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10 Atheist arguments, and why they (sometimes) fail

I stumbled across the list Top 10 Most Common Atheist Arguments, and Why They Fail and thought "I've not written about atheism for a while! Why not?!"

In the listicle, the author lists out some pro-atheism arguments he's heard, and why he thinks they're wrong. In many cases, I agree with his assessments, and I agree that online atheism gets a bad rap mainly because there are a large number of ignorant, angry, arrogant, and antagonistic online atheists. (I would like to remind everyone, though, that most of those are young people: teenagers and early 20-somethings who usually aren't the best and most thoughtful proponents of anything.)

But anyway, here's my take.

1. There is no evidence for God's existence.

If I'm understanding the author properly, this argument fails because the Christian god is not physical, so there'd be no way to detect it or provide evidence… OK… That still leaves us with… no evidence. It doesn't matter why it can't be detected. If your best direct evidence is "there can be no direct evidence", that's not good.

He does mention that most atheists mean we should be able to detect evidence of the Christian god's activities. He further believes that there are a large number of evidences of the Christian god's activities, but atheists always reject them, "regardless of scientific or philosophic soundness of the evidence". He also believes that there are "vast" numbers of "time tested" logical arguments in favor of the Christian god's existence.

He seems to fail to list any of evidences or logical arguments. I am aware of many claims of evidence and arguments, but yeah, I rejected them, because that didn't seem to merit belief. He links to one book on Amazon, appropriately titled "Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science", but provides no guidance as to which arguments and evidences he finds convincing or worthy.

Now, I'm not about to go out and buy a book based on some random guy's recommendation, but viewing the chapter titles (there's one chapter per "evidence") leads me to believe there's nothing I haven't heard hundreds of times before. There's plenty of "first cause" type arguments. Several arguments from morality. Several can be summed up as "the universe was designed". Many appear to be attempted refutations of arguments against gods and religion. And a good chunk of them are critiques of the theory of evolution and support for "Intelligent Design". Finally there's a group seemingly arguing for the "Jesus" version of religion over any other.

If I'm extremely bored sometime (ie when my toddler grows up and moves out), I might get it from the library, I suppose, but based on what I could get from Amazon's "Look inside" feature, these are not earth-shattering evidences, just the same tired old things rehashed for the 10,000th time.

All the evidence for the Christian god I've seen could also be used as evidence for any religious tradition. "The universe needs a cause!" Maybe, maybe not, but even if true, why conclude capital-G "God"? "The Bible predicts things which are also found in the Bible! (If you squint just right.)" Yeah.

Anyway, I don't run around demanding Christians or Muslims prove their religion to me. But if you want to convince me your religion is true, you'll need to provide me with evidence that it is true. Saying that either no evidence is possible, or pointing to some list of weak arguments, many of which contradict nearly all of biology and geology, is just not going to cut it.

What evidence would convince me? I honestly don't know. What evidence would you need to start believing that, say, Buddhism or Shinto or Wicca etc were true?

So yeah: there is no evidence for God's existence.

2. If God created the universe, who created God?

This atheist argument fails, according to the author, because Christians don't believe their god ever had a beginning.

The problem is, this "atheist argument" is a response to a theist argument, namely the "First Cause" argument. It goes like this: "Everything has to have a cause. So if we keep regressing back, the very first cause is capital-G God of the Bible."

So the "atheist" response is: If everything has to have a cause, what created this god-thingy?

Further logical and rhetorical shenanigans are typically employed to exempt "God" from this requirement. I discuss many of these elsewhere.

Remember, it's more logical, scientific, and honest to say "I don't know" to the question "What created the universe?" or "Does the universe need a cause."

3. God is not all-powerful if there is something He cannot do. God cannot lie, therefore God is not all-powerful.

Yeah, this argument is mostly word games and dumb logic puzzles (at least as presented). There is a better form of the type "The Bible says this in verse XYZ, but how can that be if God can do anything?" But that's not under discussion here.

4. Believing in God is the same as believing in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Yup. This "argument" is designed to insult believers, no doubt about it. The argument is "supposed" to draw an analogy between the beliefs, but as the author notes, they're really very different. Santa Claus has very few martyrs, for example.

A much better argument along the same lines would be to point out that other people believe very different things (which contradict the author's beliefs) with exactly the same fervor, martyrs and all.

5. Christianity arose from an ancient and ignorant people who didn't have science.

The author doesn't like this one, but it is 100% true. "Ancient people" 3000 years ago believed many things had superstitious explanations. In fact, so did people 1000 years. And 500 years ago, and 100 years ago. And right now. People still fill in gaps with spirits, souls, chi, and ghosts. People have recently added "toxins", herbs, UFOs, and chemtrails to their lists of explanations.

The point is that people use supernatural explanations for many things even today, in spite of detailed scientific explanations. 3000 years ago more things required explanation.

The author notes that people knew that sex caused pregnancy (which I've never heard an atheist argue against). So? There are all kinds of things they didn't know. Like why does it rain? Why does food rot? Why did my baby die? Why did our crop fail. Why did our crop succeed? Spirits, demons, foreign gods, and God's favor or wrath were the answers.

6. Christian's only believe in Christianity because they were born in a Christian culture. If they'd been born in India they would have been Hindu instead.

The author says this "argument" fails because most people aren't actually true believers. They only wear a Christian title but don't actually let the religion "permeate one's thinking and believing and interaction with the world." We can't dismiss the people who have thought long and hard about it and are really really religious.

That's a very odd response. The idea of the argument is to point out that the religious often try to come up with arguments and reasons why their faith is true, but most of the time they are defending the exact religion they were born into. It seems to me that with the thousands of possible belief systems, it'd be quite an extraordinary coincidence that any particular person was born into the exact true religion.

The number of people who have changed their birth religion is hard to pin down, at least in the "Western" world. This Pew study seems to be the most recent article I can find on religious switching in the United States, but it's a messy article and really hard to parse out how many people actually switch from one religion to another, and for what reason. It seems like around 80% of people born Christian stay Christian.

Meanwhile, around the world, and historically, the retention rate is much higher. 99%+ of Muslims, Jews, and Hindus (etc) retain their birth religion, and in the past the rates were the same for Christianity.

Why is all this important? Because I can say with 99% confidence that a Mexican baby adopted into a Saudi Arabian home would be a Muslim as an adult, and a Saudi Arabian baby adopted into a Mexican home will be a Christian. And when those children grow up and think long and hard about faith, they will almost certainly end up concluding their particular version of religion is true.

The author is correct that this would go for child raised as an atheist as well.

7. The gospel doesn't make sense: God was mad at mankind because of sin so he decided to torture and kill his own Son so that he could appease his own pathological anger. God is the weirdo, not me.

I'll admit the whole "God sacrificed his son and that means salvation" thing never made any sense to me as stated, even when I considered myself a Christian (/Catholic). The author said it is a problem for the protestants, but not for the Orthodox Christians. However, reading his short explanation and even the longer one he links to does not turn on any light bulbs for me.

Of course I don't believe Jesus died and raised from the dead, but with most things I can look at it in context and understand what it is that other people believe. But I still don't get how God taking on human form and sacrificing himself is supposed to mean anything.

However, it does make perfect sense to me in the context of the culture: In the "Old Testament"/Torah, sacrifices, such as animal sacrifices, were required to appease Yahweh, who, despite protestations from modern Christians, was a very different god than the God of later years. So the early Christians talked about Jesus being God and being sacrificed, they very much meant that it was to appease God's need for death-based sacrifices.

8. History is full of mother-child messiah cults, trinity godheads, and the like. Thus the Christian story is a myth like the rest.

The author readily admits that there other stories very similar to the story of Jesus' birth (for example), some that even predate the Jesus story. He dismisses those that came after as replicas and counterfeits, which actually prove the truth of the Jesus story because a counterfeit coin depends on the existence of real coins.

I can understand and agree that other stories could just be imitations of the Jesus story, but not those that preceded it. The author provides a, um, creative explanation of why those that came before are not evidence that the Jesus story is, itself, also a copy. I can't possibly summarize it, so here it is:

Ah, but that doesn't address the fact that some of these stories were told before the Biblical accounts. True. But imagine if the only story of a messianic virgin birth, death, and resurrection were contained in the New Testament. That, to me, would be odd. It would be odd because if all people everywhere had God as their Creator, yet the central event of human history "the game changing event of all the ages" the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ had never occurred to them, in at least some hazy form, they would have been completely cut off from the prime mysteries of human existence. It seems only natural that if the advent of Christ was real it would permeate through the consciousness (or, if you prefer, 'unconsciousness') of mankind on some level regardless of their place in history. One should expect to find mankind replicating these stories, found in their own visions and dreams, again and again throughout history. And indeed, that is what we find.

I have to admit, such an explanation would never occur to me. I would take the existence of many specific instances of a story to be evidence that either a) all the stories are based on a single event that happened (or was said to happen) long before all the stories, b) it actually happens all the time, at least in some form, or c) the story is, at some level, "instinctual", like people inventing spirits and demons and dragons and scary monsters in the forest.

It'd be absurd to state "There are many myths which have those same elements, therefore they are all actually referring to that one that happened in the middle."

9. The God of the Bible is evil. A God who allows so much suffering and death can be nothing but evil.

I admit I share the author's disdain for this "argument", but it does work in limited cases where a god-proponent is harping on God's love and goodness, etc.

I don't use this one, but I take issue with the author's rebuttal. He says that because the atheist is conceding that "Good and Evil" exist, they've already lost:

It's weird for someone who does not believe in ultimate good and evil to condemn God as evil because He did not achieve their personal vision of good. So, the initial criticism is sound, but it is subversive to the atheist's staging ground. If one is going to accept good and evil as realities, he is not in a position to fully reject God.

As I said, this argument is mainly useful in specific cases, and creating "gotchas" like "So if God is all-good, why did He command the death of all those men, women and children in the Bible? You believe that killing children is not good, right?"

The idea is that the believer believes in Bible-based "ultimate good and evil", so pointing out where God does "evil" by the believer's standards is not some acknowledgment of fundamental good and evil, it's simply a way to show the problems in the Bible.

10. Evolution has answered the question of where we came from. There is no need for ignorant ancient myths anymore.

I agree with the author that the existence of the theory of evolution does not destroy Christianity. Smart Christians can and do think evolution is correct, albeit with some level of deity-based influence.

Modern science does however, obliterate a literal reading of Genesis and other bits and pieces scattered throughout. That's why there's so much push-back from certain branches which insist that every word of the bible is literally true..

So there you go! An atheism article! Yay!

2017-05-23 #religion