Religion

Four Bad Arguments for God

| by Luke Muehlhauser

(part of the Why Christianity Is False series; you can also listen to this podcast online or in iTunes)

This is a reply to Does God Exist? by Tawa Anderson.

Before giving any arguments for the existence of God, Tawa says that the existence of God is necessary for meaning:

The Book of Ecclesiastes poetically summarizes the life without God: “Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!”

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The irony here is that Ecclesiastes actually says life is meaningless with God. Why? For many reasons, but here is one:

…whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.1

If the universe is ruled by the God of Abraham, this God has already decided for you what your meaning and purpose will be. This is convenient for those who prefer the life of a sheep and a slave, but detestable to those who have their own purposes already. What if Gandhi had stopped what he was doing to ask what Yahweh wanted from his life?

In any case, Ecclesiastes is the last book you should be quoting if you want to argue that meaning requires the existence of God. Ecclesiastes says life is meaningless with God.

More importantly, I argue it is not the source of a meaning or purpose that matters, but its quality. Alonzo Fyfe illustrates:

Perhaps I was created by a God who got bored and who was seeking some way to entertain himself. He came up with the idea of creating a planet and populating it with people who he [programmed to] have a strong disposition to accept religious teachings without question. He then went to different groups and said, “You are God’s chosen children. You have a right and a duty to rule over the world. All others are infidels who should be either converted or killed.”

When he was done, he sat back in His heavenly recliner with his heavenly beer and potato chips and watched the unfolding drama of Survivor Earth, and he saw that it was good. Or, at least, he was entertained.

Would I prefer to be a toy built to generate conflict and drama for the sake of entertaining some God?

It would be true, in such a case, that I was created for a divine purpose. However, what matters is the quality of the purpose, not its source. In this case, [my] purpose has a particularly low quality.

Not only would I prefer not to have such a purpose, I would go so far as to actively thwart God’s purpose if that were the case, and would count my life as having meaning in doing so. I would work to promote cooperation and well-being over conflict and suffering and, if this went against the purpose of my Creator, then so be it.

An Existential Argument

First among Tawa’s arguments for God is an “existential argument from human religiosity.” Tawa notes that every ancient and medieval culture was highly religious, and that “there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.”

Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you. Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you. Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you.

The claim that “there is… a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God” is empirically false. It is a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity. When people leave such lies behind, and take note of all the meaning and morality and happiness that is available without fear and superstition, that is when they leave childish and comforting notions about gods behind.

I’m not just asserting this. I’m referring to the best-supported thesis of secularization proposed so far. Religion does not provide existential security – instead, it thrives on existential insecurity. It thrives on poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk. The poorest nations in the world are the most religious. When people live in a society that already provides them with existential security – with stability and safety and education and health care and job security – then people don’t need gods anymore.

Tawa also notes that we humans yearn to escape death. He then makes an astonishing leap of logic:

This yearning for eternity suggests that we exist for more than just this lifetime.

No, it doesn’t. Does my yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy suggest that I will be? Alas, no. Wishful thinking does not indicate truth.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Third, Tawa offers a brief version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA): The Big Bang must have a cause, and the cause must be personal and transcendent.

There are a whole raft of problems with with the KCA, but here are just a few:

-- The KCA presupposes an A Theory of time. But physicists have known since Einstein that the A Theory of time is false. This is old news, folks.
-- It’s hard to see how the universe could be self-caused or a necessary being, yes. But proposing a necessary being that is the opposite of everything else we understand – a timeless, spaceless, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, personal being without a brain – is a far worse problem.
-- The KCA employs intuitions and language in a slippery and sneaky way that, when examined carefully, does not support the KCA’s aims. See Wes Morriston’s paper, “Must the beginning of the universe have a personal cause?

The Fine-Tuning Argument

The fine-tuning argument notes that certain fundamental constants of the universe exist within a narrow range of values that are life-permitting. If any of these values were slightly different, life as we know it could not exist. So it looks like a transcendent being has tinkered with the values to make things come out just right so that life could exist.

The first problem with this argument was pointed out by evangelical Christian philosophers Tim and Lydia McGrew in “Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument: A Skeptical View.” The problem is this: The possible range of values for these constants is, as far as we know, infinite. Therefore, the chances that the values would fall within a very “small” range of values are equal to the chances that they would fall within a very “large” range of values. So a “fine-tuning argument” is just as powerful as a “course-tuning argument” – which is to say, not very powerful at all.

A second problem is that the argument seems to presuppose that life (or intelligent life, or consciousness, or whatever) has intrinsic value - that a universe with organic chemistry is intrinsically more valuable than a universe with clouds of singing gas or a universe with one hydrogen atom. But I’ve never been shown a shred of evidence that life has intrinsic value in that way. I’m only told that it has intrinsic value because it feels to us like life has intrinsic value. Well, duh! We are living beings! Of course we think we are valuable. But I’m still waiting for some evidence on this one. Yes, Christianity is a more comforting worldview for those who trust their feelings more than evidence, but, well, we already knew that. But then, Christians should stop pretending their responding to the evidence instead of their feelings.

A third problem is the same as one given for the KCA: Adding a timeless, spaceless, omniscience, omnipotent, omnibenevolent personal being without a brain only makes the explanatory problem worse, not better.

A Moral Argument

Tawa’s fourth argument is a moral one:

If moral standards are not grounded in something transcendent (that is, outside of humanity), it is impossible to say (as we all do) that anything is always morally wrong (or right).  Simply put, if there is no God, then the evil that men do is not evil, it simply is.

This is a rewording of Bill Craig’s moral argument: If God doesn’t exist, then objective morality doesn’t exist. But objective morality does exist. So God must exist. And how do we know this?

…deep down everyone knows that morality is objective…

That’s it. That’s the only argument he gives. Once again, Tawa’s argument depends on feelings rather than evidence. So right off the bat, his argument is without support.

But let me push further. I will argue that if God is the source of morality, then morality is not objective. My argument is very simple, because “objective morality” has typically been defined as “morality not grounded in the attitudes or nature of a person.” When morality is grounded in a particular person or group of persons, that is called subjective morality.

Here are some examples: Individual subjectivism says that right and wrong are grounded in the attitudes of a particular person. Cultural subjectivism says that right and wrong are grounded in the attitudes of a particular culture. Ideal observer theory says that right and wrong are grounded in the attitudes of a hypothetical person who is perfectly informed and unbiased. And God-based ethics says that this ideal observer really exists, and its name is God. God-based ethics is a subjective moral theory.

The way Christian apologists have avoided this embarrassing fact is to twist the term “objective morality” so that instead of meaning “morality not grounded in the attitudes of a person or persons,” for them it now means “morality not grounded in the attitudes of a particular species of primate, homo sapiens.”

But this is silly. If a giant alien appeared in the sky tomorrow and some people decided that right and wrong were grounded in the attitudes of this alien, would that be – regardless of its truth – a theory of objective morality, just because it was grounded in the attitudes of a person who did not belong to homo sapiens? Of course not.

So if theists want to say that God-based morality is objective, but only in the sense that an alien-based morality is objective, then so be it – but I am not impressed. And I don’t think that’s the kind of “objective” morality our intuitions presuppose, either – even if our feelings provided good evidence that morality was objective.

The moral argument for God falls back on itself by revealing what Christian apologists try to hide – that God-based morality is a subjective theory of morality in the same way that an alien-based morality is a subjective theory of morality.

And I didn’t even have to bring up the Euthyphro dilemma.

Concluding Thoughts

Tawa ends with a request:

I wish to conclude with a personal appeal: I entreat you to not close your mind to the possibility of God.

I agree. Anything is possible. Keep an open mind. But don’t open your mind so widely that your brains fall out. Don’t be gullible. Don’t bow down to your feelings and intuitions. Seek out more reliable ways of knowing things. Your mind should be open, but it should have a strong filter. Most claims are false, simply by virtue of the great number of claims being made. So make use of the tools available to you: logic, critical thinking, science, and so on.

Consider the principle of non-locality in quantum mechanics. A particle can affect another particle on the other side of the galaxy instantaneously, with nothing traveling between them. That is absurd. It sounds like magic to me. But here’s the thing: non-locality in quantum mechanics is supported by tons of specific, tightly-modeled evidence.

So have an open mind, even to things that seem crazy. But don’t accept crazy things because of bad arguments, feelings, and self-defeating arguments. Accept crazy things only when you are given good evidence for their truth.

1. Ecclesiastes 3:14, ESV.