Arguments against the existence of god

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{{Arguments against god}}
{{Arguments against god}}

Revision as of 15:48, 8 May 2010

Arguments against the existence of god



God claims

There are an infinite possible number of gods. Over a thousand different denominations of Christianity alone, all with their different beliefs on who or what god is. Surely it would be impossible to rule them all out. However if we zero in and examine a theistic claim about a specific god's nature or character, we can draw certain conclusions based on what we've learned about the world through the systematic observations and testing of reality known as science. Despite the theistic assertions that god cannot be caged by science, these specific claims made by the theist can be assessed. As our understanding of the world has increased through science, the gaps that god is able to inhabit have gotten smaller and smaller. With every additional piece of information we learn about the world, the more the constraints tighten on what a god could have or can do. This is perhaps best stated in Stephen Hawking's a brief history of time.

Stephen Hawking in A brief history of time c.1988

"One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterward in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!"

With our current understanding of our place in the world through biology and astrophysics, we are able to make assessments about certain aspects or claims of god. We have mountains of empirical evidence that life is a result of evolution, not specific intentional creation by an omnipotent being as depicted in genesis. We have mathematical evidence that the Noah's ark could not have stayed afloat during a rainstorm of such capacity that earth's highest peaks were submerged. We have historical evidence that the Israelites were never enslaved by the Egyptians as depicted in Exodus. As it currently stands, our understanding of the universe places the necessity and likelihood of a god or gods, to be on about the same footing as the tooth fairy.

Strong Atheism vs.Agnosticism

Strong atheism is the position that we should not suspend judgment about the non-existence of gods. Agnosticism is the position that we should suspend judgment on the existence or non-existence of gods.

If strong atheism is true, then agnosticism is invalid. One can give various strong-atheistic arguments to prove the validity of strong-atheism and therefore disprove agnosticism.

Many agnostics posit that we do not or cannot have any knowledge on the god-concept, and that this their justification for their agnosticism. If one posits that no knowledge is possible, for instance because human beings are too limited for their arguments to have any weight, then one can deny any argument. This is the most popular agnostic position.

It is certainly an attractive position, especially for nihilists. If we cannot really know anything, then ignorance is a privileged position.

While we can argue this from an epistemic standpoint, by affirming the power of science and rational thinking, or by demonstrating why reason is our means to knowledge, there is a very simple way to express the incoherency. Agnosticism, by denying the non-existence of gods, posits that the existence of gods is possible. Starting from this, we must ask agnostics the following:

How can you derive meaning from a concept you can know nothing about?

If one presupposes that no knowledge about “god” is possible, including semantic knowledge, then one cannot give any objective meaning to “god”. Therefore the proposition “the existence of gods is possible”, which is part of agnosticism, becomes meaningless, and so is agnosticism made meaningless.

Another direct and critical problem with such an agnosticism is that it is self-refuting. If we are impotent beings, if we can make no statement of knowledge, then certainly we cannot claim to know this.

We do not, in fact, need to be unlimited beings in order to make propositions about hypothetical unlimited beings.

Aren’t universal negatives impossible to prove?

It is usually assumed that universal negatives cannot be proven. Indeed that is the main complaint heard about strong atheism: that it cannot by definition be proven, because it is a universal negative. Usually this is associated with a pretense of omniscience. The argument is that to say that something does not exist, one needs basically to “look” everywhere, thus be omniscient.

But on the other hand, we know that no contradiction can exist, because of the laws of logic. But we can make up contradictory entities. For example, the expression “married bachelor”. A bachelor by definition cannot be married, therefore the expression is contradictory. When the term being used is contadictory, the universal negative is true automatically, like “There is no married bachelor”.

All that is needed to prove such a negative is to show that the concept in question is meaningless or contradictory. For example, an argument often used against the existence of hypothetical gods is the Argument from Evil. In this case, the evidence is that a god must be omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent, and the fact that evil exists. We do not need to know everything to know that evil exists and compare this with a god’s infinite attributes, and yet it is sufficient to argue strong atheism, because it shows that gods are incompatible with our universe.

Another means to prove a universal negative about the non-existence of X consists of finding a positive which opposes X. For instance, science disproved the existence of phlogiston by demonstrating the scientific fact that combustion is sparked by the existence of a substrate combined with oxygen, and therefore not by phlogiston.

It is therefore basically a fallacy to say that universal negatives cannot be proven. Indeed that is the main role of logic: proving universal negatives to remove all contradictions from thought. It would be surprising if universal negatives couldn’t be proven.

“There are actually two ways to prove the nonexistence of something. One way is to prove that it cannot exist because it leads to contradictions (e.g., square circles, married bachelors, etc.). The other way is, in the words of Keith Parsons, “by carefully looking and seeing.” This is how we can know that such things as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Abimonable Snowman, etc. do not exist.” -Jeffery Jay Lowder, in “Is a Proof of the Nonexistence of a God Even Possible?”

In fact, the scientific method only admits for universal negatives – in science, you can only falsify something completely, not confirm it completely. Something is judged to be true because it stands to the test of falsifiability extensively enough to be unassailable. But failing one single test disqualifies a specific principle from being accepted.

The Presumption of Atheism

Although many atheist philosophers have offered arguments against the existence of God, some have thought that it is not necessary to do so in order to establish the rationality of atheism. There is, it is argued, a presumption of atheism; because of the nature of theism, we ought to be atheists unless we are presented with strong evidence for theism, even if we do not have any specific arguments for atheism. There are two types of atheism: weak and strong. Weak atheism is defined negatively as the absence of belief in God. Strong atheism is defined positively as the belief that God does not exist.

The presumption of atheism argument comes in two forms, one relating to weak atheism and the other to strong atheism.

The Presumption of Weak Atheism

Some weak atheists argue that atheism is the default position because he who asserts must prove. Theists make the positive claim that God exists. Weak atheists do not make the positive claim that God does not exist, but merely withhold their assent from the theists’ claim that God does exist. According to the weak atheist, because it is the theist that makes an assertion, it is the theist that bears the burden of proof. He who asserts must prove, and so unless the theist can offer some convincing argument for God’s existence, the weak atheist will be justified in his atheism.

The Presumption of Strong Atheism

The same argument does not apply to the strong atheist. The strong atheist’s position is just as assertive as that of the theist. The theist asserts that God exists; the strong atheist asserts that God does not exist. In the hands of the strong atheist, the presumption of atheism argument must therefore be reformulated. The strong atheist cannot point to the tentativeness of his position as a reason why he need not offer an argument for it. Instead, some strong atheists point to the ordinariness of their position as fulfilling this role.

Strong atheism, it is argued, coheres with our observations of the world around us; it does not go beyond our experiences. Theism, on the other hand, makes extraordinary claims about spiritual beings, a heavenly realm, and the imminent resurrection of the dead. These claims, unlike those of the strong atheist, are extraordinary, i.e. they do not fit with our everyday experiences, and they are therefore to be disbelieved except in the face of extraordinary evidence.

Notable counter arguments

v · d Arguments against the existence of god
Existential arguments   Argument from nonbelief · Problem of Evil (logical) . Who created God? · Turtles all the way down · Problem of non-God objects · Argument from incompatible attributes · No-reason argument · Santa Claus argument · Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? · Outsider test
Arguments from the Bible   Failed prophecy in the Bible · Biblical contradictions
Evidentiary arguments   Problem of evil (evidential) · Inefficacy of prayer
Reasonableness arguments   Occam's Razor · Outsider test · Argument from locality · Argument from inconsistent revelations
Other arguments   Emotional pleas
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