Thursday, February 7, 2013

Five Bad Arguments for Christianity


These bad arguments come from theistic sources trained in the field of Philosophy, which right there makes them suspect in my mind.  Philosophy only proves or disproves something within its own framework.  It doesn't account for evidence, which is a huge problem.  It also doesn't provide a method for taking down an argument based on faulty premises.  Some Christian arguments have such faulty premises that they're obviously flawed, but I chose these because they're often brought up in debates with atheists.  Some (Christian) philosophers will even snootily put down "evidentialism" or "naturalism" as if the basis for science (a.k.a. the study of reality) is a faulty reasoning system.  They know that the existence of God can't be proved by the scientific method so they fall back on philosophical argumentation.  They live in their own little world and they play by their own rules then claim they win because the rest of us live in reality.

Ontological Argument:  "I can imagine a God so great that there can't be anything greater, therefore God.Or maybe "The idea exists therefore it's real."  The problem with this is of course the hubris of the philosopher thinking that his mind is so great it can define reality.  In The Forest People, by Colin Turnbull, an anthropologist studying Mbuti Pygmies in Africa travels with his guide to a hill overlooking a savannah, something the guide had never seen before.  Animals in the distance appear to get bigger as they approach the hill.  The guide is terrified.  He's never seen an animal grow before his eyes. He had never seen anything at a distance because he lived his life in forests.  Was he stupid?  No, his imagination was limited by his experience.  That's true of all of us, even people who have Ph.D.s in philosophy from Cambridge or Harvard.

Argument from Ignorance:  "I can't imagine there's another explanation for [fill in the blank with almost anything from nature], therefore God."  This argument also sometimes gets used by "UFOlogists" and other delusionals.  This argument proves nothing except the limited imagination of the person making the claim.  It's a favorite of creationists, who will say "Scientists don't know everything, therefore God."   Creationists' favorite is the gap between species in the fossil record.  Fossils don't document every tiny stage of evolution for each species, because 1) fossils are rare and 2) fossils rarely get discovered even if they survive the millenia.  The biggest problem with this argument is that if there's something that's not known, how could it not being known it be proof of anything at all?  It's not known!  You could make up almost anything!  "Scientists haven't discovered the missing link between Austrolopithicus and Homo Sapiens, therefore man is the product of space aliens breeding with Austrolopithicus."

Argument ad Populum:  "Religion is popular, therefore it's true."  A billion believers can't be wrong... unless they're the billion or so who are Muslims.  Or the combined four billion (at least) who aren't Christian.  A variation is the number of people over time who have believed something.  "People have been devout Christians for two thousand years, therefore it must be true."  If time were the main proof of validity of a belief wouldn't Zoroastrianism or Buddhism have a leg up on Christianity?  (This is also called Appeal to Tradition)  This argument never works on me because my grandmother said to me at least once a week all through my childhood "If [kid I liked] jumped off a bridge would you jump off too?"



Cosmological Argument: "The stars, therefore God."  Also, "The Universe, therefore God." This is a favorite of William Lane Craig, "professional philosopher," or more properly "master debater."  (Note, I think Craig is a dumbass)  He wins debates by cluttering up his arguments with red herrings, but the essence of his argument is that it's absurd to believe the universe could come into being without a mind whipping it up.  (Perhaps a kind of ontological argument by proxy)  He conveniently doesn't think it's absurd to believe a god could come into being without some other greater mind whipping it up or else he wouldn't be able to make a living.  Note, this argument has been around for centuries and it's still the best thing WLC can come up with.  With all that populum being believers for all those centuries, shouldn't there be a few good ideas surfacing eventually?

Pascal's Wager:  "If I'm right I win!  If you're wrong you burn!  therefore, God"  (Named for the medieval dude who came up with the idea)  Again, lack of imagination.  There may be more than two possibilities, and betting on only one of them isn't that smart if you haven't investigated every one of them thoroughly.   If someone throws Pascal's Wager at me, I answer: "What if you're wrong and Buddhists are right and you'll have to live through 500 lifetimes as a cockroach because you claimed to know something you couldn't possibly know?"



Christians really believe that these are closers.  It's the best they have, which is really sad.  Well, they sometimes pull out the "I feel the presence of god in my soul" crap, which isn't really an argument as much as an admission of neurological disturbance.  (I've blogged about that here and here)

Fortunately, the Everyday Atheist doesn't have to get a Ph.D. in philosophy to shoot down Christian argumentation.  If this post has put the debating fire in your belly, there's plenty more to stoke it out on the interwebs:





24 comments:

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Hi Lady Atheist --

You write:

He conveniently doesn't think it's absurd to believe a god could come into being without some other greater mind whipping it up...

I think this attacks a straw man. WLC doesn't argue for the existence of a god that "came into being." He argues for the existence of a god that exists "a se" (not dependent on anything else for its existence) and timelessly (outside of time).

Tristan D. Vick said...

@Jeff J Lowder

I'd say it like this...

The only way that Craig's god could exist "a se" is if a mind came to that conclusion.

Since there is no evidence which can exist "a se" then such a god could only exist as a fancy in the imagination of the imaginer.

This is why all theology is bankrupt.

If there were tangible, empirical, evidence for God, then we'd be doing science.

Not having that, theologians do the next best thing, they make shit up.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Tristan -- That doesn't deny the point that Craig doesn't argue for the existence of a god that came into being.

Infidel753 said...

JJL: The point is that if an amazing thing like the universe requires an explanation for its existence (therefore God), then an even more amazing thing like a God capable of creating the universe needs even more an explanation for its existence. If theologians can say "I don't need to answer that because [word in unnecessary foreign language]", then we might as well just use Occam's razor and say the same thing about the universe itself.

This is all implicit in Lady A's original explanation, of course.

Explaining an amazing thing by saying "There's this even more amazing thing that caused it" isn't an explanation, it's just pushing the problem one step further back.

Infidel753 said...

Actually, we do now know how the universe came into existence from nothing, and indeed couldn't have failed to do so -- see for example Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, and Hawking, The Grand Design. It involves quantum physics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and unfortunately it's quite counter-intuitive, but the fact remains that that problem has been solved.

The fact that the ontological "argument" was ever taken seriously reinforces my view that most people in pre-modern times were at least borderline mentally retarded by modern standards, due to poor nutrition, disease, etc.

LadyAtheist said...

JJL - point taken on the lack of a claim on WLC's part, but... he's arguing against the implicit claim / belief of science that the universe can be uncaused by crediting it to a god that's uncaused. One is material and the other is immaterial, but they're both uncaused. He credits god with creation of the universe. We atheists credit man with the creation of god.

L.Long said...

Well this is a good post.
But as we all now there are NO good arguments for religion.

LadyAtheist said...

I think the only honest one is "I believe because I want to." That's not really a good one, though.

Anonymous said...

"They live in their own little world and they play by their own rules then claim they win because the rest of us live in reality."

An excellent explanation for atheism as well.

A universe that somehow creates itself from nothing, endows itself with sentient lifeforms... all from nothingness, presumably 'evolving' and improving on that nothingness when the immediate and critical requirements for life have already been met... sounds like a good case for intelligent design, to me!

Having already won over insurmountable odds of something ever creating itself from nothing at all, then going on and creating the will and purpose for such diversity of life... Presumably such an accomplishment would require, even demand, that the creator (mindless matter) somehow pass on this great achievement to it's progeny in some form or another.

Problem, though... wouldn't that provide the basis for a religion as commonly defined? The one case scenario in all of 'reality' that could never ever have any basis or fact for existence?

LadyAtheist said...

There's no evidence for any "intelligence" in the universe's "design." You forget that most of the universe is incompatible with life. The number of planets with life on it is about what you'd expect from natural laws and chance. If there were life on Mercury and Saturn, then you'd have a case.

L.Long said...

Its amazing how the religidiots don't know their own theology. They love to say that atheists BELIEVE that the universe came from nothing but atheism has nothing to do with that. And in genesis it is gawd that makes everything from NOTHING. There is no science theory that says we come from nothing, there are a couple of hypothesis' that say the universe came from nothing and the point before the big bang is before space and time so is fundamentally UNKNOWABLE by science at this time. So for an atheist who might think about it the answer is 'Don't know, and in my case don't care'. Which is the same thing as saying 'gawd did it'.

Anonymous said...

"You forget that most of the universe is incompatible with life."

Who told you that?

"... there are a couple of hypothesis' that say the universe came from nothing and the point before the big bang is before space and time so is fundamentally UNKNOWABLE by science at this time."

Yet science... or rather some that claim to know it... seem rather sure there is no possibility of intelligent design or a designer involved!

Two statements so emphatic and contradictory at the same time...

So, what do we believe?

LadyAtheist said...

What's intelligent about the design? It's not any different from what could come about from the known laws of the universe. If you want to have a magic clockmaker who set the laws in motion, that's still leaving a lot to pure chance. Humans have only been on Earth for a tiny percent of its 4.5 billion years. So even the Earth was incompatible with intelligent life for most of the time, and incompatible with all life for some of the time.

Anonymous said...

"So even the Earth was incompatible with intelligent life for most of the time, and incompatible with all life for some of the time."

Nevertheless, there is life here, now. And, again... how do you know there isn't life on the other planets?

Laws are enacted by design to satisfy a goal or specific end and to maintain equilibrium and balance. In the chaos of any explosion, (let's use a conventional explosion, for example) there is no coalescence or regrouping of material or matter after it's initial, violent expulsion and dispersal. Conventional science, however, banks on this magical realignment and coalescence of matter after the 'big bang' occurred, a necessity for an understanding of the laws of order that now exist. Why would it be any different on a larger scale, such as a nuclear explosion or even the big bang, itself?

How does one derive order from chaos, the obverse held to being the norm for which and to all natural processes naturally degrade?

Loren said...

"Natural laws" are something of a misnomer. "Generalizations" or "regularities" is more like it.

With that in mind, the laws-need-a-lawgiver argument uses the Fallacy of Ambiguity, jumping between two different meanings of "law".

Loren said...

As to how all the Universe's structure and order emerged from the Big Bang, it's because the Universe had cooled as it had expanded. This produced structure and order in several ways.

One mechanism is symmetry breaking of effective laws of physics. This is something like crystallization, where the original liquid has complete rotation and reflection symmetry at each spot, and where the crystal has much less symmetry at each spot.

This is involved in how we have all the variety of elementary particles. In the very early Universe, they all looked more-or-less alike, and as the Universe expanded and cooled, its cooling produced elementary-particle symmetry breaking, something which made them behave differently.

Another mechanism is the direction of time. As the Universe expands, it cools, and it does so, it stops being able to make elementary particles whose masses are above the temperature energy threshold. Remember E = mc^2. This mechanism is proposed as the origin of "dark matter", and also for matter-antimatter symmetry. For each billion Cosmic Microwave Background photons, there is about one baryon. Not that big, but like an iceberg's above-water parts, the real marvel is that it's nonzero.

Loren said...

The next mechanism is gravitational collapse. To see how that happens, consider the central pressure of an object with mass M and radius R and approximately constant density. It takes a lot of fancy math and number crunching to get the precise number, but the fancy math and number crunching is only necessary for a numerical factor that's not very different from 1. So let's ignore it.

Pressure = (force)/(area) = (grav. acceleration)*(mass)/area) = (G*M^2/R^2)/R^2 = G*M^2/R^4

Mass is M = den*R^3
for density den.

Thus, pressure = G*den^2*R^2

With increasing size, the gravity-induced pressure gets greater and greater, and it eventually overcomes the internal pressure of the material.

Thus, a big-enough object will have enough pressure to make it collapse under its own weight.

It must also be relatively cold to do so, meaning that its particles move at much less than the speed of light in a vacuum, c. Otherwise, the size it will need for it to collapse will be the size of the Universe, and that's why the Cosmic Microwave Background has not collapsed in on itself.

But that condition has been abundantly satisfied by the Universe's baryonic matter for at least the last 10 billion years. Thus, stars and galaxies.

Anonymous said...

"Dark Matter" is proposed to make up at least 80 percent of the universe, though not everyone in the science community agrees on that postulation. Like with theists' claims of God's hidden presence and their detractors' accusations of ambiguity, dark matter could be simply 'filler' to help prop up theories that can't or possibly ever be proven.

However, supposing that your math and theories are sound, how do we 'evolve' to the point of sentience when the elementary requirements for 'life' are already met through some long and convoluted process... and is it even necessary from some quantum view? Is that just a 'quirk' (not quark!) by itself? Perhaps it's not unreasonable to assume or at least theorize that there might be some form of vastly superior intelligence behind these processes?

Loren said...

So your argument is "We don't know everything, therefore Goddidit!"?

It's true that much of the mass of the Universe is only known from its gravitational effects, but that's been enough to determine some of its properties. There are two types, dark matter and dark energy, and we have more of a clue on the properties of dark matter.

DM formed galaxies and galaxy clusters alongside visible matter, and that means that it is like some massive elementary particles left over from when the Universe was much hotter. As the Universe expanded, it stopped being hot enough to produce them, and most of them ran into each other and annihilated. But some survived and are still present.

How massive? I've seen estimates like 100 - 200 times the mass of a proton or thereabouts, though such estimates are derived from hypotheses about the DM particles' nature. But they must be massive enough to slow down enough to form galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Dark energy is even more mysterious, and I haven't seen much by way of theories of its nature.

Anonymous said...

"So your argument is "We don't know everything, therefore Goddidit!"?

That's your assumption. I present it as a possibility worth consideration. If you want to bring prejudice into this, that's also your prerogative.

Anyway, My question still stands: Where does self-awareness enter into the equation, if at all?

L.Long said...


That's your assumption. I present it as a possibility worth consideration.....BS! It aint even close to a possibility. Science works because there is no gawd..... That is not original with me if you want to know about it look it up. For some 2000+ yrs nitwits have been saying gawd did it! Or have faith in gawd! And what good did it do??NOTHING!! Ask all the people who have died from disease (ie Black Plague)what good were prayers or gawd? When science finally started getting a foot hold, we started solving problems, and gawd still hasn't done schite about anything. Is there a gawd? Yes? No? Who cares S/He/IT is totally irrelevant.

LadyAtheist said...

" Where does self-awareness enter into the equation, if at all? "

Typical red herring. Loren posted about cosmology, not evolution.

By self-awareness I assume you mean humanity? That would enter into things about 400,000 years ago or so, though sentience isn't preserved in the fossil record.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Infidel753:

Sorry for the delay in responding. As much as I hate to defend the kalam cosmological argument, I must disagree that this stateent is even relevant to, much less a refutation of, the kalam cosmological argument:

JJL: The point is that if an amazing thing like the universe requires an explanation for its existence (therefore God), then an even more amazing thing like a God capable of creating the universe needs even more an explanation for its existence.

But the kalam cosmological argument doesn't claim "the universe requires an explanation for its existence because it is amazing." That is a straw man of your own creation. What the kalam cosmological argument claims is that "anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence." That's a big difference. Nothing you've written even addresses the latter.

If theologians can say "I don't need to answer that because [word in unnecessary foreign language]", then we might as well just use Occam's razor and say the same thing about the universe itself.

Again, you've erected and tore down a straw man. To "say the same thing about the universe itself" is not a real option because theism is, among other things, a belief in an uncreated supernatural person (God). Depending on which theist you talk with, they will either say that God is "eternal" or "timeless." It doesn't matter for this discussion, since both options entail that "God did not begin to exist."

The correct way to respond to the kalam cosmological argument is to reject the premise "anything that begins to exist has a cause." Then you are actually refuting the kalam argument, not a straw man.

This is all implicit in Lady A's original explanation, of course.

Explaining an amazing thing by saying "There's this even more amazing thing that caused it" isn't an explanation, it's just pushing the problem one step further back.


Again, I am no fan of the kalam argument, but this response simply attacks a straw man. Proponents of the kalam argument aren't claiming, "the universe is an amazing thing that can be explained by an even more amazing thing."

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Infidel753--

Actually, we do now know how the universe came into existence from nothing, and indeed couldn't have failed to do so -- see for example Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, and Hawking, The Grand Design. It involves quantum physics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and unfortunately it's quite counter-intuitive, but the fact remains that that problem has been solved.

Disclaimer: I haven't read either book, but I've read reviews of both.

With that said, I'm skeptical of this claim.

It's my understanding that Krauss, at least, actually means "something" when he uses the word "nothing." (For example, a vacuum is something, not nothing.) If you disagree, I'd welcome information to the contrary.

As for Hawking, I would request that you provide a quotation where he defines what he means by nothing. Or, if an explicit quotation is not available, please provide a quotation where his meaning of "nothing" can be inferred from the context.