Best and worst arguments against the existence of God

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NUPES Enjoyer:
Every thesis needs a good antithesis. We got some interesting discussions (and some... odd ones) from this thread, so let's see if we can do as well for the other side.

As I mentioned there, the strongest "argument" (again, understood fundamentally as an emotional appeal rather than a logical proof) against the existence of God is the Problem of Evil. It is an inescapable reality of the human condition that shaped all of our lives in some ways, and that few can seriously contemplate without being severely affected by. And fundamentally, all the attempts to explicitly reconcile a benevolent, omnipotent God with a world where cruelty and injustice are everywhere fall flat. The free will argument seems to work at first glance, but it only sidesteps the problem. Whether our will is free or not once created, it was nevertheless created by God in the first place, meaning that He set the parameters for how our will might express. And He gave us the capacity to experience suffering in all its infinite nuances. Honestly, the Calvinists have it right that if God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, then he must have willingly destined us for whatever fate awaits us, in both this life and the next. The other main retort is to simply assert that God knows best, and that we can't possibly hope to understand His designs and should just trust that they're for the best. That's how Job ends if I remember correctly. This, frankly, strikes me as an unacceptably authoritarian reflex. Some might be comfortable with that, but I've always believed that the powerful ought to account for their actions. With great power comes great responsibility, right? I don't see why this logic should be reversed when we get to absolute power. Besides, once again, God chose to create us with the desire to understand (if you want to argue that the desire to understand was a result of biting the apple, fine, but then he still gave Adam the willingness to bite the apple - you just can't get away with it), so why wouldn't He give us the faculty to do so? Ultimately, the best we can do here is believe that all our suffering is necessary to our moral edification in some way, and that we all will be compensated for it in the afterlife. I'm sure there are sound arguments theologians can make to the effect, but I can imagine it will ring a bit hollow to someone who's experienced a great personal strategy.

This is the best argument against the existence of God (defined as an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent creator with personal characteristics) in generic terms, but there's another argument that's very meaningful to me, because it is the one that first made me lose my faith. That is, the strongest argument against any given religion being the definite, complete truth is simply the fact that so many people around the world believe in a different one. Can I seriously believe that I, unlike the vast majority of humanity, am among the select few who Figured It Out? Even at 12, it struck me as hopelessly presumptuous. All the more so once it became clear how much one's religion is determined almost entirely by background factors. If there was a singular Truth, surely an Indian or a Chinese would be as likely to arrive to it than a European or an American? Of course, this argument can be turned against atheists just as easily - they make equally strong claims to knowing The Truth and are an even smaller minority! So tl;dr, that's how I became agnostic, and I've never been convinced to budge from that basic stance ever since. There is an alternative, of course, which is to embrace a form of ecumenism that accepts all or most religions as containing at least some kernel of truth and arguing that we're all trying to reach one single fundamental truth through different paths. This attitude can present its own pitfalls, of course, but it can't be dismissed so easily.


Now, the worst arguments. The worst of the worst has to be the sophomoric logical gotchas on the family of "can God create a rock so heavy He couldn't lift it?" These are basically the atheist's equivalent of the Ontological Argument, as both work by setting up their terms speciously such as to presuppose their own conclusion: the Ontological Argument by defining God as something that must exist, these gotchas by defining omnipotence as entailing power over oneself. Both are utterly devoid of substantive content and uninteresting even by the standards of silly logical games. If you want an answer, then the answer is obviously no: God can create a rock of whatever weight He wants, but that won't stop God from being able to lift it later if He so wishes. You'd have to be a complete imbecile to think this is a limit on His power somehow.

To take a slightly more serious argument, though (or at least one that's frequently trotted out by people who ought to know better), another one that really need to die is the idea that Modern ScienceTM somehow disproves God. Never mind that almost all the most brilliant scientists throughout history (including plenty in the past century and decades) were fervently religious and couched their research in specifically religious terms. Never mind that there are countless religious transitions that emphasize understanding the natural world as a way to better understand God. Never mind that, when it comes to the fundamental questions of our existence, all science can really do is climb up a ladder of infinite "why"s (a valuable task, but not one capable of filling existential void). Never mind that there are plenty of areas of life where ScienceTM will do nothing for you whereas religion can actually help. This obsession with pitting ScienceTM against religion is a particularly toxic product of the absurdity of religious discourse in America and other Anglo-Saxon countries that distracts from actually important and interesting debates.

Skill and Chance:
Quote from: NUPES Enjoyer on August 03, 2022, 04:40:08 PM

Every thesis needs a good antithesis. We got some interesting discussions (and some... odd ones) from this thread, so let's see if we can do as well for the other side.

As I mentioned there, the strongest "argument" (again, understood fundamentally as an emotional appeal rather than a logical proof) against the existence of God is the Problem of Evil. It is an inescapable reality of the human condition that shaped all of our lives in some ways, and that few can seriously contemplate without being severely affected by. And fundamentally, all the attempts to explicitly reconcile a benevolent, omnipotent God with a world where cruelty and injustice are everywhere fall flat. The free will argument seems to work at first glance, but it only sidesteps the problem. Whether our will is free or not once created, it was nevertheless created by God in the first place, meaning that He set the parameters for how our will might express. And He gave us the capacity to experience suffering in all its infinite nuances. Honestly, the Calvinists have it right that if God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, then he must have willingly destined us for whatever fate awaits us, in both this life and the next. The other main retort is to simply assert that God knows best, and that we can't possibly hope to understand His designs and should just trust that they're for the best. That's how Job ends if I remember correctly. This, frankly, strikes me as an unacceptably authoritarian reflex. Some might be comfortable with that, but I've always believed that the powerful ought to account for their actions. With great power comes great responsibility, right? I don't see why this logic should be reversed when we get to absolute power. Besides, once again, God chose to create us with the desire to understand (if you want to argue that the desire to understand was a result of biting the apple, fine, but then he still gave Adam the willingness to bite the apple - you just can't get away with it), so why wouldn't He give us the faculty to do so? Ultimately, the best we can do here is believe that all our suffering is necessary to our moral edification in some way, and that we all will be compensated for it in the afterlife. I'm sure there are sound arguments theologians can make to the effect, but I can imagine it will ring a bit hollow to someone who's experienced a great personal strategy.

This is the best argument against the existence of God (defined as an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent creator with personal characteristics) in generic terms, but there's another argument that's very meaningful to me, because it is the one that first made me lose my faith. That is, the strongest argument against any given religion being the definite, complete truth is simply the fact that so many people around the world believe in a different one. Can I seriously believe that I, unlike the vast majority of humanity, am among the select few who Figured It Out? Even at 12, it struck me as hopelessly presumptuous. All the more so once it became clear how much one's religion is determined almost entirely by background factors. If there was a singular Truth, surely an Indian or a Chinese would be as likely to arrive to it than a European or an American? Of course, this argument can be turned against atheists just as easily - they make equally strong claims to knowing The Truth and are an even smaller minority! So tl;dr, that's how I became agnostic, and I've never been convinced to budge from that basic stance ever since. There is an alternative, of course, which is to embrace a form of ecumenism that accepts all or most religions as containing at least some kernel of truth and arguing that we're all trying to reach one single fundamental truth through different paths. This attitude can present its own pitfalls, of course, but it can't be dismissed so easily.


Now, the worst arguments. The worst of the worst has to be the sophomoric logical gotchas on the family of "can God create a rock so heavy He couldn't lift it?" These are basically the atheist's equivalent of the Ontological Argument, as both work by setting up their terms speciously such as to presuppose their own conclusion: the Ontological Argument by defining God as something that must exist, these gotchas by defining omnipotence as entailing power over oneself. Both are utterly devoid of substantive content and uninteresting even by the standards of silly logical games. If you want an answer, then the answer is obviously no: God can create a rock of whatever weight He wants, but that won't stop God from being able to lift it later if He so wishes. You'd have to be a complete imbecile to think this is a limit on His power somehow.

To take a slightly more serious argument, though (or at least one that's frequently trotted out by people who ought to know better), another one that really need to die is the idea that Modern ScienceTM somehow disproves God. Never mind that almost all the most brilliant scientists throughout history (including plenty in the past century and decades) were fervently religious and couched their research in specifically religious terms. Never mind that there are countless religious transitions that emphasize understanding the natural world as a way to better understand God. Never mind that, when it comes to the fundamental questions of our existence, all science can really do is climb up a ladder of infinite "why"s (a valuable task, but not one capable of filling existential void). Never mind that there are plenty of areas of life where ScienceTM will do nothing for you whereas religion can actually help. This obsession with pitting ScienceTM against religion is a particularly toxic product of the absurdity of religious discourse in America and other Anglo-Saxon countries that distracts from actually important and interesting debates.



I think your second paragraph, on the diversity of religions around the world and the dependence on one's family environment and local traditions is the strongest reason that would lead people to doubt any one religion is true.  As with the arguments for the existence of God, defending the validity of any specific creed is the hard part. 

I don't really agree with your 1st paragraph.  The existence of randomness or statistical processes and entropy in life isn't incompatible with God.  Those processes still had to start somehow.   If there was no sense of free will or creativity, if we were all stuck on train tracks fulfilling some Darwinian imperative as efficiently as possible, that world would be a stronger argument against God, and  for that matter against any transcendent meaning to consciousness.  The fact that we can consciously deviate from the plan vs. following a natural process in lockstep suggests the existence of the supernatural, even when that  deviation produces evil.   

NUPES Enjoyer:
Quote from: Skill and Chance on August 03, 2022, 07:18:50 PM

I don't really agree with your 1st paragraph.  The existence of randomness or statistical processes and entropy in life isn't incompatible with God.  Those processes still had to start somehow.   If there was no sense of free will or creativity, if we were all stuck on train tracks fulfilling some Darwinian imperative as efficiently as possible, that world would be a stronger argument against God, and  for that matter against any transcendent meaning to consciousness.  The fact that we can consciously deviate from the plan vs. following a natural process in lockstep suggests the existence of the supernatural, even when that  deviation produces evil.   



I'm not sure how this is addressing my point. My point isn't that "free will" (and we do need to come back to how that is defined, because a lot of definitions are completely incoherent) is incompatible with God. My point is that however "free" our will is, it is still exercised within certain parameters that must have been set by God in the first place. Our will doesn't exist in a vacuum, but is conditioned by all sorts of material and conceptual features of our existence. Our instincts do exist and affect us in certain specific ways, as does our environment and everything else that structures how we relate to each other. Even if we were to grant that God does actually play dice when it comes to our wills and that somehow makes us free (a truly bizarre idea in my book - I never understood why people feel randomness is more freeing than strict causality), He still got to choose if He threw a d6 or a d8 or a d20.

Ultimately, God's omnipotence means something very clear. It means nothing in the universe can happen without God's assent, whether active or passive. Any deviation from this must necessarily be a limitation on God's omnipotence (which honestly is fine by me, it's actually the simplest and most honest answer to the Problem of Evil, but would cause serious problems in the vast majority of schools of thought in Abrahamic faiths). But if we are to call God all-powerful, then he is necessarily all-responsible, and frankly we'd have every right to take Him to court.

afleitch:
Just my thoughts on the above.

If 'god' is the right question to ask of the universe (and there's no steadfast reason to think that it is) then the 'answer' isn't anything remotely close to most historical understandings of god.

If god exists, then that doesn't mean that it has to matter if god exists or not, or can ever be found
unless god has to have a material effect on any part of the universe, that it established or oversees outside of what the universe already does.

One of the universe 'happenings' is the conditions in which we are all here. As Antonio says, we are here and able to do what we do because of those conditions. We don't have a truly 'free' will because we are bound by that. What we do is set within those parameters as a species. Within our species there are different parameters for each of us. For example, a neurodivergent person cannot experience or assess the world (which may include postulating 'god') in the manner in which a neurotypical person can.

As far as the universe is concerned everything we do is amoral. We may personally or collectively sort things and events along good/moral lines, but the only acts 'immoral' to the universe are acts that the universe doesn't allow us to do (like levitate, transform into a gas giant, or become a housecat)

For god to be anything close to an Abrahamic god, what we do has to 'matter' which results in consequence. And the effect of that 'mattering' is our actions either influencing decisions and outcomes here (which undoubtedly they do, just as a product of engaging with our environment) or in another place, which has to be proposed, where we can be judged on them. And what 'matters' to this universal god has to specifically be what matters to us if you want to argue for any universal system of ethics and much else that underpins this world view.

There are living things that devour their mate after sex. That is what those things 'do'; the universe set conditions in which this happens so we cannot ethically judge the rights and wrongs of this so we have to assume that the universe/god doesn't do so either. So why would the universe/god judge us? We're all acting inside the boundaries of how we are allowed to act. Unless somehow we matter more to the universe/god which is special pleading, or the universe/god also has a special place to sort good living things from bad living things based on how many bites they take to finish the job or some other moral and ethical framework.

America Needs a 13-6 Progressive SCOTUS:
The worst arguments against the existence of God are the arguments that involve historical revisionism, such as the claim that everyone thought that the world was flat due to the Catholic Church supposedly having that as their official position at the time until Christpher Columbus came around and decided he was going to travel in a manner dependent on an article of faith that the world be round to get anywhere. The reality here is that not only was it generally understood that the world was round even back then, but Christopher Columbus had an actually worse understanding that other people, as said other people had really good estimates of the size of the Earth, while he made a mathematical error himself leading to a belief that the Earth was way smaller than it actually was.

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