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Top ten arguments for the existence of God
Do you believe in God? If so, at some point in time, someone convinced you that God does exist. They used one of the ten arguments listed herein. How solid are these arguments and how do they stand up to basic science and reason?
Since the dawn of civilization there have been many arguments for the existence of God. Surprisingly, the vast majority of these arguments fall into the ten or so categories below. Not much has changed in the last 300+ years in terms of new claims or evidence. The same core arguments turn up again and again, often dressed in new clothes (such as "Intelligent Design" or invoking bits and pieces of "Quantum Theory" but they're still the same arguments). How familiar are you with these?
Here are the most popular arguments for the existence of God, along with our critique. You may also notice that many of these arguments are, in themselves, classic examples of logical fallacies.
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Before we get to the Top 10, let's take a look at one argument which is fundamental to them all. This is the Argument from ignorance. It would easily take the #1 spot, but it's important to list this first because all other arguments depend upon this useful presuppositional tool.
The "Glue": Argument from Ignorance
a.k.a. God of the gaps, Godidit!, Argument from authority, False dichotomy, Argument from incredulity, Non sequitur, Ad Ignorantiam, Appeal to Ignorance
The Argument from Ignorance is basically a naked assertion: God did it. That's it. Epitomized by the popular American bumper sticker:
- Take virtually any aspect of our natural world that we don't fully understand (or that both the theist and his audience are not well-informed on), and you'll find a someone claiming God is at the end of that dimly-lit tunnel. Why is there cancer? What causes HIV? Why do people die? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did that tsunami wreck Indonesia? How did the Red Sox win the World Series? It's God's will. What is the meaning of life? To serve God. Why should we act morally? Because God says so. How did so-and-so survive that horrible accident unscathed? It was a miracle. How did life originate on Earth? Godidit! The Argument from Ignorance is the doorway that lets God into any and all claims.
- This isn't so much an argument as it is an unsubstantiated opinion. This claim is made in virtually all other arguments for the existence of god. The theist proposes a scenario that cannot be adequately explained by science or our current level of knowledge, and "fills in the gap" with God. Whenever we don't understand something, we use God as the universal excuse to explain anything unknown.
- Obviously, in earlier days, with less universal knowledge, God was more prevalent. As our knowledge expands, these "gaps" become smaller. The battle over evolution is a desperate attempt to widen this ever-tightening gap that theists have claimed is evidence for the existence of God.
- The irony is that many claims theists make which create these gaps are ones that could be answered with science and reason. The "morality argument" is a good example. People have been told that without God there are no moral standards and therefore God is the true source of morality. These moral constructs can easily be explained without invoking the supernatural, but because of peoples' ignorance and conditioning, it's easier for them to conclude: it's because of God.
The argument from Ignorance is the "glue" for all other claims, because as you will see, there is no indisputable, tangible evidence of the existence of any God. So the other claims create a scenario where there is something "unknown" or "unexplained" into which the notion of "God" is arbitrarily inserted. If the reader can't offer an immediate legitimate explanation, the Argument from Ignorance suggests by default, God is the answer.
Now, onto our Top 10:
10. Shifting the Burden of Proof
a.k.a. You can't prove God doesn't exist, False criteria fallacy, fallacy of questionable criteria
- I know God exists. If you disagree, prove otherwise. Oh you say you can't prove God doesn't exist? That's because you know he does!
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is the way the real world and science work. When you say God exists, you are making an extraordinary claim; therefore, the burden of proof is on you to back up your claim. A position that God doesn't exist is not a "belief," it's the standard position we all start out with until we're indoctrinated into religious schools of thought. People aren't born believing in Jesus. They start out atheist: lacking belief. There is no counter-claim necessary. Nobody has to prove the tooth fairy doesn't exist either.
- Furthermore, it's technically impossible to prove a negative of this nature. I can no easier prove God doesn't exist than you can disprove my claim that I have an invisible, ethereal unicorn in the trunk of my car. I say I do. It's not my fault he disappears when you look there. Prove he isn't there. You can't.
- A famous counter-spin on this argument is the Russell's teapot claim. How do you know there isn't a magical teapot hovering around earth that is responsible for creation? Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there.
9. Argument from Popularity
a.k.a. If God didn't exist why would most of the world believe?, Unstated major premise, Argumentum ad populum
- The vast majority of the world believes in God. This supports the universal truth that God is real, otherwise it makes no sense that so many people would believe.
- Just because a majority of people believe something does not make it true. There was a time when everyone believed the earth was flat, or that the Earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. As our understanding of science and the universe expands, it illuminates the irrationality of many early beliefs. We no longer believe that lightning is caused by the god Zeus waving his scepter. We understand that there are reasons for earthquakes and weather events that have nothing to do with anything supernatural, even though in past times, people were convinced God was at the control panel actively making these things occur, and the weather could be controlled by making sacrificial offerings of humans or other creatures. All sorts of things were commonly accepted as reasonable and acceptable, such as slavery, that we now recognize were unreasonable and unacceptable. If history has taught us anything, it's that just because a large group of people believe something is moral or truthful, does not make it so.
8. The Transcendental Argument
a.k.a. "TAG", The Ontological Argument; If you can't touch "love" how can it be real?, Descartes’s God‐claim, semantic psychobabble, new age
The Transcendental Argument is a bastardization of logic and reason. Theists employ this technique to claim God exists by abandoning any evidence or references, in favor of using logic itself to prove the potential for God's existence. Theists start by examining the idea of God and use this as a basis to prove that merely by recognizing the potential for God to exist, we have therefore proven he does exist.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century coined the argument as such:
- 1. God is, by definition, a being greater than which nothing can be conceived (imagined).
- 2. Existence in reality is better than existence in one's imagination.
- 3. God must exist in reality; if God did not, then God would not be that than which nothing greater can be conceived (imagined).
- The Transcendental Argument is faulty at its onset because it relies on various base assumptions that have not been proven. Items #1 and #2 in the premise are presuppositions which are arbitrary, unproven and therefore meaningless. The Transcendental argument is dependent upon the false assumption that for us to conceptualize something, it must have some basis in reality. Here's another example:
- What is love? Can you see love? Can you touch love? If it is not tangible how can it exist? But you know love is real. You can see what love does in your life and society, so it does exist. God is the same way.
- The Transcendental Argument proves nothing. Just because you want to associate real-world impulses with this concept of "love" does not mean that love is something tangible that exists in the physical world. Love is an abstraction. The concept of love is subjective. As is the concept of God. It's merely a way of describing something, and not, in itself, something that exists. The Ontological Argument ignores this fact.
Another popular spin on this fallacy involves referencing the so-called laws of logic and suggesting that these "laws" have to be dictated by somebody or something, ergo God exists. In reality, there are no "laws of logic". Logic is a name given to describe the function of how your brain processes information. Your stomach's function involves digestion. Is there a "law of digestion?" No. Another intellectually bankrupt semantical run-around.
7. Argument from Coercion
a.k.a. Believe and live forever in heaven, or don't and suffer eternal damnation, Appeal to the stick, Fearmongering, There are advantages to belonging to a church..., Argumentum ad baculum
- You must believe in God/Jesus. It's your only hope for salvation. We are all doomed if we don't accept Jesus as our personal savior. It says so in the Bible. If you want to live forever and avoid suffering, you must accept God.
- Christianity and most organized religions exist mainly due to the Argument from Coercion. The crusades were basically one big argument from coercion: convert or be killed. Needless to say, that's a very effective argument. In modern society, the need to get along with others in the community (which often involves participating in religious rituals or identifying yourself as subscribing to the dominant theology in the area) is also a form of coercion.
- Religion has always sought to wound people, and then offer the cure for their ills. The argument from coercion is just that. Did you know you were cursed to eternal hellfire? Yep. But hey, while I have your attention, if you follow my instructions, we can fix this. Oh, also, it would be nice if you did everything this nice pastor says and give 10% of your income to the church. Thanks!
- Fear has always been a big-time motivational force, but it usually doesn't turn out helpful in the end. There's an easier way to avoid hell and eternal suffering: not believing in it. Then you don't have to give a tithe to the church, subvert your personal responsibility, cultivate an innate sense of insecurity, guilt, and self-loathing, and support institutions that have oppressed, abused, and murdered people in the name of God since their inception.
6. First Cause Argument
a.k.a. something can't come from nothing, Cosmological Argument, Every effect has a cause, First law of thermodynamics proves God exists
- Everything that exists in our world is the result of some sort of "first cause" which brought about its existence. Therefore, there must have been a force which created the universe. That "first cause" is what we call God.
- Like many arguments of this nature, theists make a special pleading to exempt God from their argument. If everything that exists must have a cause, who created God? Variations of this argument employ the first law of thermodynamics to imply that God has always existed because the first law of thermodynamics says matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Nice notion, but it still doesn't prove there's a God. It merely suggests there's more for us to understand, and every day scientists get closer to addressing these issues without referencing God or anything supernatural.
- If there's a recurring theme in any of these arguments, it's that theists pick and choose which tenets of science they want to embrace (the ones that help prove their claims) and ignore all the rest as if they don't exist. These theories are part of a complex interconnected system. It's intellectually dishonest and unethical to ignore evidence that counters your supernatural claims. The First Cause Argument ignores huge amounts of contradictory evidence, as do many of the arguments herein.
More importantly, as we are only half-way into the most common arguments for God, I'm sure you've heard most of these before. And the next five will likely not be a surprise either. The real surprise is that these arguments have been bandied about for hundreds of years. And the refutations of these claims have also been present. This is a testament (no pun intended) to how many religious leaders willfully ignore the flaws and downright misrepresentations in their claims. These critiques are nothing new. A hundred years ago, famous people like Robert G. Ingersoll gave public speeches outlining the same issues. Don't think your neighborhood pastor or priest isn't aware of the faulty logic he is foisting on his flock. It may be their livelihood and they have an interest in saying these stories, but ask yourself if you have as much of a personal advantage in believing the stories told by people who know they aren't true?
5. Argument from Authority
a.k.a. , argumentum ad verecundiam, The Bible proves God exists, Begging the question, Circular reasoning, Tautology.
- God is real because the Bible (or whatever sacred text you believe in) says so. Why would so many people write so much about God if it wasn't true? What about all the miracles that were "documented" by historical writers? There is too much evidence here to dismiss.
- This argument depends upon a presupposition, that the "authority" being referenced is accurate or legitimate. That remains to be seen. Any critical examination of sacred texts such as the Bible clearly show it to be riddled with inaccuracies and contradictions. Using the Bible as any authoritative reference is dubious at best. Since most of these scriptures are the de-facto, almost exclusive evidence of God's existence, using them as a reference amounts to a circular argument. Christians point to the numerous "eye-witness accounts" of Jesus' resurrection in the Gospels as "evidence" that this really happened. But the gospels themselves are riddled with contradictions, and were written decades after the events supposedly took place. It's not unreasonable to consider many of these sources unreliable. You could likewise argue that the overwhelming amount of literature making reference to vampires proves they are real characters that truly do or did exist. Or maybe not. Maybe Jesus, like Count Dracula, Zeus or Santa Claus, was simply a popular mythological figure about which people made up stories?
- It's worth noting that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is another manufactured myth which relies on the Argument from Authority, by claiming certain substantiating references are indeed authoritative, when in reality, they are just arbitrary claims. In time, no doubt, as more people embrace the amusing notion of FSM, we'll begin seeing them use the Argument from Popularity as well.
4. Argument from Personal Experience
a.k.a. I feel the presence of God - I know he's real, Naked assertion
- I know god exists because I can feel him. I know it in my heart; he talks to me; I feel his strength and existence flow through every fiber of my being.
- The problem with the Argument from Personal Experience is that it's personal. Whatever you feel is not something that anyone else can feel. Therefore it is meaningless and inconclusive. I can find somebody who thinks he saw Elvis in Starbucks last week. That doesn't mean Elvis is alive. It means he was deluded. Any claim that cannot be tested or subjected to some sort of independent verification is not a meaningful, legitimate claim. I have no doubt you feel the presence of god, but this can also be explained rationally from a psychological perspective via various concepts such as the power of suggestion, lucid dreaming, hallucinations, mental disorders, etc. Personal "feelings" are not evidential.
3. Argument from Improbability
a.k.a. What are the odds of human beings existing?, Anthropic Principle, Existence defies entropy, Humans are too perfect to have been accidentally created, Special pleading.
- The second law of thermodynamics says matter inevitably becomes entropic (spreads out in chaos) and this defies the observation on Earth where we see, things becoming more organized. Therefore God is responsible.
- What is the likelihood that humans would have turned out the way they have? It's improbable that humanity (or any other impressive life form) arbitrarily came into existence.
- Imagine a wind whipping through a warehouse of airplane parts and blowing the pieces around until they form a perfect, functional 747 jet? That's what we are talking about in terms of the likelihood man "just happened" on Earth. A similar story involves monkeys being given typewriters and eventually writing all the works of Shakespeare.
- A particularly hilarious version of this argument is Peanut Butter: Disproves Evolution?
- This argument works because those making these claims deliberately leave out a critical aspect of the story: No scientist ever said everything happens randomly or arbitrarily. How things evolve, change or become something new and different can be explained using processes such as Natural selection.
- This argument ignores glaring facts in the equation. The second law of thermodynamics applies to a closed system, but the Earth is not a closed system. The entire universe is expanding and entropic. Theists ignore this fact. When employing the Argument from Improbability to the concept of evolution, theists also deliberately ignore the process of natural selection, which clearly demonstrates that the evolutionary process is anything but random and arbitrary. In any case, even if the Argument from Improbability were true, it wouldn't prove the existence of God. Theists also employ the Argument from Ignorance to arbitrarily suggest Godidit! whenever something appears they can't explain. The bottom line is that just because something seems impossibly unlikely to naturally occur, that does not mean it is impossible. In most cases, many of these "improbable" happenings do indeed have clear scientific explanations that theists conveniently ignore.
- Another variation on the Argument from Improbability centers around talking about how "perfect" the Earth, our bodies, the universe, etc. is:
The Earth...its size is perfect. The Earth's size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth's surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter. Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
- Yes, if the Earth is so "perfect" how come the majority of it is covered with water and uninhabitable by humans? How come we weren't born with gills? If the universe is so perfect, why are there so many planets that are totally inhospitable to humans? Why doesn't the moon have an atmosphere? The "perfection" spin doesn't work.
2. Pascal's Wager
a.k.a. Better to believe and be right than not believe and be wrong, It doesn't hurt to believe in god and it's a safer bet, False dichotomy.
- French philosopher Blaise Pascal reasoned that it was a "safe bet" to believe in God just in case he was real. What's the harm? If you believe and he doesn't exist, you don't lose anything, but if you don't believe and he does exist, you lose big time.
- Most theists have reasoned that Pascal's Wager makes sense. The problem is, it is a fool's bet. If God is really omnipotent, then surely he knows that your beliefs are not sincere, that you're just playing the odds. Beyond that, Pascal's Wager does not address the more substantive question of which God you should believe in. Do you believe in Christ, or Xenu, Mithra, Saturn, Buddha, or Allah? What if God's real test was to see who would defy convention and refuse to believe and those were the ones who get to heaven? The permutations in this equation are endless, which proves that Pascal's Wager is a total waste of time. Like all the other arguments, theists will disagree, but only because they've manufactured their own set of rules that convinces them that their reasoning makes more sense. It doesn't though.
1. Argument from Design
a.k.a. Teleological argument, Every creation must have a creator., Intelligent Design, argument from complexity, Argument from final consequences, Special pleading, Ad-hoc reasoning.
This argument has been floating around ever since religion was invented, but was made famous by British Christian apologist William Paley using his watchmaker argument, which was parodied by Bertrand Russell with his Celestial Teapot version.
- The most common analogy used to illustrated the Argument from design is the "watchmaker argument". If you found a watch on the ground, you never met the watchmaker, but you know from its design, the beauty of it; the way each piece was intricately designed to work together, that this watch had a creator.
- Theists point to the human body; the precise way each of our organs work with each other and claim it's the most amazing "creation" of all, and surely there was some sort of creator behind it.
- This most famous argument for God is also the easiest to completely deflate. If anything sufficiently complicated must have a creator, then who created God? It's as simple as that. However, when you point out this flaw in theist logic, they commit another logical fallacy: special pleading to claim that God is the exception to the rule and doesn't need to have a creator.
- Furthermore, every example to date a theist can make to suggest that humans are too complex to have "happened by accident" (another false claim) has been debunked by scientists. The famous Dover trial put the argument from design on trial and the theists failed miserably to prove their case.
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