Ten Atheistic Arguments
TEN ATHEISTIC ARGUMENTS:
By Ted Drange
Definitions of "God"
Before getting to the arguments, it is important to present the various definitions of "God" that they employ:
D1: God is the eternal, all-powerful, personal being who created and rules the universe. (Being eternal, God cannot come into or go out of existence. Being all-powerful, he can perform any action that is logically possible to perform. Being personal, he has some characteristics in common with humans, such as thinking, feeling emotions, and performing actions. The universe is understood to consist of all the space, time, matter, and energy that has ever existed.)
D2: God is the eternal, very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and gave humanity its moral conscience.
D3: God is the eternal, very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and strongly desires that that love be reciprocated.
D4: God is that being which is self-existent, that is, which contains the explanation for its own existence within itself.
D5: God is that being which is (objectively) perfect in every way. (The term "perfect" is here understood in an objective sense, as opposed to a subjective sense relative to individual values, so the term may be used in public reasoning.)
D6: God is the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity.
It will be indicated for each argument which of the above definitions of "God" it employs.
Arguments Against God's Existence
1. The Anti-creation Argument (D1, D6):
(a) If X creates Y, then X must exist temporally prior to Y.
(b) But nothing could possibly exist temporally prior to time itself (for that would involve existing at a time when there was no time, which is a contradiction).
(c) Thus, it is impossible for time to have been created.
(d) Time is an essential component of the universe.
(e) Therefore, it is impossible for the universe to have been created.
(f) It follows that God, as defined by D1 and D6, cannot exist.
Discussion: A similar argument might possibly be constructed with regard to the other components of the universe as well: space, matter, and energy. It is very hard to comprehend how a being could have created the universe without existing within space and without any involvement with matter or energy.
* The God of evangelical Christianity (defined by D6) is included here (and for argument #2, below) because of the first sentence in the Bible, which evangelicals take to refer to the entire universe.
2. The Transcendent-Personal Argument (D1, D6):
(a) In order for God to have created the universe, he must have been transcendent, that is, he must have existed outside space and time.
(b) But to be personal implies (among other things) being within space and time.
(c) Therefore, it is logically impossible for God, as defined by D1 or D6, to exist.
It might be suggested that God has a part that is outside space and time and another part that is inside space and time and that it is the latter part, not the former part, which is personal in nature. But the idea of a being which is partly personal and partly transcendent is incomprehensible. Furthermore, definition D1 implies that God, as a personal being, existed prior to the universe, and it is incomprehensible how a personal being could do so.
* Aside from conceptual considerations that have to do with the very concept of "being personal," there are empirical considerations relevant to premise(b). It might be argued that to be personal requires having thoughts and that science has very strongly confirmed that having thoughts is dependent on having a physical brain. For example, since brain damage has always been found to delete, or at least disrupt, thoughts, it can be extrapolated that there can be no thoughts at all in the total absence of a brain. Although the empirical support for premise (b) is very strong, that may not be a factor that would impress people who are not "scientifically oriented" to begin with.
3. The Incoherence-of-Omnipotence Argument (D1, D6):
(a) If God as defined by D1 or D6 were to exist, then he would be omnipotent (i.e., able to do anything that is logically possible).
(b) But the idea of such a being is incoherent.
(c) Hence, such a being cannot possibly exist.
Discussion: Definition D6 is included here because evangelical Christians maintain that the biblical description of God as "Almighty" is accurate. The issue of whether or not premise (b) is true is complicated. Some writers claim that the idea of omnipotence in itself is inconsistent. Also, some writers claim that being omnipotent is incompatible with possessing certain other properties. (For example, an omnipotent being could commit suicide, since to do so is logically possible, but an eternal being, by definition, could not. Hence, the idea of the deity defined by D1 or D6 is incoherent.) Whether or not the given claim is true is here left open. See comments on the concept of "incoherence" made in connection with argument #7, below. (For further material on arguments similar to #3, see Everitt, 2004, Martin, 1990, and Martin and Monnier, 2003, in the bibliography below.)
* The divine attribute of omniscience gives rise to similar considerations, and there is an Incoherence-of-Omniscience Argument that could be raised. (For material on it, see the references above.) That argument, which is omitted here to save space, also has a premise (b) (worded as in argument #3), which introduces issues that are exceedingly complicated and controversial.
4. The Lack-of-evidence Argument (D1, D2, D3, D6):
(a) If God as defined by any of the four definitions in question were to exist, then he would have to be deeply involved in the affairs of humanity and there would be good objective evidence of his existence.
(b) But there is no good objective evidence for the existence of a deity thus defined.
(c) Therefore, God, as defined by D1, D2, D3, or D6, does not exist.
Discussion: The rationale behind premise (a) is that the sort of deity in question, a personal being who rules the universe or who loves humanity (and perhaps wants that love reciprocated), would need to become involved in the affairs of humans and thereby reveal his existence overtly. It might be claimed that God has achieved such involvement just by means of subjective religious experiences, without providing humanity with any good objective evidence of his existence. This assertion could be attacked on the ground that people who claim to have had such experiences are mistaken about the nature and cause of them. It might also be reasonably argued that religious experiences would be insufficient for the given divine purposes, and only good objective (publicly testable) evidence of some sort would do. Argument #4 is a versatile argument that can be widely used by atheists to attack God's existence, given many different definitions of "God."
* Another argument similar to #4, sometimes put forward by scientifically oriented atheists, is the Argument from Metaphysical Naturalism, according to which all phenomena ever observed are best explained by appeal to natural causes (Carrier, 2005). Since that premise is a reason to accept naturalism, it provides an evidential argument against God's existence. However, the given premise is an extremely sweeping one and for that reason alone argument #4 would be preferable.
5. The Argument from Evil (D2, D3, D6):
(a) If there were to exist a very powerful, personal being who rules the universe and loves humanity, then there would not occur as much evil (i.e., suffering and premature death) as there does.
(b) But there does occur that much evil.
(c) Therefore, there does not exist such a being.
(d) Hence, God, as defined by D2, D3 or D6, does not exist.
Discussion: This formulation of the argument is a version of what is called "The Logical Argument from Evil." If the word "probably" were to be inserted into steps (a), (c), and (d), then it would be a version of what is called "The Evidential Argument from Evil." Similar considerations arise in connection with the different versions. According to the Free-will Defense, premise (a) is false because God wants people to have free will and that requires that they be able to create evil. The evil that actually occurs in our world is mankind's fault, not God's. Thus, God can still love humanity and be perfectly good despite all the evil that occurs. There are many objections to this defense. One of them is that much of the suffering and premature death that occurs in our world is due to natural causes rather than human choices, and the Free-will Defense would be totally irrelevant to that form of evil. (Drange, 1998.)
6. The Argument from Nonbelief (D3, D6):
(a) If there were to exist a very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and who strongly desires that his love for humanity be reciprocated, then there would not exist as much nonbelief in the existence of such a being as there does.
(b) But there does exist that much nonbelief.
(c) Therefore, there does not exist such a being.
(d) Hence, God, as defined by D3 or D6, does not exist.
Discussion: As with the Argument from Evil, an "evidential" version of this argument could be constructed by inserting the word "probably" into steps (a), (c), and (d). Similar considerations arise for all the various versions. The argument is directed against the deity defined by D6, as well as the one defined by D3, because evangelical Christians take God to have all the properties mentioned in D3. (For a discussion of the Argument from Nonbelief framed on the basis of definition D6, see Drange, 1993.) Possibly the argument might also be directed against the deity defined by D2, and something like that is attempted in Schellenberg, 1993, though there it would not be quite so forceful.
The rationale behind premise (a) is that nonbelief in God is an impediment to loving him, so a deity as described by definition D3 or D6 would remove that impediment if he were to exist. Defenses similar to those in the case of the Argument from Evil could be raised, and similar objections to them could be presented. (Drange, 1998.)
7. Arguments from Incoherence (D4, D5, D6):
(a) In order for X to explain Y, not only must Y be derivable from X, but the derivation needs to be in some way illuminating.
(b) If X is derived from itself, then the derivation is in no way illuminating.
(c) Thus, it is impossible for anything to explain itself.
(d) God as defined by D4 is supposed to explain itself.
(e) It follows that the idea of "God" as defined by D4 is incoherent.
(f) Furthermore, perfection is relative, and so, the concept of "objectively perfect," as a concept employed in public reasoning, makes no sense.
(g) Hence, the idea of "God" as defined by D5 is also incoherent.
(h) In addition, the Bible contains descriptions of God that are incoherent (e.g., implying both that Jesus is God and that Jesus is God's son, that God is spirit or a spirit and that God is love).
(i) Evangelical Christians interpret those descriptions literally.
(j) Therefore, it might be argued that the idea of "God" as defined by D6 is also incoherent.
Discussion: Unlike the other arguments in this section, these arguments do not aim to prove God's nonexistence, but rather, the incoherence of God-talk when "God" is defined in certain ways. The point is not that theists who employ such God-talk are mistaken about the world, but that they are confused in their language.
The idea of "incoherence" is also sometimes applied to contradictions or other sorts of conceptual incompatibility. For example, arguments #2 & #3, above, could each be regarded as a kind of "argument from incoherence," for they appeal to conceptual incompatibilities between pairs of divine attributes. [This point might also be applicable to definition D5 if theists were to try to combine it with other definitions. For example, if a theist were to claim that God is both perfect (as given in D5) and the creator of the universe (as given in D1), then it might be argued that such a notion is incoherent, since a perfect being can have no wants, whereas a creator must have some wants. Or if a theist were to claim that God is perfect and also loves humanity (as given in D2 & D3), then it might be argued that such a notion is incoherent, since a perfect being can feel no disappointment, whereas a being who loves humanity must feel some disappointment.] However, this notion of "incoherence" is different from that appealed to in the Arguments from Incoherence, for if incompatible properties are ascribed, at least there is a conjunction of propositions there, even if it is a contradictory pair. In that case, it would still make sense to say that the sentence "God exists" expresses a (necessarily) false proposition. But with the sort of "incoherence" appealed to in the Arguments from Incoherence there is no proposition expressed at all, whether true or false. (For more on incompatible-properties arguments against God's existence, see Martin and Monnier, 2003.)
8. The Argument from Confusion (D6):
(a) If the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity were to exist, then there would not exist as much confusion and conflictedness among Christians as there does, particularly with regard to important doctrinal issues such as God's laws and the requirements for
(b) But there does exist that much. (Christians disagree widely among themselves on such issues, as shown, among other things, by the great number of different Christian denominations and sects that exist.)
(c) Therefore, that deity does not exist.
(d) Hence God as defined by D6 does not exist.
Discussion: The rationale behind premise (a) is that the God of evangelical Christianity is a deity who places great emphasis upon awareness of the truth, especially with regard to important doctrinal issues. It is expected, then, that if such a deity were to exist, he would place a high priority upon the elimination of confusion and conflictedness among his own followers with regard to important doctrinal issues. Because of the great abundance of Christian confusion of the relevant sort, this argument is a very forceful one.
9. The Argument from Biblical Defects (D6):
(a) If the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity were to exist, then the Bible itself would not have the defects that it has. That is, it would not contain textual errors, interpolations, contradictions, factual errors (including false prophecies), and ethical defects. Also, the canon would have been assembled with less political involvement and would not have original manuscripts or parts missing.
(b) But the Bible does contain those defects.
(c) Therefore, that deity, which is God as defined by D6, does not exist.
Discussion: Premise (a) is based on the point that evangelical Christians regard the Bible to be God's main form of revelation to humanity. So, given that their God exists, it would be expected that the Bible would possess features implied by the motivations which they ascribe to him. Premise (a) follows quite naturally. (For examples of the Bible's defects, see appendix D of Drange, 1998, and Mattill, 1995. For more on arguments #8 & #9, see Drange, "The Arguments from Confusion and Biblical Defects" in the forthcoming Martin and Monnier, 2006.)
10. The Argument from Human Insignificance (D6):
(a) If the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity were to exist, then it would be expected that humans occupy some significant place in the universe.
(b) But, both from the standpoint of space (the size of the universe in relation to the size of the earth) and from the standpoint of time (the length of time in which the universe has existed in relation to the length of time in which humans have existed), humans do not occupy any significant place in the universe.
(c) Hence, God, as defined by D6, probably does not exist.
Discussion: The idea behind the first premise here is that the Bible describes God as having a very special interest in humans. Since humans are so important, they should naturally occupy some significant place in space and time. To reject that idea is to reject the evangelical Christian outlook on the nature of reality. (A slightly different version of this argument is referred to as "The Argument from Scale" in Everitt, 2004.)
* There are many other arguments against God's existence. Some are inductive in form (Martin, 1990). Some make appeal to cosmological assumptions (Craig and Smith, 1993). I have here picked just those that I regard to be the main ones.
The various arguments can be matched up with the six definitions of "God" as follows:
|DEFINITION||ARGUMENTS AGAINST GOD|
|D2||#4, #5 (+ possibly #6)|
All theistic arguments for God's existence can be refuted by at least one objection, and all of the definitions of "God" considered here permit God's nonexistence to be established (or else God-talk to be shown incoherent) by at least one argument. Other definitions of "God" are used in ordinary language, but all of them permit God's nonexistence to be established by appeal to similar or analogous considerations. There is much more to be said about the various arguments. The bibliography below supplies some of that and also supplies further references.
Carrier, Richard. Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2005.
Craig, William Lane and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Craig, William Lane and Quentin Smith. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Drange, Theodore. "The Argument from Non-belief." Religious Studies 29, 1993.
Drange, Theodore. Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998.
Drange, Theodore. "The Fine-tuning Argument Revisited." Philo vol. 3, no. 2, 2000.
Everitt, Nicholas. The Non-existence of God. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.
Le Poidevin, Robin. Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.
Martin, Michael. Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier, eds. The Impossibility of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003.
Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier, eds. The Improbability of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005.
Mattill, A. J., Jr. The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs. Gordo, AL: The Flatwoods Free Press, 1995.
Schellenberg, J.L. Divine Hiddeness and Human Reason. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.
Sobel, Jordan Howard. Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Stenger, Victor J. Has Science Found God? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003.
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