Monday, September 21, 2009

7 Arguments Atheists Can't Use

"The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." - Psalm 14:1

An atheist, as the wordsmith Noah Webster so aptly defined, is one who disbelieves in and denies the existence of a God, and every now and again a person will find himself in the company of one or more of these kinds of people. Of atheism, here is the outrageous thing: there is not one viable argument which can be given by the atheist to support the disbelief in or denial of the existence of a God. Their position is entirely assumed apart from any reasonable basis. Of course, the atheist will deny such a charge, though it was C.H. Spurgeon who reminded us, "Skepticism is no very great achievement. Nothing is easier than to doubt. A man of moderate ability or learning can doubt more than the wisest men believe. Faith demands knowledge, for it is an intelligent grace, able and anxious to justify itself; but infidelity is not required to give a reason for the doubt that is in it." (The Clue of the Maze, p. 19) As a Christian, I am writing from the faith in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, and I have compiled several of the most common arguments that atheists use to support their atheism in order to show how none of them are viable arguments against the existence of God.

1. Evolution

Probably the most common argument used by atheists in recent years to disprove the existence of God is an appeal to the theory of evolution - somehow they think that if evolution is true it follows that God does not exist, but such an argument is completely worthless. Though I myself ardently reject the theory of evolution, there are numerous Christians and non-Christians who see theistic evolution as an entirely tenable explanation of creation. That is the belief that God designed and had a part to play in the evolutionary process. In fact, I would argue that one would have to believe in theistic evolution if one was to believe in evolution at all. Were the theory of evolution true, the thought that the present state of things should have come about by chance is so utterly impossible and beyond all sensible hope that it is nothing short of miraculous. If evolution were true, either God had an active part to play in it or we must throw rationality to the wind. The fact that there are many theistic evolutionists in this world today (who are the only reasonable evolutionists) reveals that the atheistic argument that evolution disproves God is ridiculous, null and void.

2. The "Problem" of Evil

It is argued that because evil exists, God doesn't exist. However, the exact opposite is true: Because evil exists, it proves that God exists. Were it true that there was no God, and that everything in the universe had an impersonal, naturalistic beginning, then evil wouldn't exist at all. Evil is a moral word, and morality has no place in an impersonal, naturalistic universe. Whatever is, is, and whatever is, is not deviant but totally natural. In such a universe murder isn't wrong, it just hurts. Kidnapping children to use them as sex slaves isn't wicked; it's not even twisted. However, to talk like this is nonsense because every human being inherently knows evil exists, and every human experience proves the opposite. Even the atheist knows evil exists because he argues that the existence of evil disproves the existence of God! The existence of evil proves conclusively that we live in a personal universe that was created by a moral God. The "problem" of evil is really the atheist's problem, not the theist's.

That both evil and God exist is also not a problem for the Christian, for the Bible explains why God allows evil to exist, and how God has not turned a blind eye to evil but has condemned it conclusively and will judge it eternally. Therefore this poses no problem. But even if someone chose to reject the Biblical testimony concerning the existence of both evil and God, they still have no grounds to deny the existence of a God simply because evil exists. There is another valid option (though not a convincing one), and that is that an evil God exists. Whatever someone might choose, there is no grounds for atheism by an appeal to evil.

3. Hume's Argument Against Miracles

Another common argument atheists use against the existence of God, and against all things supernatural, is taken from David Hume's argumentation against miracles, or against anything out of the "ordinary". Hume argued, basically, that miracles were "a violation of natural law" and anything that might be purported as a violation of natural law (or anything out of the ordinary) needed such an incredible amount of evidence in order to be believed that he essentially ruled out all possibility of believing anything "supernatural".

But here a few preliminary questions are in order: What is "ordinary"? If indeed God exists, would not God be a part of the ordinary? As even an atheist once told me, "If God exists then anything He does in our world is technically not supernatural but perfectly natural, though we may personally not be accustomed to it." Also, who said a miracle was a "violation" of natural law? Today it has been generally agreed in the philosophical debate that Hume was wrong in his definition of miracle, which seriously undermines his entire argument (see Hume's Abject Failure by John Earman, PhD, Princeton). A miracle is not a violation of natural law but is wholly consistent with natural law, once one takes into consideration God. Therefore, in a theistic worldview, there is nothing so unusual about a miracle that would set it apart in a category making it hopeless to prove. The simple testimony of a miracle is just as valid as the simple testimony of anything else.

Suppose a miracle from God really did happen, and suppose it was in fact witnessed by several people (the number is irrelevant). In Hume's thinking, no one would ever be able to believe the witnesses even though the event actually happened, and thus the world is robbed of exceedingly priceless knowledge. Any epistemology that does not allow for the simple testimony of true events should be re-evaluated as obstructive and insufficient.

Finally, regardless of how untenable Hume's argument is, it contributes nothing to the disbelief in a God, for it concerns miracles, and Deism is still an option. Therefore it should not be used by atheists to support atheism. Meanwhile, the perpetual tide of miraculous testimony still genuinely attests to the existence of the personal God.

4. God is a Crutch

It is frequently stated by atheists that people only believe in God because God serves them as a crutch; something to help or comfort them because of their weakness or need. Of course, there are several obvious reasons why this argument is totally invalid.

First of all, regardless whether or not God helps and comforts people, the existence of God does not depend upon someone liking or not liking God to be there. We could point out the absurdity of the reverse, that since atheists believe that God does not exist, and draw a certain amount of comfort from that, it follows that God must exist. This reasoning is just as ridiculous when applied to the theist. That the existence of God is indeed a comforting reality for believers serves nothing to disprove God, and what shall we say about people who believe in God and yet draw no comfort from it?

The thing is, in order for people to draw comfort from God, they must first believe that there is a God to draw comfort from - there must be some reason why they feel they can call out to a God who will help them. They have faith, and their faith must have a basis, or else there would be no faith. Speaking for Christians, we do not believe in God, as the atheist suggests, because God is a crutch for us. That is no basis. We believe in God because of the uniform testimony of creation, Scripture and human experience. It is because we believe in God (and the Judeo-Christian God at that) that we are able to draw comfort from Him, and not the other way around. Therefore the atheist who argues in this fashion misses the whole point and puts the cart before the horse.

The truth is, believing in God brings with it a certain amount of discomfort. If we believe Biblical revelation, for example, we must believe that God is a consuming fire - a holy and just judge who will punish the ungodly with everlasting destruction. That includes our lost friends, family members and even ourselves before salvation. We must acknowledge that our sinful passions are unacceptable, though we enjoy them so much. We must also face the ridicule and oftentimes persecution that comes with believing the message of Christ crucified. In all reality, to become a Christian is not to take up a crutch but to take up a cross. "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." (Matt. 16:24-25) I should think, rather, that it is the atheist who finds a crutch in disbelieving the existence of God when all the evidence is finally weighed.

5. Religious Crimes

Another argument put forth, usually in a last ditch effort by the atheist to make his tottering position seem tolerable, is that because so many crimes have been committed in the name of God it must therefore follow that God does not exist, and that religion is false. But when we speak of crime, we are speaking of immorality, and immorality only exists as far as God exists, and immorality is immoral only because it is a transgression of the law of God. There actually can be no "religious crimes" without the existence of God.

Furthermore, it is not religion, true religion, nor God, that commit these crimes, but so-called "religious" people who themselves violate the very idea of religion by their crimes. We must also consider the immeasurable good that faith in God has caused in the world, as well as the immense evil this world has seen on account of denying God. It is always some form of godlessness that is the source of all sin, whether it be categorized as "religious" or atheistic.

6. If God Had No Beginning, Why Not the Universe?

Sometimes it is argued that if theists can say God has always existed, then atheists can equally say the universe has always existed. Whatever one believes, something has had to have always existed, because everything that currently is could not have come from nothing. The thought alone is staggering to both theist and atheist alike. Christians affirm the Scriptural revelation that God has always existed as God, and that at one definite point God created the universe from nothing. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) This verse refers to the beginning of the universe, not the beginning of God. It is the beginning of our history, and it is remarkable that such an ancient sentence holds such profound meaning today. But is it true that if Christians can say God has always existed, so atheists can say the universe has always existed?

The answer is no. As much as atheists would like to believe it, the demise of this argument is that the more we learn about the universe, the more we learn that the universe in fact had a beginning. Scientific research has advanced leaps and bounds in the area of physics, astronomy and cosmology in the last 100 years, and as it has, the truth of Genesis 1:1 has proven itself to be accurate: that is, that there was in fact a beginning to the universe. Christians believed that the universe had a beginning for thousands of years despite the fact that the dominate belief in the ancient and pre-modern world was that the universe was a constant. Today, however, modern science has completely turned the tables. "[Today], the dominant idea of cosmology is that the universe had a beginning." (Dr. Adam Frank, University of Rochester) "The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that the universe began with a "Big Bang"... the Big Bang theory is the most widely accepted theory of the creation of the universe." (Dr. van der Pluijm, University of Michigan) "All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning... This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology." (Stephen Hawking, University of Cambridge)

Therefore, because modern science is revealing the fact that the universe did in fact have a beginning, this argument cannot be used. It is up to the atheist to first prove that the universe did not have a beginning - a belief contrary to the scientific evidence. Nothing comes from nothing, so if the universe had a beginning, as the ancient Scripture declares, it is one of the greatest proofs for the existence of God. Besides, even if the universe had always existed, how does that prove atheism anyway?

7. The Belief in God is Unfalsifiable

Lastly, it is often objected by atheists that the belief in God is a belief that is unfalsifiable, that is, that you cannot disprove it even if it were false, and therefore anyone who believes in God exercises a purely unscientific faith which should not be recognized. They compare believing in God to believing in leprechauns or unicorns, or, to the unfalsifiable claim, "Everything just grew double in size... Prove me wrong!" So they compare this with the theistic assertion, "God exists... Prove me wrong!" But is this really the case with theism? Is this a valid objection leveled against the belief in God?

This argument would be valid if it were accurately and faithfully representing the theist's position, which it is not. Accusing theists of making unfalsifiable claims is just one of the many thoughtless strawmen that atheists have invented to dismiss the belief in God. Despite what some may say, people all over the world believe in God because they have reason for doing so, and it is because they have a reason for doing so that the belief may be disproved and falsified. Since any belief stands upon some argument, destroy the argument and you destroy the belief. Any belief that does not stand upon an argument should indeed be rejected as unintelligent, but such is not the case with theism.

If a man says, "Unicorns exist", one need only ask him the reason for him saying so. If he gives some empirical evidence, like, "I saw one in the zoo", one simply needs to go to the zoo and ask if they have ever had a unicorn there. If he rather says, "Because the great spirit of the unicorn spoke to me", one can investigate whether he is lying, or whether he is mad. But if it is found that he is neither lying, nor mad, and whatever other facts necessarily precede or follow this premise add up, it would be reasonable to believe him. The point is, his assertion may be falsified. Likewise, the belief that God exists does not stand alone without any reasonable basis - ask a Christian sometime why he or she believes in God. If an atheist wishes to falsify the claim, he ought to go about answering the evidence rather than use such an argument as the strawman in question.

Conclusion: I Don't Want There to Be a God

I have learned that the source of all atheism springs from the heart, and not the brain. Atheism is not an intellectual position, but a dogmatic faith cloaked in intellectual jargon - else why do atheists argue so feverishly? Why do the emotions rise so? It is because they do not want there to be a God. It is because of what believing in God would mean, and that is something they are not willing to face. "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, They have done abominable works..." (Psalm 14:1) History tells the story of thousands of atheists who have bowed their knees in repentant faith before the Lord God of heaven and earth. Was it because they suddenly gave up their intellect? Most certainly not! Was it not rather because they submitted their wills to the sovereign will of the true and living God? As long as the heart rages against God no amount of reasoning will stop the infinite flow of irrational arguments proceeding from a fool, but all arguments will cease once the heart is still.

To my dear atheist friends: not wanting God to be there does not change the fact that He is there, and as long as you continue to fight against God you are only hurting yourself and others.


Micah and Katie said...

Hey Eli,

Good stuff! Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I have studied these same arguments for many years and came to the same conclusion. People don't want to believe in God because it means they would have to change...

Jon said...

'Bout time you wrote a new post, Eli!

I'll say, in brief, that I agree with many of your criticisms of arguments for atheism. However, I think your characterization of some of those arguments commit the straw man fallacy. I very rarely hear atheists say #7, for example.

If I respond to your arguments in full, it will probably be via e-mail (because I don't want our discussion to be derailed by other commenters here). That, or I'd like to discuss this with you in person--say, over lunch sometime soon.

Eli said...

I very rarely hear atheists say #7 too, Jon!

Would love to receive an email from you or talk about them.

Take care, Jon.

Michael Spotts: . said...

Excellent article, Eli. Thanks.

The fact that apart from an infinite, personal reference point (God) all things are impersonal and meaningless, is enough to open many people to reconsider their views. Few people are willing to accept a reality that is so personally mundane and pointless as that which naturalism actually posits.

Karen said...

Eli, I really enjoyed reading this article. I especially liked: "In all reality, to become a Christian is not to take up a crutch but to take up a cross."

KingJimmy said...

Good points Eli. However, I might rise one objection to point 6. So far as I understood what I learned in physics class, matter which makes up the raw "stuff" of the universe gives some creedence to the notion that the universe might have always existed in the same sense that God has always existed.

Because one of the laws of physics states, so far as I have understood it, that matter can neither be created or destroyed. Matter may change shape, size, and form, but there has always been and always will be the same amount of "matter" to the universe. And if my understanding of this law of physics is correct, then this does give some philosophic basis for somebody to assert that the universe has always existed in the same way God has always existed. And so far as I have understood the claims of scientists, they believe the universe we presently live in has likely expanded and contracted forever and ever in a never ending cycles of big bangs and collapses. Of course, something like that is impossible to prove on a scientific level, as any evidence of such a thing would be lacking if everything has indeed been recycled 1000 times over.

But, whatever the case, when arguing with atheists on purely philosophical grounds, I will at least concede the idea that the universe has always existed in one way, shape or form, as theoretically plausible based on the law of physics which states that the amount of matter that exists is a constant, never increasing or decreasing.

Just a thought to consider for the next time you are engaging an atheist who objects to the existence of God based off his interpretation of science.

God bless,

Jimmy Humphrey
I Am A Disciple

Micah and Katie said...

Hey Jimmy,

Just a comment on your comment. I have actually spent quite a bit of time on this subject of whether or not the universe can collapse in a reverse big bang, or "big crunch". There is an interesting article in Time magazine June 25, 2001. The article speaks in scientific terms about how they are starting to be prove (contrary to their own theories) that the universe is expanding a faster and faster rate every second. This would mean that a collapse is impossible and can be proved scientifically. I would encourage you to have a look. The article can be read here . Be warned that it is pretty heavy stuff and has taken me a while to process! Also, the article isn't as cool without the pictures, I have a photocopied version from the library : )

Also on the Stephen hawkings webpage, he states the following concerning the Oscillating universe: "Though no theory has been developed to explain how this could ever happen, it has a certain philosophical appeal to people who like the idea of a universe without end." So there's not really even a theory yet to explain how this would be possible! That quote is available from here .

Chuck Colson in his book "How now shall we live" addresses the 2 laws of thermodynamics, he says: "
...the implication from general relativity theory that the universe is expanding; the finding that the stars exhibit a "red shift," implying that they are moving outward; and finally, the realization that the two laws of thermodynamics actually make it imperative to believe in a beginning to the universe.

The second law of thermodynamics, the law of decay, implies that the universe is in a process of gradual disintegration--implacably moving toward final darkness and decay. In other words, the universe is running down like a wound-up clock. And if it is running down, then there must have been a time when it was wound up. In the eloquent words of Lincoln Barnett in The Universe and Dr. Einstein, 'the inescapable inference is that everything had a beginning: somehow and sometime the cosmic processes were started, the stellar fires ignited, and the whole vast pageant of the universe brought into being.'

What's more, the first law of thermodynamics (the conservation of matter) implies that matter cannot just pop into existence or create itself. And therefore, if the universe had a beginning, then something external to the universe must have caused it to come into existence--something, or Someone, transcendent to the natural world."

So with all that said, I would back Eli up 100% on this, science is on the side of a universe banged into existence and is expanding (decaying) ever faster with no signs of reverse. At this point, I would say that atheists would have a hard time using this argument to prove that God doesn't exist!

KingJimmy said...

Good thoughts. I'm not sure I'm really in a position to offer a counter argument and tell you what the latest revision of scientific thought is in regard to these things. I just hold it out as a possibility that one could make a decent argument against this particular point.

Steve Downey said...

1) Intelligent Design theory begins with the presumptions that non-existence is more normal than existence and randomness is more normal than complexity, therefore existence and complexity must have been caused. But these presumptions have no basis and are easily challenged. Just repeat after me: Existence is normal; complexity is normal. Bingo. You’re an atheist. 2) Motor oil is good for an engine, bad for a stomach. The goodness and badness of things follows partly from their nature. If, however, you were trying to kill someone, then motor oil in a stomach would be good. Goodness also necessarily involves context, purpose, goal. Ethics follows from reality and religion is at best a recording of that. 3) The testimony of a witness is a fine starting point, but there’s no reason to stop there: You can experiment. Five hundred years ago, the only honest answer to whether the Sun goes around the Earth or the Earth around the Sun was, “I don’t know.” You become an atheist simply by saying, “I don’t know,” when you don’t. 4) People do, in fact, believe in God because they draw comfort from it. As to the discomfort, they expect that to be applied only to their enemies, not themselves. Even if they falter, entrance to Heaven is based on repentance, not purity. It’s a win-win-win situation, if you don’t mind using a crutch. 5) No atheist has ever said that God’s evil acts and the people who emulate his jealousy and vindictiveness prove his non-existence, only his unworthiness. Declining to support a tyrant isn’t atheism, it’s justice. 6) Nowhere in Big Bang theory is the idea that God did it. At best, you can study the science and the theories and then append God to them like a post-it note. If God were necessary, then so would be a SuperGod to have made God. Believers, of course, are atheists themselves when it comes to that guy. 7) Like science, religion involves premises and syllogisms and conclusions. There are surely “arguments” for the existence of God. Science, however, goes a step further and involves evidence. There is no evidence for the existence of God. You become an atheist if you decide that hypothesis is fine, but it’s only the first of two steps. That theists have been recently trying to muddy this distinction is a sign that religion itself is in grave danger.