Arguments against God – oldies, but not goodies

Clown

More arguments unbelievers often use against christians. These ones are common, but not very good, but at least they provide a little amusement.

Flying Spaghetti Monster, celestial teapots & Thor

The argument

Believers only believe because they have faith, it is said. But there is no more reason to believe in God than to believe in fanciful and farcical things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster (generally lacking definition, but pretty much what it says), a celestial teapot that hypothetically might be orbiting the sun somewhere out beyond Mars, or the Norse god Thor. So it is just as silly to believe in God as to believe in those admittedly silly things.

Assessment

This must be one of the silliest arguments against God. There is clearly no serious evidence for these ludicrous objects, as everyone admits, so they can be ignored. But christians believe there is very good evidence for the existence of God, so there is no parallel, no valid analogy, and the evidence for God must be considered on its merits. Even if atheists don’t find the evidence and arguments compelling, they still exist. The only value in this argument seems to be to challenge any christian who thinks faith without evidence is a virtue, or to give atheists something to laugh about.

I just believe in one less gods than you

The argument

Throughout the world, people have believed in thousands of different gods. Believers generally disbelieve in them all, except one. But using the same reasons for christians disbelieve in all other gods, atheists say they can disbelieve in them all.

Assessment

This isn’t really an argument so much as a way of drawing attention to the question of why believe in the God of a particular religion rather than another. It is a reasonable question, but christians believe they have good reasons for their choice – see Choosing my religion.

There is no evidence for the supernatural

The argument

Religion is based on belief in the supernatural, something beyond our natural world – God, angels, heaven, etc. But there is no evidence for these things and no reason to believe they exist.

Assessment

This is a variation on other arguments here. The argument is based on the assumption that the only evidence that should compel us to believe is scientific evidence. But it ignores the fact that we draw conclusions and take action on many aspects of life – getting married, voting and making political decisions, the study of history, making ethical decisions – without scientific evidence, but still with (hopefully) very good reasons. As with other arguments, we are still faced with the evidence and arguments that christians find convincing. If we find them unconvincing, we choose not to believe, but we shouldn’t need to pretend there’s no evidence at all.

Who designed the designer?

The argument

One strong argument for the existence of God is based on the fact that the universe, at its very core and from its very beginning, is amazingly well designed, which implies a designer (see The universe points to God). But, the counter argument goes, we then have to explain how God (the designer) got to be so clever that he could design the universe. If we cannot explain God, then God is not a useful explanation of the universe.

Assessment

This argument is recognised by most philosophers of science as being quite invalid. We don’t have to be able to explain something for it to be an explanation of something else. If I say I can’t come to the party because I am sick, that is a reasonable expanation, even if we can’t explain why I am sick. If we accepted the logic of this argument, we have no science, because science always explains something in terms of something else, which then has to be understood – for example, the “standard model’ is used to explain many aspects of quantum physics, even though scientists cannot yet explain why the model is correct.

Besides, philosophers recognise the difference between contingent things (like the universe) which require an explanation and necessary things (like God, if he exists) which don’t. So this argument fails twice.

Conclusion

These arguments are the weakest we have looked at. They are commonly used, especially on the internet, but they all rest on unproven assumptions and misunderstandings. The first three only apply to a believer who has no reason to believe, just faith – but despite common atheist claims to this effect, this is almost never true of christians, whose belief is based on historical evidence. The fourth argument is based on both scientific and philosophical misunderstandings. There is nothing here to even slightly disturb a christian’s faith, though you are unlikely to win that argument with an internet atheist.

Read the whole series

This post is part of a series on Training disciples to stand. Check out all the topics here.

Photo: MorgueFile

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16 thoughts on “Arguments against God – oldies, but not goodies

  1. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    UnkeE, what do you think of the retort to argument #1 that if there is a multiverse there’s a good chance that the Flying Macaroni Monster, the Celestial Thunder Pot and Thor are very likely to exist as well?

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  2. Larry says:

    “But christians believe there is very good evidence for the existence of God, so there is no parallel, no valid analogy, and the evidence for God must be considered on its merits. Even if atheists don’t find the evidence and arguments compelling, they still exist.”

    But again, that’s a self-refuting argument and proves nothing. So what if YOU find it convincing? That doesn’t mean it’s true. By the same logic, we should all put homeopathy into the NHS! *shudder*

    ….you know what, I give up. Look at my blog. Look at the post called “Religious? Think again”. I’m sure it’ll seem very condescending to you, just like all of these “silly” and “illogical” arguments you keep talking about.

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  3. unklee says:

    1. There must be some doubt that the multiverse is true.

    2. Assuming it is indeed true, the proponents say there are 10^500 domains or universes within it. That’s a lot, but a long way short of Roger Penrose’s estimate of 10^10^123 possibilities, so not everything is going to be possible.

    3. I presume those 10^500 universes only contain things which could logically occur if the laws of Physics are varied. I doubt whether any of those three entities could exist logically in any possible universe!

    Like I said, mildly amusing, but silly. I should have posted this on April 1!

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  4. Sir Ian says:

    I made a blogpost about some of your arguments. I must say I never got the who designed the designer argument. If you’re going to debunk an argument you need to be consistent. Part of the argument you’re debunking is that the designer hasn’t been designed. So yeah, that one IS a terrible argument in my opinion.

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  5. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    “3. I presume those 10^500 universes only contain things which could logically occur if the laws of Physics are varied. I doubt whether any of those three entities could exist logically in any possible universe!”

    Fair enough! 😛 Though it poses your opponent with the question whether they are logically possible and then you could ask whether God is logically impossible and how that can be known.

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  6. unklee says:

    Yes, I think these arguments can be argued against quite easily, but that assumes the person using these arguiments is willing to be reasonable. But I think the arguments are so bad that I’m not sure we can assume that of anyone using them.

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  7. danielwalldammit says:

    The FSM, Invisible Pink Unicorn, etc. are not direct arguments against God. They are focused reductio ad absurdum responses to specific aspects of religious rhetoric. If successful, they demonstrate the absurdity of specific religious arguments, not the absurdity of God belief itself. The value of these arguments thus depends on the particulars of the believing rhetoric against which they have been used.

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  8. unklee says:

    Daniel, yes I sort of agree with what you say here – they could sensibly be used against some religious rhetoric, but hardly against real arguments. But I have seen them used as if they were good arguments against belief in God.

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  9. ignorantianescia says:

    UnkleE, I was wondering what you think of the belief in belief argument. You know, that (some) people can’t have first-order religious beliefs (“I believe in God”) but only second-order beliefs in God (“I believe that I believe in God”). This is often defended with the reasong that people can’t believe something false like God.

    It seems there are two issues here, first that it is a classic argument from incredulity and thus invalid. Secondly, it seems contradictory. If there can’t be belief in God because he doesn’t exist, then neither can there be belief in belief in God, because belief in God can’t exist. Following this logic, if those specific first-order beliefs can’t exist, then all derivative higher-order beliefs, ad infinitum, cannot exist either.

    I hope I’m still making sense?

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  10. unklee says:

    Yes, I think the argument you mention is a little silly. But I think it all depends on our definition of ‘belief’. It is often used to mean something similar to faith – an opinion based on faith as well as evidence (some sceptics say without evidence). But it is also used by philosophers to mean anything which we think, whether this is factual (2+2=4) or experiential (I feel cold), uncertain (I think there may be life in other galaxies) or quite wrong (today is Tuesday). On either of these definitions, it is obvious we can have first order religious beliefs. But there may be some definition where such a statement is wrong. I can’t honestly say I have thought about it much.

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  11. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    It is based on the argument by Adèle Mercier here:

    http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Mercier-Religious-Belief-and-Self-Deception.pdf

    “If God does not exist, if ‘God’ is a non-referring expression, then all purported first-order beliefs “in God” are likewise really second-order beliefs of the following two sorts: either mistaken second-order beliefs about oneself, that is, empty beliefs that one has a belief about a particular thing, when in fact there is no such thing about which to have a belief, hence no such belief to be had; or else a second-order belief about a particular concept, namely that the particular concept in question has the property of being instantiated.”

    What she says here is that because God doesn’t exist, the expression “God” doesn’t refer to any concept. Apparantly it is not possible to have first-order beliefs (“I believe in God”) about non-referring expressions, so they are either second-order beliefs about oneself (“I believe I believe in God”) or some other kind of second-order belief.*

    But if “God” becomes non-referential if he doesn’t exist, then surely the first-order belief “I believe God exists” becomes also non-referential if it doesn’t exist (she says those “purported first order beliefs ‘in God’ are likewise really second order-beliefs”, so that probably means the first order belief doesn’t exist). But if it is non-referential, then surely a second-order belief like “I believe I believe God exists” is as the same time also a first-order belief about the non-referential expression “I believe God exists”. Yet doesn’t that mean that the second-order belief also really doesn’t exist and also becomes non-referential? And so on and so on until forevermore and nevermore?

    Also, what happens to other beliefs about things now held to be non-existent? Did natural philosophers in earlier times not really believe in phlogiston as in having no first-order beliefs about it? Does that mean they could not have had any beliefs about it at all? There are also other examples, like dogheads, weaponsalve, ley lines and ether. Furthermore, if it would turn out subatomic particles, the Big Bang or whatever do not exist/did not occur, does that mean there we never had any first-order beliefs about them either?

    *( I don’t get what “a second-order belief about a particular concept, namely that the particular concept in question has the property of being instantiated” is supposed to mean, since as she says a second-order belief is basically “belief in belief”, a second-order belief about me would be “I believe I believe I can count to three” whereas a second-order belief about you would be “I believe you believe in penguins’ existence”. So that would make a second-order belief about “a particular concept, namely that the particular concept in question has the property of being instantiated” what exactly? That “I believe a particular concept believes it has the property of being instantiated”? Eeeeeeeeeeehhhhh??……

    It is likely she means with this a belief such as “I believe that a particular concept has the property of being instantiated”. But this is clearly a case of believing some-thing and not believing that X believes something. Thus it is by her own definition a first-order belief and calling it a second-order belief is contradictory.)

    Now I am still lost why “God” would become non-referential if he doesn’t exist, because it could still refer to that “particular concept” that takes centre stage in some airsplitting argument by her.

    My apologies for cluttering your blog with those meandering musings. : o )

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  12. unklee says:

    Larry said (April 3): “But again, that’s a self-refuting argument and proves nothing. So what if YOU find it convincing? That doesn’t mean it’s true. “

    Larry, I’m sorry this didn’t get published immediately, it got caught in the automatic spam checker (I don’t know why) and I didn’t notice it.

    Of course my believing an argument doesn’t make it true. But that wasn’t what I was saying. I was pointing out that the argument is based on their being no evidence for either God or these mythical creatures, but the analogy is flawed, because there are arguments that God exists. If a sceptic accepts that argument exists, but finds the unconvincing, then there is no need for the analogy, they can just rebut the arguments. Either way, the analogy is of no value.

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  13. unklee says:

    “What she says here is that because God doesn’t exist, the expression “God” doesn’t refer to any concept.”

    Yes, I agree with you. As soon as I read this, I could see the problem.

    Science works by hypothesis formation, testing and modification. Some hypotheses are wrong, some prove to be correct. if she is right, all the incorrect hypotheses (that posited entities that don’t actual exist – like phlogiston or a steady state universe) are actually meaningless. Yet they nevertheless form an important part in science by eliminating some options and clarifying truth.

    So if something that is meaningless helps the progress of science then it cannot be meaningless after all, surely?

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  14. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    Exactly. I think this is the argument David Bentley Hart was referring to in Believe It or Not. “Adèle Mercier comes closest to making an interesting argument—that believers do not really believe what they think they believe—but it soon collapses under the weight of its own baseless presuppositions.” Sounds about right! http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

    What’s strange is that she claims “God” doesn’t refer to any concept but only a few sentences later she possibly smuggles a “particular concept” in as second-order belief (??), if that reading is correct. So she seems aware that “God” could still refer to that concept but tries to keep the two disjunct?

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