Bad Atheist Arguments? Pt 4. There Is No Evidence For God



A common retort made by atheists is that there is no evidence for the existence of god. This is false.

Some evidence for the existence of god:
  1. The fine tuning of the universe
  2. The Bible
  3. The inner witness of the holy spirit
  4. Faith healing
  5. Miracles
  6. Answered prayer
  7. Visions
  8. Feeling the presence of god
  9. The existence of morality
  10. Testimony

Wow look evidence for god!!!

Verdict:
INVALID
Just a second though...

Every single one of those ten lines of evidence are bad. That's the point! Theist evidence is not non-existent, it is just extremely bad. If we, as atheists assert that believers have no evidence we are making a mistake. They do have evidence. The disagreement between atheists and believers mostly revolves around what they consider to be admissible evidence and what we do.

We should explore what they consider to be evidence and unpack the outcome of what their concept of evidence would mean. There only needs to be one agreed upon principle: it doesn't matter how you evaluate evidence, only that you are consistent about it. The trouble is that the forms of evidence they find to be valid can be used to substantiate a number of things they don't believe in, such as bigfoot, little green men and homeopathy.

Just as an example: do christians keep a systematic journal of prayers that are answered and not answered? Does this data inform us that there is something going on?

I try to make sure to say that there is no good evidence for the existence of god, because that immediately opens up avenues for discussion. Dismissing their concept of evidence without letting them present it is unfair, and frankly I think something that hampers their possible path to reason. 

Bad Atheist Arguments? Pt 3. Who Created god?

This is a fairly common argument and it comes from the theist quip "if god doesn't exist who created us?". When pointed at atheists the question is loaded, because it presupposes a who if that is not a fact that is agreed on, but is it valid to ask this question of Christians?

ChristianAnswers gives the following answer to the question:
Since God, by definition, is the creator of the whole universe, he is the creator of time. Therefore He is not limited by the time dimension He created, so has no beginning in time God is the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity (Isaiah 57:15). Therefore He doesn't have a cause.
The important thing to note here is the definition bit. God is defined as being uncaused, and the Bible asserts this much. The argument then takes a new turn, where the question becomes:

"Well, if you can say that god is uncaused, why can't I just say that the universe is uncaused?"

The bit about god being uncaused is pretty much a bare assertion, and there is no evidence or argument to support the assertion that god is uncaused. Therefore an assertion of an infinite universe seems to have at least an equal amount of support to it than an infinite god.

Of course, some theists claim that the universe is not infinite because the big bang was the beginning of the universe. Apart from other problems, that is a definition of the universe where anything beyond the big bang is not part of the universe, which is a dubious and self serving definition. If we don't know whether that which is beyond the big bang is natural or not, how can we say that the big bang is the border of the natural universe?

There are other problems too. How does god know that he does not have a god? The standard answer is that he is omniscient. Okay, but how does god know that it is omniscient? Isn't it logically impossible to know that you are omniscient, and since god can only do that which is logically possible, doesn't that entail a contradiction? Doesn't Descarte's malevolent spirit present the same problems to god that it does to us? If god cannot know that he has not been created then the Bible cannot claim that god is uncaused.

If theists respond with ignorance for instance by saying that we don't know how god solves these problems but he does, doesn't that cast a bright light of doubt on the assertions in the first place? How can you assert something if you don't know if it is logically possible to know it in the first place, or in fact if it is seemingly logically impossible? verdict?

SOMEWHAT VALID
Why?

Once again we are kicking the can down the road. Although the first question can appear to be a strawman it is worth pursuing, because deeper problems emerge with the justifications of the assertion of an infinite god. We don't simply get to define things and then people just accept the definition as a true reflection of reality. 

There is a video that opens the can of worms with an interesting story. Enjoy!

WHY ONLY SOMEWHAT VALID?

The question by itself does not count as an objection. If it is all you've got, then you are up shit creek without a paddle.

Bad Atheist Arguments? Pt 2. The Omnipotence Paradox


The omnipotence paradox is probably one of the more well known arguments against the logical possibility of god. Homer summed it up pretty well. If a being is all powerful, that being would be able to perform action x, which would prevent any action y, but if a being is omnipotent it cannot be prevented from performing any action.

William Lane Craig has an explanation of why he thinks this is a bad argument:

The response is basically this, in case you don't like watching videos with poor sound and no actual video stream. :)

1. Theologians understand omnipotence as having the ability to do anything that is logically possible.
2. Having the ability to do things that are logically impossible is a malformed concept. It is nonsense. 
3. IF god could do the logically impossible, he could in fact eat a burrito that he made too hot to eat. This entails a logical contradiction, but given this answer god is an entity over and above logic.

So let's explore this a little:

1. Maybe the term omnipotence is a problem. Maybe theologians should use a term like maxipotence, denoting maximum power. In Matthew 19:26 Jesus supposedly said:
'26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”' NIV
So which is it?  Does the apologist's definition of all also change based on this verse to all things that are logically possible? Regardless of what they say, most everyday christians and seemingly Jesus (too bad Jesus didn't study under Craig) are mistaken. Was Jesus just exaggerating?

2. As far as we know this is true, but there is no basis for stating that logic is universal, even to the degree that god must be subjected to it. To make such a claim is to create a god that is not functional in the absense of logic, which then seems to be some sort of concept that restricts god. Logic in this view is some sort of unbreakable natural law that not even god himself can violate. This means that god could not have been the author of logic to begin with, because that would entail an illogical state of affairs that is impossible according to theologians like Craig.

3. There is a deep problem with this answer. It is a clever avoidance of the problem, but it has dire outcomes for theology. If god is an illogical entity then god is not knowable to human beings, and theology is a failed enterprise. It can solve so many problems in theology that god itself becomes a nonsensical concept that one must just believe in. Fans of apologetics would not find themselves comfortable here because defending the illogical is logically impossible, since no logical justifications could suffice. This kind of non-cognitivist theology is not philosophically defensible. It is a laughing stock. The fact that Craig mentions it to sound clever is telling. It seems that anything that could make an apologist seem good, even something absurd, is acceptable.

So what's the verdict of the burrito paradox?
VALID
Why?
The solutions to the omnipotence paradox as presented by apologists just effectively kicks the can down the road. It doesn't solve the problem, it just opens up a fresh new batch of problems because each explanation entails a sacrifice on the concept of god. The answers are clever and manage to make it look like there is some sort of good answer, but just beneath the surface a myriad of problems lurk. Maybe these problems are not intractable for apologists, but they warrant further discussion and certainly not quick dismissals like the one issued by Craig above.


Bad Atheist Arguments? Pt 1. Jesus vs. Horus


Sophisticated Apologists will often mention the bad arguments that atheists always use. I'm going to try and summarise some, why they think these arguments are bad, and try to figure out whether these arguments are in fact bad. If they are we should stop using them of course, and we should point out their badness to our fellow non-believing friends.

1. Jesus vs. Horus

There are some atheists who have come to believe that Jesus is a carbon Copy of Horus or other gods. Regarding Horus:
Massey’s attempt to demonstrate that Jesus is merely a rewrite of Horus is tortured. Take the contention that Horus and Jesus were both of virgin birth. The most common legend about the birth of Horus is that the god Seth dismembered the body of Osiris, his older brother and husband of Isis. Isis collected the pieces of her husband’s body and sewed them back together, then took the form of a bird and fanned Osiris with her wings, reviving him enough to have sex and get herself pregnant with Horus. So it’s sex with a coma patient or necrophilia — not your classic virgin-birth story either way.
As for the crucifixion and resurrection, the party involved wasn’t Horus but Osiris, as per the above. Except Osiris wasn’t crucified — Seth initially had him nailed into a coffin. And he wasn’t really resurrected, just revived long enough to be a sperm donor, after which he died again.
Then again, there really isn’t a canonical version of the Horus story. Browsing through the stelae, I find a variant in which the child Horus is stung to death by a scorpion, then restored to life by the god Thoth. So OK, are there points of similarity between Jesus and Horus? I’ll be big about it and say sure. Is one copied from the other? Get out.  
- The Straight Dope

As far as I know there are no biblical scholars including atheist scholars who take the carbon copy story seriously. The verdict then:
DEBUNKED
but...
One thing apologists fail to mention is that many of the themes present in ancient religions have been copied into Christianity, so while the story itself is not a carbon copy, it has other things in common with mythologies. Mythologies have a lot in common with fictional stories. The way things play out in fictional stories is formulaic and contra reality, which is often more complex and less attractive in many respects. If you want to understand what I mean try watching a movie that was accurately based on a true story and then a fictional story back to back. Of course, claims like this are far weaker than claims of outright plagiarism. If you want to make claims like that, you need to have some pretty strong evidence on your side.

There is also a valid claim that bits and pieces were copied during the formation of Christianity in the way of art. Statues and paintings of Mary resemble statues of Isis. Yahweh on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel resembles images of Zeus. Even though Judaism was a rejection polytheism, in some way Christianity recaptures it with contorted mental gymnastics. Whether these interesting nuggets are evidence against Christianity though remains to be seen. Since we have much better arguments to look to, these ones may not serve us well. If you are into Biblical history however maybe there is something there that you can pursue.

Manual For (dishonestly) Debating Atheists

+Mike Brown is writing a book by the title "Manual For Debating Atheists". He previews some of his work on his website and has asked me to provide commentary. First off, I just want to thank Mike for giving me this opportunity and secondly I want to offer him some praise for not merely writing into the blind unknown and publishing unchallenged or unreviewed work, which is not surprisingly what many apologist tracts are horribly guilty of. 

I agree with Mike when he states the following in his introduction:
"While one can practice logic in isolation a debate requires effective communication which in turn relies on common ground. And, the disparity between the two frameworks has led to confusion and miscommunication."
I don't want to offer a critique of the entire three chapters Mike has supplied, but I want to focus on the initial two parts of the first chapter, because I think he screws up very early on and that will likely taint all his work.

His first part is already mistaken, although the content is not all that bad. It reads:
"1) Break the debate into two parts: (a) Does ‘a’ god exist and, (b) Can this god be the God of Christianity."
The question of whether god exists or not is not, in my opinion at least, an interesting or important question. Answering a question like this requires the kind of knowledge humans simply don't possess, since a god could be hidden in any nook or cranny of human knowledge. The correct question, and the one I am interested in, is whether it is at all rational to believe that a god exists. This question is divorced from overstretched ontological claims and we can focus on epistemology instead of ontology, the former being much more workable and definitive than the latter which is kind of up in the sky and vague all around.  Ontological debates are plagued by uncertainties and vague references to the unknown. Epistemology is more closely focused on what is reasonable to believe, so lets stick to that. Since many atheists are somewhat pragmatic it doesn't make sense to discuss the ultimate nature of reality with them, since they are not really concerned with such lofty philosophical assertions. 

I agree with the next section, I particularly like the following statement Mike makes, and I think we can all agree on that:
Christians tend to take many things for granted in these debates not realizing that it is because they already believe in god that those things seem true. When talking with atheists however, nothing can be pre-supposed; the discussion starts with a completely blank slate.
This is tough for any person in a debate. Entertaining the perspective of an opponent can be difficult. As such I don't think this applies only to christians, but to everyone. 
After this section, Mike starts some dishonest apologetics with the most painful aspect of apologetics: burden of proof!

This method is one I am familiar with and one I have addressed before in my dishonest apologetics series: The Set Up. Since this is one of the most common apologetic tricks I will repeat myself a little here. From my post:
"Most atheists I know are agnostic atheists. They make no claims about the absolute existence or non-existence of gods. Apologists have responded by calling atheists naturalists, defining the term naturalist to their satisfaction and then forcing the burden of proof onto atheists. If you were suckered into this, you now have to be omniscient. You must explain the exact nature of the cosmos, because you must have eliminated every single possibility of any realm beyond the natural. You must reject any agnosticism. "
But Mike claims the following:
"From there each participant can offer and support their explanation for existence whether it be god for the theist or naturalism (usually) for the atheist. Thus the burden of proof rests equally on each participant and conclusions are drawn by contrasting alternative explanations rather than by evaluating just one of the explanations against some exaggerated standard."
Because apologists are extremely inadequate in epistemic debates the goal is to shift the debate to an ontological one and to force a position of certainty about the nature of the universe onto atheists. Thankfully for Mike lots of atheists fall into this trap, unaware that they have accepted a much stronger position than their actual atheism has allowed them, and then being cornered later by the same epistemic problems that apologists cannot defeat in order to justify their beliefs. 

I don't think Mike is deliberately dishonest. I think he genuinely thinks that atheists claim positions on the ontological nature of reality when in fact agnostic atheism and fallibilism is part and parcel of modern atheism and specifically rejects absolute ontological claims. Ontological debates are starved for real evidence, because we don't know an awful lot about reality as it is. What matters more in the end though is whether the things we believe are rational and based on our best effort of figuring out how the world works.

Modern atheism is about withholding judgement on ontological matters, and not surprisingly modern naturalism falls into that camp too.  To foolishly stumble into a debate where you have to make absolute claims about reality is exactly what apologists like Mike want, and it is exactly wrong because it misses the element of uncertainty that atheists hold dear. Fortunately though this poor attempt does nothing to make theism more viable, it just makes any dogmatic versions of naturalism indefensible and rightly so. It does however distract from the actual useful discussions we should be having, but apologists know this because they intentionally want to avoid substantive challenges to their faith and create diversions that will make atheists look bad and by extension prop up their beliefs.

Mike then cries that science is biased against god in classical anti-science rhetoric, missing the point of the question "Is it rational to believe in god?" which is really what the important and interesting question is for most atheists and trying to make the issue about something it is not. He also misunderstands science completely, but since he has screwed up with the burden of proof question it is no surprise that he would continue to be wrong from that point forward. 

Christian Complaint: Leave Britney Alone


Ajax Cochrane complains:
Just thought I'd point out an interesting fact, and I'm not going to debate this because debating with someone when they believe their own lies so fiercely that they would rather burn in Hell than admit they're wrong is completely pointless. My proof that God exists, and that atheists know that He exists, is their dogged pursuit and harassment of believers. If you really believe that God doesn't exist, why do you so violently oppose any proof to the contrary? If I believe something doesn't exist, and someone else does, I'm like "Oh, cool" and go about my business, and just write them off as another misguided person. So you'd think that atheists would just see believers as religious nut cases and leave us and our posts alone and go in search of higher karma or whatever it is you people do to soothe your troubled minds. 
But no. Every time a post comes up regarding the existence of God, it is immediately swamped by atheists loudly proclaiming that He doesn't exist. And the attitude is just down right humourous- they will stalk even young girls' posts, using every dirty word in the dictionary to try to prove their point. If God does not exist, if you believe with all your heart and soul that He is a myth invented by superstitious yokels in need of a crutch, why do you become so violent in your attacks? If God is about as real to you as Santa Claus, why do you take Him so seriously? It's really just too intriguing, y'all.
(I separated things into paragraphs, but did no other editing) 
 I suppose a thought experiment might be a the best response here. Suppose that it was thousands of years ago and you realised through careful observation that your tribe's annual virgin sacrifice didn't bring the rain. Instead you came to the conclusion that the rains always came because you may have known that one of the virgins was not really a virgin. Would you simply write them off as misguided? What if everyone believed that the moon made its own light, or that the earth orbited the sun?

Whether we like it or not, we all form part of the same society and the same species. If there was another earth-like planet out there, maybe most atheists would feel okay just moving there, but we can't do that. We all need to get along and move society in a forward direction together. There is no them, just us. If we screw up there is no rescue party, no plan B. Well not for atheists anyway. We think we got it right, and we want to help other people to see why, or maybe be convinced that we are wrong if that is the case.

Humanity progresses on the back of fierce disagreement. Despite the confidence of the original post, many people are being convinced by atheist arguments and changing their minds. The person posting the original post displays a strange behaviour. They claim that they don't want to debate in a debating community. In other words they want to have a back patting party with their friends and not have their beliefs challenged or disturbed. That is exactly what we want to do. We want to make people uncomfortable so they can start thinking about the subject of religion. Most of us were born into a religion and accepted it as unthinking toddlers. It's time for humanity to grow up and for adults to answer these questions.

If there is an answer let's talk about it, instead of accusing the other side of lying and preferring to go to hell to admitting the truth. Maybe instead of going the "you people" route, a more careful approach is warranted. 
If God is about as real to you as Santa Claus, why do you take Him so seriously?
We don't. We take you seriously, because you believe in it, and because most people do believe it. I don't think you could ever understand unless you get to hold a belief that is in a small minority.

Seperating People From Ideas


When it is pointed out to Christian apologists that priests molest children or that televangelist prosperity preachers milk viewers to build empires of wealth they are quick to cry foul and remind us that the behaviour of some people within a belief system or movement are not necessarily representative and that such criticisms are unfair. However when a prominent atheist, usually Richard Dawkins, makes some statement on some social issue on twitter apologists are quick to run to their little blogs and go "See! That's the problem with atheism right there kids!"

I don't involve myself in Dawkins controversies because personally his beliefs about gender equality and sexual abuse don't matter to me. I would hazard a guess that being an old Brit has more to do with Dawkins' opinions on social matters than his atheism does. He is only a spokesperson insofar as he speaks about atheism, and even then, he has become one voice among many, not the pope of atheism as apologists make him out to be. 

Of course the previous pope of atheism was Stalin, apologists' goto example of the result of atheism. It hardly matters that pious crusaders pillaged, raped and killed in the name of Yahweh. What matters even less is the question of whether Stalin's atheism was the actual cause of his actions, or just an irrelevant datum among many. People often misunderstand the relationship between powerful religious institutions and the proles in history. The lower classes always looked at the clergy with a mixture of awe and suspicion. It's true that religious organisations abused their power and overstepped their mandate often, using divine authority as an excuse to use and abuse commoners. The clergy was a social class that threatened the sovereignty of the people due to its power and influence, and far from atheism being the driving force to the destruction of the church, their power and wealth were what drew the ire of the common people. By arbitrarily choosing a quality or opinion of someone or some movement you don't like and dismissing the rest you run the risk of missing the really important part: the real cause.

So if Dawkins was found with a knife in his hand after killing twenty babies the truth is that it doesn't matter for atheism. Dawkins' ideas on atheism and biology too still have to stand on their own merit, because "would you really defend an argument made by a baby killer?" is an obvious ad hominem, as is "Would you defend a belief held by a mass murderer?". Christianity similarly is not false because of the crusades or because countless priests have molested children. There is no need for atheists to defend Dawkins if he is wrong about something, just like there is no reason to blame atheism for any shortcomings he may have as a human being. 

If we can successfully see ideas isolated from those who put them forward, we would have a lot less trouble absorbing knowledge around us, because occasionally someone who is wrong about everything is very right about something and we can't afford to ever miss out on the truth.