Among all the screaming, bigoted, childish and patronising responses I get from Theists online, there are those few who at least try to make an attempt at a reasonable argument for God. Mostly these are arguments for “a god” in general rather than any particular god, but even a convincing argument for an unnamed God would be an interesting discussion, if the arguments were not logically invalid. Here are four common arguments for the existence of God, and reasons why the argument doesn’t work.
- The Ontological Argument
This is an argument using ‘a priori’ (logical rather than experiential) reasoning. It claims that a perfect being like God must exist in reality because we can imagine him, and he wouldn’t be perfect if he existed only in our imaginations and not in reality too.
There are two big problems with this logic. First, it expects us to believe that any perfect thing we could imagine must exist in reality too – i.e. if I can imagine a perfect Unicorn, it must therefore exist. Secondly, it makes an assumption that “reality” outside of our imagination is somehow “better” without making any effort to prove this assumption first. This is as logical as saying, “I can imagine a perfect Drakadoodle (half Dragon, half… doodle?). It would be less than perfect if it wasn’t on TV as well as in my imagination. Therefore perfect Drakadoodles must exist on the TV.”
Impressively befuddling, but not very convincing.
- The Argument from Design
This argument basically puts forward that things in the universe are so orderly, and conditions so exactly perfect (fine-tuned) for life on Earth, that there must have been an intelligent designer.
I have seen defenders of this argument use various examples from the convenient shape of the banana in a human’s hand, to the (convenient) position of the earth in the solar system, to the complexity of various organs like the eye, which apparently could not have evolved because they would be useless in any version less complex than its current one.
This argument puts the cart before the horse. Douglas Adams put it superbly when he said, “”This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.”
As one who plays table top war-games I am very aware of how easy it is to start thinking your dice are “on your side” when you’re rolling 6′s or “against you” when you’re rolling 1′s. The reality is of course that the dice don’t know or care about you at all; they simply follow a set of physical laws and fall in random positions.
Another way of looking at it is – imagine the universe had evolved in a different way, and because of that, a different species of intelligent being on another planet might have looked at their own good fortune (being alive) as a sign of an intelligent creator, even though those particular beings lived on a boiling planet and were themselves made of sulphur and molten rock.
The fact that we can think about these questions in this particular world with these particular conditions can quite easily be explained by random chance and really does not require the addition of a creator being at all. Furthermore, any natural scientist can testify just how NOT fine-tuned the world really is (for human life) and how, if there was a designer, we’d have to call him a really bad one. The only reasonable explanation for the spleen, the appendix and our “poorly designed” knees is that we are a product of an evolutionary process that neither thinks, nor allies itself with the human race.
… and by the way, the eye thing has been thoroughly disproved. There are many versions of the eye in nature (some creatures have two versions at the same time) all of which could be useful in any lesser, or previous, version of itself on the evolutionary track for various reasons.
- The Cosmological Argument
There is stuff in the universe – where did that stuff come from? Everything is caused by something else, so if you keep going back in time, what caused the first thing to happen? This must have been God.
This type of reasoning asserts that if science can’t tell us exactly how the universe started then there’s only one logical answer – it must have been God. The main problem with this reasoning is that we could just as well ask, “Then what/who made God?”
Not knowing something doesn’t mean we get to simply insert God as the cover-all answer. This is called “God of the Gaps” logic. 6000 years ago humans had no idea why volcanoes erupted, so they decided it must be punishment from God. 1000 years ago we did not understand the germ theory of diseases so again we attributed illnesses to the anger of God, or even demons and spirits. Today we understand plate tectonics, genetics, germ theory and a host of other previously mystifying things which means that we no longer need to insert “God” as the answer to these mysteries.
Similarly, we may not understand right now exactly how the universe started, but that doesn’t mean we won’t in time. Until then we’ll just keep asking the questions and seeing what the evidence reveals. Theists often criticise the “Big Bang” theory because it essentially proposes that everything came from nothing, which seems unreasonable, and yet they don’t seem to have any objection to the concept of an everlasting God who always was and is and is to come.
- The Moral Argument
This argument proposes that there are universal moral laws in the world, and that somebody (God) must have commanded these moral laws. How would all people everywhere understand that say, murder is wrong, if God hadn’t created this moral law?
Some people also argue that morals are invisible and immeasurable by “scientific means” which means they must have a supernatural origin. E.g. you can’t see love, or hold love, or measure love, but you know it exists, so it must be “beyond science” and therefore supernatural.
This is nothing more than a problem of semantics and definitions. Firstly, let me restate the point that, just because science has not yet discovered or understood something, doesn’t mean that it won’t or can’t, and it certainly doesn’t necessarily mean that thing is therefore supernatural. In fact, history demonstrates that most of what we previously thought of as magical or supernatural has become understood in scientific and natural terms. We have no reason to believe that the remaining mysteries of the universe won’t similarly be understood in time.
Morality however is not one of these mysteries at all. Morality is the idea of what we “ought” to do, or how we “ought” to be, which by definition implies that somebody or something has made a decision and has an expectation in this regard. Morality is nothing more than adherence to a particular list of commands issued by very human leaders, churches, cultures, nations, clubs, families, authority figures or some other group or individual. This is easily recognisable in the obvious differences in moral codes and expectations across various religions and cultures. One person thinks God hates alcohol, and another thinks God is indifferent on the matter. Surely he can’t be both?
There are moral principles that are fairly universal, like the idea that it’s bad to steal or lie, but these would certainly pre-date religion and can easily be explained in the context of evolving communities. The individual may feel an urge to lie for their own benefit, but a community quickly attempts to demonise this behaviour because of the negative macro effect on the stability and advancement of the group as a whole. I.e. if everybody lied all the time the community would cease to be functional. In any case, and in every community in existence today, individuals still lie, despite the moral codes they claim to adhere to. This is the constant struggle between the individual’s self-interests and the greater good of the larger community.
We have no reason to believe that morals exist somewhere in space separate from our use of them as a means to describe and categorise. Morals are adjectives rather than nouns. We use them to control how communities behave, and over time we adjust them to suit the changing needs of society. Not too long ago (and even in certain religions today) slavery was considered morally acceptable. Strangely enough God seems to have changed his mind on the matter…
Morality is, in my opinion, more of an argument against the existence of God than for.
All of these arguments, and in fact every argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of God, are logically flawed. In contrast, the overwhelming evidence against God is so convincing as to leave me with very little doubt about the matter. Even if a half reasonable argument could be found for the existence of a “Creator”, it would still not make any specific Religion or God or Holy Book any more likely – if anything it would point to a more advanced intelligent life in the universe, one that could be studied and verified and understood in time.