Friday, June 27, 2014

Show the other side!

I've written a lot about religious issues, and just when I think that I've said all that I have to say about it, I find one more cockroach in the corner who needs to get stomped. For those who've never read my stuff before, I'm an atheist and a skeptic, and I'm not very generous when it comes to religious beliefs. Don't get me wrong, I fully respect people's right to believe, and I don't believe in banning religion, but I haven't anything good to say when it comes to believing in miracles and stories of the supernatural.

I was asked one time why I don't show both sides of the issue when it comes to whether a god exists or not. It's a fair question, I guess. I claim to be open-minded and willing to change my mind, so it might seem like I'm completely closed off to even examining the idea that a god might exist. The truth is, I used to believe in a God, and I'd even argue with people over His existence. I wish that blogs existed back then, as it would have been cool to have a written record of my journey, as I no doubt would have blogged about it as well.

My point with bringing up my former belief is that I am familiar with some of the arguments for God's existence because I used to use them! I remember arguing with an atheist friend, trying to point out how "perfect" the solar system is arranged to allow life on this planet - totally ignoring her when she brought up things like asteroids that can destroy all life as we know it. I also used to insist that there HAD to be a creator because the universe couldn't just come from nothing. (Lawrence Krauss's science senses are no doubt tingling right now.) And then I went on to dismiss her when she pointed out that if God doesn't need a creator then why can't the universe not need a creator?

Anyway, when I was asked this question, my response was basically that I didn't feel the need to present arguments from the other side for the simple fact that I didn't think that those arguments were very good! If I did think that they were good, I'd be a theist of some sort, perhaps an agnostic deist at the very least. It's not that I decided that I was an atheist and then determined that all of the arguments for God's existence were bad arguments. I decided that I didn't believe in God because I found the arguments for His/its existence to not be very good!

Still, I was toying with the idea of writing a series of blog posts where I go over all of the various arguments for the existence of god. I would attempt to sincerely examine each and every one of them, and no doubt I would be accused of being closed-minded if I didn't find any of them to be good. However, I've abandoned this idea for the simple fact that I just don't know where to begin. Do I just go with arguments for a general sort of deity that may or may not be the Abrahamic God? Do I tackle specific Christian apologetics? Why not Muslims? They have their "proof" that the Koran is the inspired word of God too, ya know!

This is a project that would take forever, especially if I took on EVERY argument I found. For instance, check out Charisma News's "7 Things that Prove God is Real". Their first "proof" is babies:
I watched my wife give birth to our four daughters, and last month I visited my new grandson. I’ve stared at little Hananiah’s cute face and tiny fingers—and the cleft in his chin that resembles mine. How can anyone deny the reality of God when they see a baby? The amount of information encrypted in one cell in the human body is equal to that of 1,000 books. The total amount of information stored in your DNA is 40 times more than that of the largest set of encyclopedias in the world. King David felt this sense of awe when he wrote, “You wove me in my mother’s womb. ... I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13, 14, NASB). Life is truly a miracle!
Does anybody REALLY want me to take the time to dissect this argument? I imagine many of your more thoughtful theists are groaning at this reasoning as well, and if I did take the time to dissect it, I'd probably get responses like: "Oh, sure! You go after the obviously ridiculous arguments! Why not the arguments of (insert revered theologian here)?"

For the record, I have a son, and as awesome as it was to look into his eyes the moment after he was born, it didn't do anything to make me suddenly believe in a God - much less the Christian one. I can appreciate the mountain without believing in the fairies underneath it, to paraphrase Douglas Adams.

Okay, so let's assume that debating ridiculous points like that is a waste of time. Why not try out the deeper, more complex arguments? How about the cosmological argument?
1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
2. If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
3. This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
4. But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.
5. Therefore, God exists.
I'm sorry, but I find this totally unimpressive. Why does God get to break the rule of how everything needs a cause? Just 'cause? It's a huge leap to make. Besides, do we even know for sure that the first statement is even true?

I just don't have the patience to go through all of these arguments. Look, if you're reading this and you want to submit something that you think is the be-all, end-all argument for the existence of God, the please feel free to do so. However, don't be surprised if I readily reject it if it falls into the following categories:

1. Personal experience - While I'd love to take everybody's personal relationship with the deity of their choice to be "evidence", this simply isn't practical due to the fact that we have many people all over the world with personal experiences of belief systems that contradict the other belief systems. In other words, logically they cannot all be right. However, there is no logical problem with them all being wrong. Until stronger evidence comes for any of these beliefs, I shall assume the latter.

2. God of the Gaps - This is basically an argument from ignorance fallacy where a lack of understanding is used as evidence for the existence of a God. I've had a couple of Christians take me to task for this, accusing me of using an "evolution of the gaps" to explain the natural world. The reason why this doesn't work is that there is independent evidence for evolution. The gaps in our understanding aren't taken as evidence for evolution being true. To use an example: if my keys go missing and I posit that my son taking them is a likely explanation, I am not using a "my son of the gaps" argument. After all, I have independent evidence for the existence of my son that I could show you. He has also been known to relocate my stuff. So, that's not an argument from ignorance. However, if my only "proof" for the existence of my son was my missing keys, then yeah, I'm using ignorance as evidence - which is a fallacy.

Honestly, I find that the vast majority of arguments from the existence of God can be dismissed with the "God of the Gaps". Theists get frustrated that I dismiss these sorts of proofs, but unless you can convince me that logic is not a good way for ascertaining reality, I'll always point it out when it's there.

3. Stuff that just ain't true - Not every theist, and not every Christian, engages in this, but there are a lot of things said that are simply false. Don't tell me about prophecies that have come true from The Bible, and don't tell me about eye witnesses for Jesus - because all of that is as debunked as the claims of L. Ron Hubbard. (Unless, of course, you have some actual evidence of these claims - then bring them on.)

4. Pascal's Wager - I think that most thoughtful theists realize the problem with saying "Believe in God, just in case he's real!" but I still get it every now and then.

5. Shifting the burden of proof - Don't tell me that I can't prove that God doesn't exist. I can't prove that werewolves don't exist. That doesn't suddenly mean it's worthwhile to consider the existence of supernatural lycanthropy. I find this argument to be one that automatically elevates the argument for God's existence to a level where it hasn't yet earned.

Does anybody else find it odd in the first place that when it comes to the existence of God, all the believers have are arguments? I mean, who believes in the sun because of arguments for its existence? You believe in it because it's evident. And yes, I'm aware that theists think that there is "evidence" for God's existence, and if it's out there, I want to know about it. However, in my limited experience, I have found that all of the "evidence" fits one of the five categories I listed above - which isn't actually evidence at all.

Even when you take topics that are controversial, like evolution and global warming, advocates don't present arguments - they present evidence that one anyone can examine for themselves. (To be fair, some bits of evidence are easier for the layman to examine than others.) Nobody makes a case for evolution by coming up with a series of premises, each one building on the other until you get the answer you want.

I have been accused of having standard for proof that's unreasonable. Maybe that's true, but it's not like I invented logic and the scientific method. It seems to me that when it comes to what's potentially the greatest issue of our human existence, the truth should be able to stand up to the most rigorous of inquiry. As of now, I find that the god question doesn't even stand up to the lightest of inquiry.

As always, I'm willing to be proven wrong.

Oh, and here's some suggested further reading:

Jerry Coyne tackles the question as to what the "best arguments" for God are.

Iron Chariots dissects arguments for the existence of God.

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