An Atheist answers “20 Short Arguments Against God’s Existence”
This single-panel comic strip succinctly and adequately describes the bulk of my interaction with the other citizens of the Internet over the last couple of decades. If you think that this is an exaggeration, I’ll refer you to my wife, who will attest that we have had some version of this conversation many, many times. I simply have a strange attraction to correcting bad arguments and inane claims, whenever I see them. Now, since I am an avowed and outspoken atheist, one might think that this generally culminates in my conversing with the religious. However, I tend to spend just as much time correcting many of the lies, misconceptions, and really bad arguments that embedded themselves into the modern humanist/materialist/atheist subculture as I spend in debunking poor religious apologetics. The simple fact that someone’s end point-of-view agrees with mine does not make their claims right. Just like in High School math, it doesn’t matter if you stumbled upon the correct answer; you show your work because the process of finding that answer is more important than the answer itself.
To that end, when I saw a video called “20 Short Arguments Against God’s Existence,” by Hemant Mehta, posted on the Friendly Atheist blog, I knew I was going to have to respond.
1. There’s no evidence
This is actually quite untrue. There’s a good bit of evidence. Particularly anecdotal evidence from believers. This is a common mantra among atheists, but it’s a very bad one to utilize because it is blatantly untrue. When engaging in a persuasive dialogue with a believer, if one of your foundational arguments is as thoroughly untrue as this statement, it gives your audience a reason to immediately dismiss your position.
A better, more accurate claim would be, “I am not aware of any demonstrable evidence which is convincing.” This claim is honest, acknowledging that we don’t have complete knowledge and that there may exist something of which we are unaware. It also clarifies that we are referring to evidence which can be verified by outside parties, eliminating things like anonymous anecdotes and personal revelation from the mix. Finally, this statement acknowledges that some things which seem like good evidence to a believer are wholly unpersuasive to a non-believer– for example, the fine-tuning of the universe or current ignorance as to the process by which abiogenesis may have occurred.
2a. God doesn’t stop the evil in the world
Theodicy, or the Problem of Evil, has been a very common question in philosophy for more than two millennia. As such, it is a question which has been tackled by theistic philosophers and theologians for nearly as long. Unless you are familiar with this area of philosophy– particularly Alvin Plantinga’s work, which is extremely commonly cited by modern apologists– it’s quite likely that a believer will dismiss you as being uninformed on the subject.
2b. According to the Bible, God caused a lot of evil
3. Drowning everything alive is not a sign of love
4. The opening lines of the Bible are factually wrong
Firstly, arguing against the deity described by the Bible does not constitute a very convincing argument against theism, in general. At best, it might show that the Jewish or Christian conceptions of God are flawed. However, it says nothing at all about whether a God exists.
More importantly, however, is that most atheists tend to be wildly ignorant of the fields of hermeneutics and exegesis. They are so used to dealing with fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally that they are completely unaware that the majority of Judaism and Christianity has never thought this was the proper way to read the text. Atheists who are unfamiliar with hermeneutics are likely to be quickly dismissed by Christians with even a rudimentary knowledge of this process.
5. Prayer has never fixed anything physically impossible [to fix]
The follow-up question being, “Why won’t God heal amputees?” This is, again, an example of conflating a broad and general belief (“God exists”) with specific claims about that belief (“prayer to God can lead to miraculous healing”). Invalidating the latter does not necessarily invalidate the former. There are plenty of theists who do not believe in any miraculous healings.
Furthermore, the idea that the primary purpose of prayer is to request things for oneself from God is a common misconception on the part of atheists, and not one shared by the majority of theists. Yet again, displaying ignorance of someone’s beliefs often makes it very easy for them to dismiss your arguments, entirely.
6. There are thousands of gods you don’t believe in
Followed by, “What makes yours any different?” Given half an opportunity, a great many theists would absolutely love to tell you about why their god or gods are different from those claimed by others. This is especially true for anyone with even a modicum of apologetics training.
7. Where you are born determines what you believe
This is a particularly egregious fallacy. Noting that people in similar geographic areas tend to have similar beliefs says nothing at all about the veracity of any of those beliefs. This is a version of the argumentum ad populum fallacy, and we should strive to avoid fallacious arguments whenever possible, if our aim is to convince others of the rationality of our own beliefs.
8. Who created God? And how does your answer make any sense?
Once again, displaying one’s ignorance of the millennia of philosophy and theology regarding this question is not very likely to be convincing to anyone with even a modicum of experience in these fields. If you are not familiar with the concepts of non-contingency and eternity, or with the manner in which these concepts are applied to deity in classical theology, you really should not be asking this question. And if you are familiar with these things, you would not be asking this question.
9. Pediatric cancer
This goes right back to 2a and the discussion of the Problem of Evil. Again, if you are not familiar with the philosophy which has been done in this field, you are not going to be convincing to anyone, let alone strong believers.
10. Unconditional love shouldn’t come with a list of conditions
Similar to 5, Mehta is again conflating the general claim over God’s existence with specific claims about God’s nature. Commenting on the latter says nothing at all about the former.
11. Every single supposed miracle gets debunked
There are actually quite a few “supposed miracles” which have not been debunked. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches tend to be particularly adept at listing such events. Amongst Catholic apologists, the Incorruptibles and Our Lady of Fatima are particularly popular. While it is far from convincing, to a non-believer, that these anomalous events were supernatural in origin, neither can it be claimed that these things have been clearly shown to be falsely portrayed (which is the meaning of “debunked”).
12. The 10 Commandments left off “Don’t rape” and “Slavery is bad”
Another instance of conflating the general and the specific, as well as another instance of objectionable interpretation of someone else’s beliefs. Generally, “your god doesn’t behave the way non-believers want a god to behave” is not the most convincing argument.
13. The movies and music that honor God are just awful
While there are some fairly prominent examples of bad Christian art, today, this claim is preposterously overbroad. Even as an atheist, I can absolutely proclaim that much of the best and most beautiful art ever produced has been religious in nature. If we are talking about music, it’s incredibly easy to find extremely good pieces which were written to honor God– Gregorian chants, classical and baroque pieces, choir music, gospel music, and much more. In film, focusing on a terrible movie like “God’s Not Dead” without acknowledging the magnificence of a movie like “The Ten Commandments” is simply willful ignorance.
14. The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike
15. No hide-and-seek game lasts this long
Radio waves. Gravity. Dark matter and dark energy. We don’t have to go far to acknowledge a number of invisible things which are almost certainly extant. It’d be better to compare the entirely undetectable with the non-existent, but I wouldn’t even recommend that unless two conditions are first met: your opposition has made the claim that God is entirely undetectable, and you are at least somewhat familiar with the arguments for and against Verificationist philosophy.
16. Science explains so much of what we used to attribute to a god
17. The more we learn, the less reason we have to believe in God
Scientific understanding of a phenomenon is not mutually exclusive with the attribution of that phenomenon’s explanation to a god. For example, the people over at the BioLogos foundation will completely agree with all of mainstream biology that the complexity of life can be understood through a combination of the blind processes of genetic variance and natural selection. Understanding the way in which it works does not preclude one from attributing the way in which it works to a god.
18. Explaining your mythology makes you sound crazy
Explaining that the Earth moves around the Sun to someone who has never heard it before sounds pretty crazy, too. Explaining that Time shifts and bends in accordance with an observer’s acceleration or velocity sounds crazy. Explaining that there is an infinite quantity of real numbers that are greater than 1 and less than 2 sounds crazy. “That sounds crazy” is not a particularly good epistemological qualifier.
19. If God didn’t exist, the world would look exactly the same
This is just blatant question-begging. Mehta assumes God is not necessary to the world in order to argue that God does not exist. One cannot claim to be supporting a more rational view than his opposition while supporting that view with logical fallacies.
20. If God existed, he would smite me right now
This is one of the most juvenile, ignorant, and fallacious of all the arguments which could be made against God’s existence. Making this claim is like declaring to your audience, “I have absolutely no intention of addressing my opposition’s beliefs in a fair and rational manner.” You might as well just stick your fingers in your ears and scream, “Nuh-uh!”
The Real Problem
My contention against Hemant Mehta’s “20 Short Arguments” is more than just the sum of its fallacious parts. The real problem is that even attempting to formulate arguments against the existence of God unnecessarily assumes a burden of proof which does not naturally belong to the skeptic. I do not believe in the existence of gods. If someone wants to convince me that some deity exists, the onus is on that person to support their claim. If I want to address the problems in a person’s specific case for the existence of deity, I will do so. However, the minute I try to extend that response into a more general claim about the ontology of deity, I am stepping beyond the role of a skeptic and into the role of a claimant. This is why I tend to steer clear of anti-theist religious antagonism. Why should I take the theist’s burden upon myself?
I do not burden myself with attempting to find arguments against the existence of unicorns or fairies or elves or ghosts or UFO’s. There’s no reason I should do so with God, either.