Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arguments for atheism

This is a set of arguments for atheism on


Anonymous said...

It's rare to find so much equivocation in one place.

TD Hinkle said...

I know that there are plenty of bad arguments for theism...but yeeeesh.
Not terribly edifying.
It amazes me how influential some of these arguments are... even educated Naturalists who ought to know better still claim to find them powerful.

Anonymous said...

it was my encounters with atheists of this sort that gave my belief in God most comfort.

Mark said...

Eh. This is what happens what complete philosophical laymen try to do philosophy. It's not specific to atheism, or even to the atheism vs. theism debate.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: What equivocation are you referring to?

In general, I have seen much worse "list" type web sites from both theists and atheists. The selection of arguments is decent, each link bring you to an interesting discussion. It doesn't suffer from the usual condescension, hysteria, name-calling.

As far as the arguments presented, some seem decent and if you click on the links there is some good exposition of the line of argument involved. Obviously it's all a bit superficial, and frankly I'd word a lot of the arguments differently to come off a bit less amateurish. For instance, the claim "Scientifically, God Does Not Exist" is odd.

Even the first argument, based on science, which seems weak on first glance, has some interesting discussion if you click the link. The argument from Stenger would at least worthy of argument.

Some of the arguments are perfectly reasonable. For instance, the argument from evil isn't exactly small fries: it is a serious problem for the theist that believes in a perfect being that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

Also, in the discussion of the material basis of life, they say "All medical and scientific evidence we have points to our minds, our memories, and our personalities being products of our physical brains. This is no less natural and no less material than how our physical bodies produce other processes, like digestion. If this is true, it means that when our physical brains die then our minds, memories, and personalities will also die."

That is a decent enough expression of the standard naturalistic position. I don't expect such a site to be nuanced and sophisticated.

That said, if someone were curious about atheism I probably wouldn't send them to that site.

Anonymous said...

I don't think 'I've seen worse', 'it's amateurish but interesting', 'well I don't expect nuance or sophistication', etc, to be much of a defense of the site.

May as well say, "It's not a bad site. I didn't get herpes from it, so it has that going for it."

Blue Devil Knight said...

So far no comments, except mine, have mentioned anything specific from the site.

I'm still wondering what the equivocation is that anon mentioned. Or did anon just throw out a wordhe saw on a page of informal fallacies, hoping it would stick.

While I'm sure there are better resources for atheism, the comments in this thread are contentless put-downs that could have been generated by a generic anti-atheist expression generator.

I had higher hopes for Mark after his great suggestion of using a basketball-line model for the Peano Axioms. :)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, BDK, people get bored explaining the obvious to you at length. It's a crappy site, the presentation is amusingly sloppy and weak. Deal with it.

Mark said...

It's true that I only briefly skimmed the site, and probably used pattern recognition to hastily categorize it along with some lower quality atheist websites I've seen. But my comment wasn't actually meant to denigrate the site so much as to express disbelief at the exaggerated reactions of the upthread people. This is philosophy by a lay audience; it's not super sophisticated relative to what they may be used to, but not everyone is ready for such sophistication. Our thinking about these things has to begin somewhere.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: yer a pusillanimous troll.

I'm still waiting for the example of equivocation.

I basically agree it's not the best web site, Mark, and think you are overall right that it smacks of lay philosopher trying to be serious and not quite succeeding.

It's too bad, as the amateurish-looking form and language hides some content that is actually decent once ya' follow the links. And he does list the main arguments even if he uses language that is sort of clumsy.

Anonymous said...

You only need one good argument. I didn't read through all of them, but armed with an argument from evil, it's not as if the atheists need a second proof that there's no deity. True, the linked piece doesn't give us an in depth look at the response and counter-responses, but it's a start.

Don McIntosh said...

From argument one of the cited piece:

"A popular objection to atheists' arguments and critiques of theism is to insist that one's preferred god cannot be disproven - indeed, that science itself is unable to prove that God does not exist. This position depends upon a mistaken understanding of the nature of science and how science operates. In a very real and important sense, it is possible to say that, scientifically, God does not exist - just as science is able to discount the existence of a myriad of other alleged beings."

This assertion almost certainly depends upon playing fast and loose with the notion of “naturalism.” Since so many scientists believe -- but certainly cannot demonstrate by means of the scientific method itself -- that the operating assumption of methodological naturalism leads inexorably to the much broader and much more controversial vision of metaphysical naturalism, the argument for atheism based on “how science operates” is based on an equivocation. But I believe someone here already mentioned that.

In any event devout theists and standout scientists such as Newton, Maxwell, Pasteur, Boyle and Faraday would doubtless be surprised to hear that the scientific method they practiced has rendered the God they believed in to be non-existent.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Good to see something specific finally! Your diagnosis seems off, but then again that first paragraph isn't all that clear.

I find more clear the following attempt to flesh out the argument:
"this alleged entity has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe any thing or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which its presence is either required, productive, or useful."

This is tougher to deal with.

Anthony Fleming said...

For some reason I have never had the same problem with the problem of evil that many others do. I can see the point but it always seems the atheist has to borrow from Christianity on what is evil in order to make the charge. Secondly, the belief never makes the guarantee of a perfect life here but a perfect life in another world. Thirdly, the entire belief of Christianity hinges on a true evil and unjust act done to a man who was least deserving of that act. Yet, somehow that evil act made certain things right again.

Anthony Fleming said...

I forgot my fourth.

For some reason I have trouble with affirming the existence of evil without affirming the existence of good.

GREV said...

"I find more clear the following attempt to flesh out the argument:
"this alleged entity has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe any thing or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which its presence is either required, productive, or useful."

This is tougher to deal with."

Not necessarily.

Anonymous said...

"I can see the point but it always seems the atheist has to borrow from Christianity on what is evil in order to make the charge"

This assumes that theism is required to make sense of morality. Even if we grant this assumption (which I think is highly suspect), we can run the argument from evil as follows (roughly):
(1) Either (i) there's no moral value at all and there's no God or (ii) there's moral value and no God.
(2) Thus, there's no God.

In defense of (i), if there were a God, there would be something supremely good, in which case there would be something of moral value. In defense of (ii), fill in your favorite version of the argument from evil. Whatever else follows from the hypothesis that theism is true, there would be different facts about moral value than those we take to be true. Notice that those who offer this argument aren't committed to the existence of moral value. They are drawing out the commitments of a view that is.

Ana said...

"Evil Conflicts with the Existence of God: God Doesn't Care or God Doesn't Exist"

I remember a discussion with a DC atheist, where she also put forward to me a false dichotomy, (but her's was: "There is either no god or "he" is malevolent. You are ethically bankrupt if you think there could be legitimate moral reasons for your asserted god to allow suffering").

Her latter sentence was in response to my alluding to the third possibility of God having morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil "and in our ignorance of those reasons, we want to conclude their cannot possibly be legitimate moral reasons to allow suffering."

If I was an atheist, and had stated that her's was a false dilmena, I wonder if I would have just was well been charged with being unethical.

Ana said...

"For some reason I have trouble with affirming the existence of evil without affirming the existence of good."

I would have trouble with that too, but interestingly, I would not have trouble affirming the existence of good without affirming the existence of evil.( I do not deny the existence of evil. Rather, what I am suggesting is that for evil to exist, good must exist. For good to exist, evil does not have to exist.)

This makes me think back to that idea that evil is not a "thing" in-and-of-itself, but rather the absence of "something" (of good). But for whatever reason, when worded like that, I don't find it very compelling.

Don McIntosh said...

@ BDK: You say the following would be a tougher argument to deal with than the version:

"this alleged entity has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe any thing or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which its presence is either required, productive, or useful.”

Even if they were not overstated (though I believe they are), those premises would only lead me to the conclusion that belief in God is not a testable scientific theory. But then, neither is my belief in the axioms of logic or mathematics, my faith that the external world presented to me by my senses actually exists, or my confidence that the unproven assumptions which underlie science itself are valid. So in principle God may (as I believe he does) enjoy a lofty epistemic status as a properly basic belief, the sort of which makes the study of science or history possible in the first place.

So the argument is tougher to deal with only if one buys into the popular depiction of modern science as a purely empirical, objective enterprise. I don’t buy into that depiction – again please note that it cannot be confirmed or falsified via scientific means – and therefore the fleshed out version doesn’t trouble me any more than the first.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Perhaps atheists should abandon the use of words like "materialism" or even "physicalism" since the hard isolated "atomic" particles hypothesized by the ancient Greeks (or even of the chemist, Dalton in the early 1800s) have since been replaced by quantum energy connections throughout the cosmos since the Big Bang, including the theory that "information" (spin direction info) can pass between the most distant parts of the cosmos instantaneously. Black holes raise further questions as to how "nothing" but Hawking radiation escapes their insatiable hunger. Neither can we detect most of the alleged "dark matter" that holds galaxies together.

So perhaps words like "materialism" and the "physical" world ought to be replaced by something like "energeticism," that implies the cosmos is more like an active verb, something full of activity, perhaps an activity in and of itself, rather than merely an inactive noun.

Even Coleridge spoke about the mystery of how we know anything at all about "matter" by using as an analogy "matter" hiding behind "sensory phenomena" like "a pin cushion hidden by innumerable pins."

That being said about "materialism," and, "physicalism," I ought to add that "naturalism" is still quite alive and well, including non-substance dualist "emergent" varieties.

So either naturalism (or energeticism) seem viable terms, or one could continue to employ terms like matter and physicalism, so long as one adds that "matter" as we know it today is not "matter" as the ancient Greeks hypothesized about it.

Edward T. Babinski said...


I might add that all systems of belief involve circles of reasoning, and the tight circle known as Christian theology and apologetics is certainly not less narrow than any other.

The circle of Christian apologetic reasoning consists in defending Bible stories about God as well as ancient Greek philosophical conceptions of a God of eternal attributes, a God that needs nothing, and lay beyond time and space (or even the need for bloody sacrifices--to judge by some ancient Greek philosophers). So Christian reasoning involves its own form of narrow circling of the apologetic wagons.

Christians also have to argue for a doctrinal belief system involving a written revelation that adds a plethora of questions raised by historians, and their admission of having only imperfect knowledge of the past.

In the case of the Hellenistic world, the Judaic world and Christian world, we have a past that was strewn with miracle mongering, fervent apocalyptic expectations, and a Jewish search for an "answer" to Rome's claims of not only political but divine preeminence.

Such historical questions are often leaped past by theologians of each religion, from Judaism to Islam and Christianity, each of whom claim to have already understood whatever holy writings their "God" wants them to, and already formulated the perfect and unquestionable creeds of their religions during pre-critical eras of religious belief.

In the case of Christianity the fourth century creedal statements were written by Hellenistic converts. (Hellenistic converts also collected stories and edited together the Gospels a few centuries earlier). But none of the composers of such creeds, knew as much about first century Palestinian Judaism and its apocalyptic element that scholars know today.

People were ignorant of a heap of rational methods of studying ancient documents from comparative analysis of stories found in each of the three synoptic Gospels, to textual examinations and word usage studies to see what words and phrases and ideas were most common to each Gospel author, and noticing/cataloging a host of major and minor differences the Gospel authors displayed when telling the same tales. As for miracle stories, there is only one miracle attributed to Jesus' during his ministry that is found in all four Gospels, the feeding of the many. And then there's also redaction criticism, rhetorical and literary criticism, form and source criticism, and the questions they have raised concerning how stories changed and ideas evolved even in the minds of canonical writers of the "holy" Bible. Such studies during the past hundred years led to the overturning of the priority of Matthew, and the change to the view that the Gospel of Mark contains the earliest versions of many Gospel tales. And it contains a less precise telling of many tales along with a less precise theology, and even lacks birth stories and post-resurrection appearance stories.

In contrast with modern biblical studies early Christian commentaries on Scripture were filled with pious purple prose, and even included a high regard for the Book of Enoch.

Tim said...

"I might add that all systems of belief involve circles of reasoning"

Er, no. Never bought this when it was being urged on me by well-intentioned Christians; I don't see why I should buy it from the other side, either.

Victor Reppert said...

The characteristic of the physical that interest me are the absence of certain critical elements from the basic level of physics: intentionality or aboutness, normativity, subjectivity or perspectivality, and purpose. Ed, would you consider something to be physical if the fundamental-level explanation for its activity were, say, teleological? If something is purposive at the basic level of analysis, could it be naturalistic in any meaningful sense. If yes, then what do we have to include in our explanation in order for us to say "OK, if that's in the basic-level explanation, it's not naturalistic anymore.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Don: no, that was also at in the same article. It is more clear, more plausible as a reason a real atheist might think gods are not necessary. The Laplacian reason: they are not necessary because science leaves nothing out (this is different from methodological naturalism).

I'm not strongly defending it, just pointing out that the article isn't all that bad (and certainly isn't guilty of any obvious equivocation).

Blue Devil Knight said...

The picture of the author makes me want to hate the articles. He looks so damned smug.

GREV said...

Reading long arguments one is reminded of the words of Jesus I believe -- let your words be few.

Or at least try to be as entertaining and intersting as Diarmaid Mccullough in his book Christianity. Even as one chuckles at his obvious over reaching in defense of his presuppositions it is a good read.

Bob Prokop said...

To Ed Babinski,

I have one (perhaps not so minor) quibble with your statement, "The circle of Christian apologetic reasoning consists in defending Bible stories about God".

Christians don't "defend" Bible stories about God (at least, not when we're speaking of the Gospels), we "proclaim" them. Big difference.

Don McIntosh said...

"Don: no, that was also at in the same article."

Oh yeah BDK? Well then how come, when I click on the link at the site itself, all it says is... uhh... Oops. :-)

But for one last shot at the argument: To say that science leaves nothing out sort of begs the question. I.e., if God exists but science cannot detect him, then science has clearly left something out. In light of the inherent incapacity of science to address let alone decide metaphysical questions, such an oversight would not be suprising.

unkleE said...

BDK said: "Good to see something specific finally!"

I've only come to this now, but here's my reaction for what it's worth. I only read the first argument on why science has disproved God. I thought of all those (valid) arguments against Intelligent Design which say that if you want to do science, you prepare hypotheses, conduct experiments or make observations that test the hypothesis and then you draw conclusions.

And so I thought, where is the experimental design and the data that demonstrate that the hypothesis that there is no God is true. I can't think of any.

So I concluded the article wasn't worth reading. And I clicked the back button. Perhaps I was hasty. It may be an OK article but it failed the internet test because the back button looked better value than the scroll bar.