding about what is being claimed.
It’s like saying, I reject the findings of the Warren Commission, therefore it’s reasonable to reject Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s like, there’s not correlation between those two things. They have nothing to do with each other.
Which is why atheist arguments should stop debunking claims of other religious systems as if defeating one means defeating them all. They aren’t the same thing anymore than 1+1=2 is the same as 1+1=3. Showing how the latter is wrong doesn’t prove how the former is also wrong.