Bad Arguments for the Existence of God
Here's a list of the bad
arguments I get, from most to least common:
1. I just know that God exists
I get this argument or claim
from the more level-headed folks who respond to me; they're usually very
sincere. Such sincerity is
appreciated when compared to the hellfire I often get, but sincerity without
evidence won't cut it as an argument. After all, there're thousands of
people who deeply believe that Elvis is alive, that UFOs exist, that the
earth is flat, and that the Virgin Mary shows up in tortillas. (Or worse, that
God is waiting behind the next comet and you have to kill yourself to meet
Him.) Problem is, none of them can truly back it up.
I can respect when
people say "I am certain God exists," but if your goal is to
convince me you'd have to explain why I should take your word over all the
other sincere folks who say the same thing about other God(s) or belief
systems. (I've had such responses from Wiccans to followers of Islam to
2. You're really just an agnostic:
Not as far as I'm concerned. Some
definitions are in order:
- Agnostic: One who believes
that there can be no proof of the existence of God but does not deny the possibility that God exists.
- "Soft" Atheist: One who presumes there is no god based on lack of evidence.
- "Hard" Atheist: One who claims with certainty that there is no
I find myself somewhere between "soft" and "hard"
atheism. "Agnostic" implies a sense that God is just as likely a
possibility as No God, but my feeling is that the probability is strongly
favoring No God. In other words, I acknowledge that I can't know
for certain that God doesn't exist, I also don't know for certain that unicorns don't.
I feel that the existence of God is
about as likely as the existence of Leprechauns. If that makes me
"Leprechaun-agnostic" to you, then call me an agnostic as far as
a good discussion on the difference between atheism and agnosticism.
3: You're just trying to be rebellious:
Wouldn't that be easy for you if I were? However, if you really knew me you'd know I wasn't that type. (Unless you consider dropping by the
record store and buying indie music on the way to my suburban home from my 9-to-5 job rebellious.)
4: Prove that God doesn't
exist, Mr. Smartypants:
I'll do that as soon as you prove to me there aren't any green swans,
unicorns, or leprechauns. Difficult, isn't it?
In fact, there's an entire
mock religion based on the undisprovability of Gods: the Invisible
Pink Unicorn. If you can disprove the existence if the IPU,
then I'll disprove the existence of your particular flavor of God.
Essentially, the burden of proof is on the
person claiming that something does exist.
5: Pascal's Wager: If you believe in god, you go to heaven. If you don't, you go to hell.
If God doesn't exist, you die whether or not you believe. So why not believe in
God just in case He exists?
If I had a Euro for every time
I heard this one, I could buy Luxembourg! Like with most bad arguments, there are some hidden assumptions in this wager:
That it would even be
possible to truly believe based simply on a decision to believe.
Think about it: could you believe in Leprechauns if you simply told yourself to?
God wouldn't see through this ploy.
It seems to me He'd be a pretty
stupid God to get hoodwinked by this loophole.
There's no harm in believing in God even if He doesn't exist.
Really? How about all those wasted Sunday mornings, where I could've spent time reading the newspaper more carefully and learning more about the world as
it truly is? How about the ongoing worries about God's
disapproval? Or the wasted energy in deciphering an ancient
one funny page says, "Stay Home on Sundays, save 10%!"
God is the Christian version of God, or even the
particular flavor of Christian God you'll happen to choose.
You may think I'm being facetious, but think about it! Would I become a Catholic? Seventh-Day Adventist? Mormon? Sunni or Shia Muslim?
I can imagine the reply: "Why, my religion, of course!"
6: The evidence is everywhere, you just need to believe first.
You're making a common logical
error called "Begging
the Question." This is a favorite style of argument among
Essentially, you're saying
that I need to be biased and interpret everything with my "God Glasses" on.
As a philosophical Frankenstein monster would say: "Bias baaaaad!"
Besides, this argument admits that the
evidence for God isn't really out there, that it's all a matter of interpretation,
Here's a relevant quote, thanks to atheism.about.com:
Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and
where it fails them, they cry out, "It is a matter of faith, and above
- John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
The claim here is that if Jesus
said what he said in the Bible, that he was either truly the Lord, was an
utter Liar, or was a complete Lunatic. Lewis (and others) then try to
argue that "Lord" is the only real option.
However, are those really the only three
choices? A more complete set would be "Lord, Liar, Lunatic, Deluded, Misquoted, Fabricated, or otherwise
here for a more fleshed-out rebuttal.
8: The Bible is Historically Accurate. Therefore what it says about Jesus is accurate.
At a gross level the Bible is occasionally historically accurate. However, with many important details the Bible is the
sole source of data,
so it's impossible to independently confirm its claims. Worse, much of the Bible
is hearsay (and based on the Gospels, there's some discrepancy within the
Bible between what was heard and what was said.)
Even concerning the issue of the
very existence of
Jesus, the only
independent sources of evidence are suspect (such as a transcribing Monks'
suspected forgery in
Josephus, for example). Besides, just
because the Bible says there was a war between the x's and y's doesn't validate the whole thing. After all,
that's like saying that everything in "Gone With the Wind" is true because there really was a Civil War.
9: Being an Atheist requires faith.
Oh, pshaw. Ever heard of doublespeak? How can a lack of faith require faith?
It's not that I have faith
that there isn't a God, I simply lack faith in a God. Understanding
this distinction will help you understand what I believe.
10: Deep down you really believe in God.
Such folks can't grasp that it's really possible to
disbelieve. It is. In fact, it's easy.
11: You'll go to hell,
Why does anyone think this will convert people? Why would I want
to adopt a belief system that condemns free thought? Why respect a God
that uses extortion to get people to worship Him?
12: Evolution is only a theory (and other
Yeah, and so is Newton's
theory of gravity, but you won't be floating away anytime soon. (I
recommend looking up what the word theory means in science, and why it
doesn't mean "hunch" like it does outside of science. As
Stephen Jay Gould put it, "Evolution is a theory. It is also a
There's a delicious irony
here: those who say there isn't enough evidence supporting evolution despite tons
of concrete data have a shifting set of criteria when it comes to the existence
of Jesus, where the evidence is purely anecdotal. If anything is
"only a theory," it's Christianity.
But I should get to the main
point, in bold and underlined in case the drooling hordes of Creationists miss
Anyone who tries to argue
against Evolution should make an effort to understand what Evolution
claims. Every single Creationist who has responded to me has been
ignorant of some of the basic tenets of Evolution.
Chances are, if
your evidence against Evolution comes from Creationist literature, your
argument has been soundly defeated.
My Favorite Bad Creationist Argument: Using the 2nd Law of
Thermodynamics as evidence against Evolution. Evolution doesn't break the
2nd Law any more than infant development or even tree growth does. Look up
"open versus closed systems" in any science text discussing the
2nd Law, and you'll see how ignorant and/or dishonest this Creationist
If you insist on spewing Creationist
dogma to me, you'd better read The
Blind Watchmaker, Science
on Trial, and Darwin's
Dangerous Idea before even trying this with me. At the very least
surf to this
site and give it a spin.
Don't even try Behe's
"Darwin's Empty Box" or other Intelligent Design theories without looking into other
Biochemists' reactions to Behe. And if you're not intellectually honest
enough to try that, at least go to The
General Anti-Creationism FAQ before wasting your keystrokes. Evolution's
support is as strong as the support for a heliocentric solar system. Period.
Why am I so hostile to
Creationism? Aside from its willful ignorance and intellectual
dishonesty I also feel that Creationists share some responsibility for the
fact that American
children are slipping when it comes to basic competence in science.
When Biology teachers are afraid to teach a basic tenet of Biology to
students, we all suffer. I can respect religious beliefs I disagree
with, but to deny Evolution is as maddening as to deny that the earth is
spherical. There is simply no excuse in the 21st century to be so
FYI, here's a great quote from
Paul Doland on Evolution and Probability:
"I will borrow an analogy that I read somewhere, but I cannot remember the
source. In this analogy, the person said to imagine someone driving a car,
ignoring all signs and just making random turns. A few days later he calls
me and tells me he is in Chicago. I explain to him that is impossible. The
probability that he would have taken each and every turn necessary to end in
Chicago is so small that he couldn't possibly be there. Of course he had to
wind up somewhere. Yet anywhere he ends up, I could calculate the
probability that he ended up there to be very small. Any probability
discussion on whether life exactly as we know it could evolve faces a
similar problem. Yes, the probability that life exactly as we know would
evolve is very small, but it proves nothing about the probability of life as
we do not know it evolving."
13: "There are no
Atheists in Foxholes"
In other words, when things
get stressful, I'll change my mind.
Usually this one is offered in
a nastier way: "You'll be groveling before the Lord when it's time for you
to die." Such respondents apparently relish the idea of 1) my
experiencing a horrible event, and 2) getting my comeuppance for simply
questioning God's existence.
Either way, it's a crappy
argument. There are, and there have been atheists
in foxholes (and here). Aside from that, even if there weren't any, how would
this be evidence for God's existence? Because
people decide to believe in God at their neediest and weakest
What this argument is
really trying to say is that atheists
don't have the strength of their convictions. Again, even if this
was true, what would it prove? Would this be any better of an argument
than if an atheist told you that many Christians have crises of
Actually, I have lived
through some pretty awful experiences (major surgeries, deaths, layoffs, etc.), and God never crossed
my mind during any of them.
14: You're Just Mad at God
In other words, I really believe that God
exists, but I think he's a jerk. While it's true that I think the
Christian God would be (at best) an insecure codependent and (at worst)
murderously psychotic if He existed, that doesn't mean that's the reason I
Those who make this argument blithely ignore
all of my arguments against the existence of God; they feel their only option
is to offer a hand-wave like this.
15: You Just Want to Live an
Here, the claim is that my disbelief arises
from pure selfishness. How better to justify my nonstop orgies, crack
addiction, and Napster use than to believe that I won't be judged in the
Of course, if I wanted to live an amoral life,
I'm doing a pretty bad job of it. For the most part I'm a straight
arrow: good job, suburban home, pregnant wife, clean teeth and gums...
Sure, I've had a few ethical lapses in my life, but I never justified those
lapses by invoking the nonexistence of God.
The basis for this argument is the smug assumption that atheists are immoral. This belief is so
astonishingly ignorant of ethical Philosophy that I can only see it as intellectually
16: "Why do you care so much
to create this page?"
I think there's an implied argument here:
"You can't be an atheist. Why else would you dwell on the issue of the
existence of God?" I won't get into this too much, since anyone with a
whit of imagination could come up with some perfectly valid reasons for an
atheist to care about the issues I bring up on this site:
1. The US faces a religious/spiritual majority, and in
my own small way I hope to offer an antidote.
The current political climate in the US seems to be
"mostly spiritual, with
a near-100% chance of Christianity by nightfall." Lately, everyone
from Bible-bumping fundamentalists to the muddle-headed feel-goodian
Oprah/Chopra/VanPraaghery have poisoned the country's intellectual well and
are now trying to do the same to our legal
and educational systems.
In the spirit of living by example, I try to show that
there are valid reasons to be
skeptical of the claims of religion. I don't do this necessarily
to convert believers to atheism, but to foster respect for atheism.
We aren't amoral goons who eat kitten kebabs for
breakfast. Nor are
we all sad, bitter people with a "god-shaped hole" in our psyches.
2. With my CDA Protest, I hope to show that
"Theological Correctness" is more
pervasive and dangerous than "Political Correctness" is claimed to
3. The intellectual exercise.
Even if I lived in a society that valued
free thought, I'd probably still
keep this page going. After all, arguments about the existence of god interest me on an intellectual level. It
fascinates me how wishful thinking colors
people's logic, and it's fun to pick apart arguments to see where the logic ends and the fantasy begins. (My
favorite is the Cosmological Argument,
where the wishful thinking starts with the premise and doesn't let
go. No unbiased person would be convinced
3. My religious past.
As a former Christian, I have a soft spot for
Christianity. Many family
members and friends whom I love and respect are devout Christians, and many seem to be deeply disappointed in
my lack of faith. With this page I
hope to offer a respectful but truthful explanation for my disbelief.
4. As a connection to like-minded people
And I don't necessarily mean those who agree with me to
the letter. Many of my
favorite responses have been from deeply religious people who understand
the importance of critical thought.
5. Fame, Fortune, and Groupies
17: God doesn't need to be visible to
us, since he wants us to have faith.
The claim here is that it would
somehow not be challenging to God if we knew He existed. So, he hides
from us and wants us to have Faith all the while. (Never mind the
punishment if you don't muster this faith!)
What if your true love decided that it would be best for your relationship if they
disappeared for years and expected you to trust in them and have faith in
Perhaps this parable is more
Imagine if an airplane engineer, for his own
self-gratification, designed an airplane knowing that a hefty percentage of
its passengers would die. Imagine
also that this engineer dictated that the only way for a passenger to survive
a flight on this plane would be to deliberately contact him and flatter him in
some way. Worse, there are different engineers, each with different
sets of rules, and the passengers have to figure out which engineer they are
supposed to be in touch with.
It gets worse. Because this engineer wants his
passengers to have Faith in him, there's no reason for him to make his
presence known. That way, the passengers can't really be sure that any
engineer exists at all. If a human
behaved like this, most people (including Christians) would want his head on a
plate. But since this is God's doing, this situation is somehow supposed to
18: "Look at all the wonderful things in
this world! They must be from God."
Well, not to be a downer, but look at all the evil,
awful, nasty things,
too. Would a loving God allow attacks like the one on the World
Don't blame all of this on sin and Satan; imagine the
countless innocent infants dead from disease and disaster.
And consider that even if Satan is
responsible, I remind you that Satan is God's creation, too.
Want to try blaming it all on Free Will?
Don't you think God would've known what
humans would do with their Free Will? God would have to have been pretty
dim not to know what Eve would do with the Forbidden Fruit, don't you
Here's a great quote from Richard Dawkins:
"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all
decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this
sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are
running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being
devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying
of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time
of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the
population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and
genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are
going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any
justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should
expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good,
nothing but pitiless indifference."
[Richard Dawkins in "God's Utility Function,"
Scientific American, November 1995, p. 85.]
19: Somebody had to start
everything! (aka the Cosmological Argument)
Here's the argument in a
nutshell: every event has a cause that precedes it in time. However,
time can't extend backward infinitely, so something has to set the whole thing
going, and that "something" is God.
1: You're assuming that time
is linear and finite. Sure, it seems so from our limited
perspective, but who's to say that this is the case at the edges of
time and space? Check into modern physics: the "Big Bang"
isn't as stupid a theory as you think.
2: Even if time is linear and
finite, does God really solve the infinite regress problem?
Essentially, you're saying that God extends infinitely backward in time.
Yet again, God is patched into a mystery not because of evidence but because
it's easier to assume there's a conscious process instead of trying to truly
understand the mystery.
here if you want to look deeper into this issue. Especially this
20: God is
the source of all morality.
Sadly, this is one of the most
ignorant (and prejudiced!) replies that I get, as well as the most
common. Otherwise intelligent people seem to lack the imagination to
understand how moral behavior doesn't necessarily have to come from the
dictates of a deity. (In fact, when you think about it, it's frightening
to think that the only reason you're not murdering me right now is that a Big
Ghost told you not to do it.)
Because this is such a commonly
held belief, I'm drafting a separate page to explain where my standards of
conduct come from. When I'm done, I'll post a link. In
short, my morals come from the simple fact that certain behaviors allow people
to live peacefully together. We all have one shot at life, and certain
codes of conduct mean that you and I can pursue happiness without treading on
each other. This may be familiar to
Christians as "do unto others," but they shouldn't assume this
philosophy is unique to Christianity.
Until my essay is done, I
here for more on this issue.
can't see air, and you believe in that!" (aka Miscast Empiricism)
Ugh. This one's so bad I
don't even know where to start.
First I'll start with a physiology lesson: we have five senses, not one.
Remarkably, these senses often tell me of things that I cannot see: I can feel
air when it moves, and smell it (for better or worse).
Most important, "air" is a really bad example for someone to use,
since air, unlike God, can be probed scientifically. (And it can
be seen, but I won't get into that.)
People who say this to me are feebly trying to say that empiricism is a
terrible way to determine whether something exists. On the contrary,
it's the best way to determine if something exists! If a being or
object has any bearing on the universe, that means that this entity's
existence is capable of empirical measurement. Simple as
Some versions of this argument use intangible concepts such as
"love" instead of "air." This is harder to
dismiss, though it's an equally bad argument. "Love," for
example, isn't an object or a being like God is claimed to be. Rather,
love is a concept. The very fact that there's a word for love
proves its existence as a concept, but that hardly means that there's an object
called love. The same is true with God: God exists as a concept, but
that doesn't mean he/she/they/it exists as an entity.
It's particularly amusing when creationists accuse me of being overly
empirical. They seem to have a love-hate, all-or-none relationship with
this mental power-tool called empiricism. If I suggest that the
independent evidence for Jesus' or God's existence is sketchy, they accuse me
of being overly empirical. But bring up evolution, and they'll claim
that because no scientists witnessed human evolution firsthand, there's no
evidence. (One creationist's mantra to biologists: "But were you
there?") I'm just glad these folks aren't in charge of
investigating homicides: "Well, even though Gacy has countless bodies in
his basement, nobody ever saw him kill anybody! Set 'im free,