I come across a number of theists on the internet, and I actually enjoy discussing beliefs.
There are many theists I prefer to talk to than atheists. You get dogmatic fundy types on both sides. Admittedly I don’t feel any danger from the fundamentalist atheists, they just discuss philosophical concepts ignoring the philosophy. (Which can be really frustrating, like a creationist discussing evolution and using terms like “kind” and “change in kind”)
What frustrates me when talking to a lot of the theists that want to push their god is an inability to produce a coherent argument for their, or any, deity.
I thought it would be prudent to discuss errors theists make with their arguments and give a few pointers so that we can enter a rational discourse of sorts.
Firstly, I think we should start with just arguments for a god rather than your personal God/gods/deity.
The reason for this is, all theists think their holy book is both historical and true. Consider why as a Christian you might reject the Qur’an or Vedas. The Muslims might have similar reasons for rejecting the Bible or Vedas.
To an atheist/sceptic there are enough errors and inconsistencies in your holy text to at least indicate it was written by men who were not the savviest in comparison to today’s scholars and that throws doubt on any divine inspiration.
There is more to it than that of course, but let’s focus on some simple dos and don’ts shall we?
These are the things that will not get you anywhere in the conversation and will switch off the atheist.
I assume you want to convince the atheist of your position, or at least enter a rational discourse with them? If so, these are things you should definitely avoid.
Assume what others think or know
All too often do we hear things like, “you know god exists, you just want to sin”, “you’re suppressing your belief”
Consider it the other way around “You know Odin is the real god”, “You know god isn’t real, you just like the fantasy”
Gets your back up, right?
As an idea, ask folks why they don’t believe.
Say, “You believe Something Came from Nothing”
This ties into the above, but it really needs to be addressed separately.
A theist believes there was nothing, except a super complex eternal being… that one day decided to create everything.
There is no consistent belief in the sceptic/atheist community, and we don’t claim to know. What the evidence indicates is that there was always energy present in the universe. You might call that energy God, but that would be a redefinition fallacy.
So the theist thinks God made something out of nothing, and some atheists think there was always something.
If both are honest, neither know.
How about you ask what they believe?
Tell people they can choose to believe
Honestly, people cannot choose what to believe. They can’t. People have different tolerances for what they might believe to be true.
Consider as a child you just believe what your parents tell you. You are a blank template.
As you grow up you have more information, this might change your beliefs, it might strengthen them, weaken them, or get you to drop them altogether.
Belief is not a choice, it is something you accept to be true. You accept it to be true for a number of reasons, but to a sceptic, you need something credible and convincing as a way to believe.
Remember, just because you find it convincing doesn’t mean others will.
Consider this… can you choose to believe that spiderman and daredevil are currently protecting people in New York? Try it for a week.
Perhaps ask what evidence the person you are talking to would prove your deity exists to them?
Use Your Holy Book as Evidence
It won’t be accepted, and you’re back to a specific god as well. I know you cannot see the errors, but they are there.
Engage in fallacies
Honestly, this is something that gets people to instantly switch off to you. Just because you are incredulous as to how the universe came to be, doesn’t mean you should fill any gaps in your knowledge with god.
Kriss put together a number of common theistic fallacies.
Avoid saying things like this at all costs.
Say you know instead of you believe
There is a difference between something you believe and something you know. One of the main definitions of knowledge is a Justified True Belief. There are others of course, but consider this.
The justification is often some form of evidence with a massive claim. But it doesn’t actually have to be.
For example, if someone told me their name at work, I could say I know their name. What’s the justification there? Well, people tend not to lie about their names, especially in a work environment. I would find out pretty quickly and then I would lose trust for them.
I haven’t verified it, but I can say I know it.
If they told me they could hit a 3 pointer anywhere on the half-court, I might believe them if I knew a bit more about them, but I wouldn’t say that was enough justification to say I knew it. I would need some verification – however, this verification wouldn’t change the fact.
Now if they then told me they could hit a 3 pointer from anywhere on a basketball court, I wouldn’t even believe them. It might still be true, but I would have to see it to believe it, and in this instance, I would also know it.
When it comes to Gods, you’re speaking about the most super complex things man has conceived. We are also talking about something no one has actually seen or heard from in over 2000 years. The “best” modern evidence is – “I feel it to be true” or “my friend had a miraculous recovery”. This is anecdotal and weak evidence at best.
Say you have evidence (unless you really do)
I see it all the time. Either asserting claims as evidence or saying the universe or the earth are evidence of god. Or unverifiable claims being made about the bible/within the bible. The Bible is evidence something was written about things. It is full of errors, be they in translation, scientific, moral, undated, or not evidenced elsewhere. In fact, a few of the claims in the bible about Jesus’s life thought to be verified by external sauces have been found to be forgeries.
Whilst the Bible might be evidence enough for you, you have to understand that it is very weak evidence and will largely be rejected as “not evidence” – now this is a flaw we make as atheists and sceptics. We regard “weak evidence” as “not evidence”.
What we mean is, it is not strong or convincing evidence. It’s like me telling you I can fly but you just have to take me on my word. You have my testimony, why is that not good enough?
Equally saying “I prayed and had a sign” is not evidence either. Again, its “anecdotal evidence” that happens to be unverifiable in any way. You saw what you wanted to see. We will say it is not evidence, but what we mean is: it is not strong or convincing evidence.
None of these things are evidence of god.
For more information on evidence, I list a number of types of evidence across a couple of pages in this article here.
Argue Against Scientific Evidence
If God gave us the minds to investigate and discover things, then we should not ignore the scientific evidence available. This means you can’t argue the 6-day creation myth to be scientifically accurate, it isn’t.
If you are truly trying to engage in rational discourse about your beliefs, and want to be taken seriously, ignoring evidence and arguing against it (evolution, age of the earth, the shape of earth etc) will not get you anywhere.
This is where it gets a little trickier. Like the Bible has more don’t than dos the same can be said here too. This is because there are less positive steps and rational arguments you can make than irrational arguments and negative steps.
Remember what Atheism is
Whilst atheism is polysemous, with some definitions being more logical than others, it is just an answer on one topic.
Whether the classical or modern definitions there is some form of a lack of belief/disbelief in gods. (click here for more info on atheism’s definition.)
You cannot assume any other topic is accepted by all atheists. Even religious people with all their doctrine argue about interpretations, and atheists don’t have that.
Instead of assuming, “you believe something came from nothing” – ask them what they believe and listen to it rather than putting words into their mouths.
Accept that you don’t know everything
Honestly, honesty opens people up. If you can say you don’t know for definite your god exists, but you believe it to be true, and you feel it to be true, that’s fine. Anyone who knows the difference between knowledge and belief and the difference of burden of proof on both will accept rational reasons for your beliefs even if they don’t believe them to be true themselves.
Define the parameters of your God
Instead of saying “as described in my [holy book]” define your god. I suggest writing down all the characteristics of your deity.
Make sure they are no contradictions, e.g. don’t say it is a loving god if it commits mass genocide, or doesn’t interact with this world because that would be a conflict of free will, and then show it interacting with the world.
Provide examples of how we can test the above
These tests are something that would be required if you want someone sceptical to believe you. You can, of course, skip this stage.
Create a link to your God
If you have been successful in creating a rational argument for a god, it is time to justify why yours out of the thousands claimed to exist is THE one, and do your best whilst doing so to follow all the rules above.
Common Arguments for a god’s existence
There are a number of common arguments, if you can stick to the above Dos and Don’ts then chances are you won’t be making most of them. There are some that sound more rational than others, like those of William Lane Craig, but even they are not without their flaws.
I figured I would give some pointers to the main ones.
Arational Belief in God’s Existence
An arational belief is one that is done without reasoning. As such you do not need evidence. Simply put, you feel your god exists.
This is an honest way to admit you don’t have any evidence but you feel it is true.
The issue comes when you apply it to a specific god. The second you get presented the scientific evidence to support the age of the earth or “order of creation“, all of a sudden you have to engage your reasoning skills and maintaining a young earth or literal genesis creation story becomes an irrational belief to hold.
Most Rational / Least Irrational Arguments for a god’s existence
There are some semi-convincing arguments out there that sound incredibly logical, especially if you don’t want to look into them deeply.
These arguments, like many on either side of the debate, still have their flaws.
Kalam Cosmological Argument
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause;Wikipedia
2. The universe began to exist;
3. The universe has a cause.
The issue with this argument is, it is missing some of the science.
Yes, our universe in its current state had a cause. The process we know that was the big bang, and we don’t fully know what caused the big bang.
The argument is using that lack of knowledge to say either
- There was nothing before the big bang, so God started it all
Which is a presupposition, as it seems like the big bang was a transition, whether that was from the pure energy in the universe into something else, an old universe dying, or what, again we don’t fully know
- That only God is eternal
Frankly, I don’t see why if you can accept that SOMETHING can be eternal, you don’t accept that ENERGY (which we are taught in school can never be destroyed, it just changes form) can’t be eternal either
So, yes, the universe had a cause to get to its current state. A process initiated the big bang. That MAY have been god, but it may have simply been quantum fluctuations causing the inflation and expansion.
The Kalam presupposes and fills gaps in knowledge with God. It is still one of the least irrational arguments, but it is not without flaws.
Even if you do accept the above argument, you have to remember it only speaks of a god and not YOUR god. Too many try and assert this argument as evidence of their specific god.
Also known as the argument from design.
P1) The universe is a highly organised and complex system, and one that is perfectly suited to causing particular effects.On Design
P2) Some human made objects are highly organised and complex systems, and are systems that are perfectly suited to causing particular effects.
C1) Therefore there are similarities between the universe and human made objects.
P3) Where two things resemble each other, so too do their causes.
C2) Therefore the cause of nature resembles the cause of human creations.
P4) Human creations are caused to exist by intelligent designers.
C3) Therefore the natural world was caused by an intelligent designer.
I have to admit, when I take a step back and try and consider how everything works, us being held to this giant rock that is spinning on its access flying through space around a giant ball of gas I am simply wowed. It can be really hard to think about how this works… but then we come back to the previous argument. Cause and effect, creating all the forces in the universe that work.
The design argument is also weak for a number of reasons. We are clearly poorly designed, I can’t believe for a moment a perfect being would look at us and go “that’s the best I can do”. Of course, that is just an opinion, so let’s have a look at a few reasons why it poses problems.
- It conflates man’s complex manufacturing, e.g. cars, watches etc, with biological life.
- The watchmaker’s argument assumes you would always recognise something manufactured, however, consider if we showed cave men a car… do you think they would know it was designed?
- It forgets that over circa 14 billion years, the chaos in the universe would be brought to order naturally anyway.
- If we were designed, as was our planet, why is so much of it (about 70-80%) inhospitable to us?
- It presupposes a “god” is needed to do this.
- Even if accepted, it doesn’t help to prove which god(s) designed the universe.
It is really hard to find any rational arguments for a god’s existence. There are a few, like the ones above, that follow a logical process, but still make assumptions and jumps along the way.
If anyone has any, please comment and I will respond, and if appropriate will add them into the article.
References and Relevant Articles
- Kalam Cosmological Argument
- Teleological Argument
- Dismantling the Watch Maker
- On Design
- WLC – 5 Arguments for God’s existence