Arguments Against God?

From Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host and creator of Closer To Truth:

I wish God to exist. But sadly, my “wish” means nothing. That’s why I focus on arguments against God. My biggest fear is not that there is no God, but that I may fool myself into believing, falsely, that there is a God, when, truly, there is no God. That’s why I must explore with all honesty the strong views of those who conclude with confidence that God does not exist. So, what are the arguments against God?
Psychologist and skeptic Susan Blackmore says that the most convincing argument is that “we don’t need him, her, or it. … What’s this God supposed to do? One thing is to create us in his image. Now that we understand how evolution can give rise to apparent design randomly, we don’t need God for the design job.” Now, that doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist, Blackmore adds, “but it certainly takes away the major reason for the need.”
As for a “ground of all being” that somehow engineered a fine-tuned cosmos, Blackmore is equally dismissive. “When you take God back that far,” she says, “you’ve lost all things of a personal God, a God who intervenes in human lives—which is what most people believe in. Some scientists define God as the rules of the universe. Well, fine; that’s kind of cheating. The ‘physicist’s God’ doesn’t have any implications for heaven and hell and life after death and caring about who’s good and who’s evil. It doesn’t relate at all.”
Blackmore is hardly finished. “God is so nasty,” she says. “That doesn’t prove he doesn’t exist, of course. But the inconsistencies and incompatibilities in what people believe just strike me as bizarre. God is supposed to be wonderful, loving, and caring. And yet the book supposedly coming from him [the Bible] is full of kill the infidel and burn people in hell if they don’t do the right thing. People believe these nasty and incompatible things. Is that an argument against God? It certainly weakens the idea.”
Blackmore argues that the traditional God has no use and is not much good. Deep personal experiences are real, she says, but they have nothing to do with God. For much of this I go with her, but I see her target more human religion than an ultimate God.
I can think of no atheist more incisive than Peter Atkins, a renowned physical chemist.
“I’d quite like there to be a God, especially if it were a benevolent one,” he begins. “Not the one of the Old Testament—that would be rather grim. But in order to believe that there is a God, I would need evidence, and I see no evidence. No evidence of any kind whatsoever. Sentiment is not evidence. Faith, revelations, all that sort of thing—these are just quirks of the brain that have been impressed upon it by family or culture. So why should I believe, given the absence of evidence, in the existence of this entity?”
As for the so-called ‘fine-tuning argument” for God, Atkins says, “you could turn that on its head actually: The universe is much better tuned for the existence of rocks than it is for the existence for people. Maybe God had a thing about rocks, wanted a lot of it around. … Science is still on the track of discovery, and there’s no evidence that we will have to invoke the finger of God.”
Do I sense myself wavering, even in my weak belief? Good! If God does not exist, I’d want to be steeled with arguments for atheism when assaulted again with arguments for theism. Or, if God does exist and I come to believe in God, I will want to have withstood the full frontal attack that atheism can muster. Does that sound confusing? It should. About God, I am confused.
I decide to put some atheist arguments to Alvin Plantinga, one of the world’s leading Christian philosophers. Here are the arguments and Plantinga’s instant responses.

There are no disembodied minds.
“We don’t know that there’s no such thing as a disembodied mind. All we know is that the minds we’re acquainted with are to be found in brains. That’s not a very strong argument.”

The hiddenness of God.
“The vast majority of humanity does believe in God or something like God, so it’s not that God is hidden in the sense that nobody knows about him or believes in him. God isn’t as plain to us as material things, but why think that he would have to be? He might have good reasons for being relatively hidden—which, as I am suggesting, isn’t all that hidden.”

The problem of evil.
“While it is true that we can’t understand what God’s reasons for permitting evil are, it’s hard to see why that’s a good argument for concluding that God would not have reasons for permitting evil and [therefore] for it being unlikely that God exists. God’s own intrinsic being and God’s circumstances are so vastly different from ours—God is omniscient and omnipotent and the like—so from the fact that we can’t see why God permits certain things to happen not much follows. It certainly doesn’t follow that God doesn’t have reasons. Why would it be the case that if God actually did have reasons for evil that you and I would be the first to know them? We might not know them at all.”

The universe is violent, wasteful, inefficient at best, more likely pointless.
“Much depends on what kind of being you think God is, or would be. It might be that you think God would have to be like a classical artist, very efficient, everything in its place, and the like. Efficiency is something for creatures who are limited! But if you’re not limited, if you’re omnipotent, what’s so great about efficiency? Maybe God delights in diversity. The main point here is that all of these kinds of arguments presume that the arguer knows what God would like, or what God would want to be the case, or what God would think, or what God is aiming at with these conditions. There’s no reason to think that we know these things.”

Other arguments use psychology and anthropology to explain the personal need for God and God’s natural development, such as wish fulfillment and group coherence.
“Now, wish fulfillment is in a way more serious. We find ourselves in a world where nature demands from us suffering and pain and anxiety, and in the end, she demands our death. And if we look this reality fully in the face, we would fall into despair, depression, and apathy. We probably wouldn’t be able to function at all. So [the argument goes], we subconsciously invent this heavenly Father who really does love us. That’s where belief in God is said to come from. But if in fact there is such a person as God, then belief in God will in fact have warrant. That is, such belief will come from a source with positive epistemic status because God would have created us in such a way that we would be able to know about him. It could be that God uses wish fulfillment as his means of getting us to know about him. But [even if wish fulfillment motivates belief in God] it need not follow that such is not reality directed. If you insist that it is not reality directed, then you need to have some independent arguments against God’s existence. It’s not an independent argument at all.”

What is Plantinga’s conclusion as to the sum of these arguments against the existence of God? He says they have “no force at all.” However, evil is another matter. “Evil can be deeply disturbing to believers in God such as myself,” he says. “It can lead one to be suspicious of God, to wonder why he does all these things and to distrust him, to be angry with him, and to be inclined to shake your fist in God’s face (even though it’s just a totally hopeless, stupid gesture.) Evil can give believers real problems, although, at least as far as I’m concerned, it does not make me wonder whether there is such a person as God.”
Plantinga is such a good fellow, I’m not sure whether I go with his arguments, or I just like him personally.
As for the atheistic scientist I most respect, that would be Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg. I am enthralled by his profound senses and insight.
“The idea of God could perhaps be thought to explain the laws of nature,” Weinberg says, “but it leaves us with the same irreducible mystery. … The study of nature does not provide a point to our lives … [but] if we don’t find a point in nature, we can at least make a point for ourselves; we can love each other and find beauty in things. … Our tragedy is not that we’re acting out a tragic drama laid out in a script, but that there is no script. And as in the Shakespearean tragedy, the thing that makes it tolerable often is the intrusion of humor.”
Weinberg refers to Pascal’s famous wager: “Pascal made a fundamental error. The way he described it was as follows: If you not only believe in God but also are a Christian and accept the doctrines of the Christian church, then according to the Christian church you will go to heaven and gain everything; and if those doctrines are wrong, you’ve lost nothing [because you die just like everyone else]. On the other hand, if those doctrines are correct and you don’t accept Christianity, then you are going to go to hell and you’ve lost everything, an infinite amount, because hell is eternal torment. Pascal’s conclusion is that any possible weighing [of these two alternatives] would mean that you should adopt the doctrines of the Christian church,” he explains.
“The fundamental fallacy,” Weinberg continues, is that “Pascal posed his wager as a choice between just two alternatives. There is either Christianity or disbelief. But there are many other possibilities. Consider the following: Suppose there is a God who doesn’t like sycophants, doesn’t like people who believe in him just because they’re afraid of punishment, but likes people who honestly try to think about what’s true … [so that this new kind of God] rewards with eternal bliss those who after honest thought reject his existence and condemns those like Pascal who believe in him because they’re afraid of eternal torment in hell? Now I’m not saying there is such a God, but it seems to me that’s at least as plausible as Pascal’s Christian God. And if that [new kind of] God exists, then Pascal is wagering on the wrong side.”
“And you’d be doing pretty well,” I suggest to Weinberg.
“And I’d be doing pretty well,” he laughs.
If I were God, Weinberg would be one of my prophets. It is only because I so deeply want God to exist that I so carefully listen to him.
So much religion has been so terribly wrong, but is there a God beyond religion? This is my struggle.
Here’s what theist Richard Swinburne told me: “Suppose there is nothing, what is the most likely thing to emerge? All this total coincidence [and complexity] in the universe without there being any explanation? Or just one being in control and with ultimate simplicity? … I go for one simple being.”
Here’s what atheist Michael Shermer told me: “The study of comparative mythology and world religions, anthropology of religion, evolutionary psychology of religion, all show how religion is tied to culture, geography, time and place in history. All is fraught with human construction. It looks like a huge amount of evidence that we created God, not vice versa.”
I continue my struggle. None of the negative atheistic arguments against God makes much impact on me. But neither do the positive theistic arguments for God. I luxuriate in both sets of arguments, against God and for God, and I weary of them all. After all, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present, how could I hope to understand such an unimaginable, awesome being. I do not know if I’m getting closer to truth.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn speaks with Susan Blackmore, Peter Atkins, Alvin Plantinga, Steven Weinberg, Richard Swinburne, and Michael Shermer in “Arguments Against God?”—the fifth episode in the new season of the Closer To Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series (44th in total).
The series airs on PBS World (often Thursdays, twice) and many other PBS and noncommercial stations. Every Thursday, we’ll discuss the current episode.

P.S. Click here to visit our Closer to Truth archive.

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22 Responses

  1. V. V. Raman says:

    Arguments for and against the existence God are like arguments for and against the existence of hunger. As hunger is a deeply felt physical/physiological state, the need for God is a deeply felt spiritual/mental state.
    The arguments for existence and non-existence of hunger will depend on who is talking: a hungry person or a well-fed one.
    As long as there are hungry and well-fed people, there will always be disagreements as to whether hunger exists or not.
    Likewise with God.
    V. V. Raman
    March 3, 2010

  2. MattyB says:

    The comparison with hunger does not hold water. Unlike the existence of god, the existence of hunger can be verified experimentally by measuring physiological differences (like changes in enzyme secretion and brain activity) between someone who is hungry and someone who is not. No matter how many times you repeat the experiment, you will get the same results (or more precisely, you get very similar results). That’s how science works.

  3. dave says:

    Bottom line, “god” is an undefined entity. A magical life that always existed from nothing is not a valid definition.

    What do you mean by “god”? What is it? – These questions cannot be answered without using more abstractions & semantic tap dancing. All the long drawn out logical arguments are fun, but they are overkill. The fact is: There is no god. The term is undefined. Gods are known to be invented by man, therefore “god” falls clearly under the “fairytale” category right next to Humpty Dumpty & Peter Pan. There’s nothing more to say.

  4. Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth says:

    People overrate Plantinga and William Lane Craig, both emit farragoes of hot air,signifying argument from ignorance.
    Plantinga here is using the argument from ignorance and supposed possibility of disembodiment but until he can evidence that, he merely bleats! His warrant for belief is just the we just say so of faith, which begs the question of its subject [Articulett] and as Sydney Hook notes, begs the question of knowledge.

    The atelic or teleonomic argument keel hauls most theists’ arguments: the weight of evidence shown teleonomy- no planned outcomes whereas were the I am that I am were, then He would contradict that by being teleological! So, there was no intent for Existence and no intent for design and no intent for miracles and acting in history.No intent applies metaphysically to ward off that objection.
    The argument from pareidolia notes that theists see intent and design as people see Yeshua in a tortilla- no there there- when only teleonomy and patterns exist. From this pareidolia, people read that intent into other arguments.
    And the new argument from autonomy is that our level of consciousness makes for our rights; this opposes theists’ argument from God for our rights: either the state gives them and thus they are revocable or He does and thus they are unalienable.
    Theology is the sophistry of mere animism with one big spirit rather than many and just as much then a delusion. The Azande know quite well that wind can cause tiles to blow off house, injuring people but still find a spirit behind it.
    Thus Clinton Richard Dawkins is a far better atheologian than Plantinga is a theologian; he speaks the truth without modal logic and indeed knows theology and debates theologians. He can thus dismiss replying to their sophistry, but I take it own!
    Keith Ward recognizes that faith is no argument but takes the mental spinning of people’s own minds as veridical pertaining to God! He is an advanced born again who finds that being that has transformed him: gee, any superstition can do that, I daresay.
    Haughty John Haught excoriates us naturalists for not acknowledging non-natural venues of knowledge- another begged question. Oh, his supposed venues turn out to be illusory.
    No rational being would permit unrequited evil as the problem of Heaven illustrates: Google that. And no rational being would hide itself if it wanted love and no being has a right to us and to judge us as the new argument from autonomy implies. There is thus only that one-way street for the Ground of Being as the problem of Heaven notes!
    Carneades, the first ignostic, keel hauled theism eons ago: we atheologians are just a mere footnote to him!
    Google skeptic griggsy for more insight into the superstition that is the supernatural, the twin of the paranormal- ‘ The Transcendent Temptation,” as Paul Kurtz call both superstitions.
    ” Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning.”
    ‘ God is in a worse position than the tin man, who had a body to which a mind could enter whilst God has neither.”
    ‘God is that married bachelor and so cannot exist. No wonder He is ineffable.”
    Carneades [ of Ga.]
    ” Religion is mythinformation.” Englishman

  5. Elizabeth Daniele says:

    “the most convincing argument is that “we don’t need him, her, or it. … What’s this God supposed to do?”

    If we do not need God- then why have we yet to prevent death?

    Science (still, the very little that we know) helps to explain God’s creations. Creation is not just some random happening. That thought, in itself, seems more like fiction. We are not without rhyme or reason- and neither is God. But life “somehow” ended up as it has? Even the complex human body? All random? Really?

    God does exist. I have no doubts. I have seen him. You should reconsider. For me, it is a fact.
    Perhaps one’s fear is misguided. Why would I be more afraid to believe in God only to find out he does not exist? (The worst being that I ended up living a more decent life?) I think one would be more afraid not to believe- and then find out he really does exist. Food for thought.

    In truth, I think we really are not that good. At times, we really try to be. But we fail a lot. That was the point of Christ- who even said we like sin. No kidding. So we talk ourselves out of God. Along with the many bad choices we make in life- it is the worst. We can’t even take blame for our own terrible choices. We have to blame someone else. God’s a great target. God sends no one to hell. We send ourselves to hell from the terrible choices we make, of our own will- with our eyes Wide open.

    Do we blame the judge for sending the murderer to jail?

    I have been called a liar (among other things). It is the only possible way that God does not exist. (One could only hope.)

    If you read my two books concerning God, his kingdom, and how to get there and find any holes-please write and I will be happy to answer those questions. If I can’t fill in those holes, if any, I will agree that I am a liar, as well.

    Elizabeth Daniele, author of “Proof of God: a near death experience and spiritual life” and “Revelation and Bible Prophecy, Syr.”

  6. Elizabeth Daniele says:

    PS:

    We need to stop blaming religion. Since we know the difference between right and wrong- religious or not. It is what binds and defines us in the end. And unlike human justice, it is individual, clear, and considers all that we have endured.

    And it is how God is perfect.

  7. So no one here can answer my points and prefer to bask in the argument from ignorance and the one from incredulity?
    So much for the supernatural!
    “Reason removes mountains of ignorance whilst faith rests on the argument from ignorance.” Frr.Griggs

  8. Elizabeth, all religious experience is people’s own mental states at work1 To aver that the supernatural lies behind them begs the question.
    ” Elvis is alive. Rudolph Valentino told me so. So much for the paranormal and- the Resurrection.” Fr.Griggs
    ” Logic is the bane of theists.’ Fr.Griggs
    http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com

  9. Andrew says:

    Elizabeth,

    Science has NOTHING to say on god, it is the study of the natural world, not supernatural. And so far science has done a much better job of explaining our physical reality than any religion.

    “If we do not need God- then why have we yet to prevent death?” Wtf? I think from this statement and the title of your book, it is pretty obvious that you are afraid to one day die. So you believe in god for comfort. Ironically, we owe our extended life spans largely to improvements in medicine, nutrition, hygiene and other science based advancements.

    “God does exist. I have no doubts. I have seen him. You should reconsider.” You know, there are Hindus, Muslims, ancient Vikings equally certain and passionate about their faith and would be asking YOU to reconsider. Many people have killed and sacrificed their lives for their religion. Your personal experiences is not evidence of any “God” existing in the real world.

    You then talk about Pascal’s Wager which has already been discussed and debunked in the main article. (Facepalm!)

    No, I do NOT believe you’re a liar. You’ve just convinced yourself that 2000 year old fairy tales involving virgin mothers and resurrections are facts rather than fantasy. You appear to fear death and thus cling to the comfort religion offers you.

  10. lucy says:

    god exists no matter what anyone saids, just confess your sins and believe and love him. because the day of his coming is very close.

  11. Troy says:

    I know many, many arguments for and against God. I see no need to go further than this first one, however:

    1) To exist (by definition) is to have objective reality or being.
    2) For the existence of something to be proven or for there to exist the possibility of proving its existence within the rules of the scientific process, there must be some verifiable evidence of it, be it logical reasoning or empirical evidence.
    3) From 2), if any evidence (of any kind) of something exists, then this evidence could be used to prove that it exists.
    4) Having faith in something requires the entity to be unproven (but not disproven), because a proven entity (by definition) cannot be belief – it is knowledge.
    5) Christianity (or any theistic religion, for that matter) requires faith. Biblical evidence of this for Christianity:
    -Ephesians 2:8,9
    -John 6:40
    -Romans 4:5
    -Romans 10:13
    -Acts 16:31
    -Romans 6:23
    -etc.
    6) From 4) and 5), God cannot be proven, now or at any point in time. Otherwise, faith would cease to exist, and the Bible (and thus the Christian god) would be discredited.
    7) From 3) and 6), there is no evidence or logical reasoning for the existence of God now or at any point in time.
    8) From 7), any and all potential evidence, now or at any point in time, for the Christian god is false, otherwise the Christian god Himself is false.
    9) Simple scientific (and logical) reasoning:
    -Anything than is proven exists.
    -Anything that could be proven could exist.
    -Anything that cannot be proven, immutably, could not exist.
    10) From 6), 8) and 9), God cannot exist now or at any point in time, and all evidence and reasoning to the contrary, now or at any point in time, is false.

  12. To my mind, there is definitely no God. And what is God anyway? Each person has a personal construct of what God is. I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where God is like the God of the Bible, for example, who advocated and condoned genocide, rape, slavery, etc.

  13. carlinismlives says:

    I chose to keep my mind open by wonder rather than closed by belief.

  14. Block says:

    Elizabeth is dead wrong. No, you have NOT seen God. No, it is NOT a fact. And I WILL blame religion, for it is the case of terrible evils, such as the inquisitions, the crusades, northern Ireland, 9/11, etc, and no, the rebuttal of “Stalin was atheist” holds ZERO water, because he didn’t do the horrible things he did in “the name of atheism”.. Consider for a moment that your God DID exist. Why is there evil? Is it because God gave us free will? fine, but we are told God is loving and caring and loves all his creations, and that he is the PERFECT being, yet he is willing to sit back and watch millions of people die of starvation, murder, war, disease, poverty, and rape? Any God that allows this, either can do NOTHING about evil, or chooses to do nothing. Therefore, he is either impotent or evil. Also, billions of people that are Hindu or Muslim, or any other religion. These billions of people, no matter how good they are as a person, according to Christians, will suffer and burn for all eternity in Hell because they were born in the wrong part of the world, and grew up with the “wrong religion”

  15. ParadoxalBanana says:

    Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes, and observe them; I am the Lord; I sanctify you.
    All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them.

    If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

    If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them.

    If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. [Leviticus, chapter 20]

    Looks like you Christians have A LOT of killing to do.

  16. ParadoxalBanana says:

    Here are some more quotes from our all knowing and all loving god.
    As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

    Sexist

    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head–it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.

    Sexist

    Also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.

    I’m not even I girl and I’m offended by these “words of god”

  17. Liam Tillett says:

    Susan Blackmore’s one comment is not true. She believes that the Bible is solely consisting of “kill the infidel and burn people in hell if they don’t do the right thing.” as she puts it. How can this be when God teaches us to love one another, and as Jesus puts it: “To love your neighbour as yourself”. He teaches to forgive, not condemn.

  18. Jason says:

    Everything good that you experience such as food, water, clothing, and good health come from God’s good qualities. Evil is simply the absence of God’s goodness. God wants to be your father, and he wants a personal relationship with you as his adopted child. If you do not want a relationship with God, and experience his goodness for eternity in a world without suffering, then the only thing left for you is to have the devil as your father, and eternal suffering. All arguments against the existence of God, the devil, heaven, and hell are a waste of time as you will die, and see the truth for yourself. God is real, and the devil is real. The universe is as it is because God created the world and the universe for us, and the meaning of life is love God, and love each other. We are to be selfless, not selfish. And we are to be good stewards of this planet. The rules God gives us are because he is a loving father and knows what’s best. But arrogant and defiant children think they know best. And that is why this world is in such a state! Before you argue God’s existence, think about your own faults and mortality!!!

  19. Elizabeth Daniele says:

    “Elizabeth, all religious experience’s is peoples own mental states at work”

    Thank you for clearing that up. I’ll pass it on to the many thousands who have had NDEs – including the latest neurosurgeon from Harvard.

    Not so Andrew. I was more afraid of death prior to my spiritual experiences. And you are correct that science has extended life spans for some – however, they still die.

    Block, humankind kill. Religion is a word.

    Best, Elizabeth

  20. Elizabeth Daniele says:

    During my near death experience I witnessed, like many, a screen displaying images rapidly on the why’s and how’s of life. If you are interested, this is what I believe I saw (since many have complained that no one ever brings info back). It is posted on my blog.

    elizabethdaniele.blogspot.com

    Best, Elizabeth Daniele

  21. tyler says:

    poorly written and explained. need stronger foundatiosn

  22. Elizabeth Daniele says:

    come on now, don’t be lazy..

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