By R.N. Carmona
With the exception of the last tactic on the list (obscurantism), I’ve attempted to place the arguments in an order proportional to their degree of weakness. In other words, none of the arguments below are strong arguments or tactics for the existence of a god. All of the arguments are weak, but some are undoubtedly weaker than others; to put it bluntly, some of these arguments are plain foolish and it is difficult to explain why they’re so frequently used. So let us turn now to what I think is the weakest argument frequently used by Christians.
The “Faith in Science” Argument
This argument is perhaps the weakest argument offered by Christians. In more than three years of blogging, I’ve experienced this argument countless times–most recently twice within the same week (see here and here). Given the ensuing length of this post, you can read those responses to see why the argument is simply bad. There’s no reason to beat a dead horse.
The Argument From Consequences
The most common version of this argument is one attempting to link atheism and nihilism. Some Christians would go as far as to say that modern atheists aren’t really atheists. A Tumblr Catholic posted the following unsourced quote from Father Baron:
… at least the existentialists were serious about their atheism — they saw the implications of it. I think what we see in a lot of the New Atheism is a kind of frivolous, or superficial, or childish atheism, a kind of playing at atheism.
Jerry Coyne writes: “atheists simply aren’t dolorous enough about our nonbelief; Like Nietzsche, we should be mourning the death of God, which takes away from us a grounded morality, and one that we haven’t replaced it with a solid secularly-based morality.“1 Coyne isn’t agreeing with this sentiment; he’s objecting to it. This argument can often piggyback on the Moral Argument for God. We’ll discuss this argument later.
Even if it were the case that there is a salient connection between atheism and nihilism, this still wouldn’t imply that atheism is false. Truth often has uncomfortable implications. “How can you believe in natural disasters? They kill so many people and destroy so many things.” Obviously, this type of contention doesn’t show that natural disasters don’t happen. They do happen and it’s true that they destroy things and kill people, but the fact that natural disasters lead to discomforting consequences doesn’t mean they don’t occur or better said, that we should deny that they occur or force ourselves to believe that they don’t on the basis that its more comforting to do so.
Likewise, if it’s true that nihilism follows from atheism, then if atheism is true, life is devoid of meaning. That life is devoid of meaning if atheism is true doesn’t mean that theism has to be true because a meaningful life is more comforting. Conversely, this same reasoning can be applied to notions of an afterlife. The finality of death is uncomfortable for most people who dwell on it, but that it’s uncomfortable doesn’t make it false.
Such arguments are fallacious because they appeal to consequences. Whether one appeals to desirable or undesirable consequences doesn’t make a difference. Aside from the aforementioned example, one will often hear Christians state that evolution must be false because if it isn’t, we’re equal to animals. One will also hear that since eternal life is preferable, heaven must exist. The desirability or undesirability of a given consequence(s) doesn’t prove or disprove any proposition.
In any event, this still doesn’t prevent atheists from finding meaning in life. Nietzsche’s nihilism isn’t an atheist’s only choice when it comes to existentialism. His nihilism can be considered the epistemic equivalent to atheism: atheism is the lack of belief in gods; nihilism is the lack of belief in meaning in life. However, like the question of god, there are alternatives and a middle ground. For instance, absurdism is to existentialism what agnosticism is to the question of god; while absurdism states that there’s an incongruence between our desire for meaning in life and the lack of meaning in the universe, agnosticism states that the question of god is unanswerable because whether or not god exists is unknowable. They both posit an unknowability. An atheist can also choose to believe in self-generated meaning; this attitude originates in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre though Sartre’s existentialism is more metaphysical given his heavy emphasis on the concept of being.
The Argument From Martyrdom
This argument is less frequently used and for good reason. Aside from the assumption that something is true given that people die for it, it completely ignores the fact that people have died for the sake of other religions. Aside from that, people have died for ideologies (e.g. Nazism, racism, nationalism). Richard Carrier puts it succinctly:
[T]he fact that believers are willing to die for their belief does not confirm their belief is true, since there have been willing martyrs for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Marxism, even paganism, and many other religions and ideologies throughout history. In the right social conditions, such martyrdom doesn’t even slow recruitment because such willingness to die is normal for such movements, not unusual. As W.H.C. Frend says of that time, “there was a living pagan tradition of self-sacrifice for a cause, a preparedness if necessary to defy an unjust rule, that existed alongside the developing Christian concept of martyrdom inherited from Judaism.” Christian martyrdom particularly made sense from a cultural and sociological perspective. Many sociologists studying world martyrdom movements have found they have a common social underpinning throughout history, from aboriginal movements in the New World to Islamic movements in the Middle East. For example, Alan Segal says that in every well-documented case a widespread inclination to martyrdom “is an oblique attack by the powerless against the power of oppressors,” in effect “canceling the power of an oppressor through moral claims to higher ground and to a resolute claim to the afterlife, as the better” and only “permanent” reward. “From modern examples,” Segal concludes, “we can see that what produces martyrdom,” besides the corresponding “exaltation of the afterlife,” is “a colonial and imperial situation, a conquering power, and a subject people whose religion does not easily account for the conquest.” Some of these subjects are “predisposed to understand events in a religious context,” and are suffering from some “political or economic” deprivation, or even social or cultural deprivation (as when the most heartfelt morals of the subgroup are not recognized or realized by the dominating power structure).2
Matthew Ferguson takes the wheels off this argument by investigating “the circumstances of the apostles’ deaths” and finding “that they are virtually all ahistorical legends, full of contradictions, and little more than magical absurdities.”3 This argument isn’t cogent and while not as bad as the previous argument, it’s still a bad argument.
The Design/Watchmaker Argument
This argument has taken on various forms over time and though it’s closely related to one of the notable arguments below (namely, the God-of-the-Gaps Argument), it’s an argument unto itself. The argument was originated by William Paley who opened his book, Natural Theology (1802), with the following:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that for any thing I know to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch, as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissable in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz., that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose … This mechanism being observed … the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place of other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.4
This argument has modern variants: Kyle Butt, in his debate with Dan Barker, employed the Watchmaker Argument but instead of a watch, he asked us to imagine stumbling upon a laptop on a beach.5 This argument is rightfully called the Watchmaker Fallacy. This analysis of the argument is correct since the argument hinges on a false analogy. That something appears designed doesn’t mean it is. It’s also non-sequitur to infer design where there’s no evidence of any.
A more modern iteration of the Design argument, which is a teleological argument, is the Fine-Tuning Argument. Sean Carroll, in his debate with William Lane Craig, offers a rebuttal against the Fine-Tuning Argument:
Even if you think the universe is finely-tuned and you don’t think that naturalism can solve it, theism certainly does not solve it. If you thought it did, if you played the game honestly, what you would say is, ‘here is the universe I expect to exist under theism; I will compare it to the data and see if it fits.’ What kind of universe would we expect? And I claim that over and over again the universe we expect matches the predictions of naturalism, not theism. So the amount of tuning—if you thought the physical parameters of our universe were tuned in order to allow life to exist—you would expect enough tuning but not too much. Under naturalism a physical mechanism could far over-tune by an incredibly large amount that has nothing to do with the existence of life, and that is exactly what we observe. For example, the entropy of the early universe is much, much, much, much lower than it needs to be to allow for life. You would expect under theism that the particles and parameters of particle physics would be enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason; whereas under naturalism, you’d expect them to be kind of random and a mess. Guess what? They are kind of random and a mess. You would expect under theism life to play a special role in the universe; under naturalism you’d expect life to be very insignificant. I hope I don’t need to tell you, life is very insignificant as far as the universe is concerned.6
In another lecture on this topic, Carroll offers the possibility that the parameters aren’t as fine-tuned as we think when concerning life and that it’s presumptuous to assume that we understand perfectly when life could exist, since different parameters might yield different forms of life. He adds that if we were serious about this argument, we’d consider all possible theories, all cosmologies arising as a result of those theories, all possible manifestations of life and consciousness, and calculate which universes among all possible universes are life-bearing. He also points to a specific case of over-tuning, which is the entropy of the early universe. At 10^10^120, the entropy of the early universe is enormously smaller than it needs to be to allow for the existence of life.7
Victor Stenger notices a case of double think among proponents of this argument. In other words, he notices a common inconsistency among apologists and their admirers.
On the one hand the creationists and God-of-the-gaps evolutionists argue that nature is too uncongenial for life to have developed totally naturally, and so therefore supernatural input must have occurred. On the other hand, the fine-tuners (often the same people) argue that the constants and laws of nature are exquisitely congenial to life, and so therefore they must have been supernaturally created. They can’t have it both ways.8
Aside from the fallacies already mentioned, the argument is a case of agency over-detection. Proponents of this argument are inferring agency where there isn’t any. Furthermore, they’re engaging in confirmation bias. For instance, to them, the Earth is obviously created and bears the marks of fine-tuning. However, they ignore cases in modern astrophysics which show planets forming naturally and without any discernible purpose.9 Given such cases, the Earth isn’t the exception to the rule. It’s likelier that the Earth was the product of naturalistic processes.
The “Atheist Atrocities” Argument
This argument is quite common. Whether it’s an attempt to poison the well by making atheism look bad or simply a response to an atheist who brings up The Dark Ages is hard to notice. In any event, even if it were true, the argument would rest on a fallacy–namely tu quoque. Tu quoque is a “you too” puerile response that forgets that two wrongs don’t make a right. Whether the argument is made on a whim or as an attempted rebuttal doesn’t change the fact that a fallacy is being committed. If on a whim, the Christian is poisoning the well; if as a response, they’re committing tu quoque: “sure Christians have killed in the name of Jesus, but atheists murdered millions in the name of atheism!”
Unfortunately for the Christian, this is an oversimplification of what actually happened. It ignores, especially in Mao’s and Pol Pot’s cases, a number of facts that have to be accounted for. Michael Sherlock shared a well-researched piece very recently.10 Any Christian who puts stock in this argument owes it to him/herself to read it.
This is an argument that apologists claim isn’t understood by modern believers and atheists. This is apparently why we have colloquial variants of the argument: “it’s better to believe in God; this way you’ll avoid going to Hell.” Unfortunately, this argument isn’t misunderstood because it’s precisely what Pascal argued.
On the basis of doxastic voluntarism, Pascal assumed that we can choose whether or not to believe. He therefore offered scenarios: if one believes, there’s an infinite reward, whereas if one disbelieves, there’s infinite punishment. He also argued that even if god’s existence were 50/50, it would still be more rational to believe on the basis of expectations.11
The multiplicity argument, first offered by Denis Diderot, is one of the more common rebuttals. A short video posted on YouTube by Theramin Trees illustrates it succinctly.12 The rebuttal refutes Pascal’s two-two matrix. The matrix is clearly not a two-two matrix. It’s not as simple as belief versus non-belief in the Judeo-Christian god. There are consequences if you choose to believe in this god though Allah exists or choose to believe in Allah though Krishna exists. There are myriad religions with multifarious consequences for rejecting the purported truth offered by said religion. Some religions, on the other hand, don’t carry any consequences for disbelief and thus, if they turned out to be true, the non-believer wouldn’t face punishment of any kind.
While the multiplicity argument is a strong rebuttal, I think a more pointed rebuttal rests on the same decision theory employed by Pascal. I introduced the thought process of investors and gamblers to show that risk is taken only when real rewards are available.13 On Christianity, there’s no definitive way to know that there’s reward for one’s risk. The afterlife and all its rewards are believed on the basis of faith rather than fact. This isn’t the case with investing and gambling. Furthermore, as surveyed in this post so far, there’s no good reason to wager on the Judeo-Christian god.
The Moral Argument(s)
In case anyone is still inclined to think that the laws of nature can be identified with the commands of a superior being, it is worth pointing out that this analysis cannot be correct. It is already an objection to it that it burdens our science with all the uncertainty of our metaphysics, or our theology. If it should turn out that we had no good reason to believe in the existence of such a superior being, or no good reason to believe that he issued any commands, it would follow, on this analysis, that we should not be entitled to believe that there were any laws of nature. But the main argument against this view is independent of any doubt that one may have about the existence of a superior being. Even if we knew that such a one existed, and that he regulated nature, we still could not identify the laws of nature with his commands. For it is only by discovering what were the laws of nature that we could know what form these commands had taken. But this implies that we have some independent criteria for deciding what the laws of nature are. The assumption that they are imposed by a superior being is therefore idle, in the same way as the assumption of providence is idle. It is only if there are independent means of finding out what is going to happen that one is able to say what providence has in store. The same objection applies to the rather more fashionable view that moral laws are the commands of a superior being.14
The Moral Argument for God states that since objective values and duties exist, god exists. A relativist will disagree with the former assertion. My view is that the Moral Argument for God, which is rooted in substantive realism, has the story backward. Substantive realism is the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”15 The fatal flaws of this position are as follows:
- Whether one argues that morality is simply objective and that it exists independently, or that it’s objective because it hinges on god and exists independently insofar as its being is conferred by god, the view begs the question and thus isn’t epistemically justified.
- Given that the view begs the question, we need to look elsewhere; in other words, given that it isn’t enough to posit that morality is contingent on a deity, we’ve more work to do.
- Enter procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”16
- Such a procedure would be Kant’s CI procedure or Smith’s problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. One thing is clear, however: morality is constructivist and more specifically procedural and this is evidenced by the codification of law throughout history.
Conversely, that law descends from a sovereign was fashionable in one of the earliest theories of law. John Austin’s Command Theory, which is arguably the first fully developed positivist theory of law, stated that law was the command of a sovereign. By sovereign, Austin wasn’t referring to a god, but rather, to a king. This portrait of the law was supplanted by H.L.A. Hart’s Model of Rules17, which is an alternative positivist theory of law, and then later by Ronald Dworkin’s Law’s Integrity, which is a non-positivist theory of law.18 In brief, the reason these theories supplant Austin’s is because his theory doesn’t accurately apply to governments like those found in the US and England. The notion of sovereignty is either nonexistent or conflicting in some governments and therefore, Austin’s theory is inadequate. Hart’s theory is actually a generalization of Austin’s theory and therefore, encompasses the types of governments accurately described by Austin’s theory and governments his theory fails to describe. In any event, notions of a divine sovereign cause problems as my reductio ad absurdum of Divine Command Theory demonstrates.19
Kant’s CI Procedure and Adam Smith’s Problem-Solution Model are detailed in this response to a defender of the moral argument. These concepts are simply too broad to cover here. Also, along Goldstein’s suggestion of morality operating like an algorithm, I suggested two types of moral algorithms that may exist in the human mind if we are to assume CTM (Computational Theory of Mind).20
If this is too esoteric, one can easily attack the first premise of the Moral Argument for God: if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. The premise contains a hidden presupposition. One cannot simply assume that objective moral values and duties can’t exist without god. The premise, in essence, assumes the conclusion of the argument and thus, reveals a veiled circularity. The premise is therefore, unsound.
The argument only pretends to give us an origin for morality, whereas my explanation is both philosophically and scientifically sound. Generally speaking, humans are moral agents. This, in part, can be traced given evolution. There are, for instance, empathy, cooperation, and care for kin in nature. Therefore, the rudiments of morality can be seen in nature and not surprisingly, it is mostly seen in mammals—the phylum we pertain to. Given our common ancestry and given the congruence of our brains, whatever procedures (e.g. problem-solution; CI procedure) we employ to answer moral questions will be objective. Even if it doesn’t start out that way, it will end up that way (e.g. Kant’s Kingdom of Ends). Also, given that morality is an example of crowd-sourced knowledge, the peculiarities of this or that individual or group will eventually be weeded out.
An explanation on the origin of morality can consist of the following parts: evolution and/or neurobiology, genetics, cultural evolution, etc. The reason I offer a choice between evolution and neurobiology is because people have questioned whether evolution is necessary when explaining morality. In other words, who’s to say we evolved to be moral? What if our moral instincts find their origin in our brains? This is Churchland’s line of thinking in her book Braintrust. Then again, contrast that with Korsgaard’s view, which is based on Nietzsche’s internalization of man. She maintains that we, as primates, may have internalized what was once external authority. In other words, when you look at most primate societies, you’ll find an alpha. This alpha serves as an authority. As h.sapien became a separate biological population, this sort of authority was seldom needed. Eventually, we developed autonomy and upon doing so, we internalized the authority that was once external. In this sense, evolution can serve as morality’s foundation.
Aside from the fact that the Moral Argument is redundantly offered as a so called ironclad proof of god, Christians commonly demonstrate ignorance of ethics. None of the Christians I’ve spoken to are aware of alternatives. The most common tripe is that if we don’t accept the Moral Argument, relativism ensues. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who doesn’t assume all atheists are moral relativists. They couldn’t summarize moral nihilism, contractualism, consequentialism, utilitarianism, procedural realism, etc. even if their lives depended on it. On philosophy, this sort of behavior is unacceptable. One can’t simply side with a position without considering alternatives. It isn’t enough to state that one knows the truth if one never set out in search of it.
Also, and this is rather pathetic, they show no sign of knowing of better alternatives on their end. Take, for example, Leibniz’s Natural Law, which takes morality to be independent of god and considers it to consist of “eternal truths, objects of the divine intellect, so to speak, the essence of divinity itself.”21 Rather than hinge on a particular god, the view hinges on the existence of metaphysical entities that include morality. This is a more general postulate of religion. Going back to my summary of the problems faced by substantive realism, all it would take is one alteration to apply those same problems to Leibniz’s view (i.e. given that it isn’t enough to proffer that morality has independent existence, we have more work to do).
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Popularized by William Lane Craig, this argument is mostly presented by admirers of Craig or people who want to be or fancy themselves apologists. Whether from a scientific or philosophical angle, the argument is unsound.
Scientifically speaking, Craig attempts to provide support for the KCA by citing the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem. Craig offered the following in his debate with Sean Carroll:
In 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to show that any universe, which is on average in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history, cannot be infinite in the past but must have a beginning.22
This is false as Carroll pointed out:
So I’d like to talk about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, since Dr.Craig emphasizes it. And the rough translation is that in some universes—not all—the space-time description that we have as a classical space-time breaks down at some point in the past. Where Dr.Craig says that the Borde-Guth-Vilken theorem implies the universe had a beginning, that is false. That is not what it says. What is says is that our ability to describe the universe classically—that is to say, not including the effects of quantum mechanics—gives out. That maybe because there’s a beginning or it maybe because the universe is eternal—either because the assumptions of the theorem were violated or because quantum mechanics becomes important.23
Carroll would later state that he talked to Alan Guth. Guth then popped up on the projector holding up a sign that read: “the universe probably didn’t have a beginning, and is very likely eternal.”24
Given this, it’s safe to conclude that the KCA has no scientific support. A misapplication of cosmology and theoretical physics merely appears to support it. Upon scrutiny, this seeming support folds. The KCA isn’t empirically established because though Big Bang cosmology is the current paradigm in modern cosmology, it isn’t set in stone. There are details that need to be ironed out and some of these details are damning to the notion of creation (e.g. primordial gravitational waves, which imply inflation; inflation then implies the inflationary multiverse).
Philosophically speaking, there are two issues with the KCA that are condemning. Both of these issues arise from the first premise: whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence. One could, for example, apply Humean causal skepticism to P1 of the KCA. This isn’t as absurd as some people may think. C.S. Peirce, who many consider the greatest American philosopher, stated the following:
In order to explain what I mean, let us take one of the most familiar, although not one of the most scientifically accurate statements of the axiom viz.: that every event has a cause. I question whether this is exactly true. Bodies obey sensibly the laws of mechanics; but may it not be that if our means of measurement were inconceivably nicer, or if we were to wait inconceivable ages for an exception, exceptions irreducible in their own nature to any law would be found? In short, may it not be that chance, in the Aristotelian sense, mere absence of cause, has to be admitted as having some slight place in the universe.25
I note that Peirce is well-respected, in this case, because it must be stressed that this wasn’t offered by some quack pseudo-philosopher who pretended to know what he was talking about. Humean causal skepticism is a perfectly valid approach to the KCA. His causal skepticism can possibly be traced back to the following:
To begin with the first question concerning the necessity of a cause: ’Tis a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence. This is commonly taken for granted in all reasonings, without any proof given or demanded. ’Tis suppos’d to be founded on intuition, and to be one of those maxims, which tho’ they may be deny’d with the lips, ’tis impossible for men in their hearts really to doubt of. But if we examine this maxim by the idea of knowledge above-explain’d, we shall discover in it no mark of any such intuitive certainty; but on the contrary shall find, that ’tis of a nature quite foreign to that species of conviction.26
In employing causal skepticism, I entertained the possibility that dispositions explain what we otherwise would call cause and effect.27 From this, in my initial response to Edward Feser, I noted that a material condition has to be met given that dispositions are the case.28 This material condition isn’t met by god. In other words, since god is universally considered to be an immaterial being, he hasn’t the dispositionality to interact with and/or within the universe. Also, since my material condition encompasses Hume’s spatio-temporal condition, there’s no way for god to interact within space-time–since he is also considered to be transcendental (i.e. existing outside of space-time).
The second issue we encounter in P1 is double think. There’s an inconsistency inherent in any Christian who cites the Problem of Induction to discredit science, but consciously misses or avoids it in P1 of the KCA. The KCA is a deductive argument, but P1 imports inductive reasoning.29 Therefore, if the Problem of Induction is an outstanding problem–as some Christians will argue–then the proposition in P1 isn’t established. The argument, therefore, doesn’t follow.
The Ontological Argument
Every version of this argument hinges on one or more of the following: Leibnizian Possible Worlds, Leibnizian Necessity, or Anselm’s notion of conceivability. He argues that since we can’t imagine or conceive of a being greater than god, god exists. A criticism offered by Gaunilo of Marmoutier is still the most common rebuttal of the argument. Anselm never justifies his move from conceivability to reality. In other words, Anselm never legitimizes his move from the idea to an existing entity that corresponds to that idea.30 A theist may object to the following statement, but a close analysis of modern variants of Anselm’s Ontological Argument (e.g. Alvin Plantinga’s), demonstrates that this same mistake is repeated. So though such arguments are considered revisions of the original formulation, they do nothing to respond to Gaunilo’s original criticism.
For instance, Plantinga’s version of the argument begins with the following as its first premise: “There is a possible world in which unsurpassable greatness is exemplified.”31 Not only does this contain a veiled presupposition, but it also implies a transfer from conceivability to reality by offering a proposition that expresses the idea as though it is true in reality. This then follows to the conclusion of Plantinga’s argument, which states that unsurpassable greatness exists in every possible world.
Another version of the argument doesn’t make use of this concept or possible worlds. It instead hinges on Leibniz’s notion of necessity. This is to be contrasted with contingency and impossibility. While the Modal Ontological Argument is a valid argument for a necessary being, the inverse of the argument is a valid argument for an impossible being. Therefore, when choosing between the two, we have to figure out which argument is sound because it cannot be the case that god is both necessary and impossible.32 He either exists or he doesn’t.
Given the failure of the above arguments and the arguments below, another common tactic is obscurantism. This isn’t so much an argument, but rather, a response to the failure of theistic arguments. Others are dishonest and claim that the tactic is original to Patristic thought (i.e. the thoughts of early Church Fathers). David Bentley Hart would make that argument. In any case, you can’t find a believer that is capable of explaining the following:
Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), for instance, spoke of God as the non aliud: the “not other” or “not something else.” For the Neoplatonist Plotinus (c. 204-270), the divine is that which is no particular thing, or even “no-thing.” The same is true for Christians such as John Scotus Eriugena (c. 815-c. 877) or Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1327). Angelus Silesius, precisely in order to affirm that God is the omnipotent creator of all things, described God as “ein lauter Nichts”—“a pure nothingness”—and even (a touch of neologistic panache here) “ein Übernichts.” If this all sounds either perilously blasphemous or preciously paradoxical, this is because language of this sort is meant to give us pause, or even offense, in order to remind us as forcefully as possible that, as the great Muslim philosopher Mulla Sadra (c. 1572-1640) insisted, God is not to be found within the realm of beings, for he is the being of all realms. Or, as the Anglican E.L. Mascall put it, God is not “just one item, albeit the supreme one, in a class of beings” but is rather “the source from which their being is derived.33
What is meant by “he is the being of all realms”? This kind of talk strips the notion of god of all its definition and plunges it into the obscure. We can no longer have a discussion or debate if definitions are discarded. It’s difficult enough to have such discourse when there’s disagreement on definitions, so what are we to do in the absence of definitions? This sort of talk is an abuse of language. Theologians of this sort are intentionally obscuring the concept of god so that they have a better chance of preserving it.
Also, this puts the concept on equal footing with Deepak Chopra’s concept of consciousness and Karen Armstrong’s concept of god–which is just as obscure as Hart’s as recently pointed out by Jerry Coyne.34 The reason obscurantist tactics resound with people is because such people are desperate to preserve religious belief and a given concept of god. Both are continuously eroding in societies that are scientifically and technologically advancing. The explanatory power religion once had is increasingly being viewed as inferior to empirical explanations. This leads us to notable arguments.
God of the Gaps Argument
Given the increasing explanatory scope of science, Christians are now turning to an argument that cites the ignorance of science as proof of god’s existence. This argument was popularized by Bill O’Reilly’s meme-worthy statement: “Tide goes in, tide goes out…you can’t explain that.”35 Fortunately, its variants usually focus on the origin of the universe and the origin of life. Christians have argued that since we can’t explain the origin of the universe, god exists; alternatively, they’ve argued that since we can’t explain the origin of life, god exists. Suffice it to say, that if that’s what they’re offering as evidence, “god is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.”36 The more doors science closes, the less are the gaps he can be shoved into.
Ignoring that there are theories that explain the origin of life and the origin of the universe, what makes this argument bad is that it’s perhaps more obviously fallacious than many of the previous arguments. Since there’s no evidence to the contrary when considering the origin of life and the origin of the universe, god must explain both. If that isn’t enough, they ignore the fallacious nature of the argument and commit another tu quoque: “sure we have god-of-the-gaps, but atheists have science-of-the-gaps.” In other words, they claim that we’re also committing a fallacy when we respond by stating that science will eventually pinpoint the origin(s) of life and the origin of the universe. I would argue that this isn’t the case, but doing so requires me to employ inductive reasoning even if I were to present a deductive argument to that effect. Consider the following:
P1 If the history of science features cases where previously unexplained phenomena were explained, then science will explain contemporary unexplained phenomena.
P2 The history of science features cases where previously unexplained phenomena were explained.
C Therefore, science will explain contemporary unexplained phenomena.
Though this is a deductive argument, P1 imports inductive reasoning. I argue that we can replace inductive reasoning with abductive reasoning. This discussion, however, is too much of a tangent for our purposes. Suffice it to say there’s nothing fallacious about citing the history of science and on that basis concluding that science will eventually answer modern conundrums.
The Christian Argument From Tradition
Any argument from tradition is fallacious, but in refuting this argument, I’m not at all interested with P1. I’m interested in P2. I want to know whether or not it’s apt to assume that Christianity has been around for a long time. My conclusion is that it hasn’t been around for a long time and that, in fact, it has been long dead.37
The Argument From Desire
This argument is popular among the Tumblr Catholic community though it’s rooted in the following statement by C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”38 Though popular, the argument is unsound. Furthermore, though it’s as bad as the “Faith in Science” argument, it is offered less frequently as a solid proof of god’s existence. As I summarized, the argument fails because some of us don’t share the desire Lewis speaks of; the Judeo-Christian god is assumed to be the only god concept capable of satisfying said desire; to support the argument, Lewis and others have offered needs (e.g. hunger and thirst) rather than desires; gods are invented solutions rather than actual entities capable of satisfying this desire; there’s the issue of insatiable desire and thus, not all desires warrant satisfaction.39
The Argument From Experience
Subjective experience simply doesn’t prove anything. This argument is frequently used–especially among fundamentalists. I put it under notable arguments because it’s a bad argument. Simple analogy refutes it:
[T]he “feeling” that Christ now speaks to us or lives in our hearts is not such, because people of completely different religions have exactly the same feelings and experiences, only of their gods and spirits and forces, so we know the odds of such feelings and experiences being had even by believers in false religions is 100 percent. Christians experiencing such feelings, too, proves nothing precisely because this is already expected even if their religion is false.40
Sometimes I sympathize with Keith Parsons who states:
I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud, and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position–no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory…I just cannot take their arguments seriously anymore, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote academic attention to it.41
Unfortunately, matters are more complicated. While it is true that some Christians are intelligent, others simply aren’t. Some aren’t even aware of how often they display logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Such people will influence other gullible people, and raise and indoctrinate children. Given this, as painstaking as it is, they have to be addressed. In order to promote philosophical and scientific literacy, it is necessary to address them who would work against that goal–them who would distort the facts, or lead people to deny the facts or consider them to be falsehoods. Freedom of speech has led many to regard opinions as sacred. No opinion, whether religious or not, can be immune to criticism and outright derision.
Now, there are arguments that are more specific to Christianity (e.g. the minimal facts argument; the Argument From the Resurrection; the Argument From the Success of Early Christianity). Those aren’t included here because surprisingly, they’re not frequently offered when Christians attempt to demonstrate that Christianity is true. Like the arguments surveyed above, these arguments also fail because they’re based on non-specialist publications geared at a gullible lay audience whose only interest is the verification of their deeply seated beliefs. Many of these people won’t go out of their way to test claims like the following: “there’s more evidence for Jesus than there is for Alexander the Great” or “there’s more evidence for Jesus than there is for Emperor Tiberius.” Both statements are false. The same can be said of the pseudo-historical arguments.
Ultimately, the failure of pseudo-historical arguments attempting to prove Jesus’ existence, his resurrection, or some other false historical claim attached to Christianity undermines the entire endeavor of apologetics and thus, guarantees the failure of apologetic arguments. This is precisely the conclusion of my Argument Against Apologetics.44 If Jesus wasn’t the Christ portrayed in the New Testament or if Jesus never existed, Christianity is false; if Christianity is false, then apologetics is pointless. Apologetics is only valuable to them attempting to defend their religion or prove it true. In particular, apologetics is valuable to Christians and Muslims; even then, it is only valuable to small groups within these religions. Even apologetics has it variants (e.g. creationist apologetics: defending against the claims of so called evolutionists).
I have to reiterate, apologetics is a fruitless endeavor. Truth may require explanation and elucidation, but it certainly doesn’t require defense and yet, this is precisely what apologists set out to do. Arguments for god don’t explain or elucidate anything. They merely make assertions and attempt to make them appear intelligible. When scrutinized, as we’ve hopefully gathered by now, these assertions are false and unintelligible.
1 Coyne, Jerry A. “Michael Robbins uses a book review as an excuse to bash atheists—again!”. Why Evolution is True. 9 Jul 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
2 Loftus, John W. “Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 64-65. Print.
3 Ferguson, Matthew. “March to Martyrdom! (Down the Yellow Brick Road…)”. Κέλσος. 18 Dec 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
4 “William Paley: A View of the Evidences of Christianity”. William Carey University. 26 Jun 2001. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
5 “Kyle Butt vs Dan Barker ‘Debate’ – The Existence of God (part 1 of 14)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 26 Jan 2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
6 William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll, “God and Cosmology (33:33)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 3 Mar 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
7 Sean Carroll, “God is Not a Good Theory (26:50)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 6 Jun 2013. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
8 Victor Stenger, “Is the Universe Fine-Tuned For Us?”. University of Colorado. ND. 24 Nov 2014.
9 Byrd, Deborah. “Astoning image of planet-forming disk from ALMA”. Earth Sky. 6 Nov 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
10 Sherlock, Michael. “The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy – Hitler, Stalin & Pol Pot”. Michael Sherlock Author. 21 Oct 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
11 Saka, Paul. “Pascal’s Wager about God”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
12 “Betting on Infinity”. Theramin Trees. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 13 Apr 2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
13 See “Pascal’s Wager Refuted”
14 Ayer, A.J. “Laws of Nature.” Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Second ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 817-818. Print.
14 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p. 36-37. Ca5mbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
16 Ibid. 
17 Austin, John, and Wilfrid E. Rumble. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
18 Dworkin, Ronald. Law’s Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1986. Print.
19 See “Utilitarian Command Theory”
20 See “The Moral Algorithm”
21 Youpa, Andrew. “Leibniz’s Ethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 26 Aug 2004. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
22 Ibid. 
23 Ibid. 
24 Carroll, Sean. “Post-Debate Reflections”. Preposterous Universe. 24 Feb 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
25 Peirce, Charles S. “Design and Chance”, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings (1867-1893). Indiana University Press. Bloomington Indiana. 1992. Print.
26 Hume, David. “A Treatise of Human Nature”. Online Library of Liberty. 2004-2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
30 Himma, Kenneth E. “Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
31 Oppy, Graham. “Modal Theistic Arguments”. Infidels. 1993. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
33 See Hart’s The Experience of God
34 Coyne, Jerry A. “The incoherence of Karen Armstrong”. Why Evolution is True. 18 Nov 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
35 “Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 17 Feb 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
36 “God of the Gaps & The Frontier of Knowledge – Neil deGrasse Tyson”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 1 Mar 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
38 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Harper. San Francisco, California. 2009. Print.
40 Ibid.  (p.69)
41 Keith Parsons as quoted in: Loftus, John W. “Christianity is Wildly Improbable.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 75. Print.
42 Ferguson, Matthew. “Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan”. Κέλσος. 14 Oct 2012. Web. 25 Nov 2014.
43 Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, p.21-23. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, 2014. Print. Available on web.