Five common arguments for God and why they fail
Oh man. Thanks to a giant Youtube playlist of Christopher Hitchens debates, I’ve just come off a twenty-hour atheism binge. I watched about twelve different sparring matches between good ol’ Hitch and different Christian superstars like William Lane Craig and Dinesh D’Souza before I had to pack it up and go to bed, Chris’ waxy face raging me to sleep. The lineup of theist foes rotated a few times, but the general setup was the same. Almost all of the debates were predicated on solely discussing one topic, mainly “Is belief in God rational?” and everyone was instructed to stay away from specific issues like Old Testament morality or the utilitarian benefit of Christianity – although of course those two topics were essentially all Christopher Hitchens ended up discussing because Christopher Hitchens says fuck your rules.
Actually, his willful disregard for both the concrete arguments of his opponent and the most basic standards of hair combing helped me realize something I’ve secretly believed for a long time: The atheist’s favorite belligerent was not really that great at debating people. He was witty, and eminently quotable, but he rarely challenged with sustained argumentation, favoring clever ad hominems over airtight logic. And that’s okay; after all, he was a journalist and political agitator before he became the overexposed bastion of New Atheism, and his training was far more aimed towards the development of catchy soundbites and simplified but clever strikes against old and worn-out dogmas. Also ad hominems are okay to use against Dinesh D’Souza because that man is a batshit crazy British colonialist from 1824 born into the body of an East Indian Macaulay Culkin.
But when Hitchens went up against Craig (and his absolutely baffling monotone howl seriously calm down Bill), I couldn’t help but wish that someone would actually confront the shoddy arguments this “noted Christian apologist” was making. Besides repeatedly saying that Hitchens had not offered “even one good argument for why God does not exist,” as if that is a meaningful statement instead of just childish bullshit, Craig based his entire case on four ridiculous “proofs”: The Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Argument from Morality, and the Argument from Experience. Now, outside his Talbot School of Theology, all four of these arguments garner from philosophers about as much interest as, well, a degree from his Talbot School of Theology, but for people who are intent on believing, they offer clever if philosophically bankrupt defenses that the intellectually dishonest or desperate are happy to use on the less discerning. Seek and ye shall find, eh?
So without further ado, here’s a quick rundown of his four “proofs” and explanations of why they are at best inconclusive and at worst downright meaningless:
The Cosmological Argument – Everything that begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe has a cause.
This first argument, Lane’s favorite, falls into the “meaningless” category because it says nothing. The statement, “God must exist because you need something uncreated to create something” is, at its core, a tautology; it can be simplified into the self-evident, “Nothing can be uncreated except the uncreated.” This, of course, does not demonstrate why, if God can be uncreated, the universe could not contain the property as well, nor does it explain exactly why the “cause” of the universe could not have been natural. The Cosmological Argument leaves untouched essentially every theory modern science has suggested regarding the origins of the universe, as both a stable singularity disturbed by quantum fluctuations or a cyclical universe model both demonstrate either a non-theistic cause or a level of “uncreatedness” equal to that of God’s. If the second claim is true, then current science provides at least a plausible explanation of what “caused” it (hint: it wasn’t God) – and if the second claim is false, which it very well might be, the argument is meaningless.
The Teleological Argument – The Universe’s “fine tuning” suggests that it was designed by an intelligent being to support life.
Of all these arguments, I have the most contempt, both intellectually and emotionally, for this one. We’ll start on an intellectual level and consider the absurd selection bias inherent in this argument. Of course the universe we exist in is going to be fine-tuned for life – if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t exist to make that judgment! There are, in all likelihood, innumerable universes out there that do not allow for any kind of life and there are no beings alive to notice it. Even if this is the only universe or life-bearing planet in existence (a very unlikely conjecture), the fact that we can exist in it demonstrates nothing except the obvious conclusion that our development was molded to the world we found ourselves evolving in. The world appears “fine-tuned” to us because we tuned ourselves to it; only a baffling amount of arrogance convinces us to reverse the obvious cause and effect.
For a great demonstration of this, look at the sidewalks downtown after it rains. There are going to be, between large stretches of flat ground, puddles that form in the random potholes and ditches, and each one will be filled to its brim. Does that mean that those holes were created to be filled with rain water, or that the “perfect fit” between the amount of rainwater and the size of the puddle demonstrates superintending?
The emotional side of this argument is less ridiculous and more upsetting. By claiming that this planet is somehow the best that God could throw together, you are essentially required to admit that every possible evil in the nature of this world was known and approved by God himself as part of his “design”. Rather than a defect of our evolution, the diseases that daily bring millions of human beings untold suffering and pain must be side effects of His imperfect or malicious workmanship. Instead of our planet’s geological history, earthquakes and tsunamis that bring untold destruction are actually to be blamed on a Supreme Being who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care how to design a world where the Earth doesn’t occasionally shake entire cities to pieces. Worms that dig into the eyes of children in the Congo, each parasite lovingly crafted in the Lord’s workshop. Cancers that eat innocent people alive from the inside, carefully placed into each human’s DNA by a divine hand. A loving, just God who invents the synapses that plunge us into addiction and abuse, a kind and gentle Lamb who has killed over 99% of the species he supposedly created since time began. If the Teleological Argument demonstrates anything, it is that the only God capable of creating this world would be one either disinterested or downright cruel. More likely, an honest and intelligent exploration of our world and its nuances would demonstrate an obvious lack of a designer. William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest Teleological Argument doesn’t hold up to either scientific scrutiny or moral reasoning.
The Argument from Morality – Without God, objective moral values cannot exist; objective moral values exist; therefore, God exists.
I find it painfully ironic that Mr. Craig can argue for the impossibility of atheistic objective morality while simultaneously defending the myriad of genocidal, racist, misogynistic, and bitterly cruel actions either directly performed or unequivocally commanded by the God that he worships. I simply refuse to believe that the determiner of right and wrong is a slaver and a tyrant like Jehovah, and I don’t think anyone with their head on straight would criticize me for that. So while his claims about “objective moral goods” are dismissible solely for the reason that his God is scarcely above a capricious and immature child when it comes to any sort of ethical behavior, the argument actually falls flat even if you entertain its basic absurdity.
First, this argument fails to justify its first point; many other logical (and, might I add, far more “moral”) systems have been developed that rely on concepts such as self-ownership or utilitarian calculus. While the debate is still very much open regarding the efficacy of these systems, to base a logical argument on the assumption that God is the only possible moral ground is stunningly ignorant unless one is capable of refuting the core arguments made by naturalist moral realists like Bentham and Mills. It is telling, of course, that those who use objective morality as a proof for God seem to be uninterested in doing so.
William Lane Craig has an even greater hurtle hidden in the second condition of this argument, as the objective nature of morality is not self-evident by any stretch of the imagination. From psychologically-oriented expressivists to evolutionarily-minded biological nonrealists, the ability to craft and enforce a strong moral code through an examination of our evolutionary history or our social interaction is clearly demonstrable. Again, the jury is still out, and probably will be forever, on whether or not these systems reflect reality; what is important is that Mr. Craig has seemingly barreled past any sort of refutation of these points in order to arrive at his foregone conclusion that objective morality even exists. Nowhere has he attempted to tackle the Is-Ought problem, nor has he answered what is perhaps the most glaring issue facing theists today, mainly, why are those who reject moral systems aligned with God no less “moral” in their behavior? The ability of atheists to act in morally sound ways without the counsel or guidance of theistic schema shows undeniably that God is not necessary for ethics to have a firm and reasonable grounding. Of all the arguments put out to support Christian theism, this one may be the shakiest one of them all.
The Argument from Experience – I know God exists because I have experienced Him.
I mean, come on, is there anything I need to say about this? William Lane Craig, raised in a Christian family in a Christian nation, just happens to have direct experience of the Christian God? What a shock! The fact that human beings can have intense spiritual experiences, and that those experiences are easy to see through the lens of your culture, should surprise no one. Call me when Dinesh D’Souza has visions of the Phoenician Goddess of sex and war, or when a Yoruba man suddenly has an outbreak of Krishna Consciousness. Until then, this argument is meaningless and there is no need to waste any more time on it.
I would encourage anyone, theist or not, to examine these arguments and see if they really hold to up scrutiny; in addition, anyone who feels I have made incorrect statements or indulged in any logical fallacies is free to correct me. I would encourage anyone who does believe in God to point out where I have gone wrong or suggest other evidential approaches that I might not have encountered.