This argument can be formulated as follows:
P1. There have been thousands of proposed Gods throughout human history
P2. Most of these proposed Gods are now believed to not exist
C. Therefore it is probable that any remaining proposed Gods in the future will also be believed not to exist
Stephen F. Roberts’ famously said:
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. 1
Greg Koukl claimed that this statement makes as much sense as a bachelor saying to a married man, “I contend that we are both bachelors. I am just married to one less woman than you.”2
Inductive arguments carry a certain strength, the strength of an inductive argument is the connection between what is known and what is not known. For example consider the following argument:
P1. I have seen 10 swans and all were white
C. Therefore all swans are white
We may or may not be convinced by this argument but it is certainly not as strong as the following argument:
P1. I have seen 1,000,000 swans and all were white
C. Therefore all swans are white
Here we see that the strength of induction lies in the connection between what is known and what is not known.
In the historical inductive argument against the existence of God, it is argued that because most other proposed Gods have been abandoned, it is likely that any remaining proposed Gods will also be abandoned.
So what is the connection between what is known and what is not known? Here the inductive strength seems to be very weak because this reasoning assumes that all proposed Gods are equally likely. Surely it is more reasonable to think that all the proposed Gods which are no longer believed, were simply not true, which is the reason they are now no longer believed. It is also reasonable to think that those God’s which continue to be proposed in spite of advanced knowledge, are more likely to exist than those proposed at a time of less knowledge. If anything, the following seems true:
P1. There have been thousands of proposed Gods throughout human history which have been abandoned
P2. Our understanding of the world has dramatically increased over the centuries
P3. Therefore it is probable that any remaining proposed Gods are more likely to exist than those which have been abandoned
Although the argument is considered an argument against the existence of God, it is more appropriately an argument against a particular concept of God. As Bob Seidensticker has said:
In just the same way pointing out that mankind has believed in thousands of other gods and worshipped in other ways may be a decent argument against my own conception of God, but it is a terrible argument to try and make me believe that there are no gods at all. Indeed it only strengthens my faith in the supernatural 3
If the following were true, then the historical inductive argument for the non-existence of God would be strong:
- Our understanding of the world has remained fairly constant
- The probability of each God’s existence is fairly similar
However, as these are not the case, the argument appears to be very weak indeed and practically useless.
- Examined, C. (2020). “I Just Believe in One Less God Than You Do”: an Atheist Fallacy? [online] Cross Examined. Available at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2020/10/i-just-believe-in-one-less-god-than-you-do-an-atheist-fallacy-2/ [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].