Sunday, February 10, 2013

5 Weak Arguments Atheists Commonly Make And How To Fix Them

There are theists out there who are dedicating their lives to defending their religious faith and belief in god and many of them spend years sharpening their arguments and have come up with some quite sophisticated uses of logic. That being said, I do not want my fellow non-believers to sound as ignorant as the fundis do. As atheists, non-theists, skeptics, or non-believers - whatever title you call yourself - we cannot be basing our rejection of religion and god purely on emotion. It's easy to point out some stupid verses in the Bible or the Koran and laugh and say "Look at how stupid religious people are for actually believing this stuff, ha ha." That's fine. I'm all for making fun of religious absurdities. But making fun of religion shouldn't be the basis for why you disbelieve. At its heart, there should exist an intellectual foundation for why you call yourself any of the above titles. So what I want to do here is outline some of what I think are the weakest arguments that atheists typically make and offer better alternatives that carry much more weight. None of the alternatives may be perfect or ideal, but they're certainly better than the ones more often being used.

1. I can't disprove the existence of god, but I also can't disprove the existence of unicorns, fairies and the flying spaghetti monster.

This is one of the most common arguments made by atheists and if you think about it, it isn't particularly strong. If unicorns, fairies and the flying spaghetti monster existed, they would be material beings existing inside the universe, and even here on Earth. We could technically search every square inch of the Earth and confirm that they do not exist. We could also measure their supposed effects like leaving money in exchange for teeth and watch if the money exchanged actually comes from the tooth fairy. When arguing that no one can disprove god, it is better to give a similar example that also cannot be disproven by anyone.

A better example would be to say that no one can disprove that we aren't living in a computer simulation and that we're just brains hooked up with electrodes being fed signals that give us the illusion that the world around us is real. It's impossible to disprove such a reality because we wouldn't expect to see anything different if we were in it. The atheist and theist alike has to just assume that they aren't living in a Matrix because their isn't any real testable positive evidence that their senses could use to determine such a possibility is false. The believer in the Matrix possibility has a very similar job as the theist does. He has to argue that the Matrix is real despite the absence of evidence.

2. We're all atheists with respect to other gods like Zeus and Thor, we just go one god further than you.

This is another common argument made by atheists that is actually incorrect. Technically, being an atheist is the rejection that all gods exist, not just 99.99999 percent of them. You cannot be an atheist if you believe just one god exists and reject all the others. That would technically be monotheism. It is important that we make this distinction because a thoughtful or sophisticated theist will be able to point that out and shoot down this argument.

3. Evolution disproves god.

The truth of evolution really only disproves that religions are not literally true in their entirety, but many theists now are coming to embrace evolution with open arms while still keeping their faith in god. You cannot ground your argument against god on evolution, because if the theist accepts it, what are you going to do next? Evolution is true and we know that, but theists need only to see parts of their religion as allegorical to accept it.

Embracing evolution results in a few tricky questions for the theist however. You can ask them when the soul came into existence - did it evolve too? - did it just appear in one generation? For Christians, when did original sin happen? Did our hominid relatives like Neanderthal Man have souls? For Muslims, if there was no literal Adam and Eve, why didn't god supply us with the facts of evolution since Muslims spend a lot of time trying to prove the Koran contains "facts" no one knew at the time etc.

The most important argument surrounding the case for theism is the cosmological argument. So if you want to base your case against god on something, make it on physics and cosmology. Here are some resources to get started:

Science Refutes God:

A Universe From Nothing:

Does the Universe Need God?

4. If you were born in India, you'd be a Hindu, if you were born in Morocco, you'd be a Muslim, if you were born in Kansas, you'd be a Christian. You only believe what you believe because you were raised into it and the fact that there are so many faiths proves they're all false.

This is another common argument, often called the genetic fallacy by theists. The origins of a believe do not necessarily determine whether they're true or false. If you were born in Oxford England, you'd probably believe in evolution. If you were born Oxford Mississippi you'd probably believe in creationism. This doesn't prove that both creationism and evolution are false. The truth of a belief does not depend on how someone came to know it. It might as well have been inculcated into that person at an early age. What really matters ultimately is evidence. Now we happen to have much better evidence for evolution being true compared to creationism, but when evidence is concerned for theism, it is all founded on the cosmological arguments that I provided resources above for. After the cosmological argument, I'd personally say that the moral argument is the next most important because everyone is invested in morality.

5. The existence of evil disproves god.

Finally, there are many atheists who rely completely on the existence of evil or suffering in the world to justify why they disbelieve in god. This can be a powerful emotional argument but it lacks intellect. I don't think the existence of evil proves or disproves god because given the universe we see today, evil exists necessarily. By that I mean, given our nature as human beings, we will harm each other from time to time and that harm we will call evil. The idea that god has to prevent every act of harm, or even just some acts of harm, is I think born out the perceived incompatibility with a loving god. But who says god has to be all-loving? Even if evil disproves the existence of an all-loving god, there's still a possibility for a partly-loving god. And if you read the Old Testament the biblical god appears to love his subjects capriciously.

There are those who argue that god has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil. To this I respond mentioning that natural harm causes animals to suffer, including the higher primates who are consciously aware of themselves and their pain. And the only moral justification for this I've heard is that animals aren't aware of the pain they feel. But like I said, that's not true for primates and at least some other mammals. So Christians are still at a loss for how this is justified.

Basically, human evil should not be the basis for rejecting god because it is plausible to believe in a world made by god who allows humans to harm one another. The existence of evil - natural evil - I would say disproves the all-loving god, but not all concepts of god. In any case, the problems of natural evil I outlined above should always be what's focused on whenever mentioning the problem of evil, and any case for atheism shouldn't be primarily based on evil.

I will see if I can find more weak arguments for a part 2.


  1. Hmmm... I think that some of these aren't really meant to be arguments, and their simplified versions are seen as low-hanging fruit by theists.

    (1) This is simply meant to illustrate that the inability to disprove a proposition is not sufficient evidence to affirm it. And c'mon... the FSM would be totally supernatural and stuff!

    (2) I think this is just meant to be a clever joke, not a logical argument. If there's any argument in there, it's just that theists know full well what it's like to reject all kinds of theologies and dogmas. We're just more consistent.

    (3) I agree, but evolution does show that humans were not designed with great care... or any care, for that matter. This doesn't disprove "God", but it does disprove a certain type of god.

    (4) I think this is usually misstated by theists. Phrased as you wrote it (which is how I've seen lots of theists go about it), it is indeed guilty of the genetic fallacy. But it's generally presented as a probability argument, meant to show that little attention is ever given to competing theologies simply because of our ethnocentric biases.

    (5)Also agreed, but I don't know of any atheists who make that argument. Again it boils down to how you define God. The problem of evil shows that a theistic God who is both benevolent and all-power is logically contradictory. There could still be some sort of god without those properties, but it wouldn't be like the god-concept of Western Monotheism.


    1. Mike I totally agree with you. These aren't real arguments that most atheists rely on. But....I have seen some atheists even in professional debates base their case on several of these weak arguments, and I mainly just want to warn atheists not to rely on them, and offer better alternatives.

      The recent debate of Alex Rosenberg and WLC highlights this issue. Rosenberg almost completely based his case of the problem of human evil. Bad move. If professional philosophers like him can fall for this ready-made trap, just think of what regular folks will do!



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