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 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:
- Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God Theistic but much less rabid than the typical Christian apologetics page. Atheists offer advice on rebuttals here.
- Timeline of World Religions
- Nizkor exhaustive list of fallacious arguments
- Cosmological Argument: articles at infidels.org
- Video: A Universe from Nothing, by physicist Lawrence Krauss, introduced by Richard Dawkins, biologist and atheist who famously refuses to debate William Lane Craig. Krauss puts the kibosh on the kalam in the video and in the book.