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 Satanists.)

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 god.

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 God's concerned.  

Here's 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 text?  

As 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 delusional people.  

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, not evidence.  

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 reason."
- John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

7: CS Lewis' "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic" Trilemma: 

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 Fictionalized."  Click 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, heathen!

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 Creationist claptrap)

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 fact.")  

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 it:  

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 argument is.

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 blindingly ignorant.  

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 moments?  

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 faith?  

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 disbelieve.  

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 Amoral Life

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 hereafter?  

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 dishonest.  

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 be.

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 by it.)

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 them?  

Perhaps this parable is more appropriate:

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 make sense.

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 Trade Center?  

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 think?  

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.   

Problems:

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.  

Click here if you want to look deeper into this issue.  Especially this article.  

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 recommend surfing here for more on this issue.   

21: "You 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 that.  

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, boys!"