Arguments for God LSnK Central
Created: 09-Jun-2006
Updated: 24-Jul-2009

Arguments for God

I came across a set of arguments for the existence of God. These arguments seem to float around constantly in one form or another, so I thought it would be good to have a page about refuting them.

Pascal's Wager:

"If we believe in God, the argument runs, then if he exists then we will receive an infinite reward in heaven while if he does not then we have lost little or nothing.

If we do not believe in God, the argument continues, then if he exists then we will receive an infinite punishment in hell while he does not then we will have gained little or nothing.

Either receiving an infinite reward in heaven or losing little or nothing is clearly preferable to either receiving an infinite punishment in hell or gaining little or nothing. It is therefore in our interests, and so rational, to believe in God."

Since this has nothing to do with inferring the existence of any god - only attempting to justify a belief - it's irrelevant and needn't even be considered here. But it's flawed in other ways that are worth mentioning.

The argument is a good example of the unfalsifiability fallacy. Its premises aren't verifiable; Pascal assumed that a god existed and that it was the biblical God, complete with judgement, Heaven and Hell, Satan and a whole host of other things. Apparently he also assumed that the judgement was based on faith and not on actions. Without these assumptions the argument is without merit. The only person likely to have already made those assumptions is someone who already believes in the god in question, which is why the argument comes up. It's obvious.

The premise that believing in a god costs little or nothing isn't necessarily true either. It's not like there's just one god to pick from. Since we have no good reason to pick any god over another (evidence is rather uniformly lacking), we could end up joining the wrong one and going to some other hell-equivalent we didn't know to avoid. It's also not necessarily true that not believing in a god would end up with the atheist going to hell. A reasonable god would surely value a reasoned but incorrect position over a reasonless assumption that happened to be correct by accident.

Ontological Argument:

"Part of what we mean when we speak of “God” is “perfect being”; that is what the word “God” means. A God that exists, of course, is better than a God that doesn’t. To speak of God as a perfect being is therefore to imply that he exists. If God’s perfection is a part of the concept of God, though, and if God’s perfection implies God’s existence, then God’s existence is implied by the concept of God. When we speak of “God” we cannot but speak of a being that exists. To say that God does not exist is to contradict oneself; it is literally to speak nonsense."
This is definitely one of the more ridiculous arguments. To know something is perfect you have to be aware of its existence already; you can't define something beforehand and expect to prove its existence by virtue of the very fact you've defined it as both perfect and existing. That's just blatantly assuming the conclusion as a premise, begging the question. To say that something exists because we assume that if it did, it would be perfect, is certainly "to speak nonsense." Language doesn't control reality, it describes it.

Cosmological Argument from Contingency:

"Because the universe might not have existed (i.e. is contingent), we need some explanation of why it does. Wherever there are two possibilities, it suggests, something must determine which of those possibilities is realised. As the universe is contingent, then, there must be some reason for its existence; it must have a cause. In fact, the only kind of being whose existence requires no explanation is a necessary being, a being that could not have failed to exist. The ultimate cause of everything must therefore be a necessary being, such as God."
The argument maintains a double standard. The universe requires a cause, but the 'necessary being' arbitrarily doesn't. This is of course for the sole reason of supporting its existence. There's no reason to assume that such a being exists or even can exist.

Even if you assume the premises are true the conclusion doesn't follow. If a necessary being can be posited, then a necessary force or process can be, or multiple forces or multiple beings; and all of those things may have ceased to exist long ago. It certainly doesn't pin the tail on the godly ass.

Kalam Cosmological Argument:

"[The] kalam cosmological argument begins by arguing that the past is finite. The idea that the universe has an infinite past stretching back in time into infinity is, the argument notes, both philosophically and scientifically problematic; all indications are that there is a point in time at which the universe began to exist. This beginning must either have been caused or uncaused. It cannot have been uncaused, though, for the idea of an uncaused event is absurd; nothing comes from nothing. The universe must therefore have been brought into existence by something outside it. The kalam argument thus confirms one element of Christianity, the doctrine of Creation."
An entity being "outside the Universe" is a nonsensical concept. In science the Universe is literally everything that exists, all matter, all energy and spacetime. There is no 'outside'.

This argument also shares a couple of problems with the last one.

If an uncaused event is absurd then an uncaused entity is also absurd. "Nothing comes from nothing." There's a dichotomy, either things can exist without a cause or not. If they can then the Universe can too, and occam's razor favours this. If not then the entity can't either, so either it exists through a chain of infinite causality (a fallacy) or it doesn't exist. You can't have both conditions.

Even if you take the premises for granted, there's still the issue of assuming a god. Why not a supernatural force? Nothing suggests a personality, it's just another empty space in human knowledge god can be packed into.

Teleological Argument:

"The universe is a highly complex system. The scale of the universe alone is astounding, and the natural laws that govern it perplex scientists still after generations of study. It is also, however, a highly ordered system; it serves a purpose. The world provides exactly the right conditions for the development and sustenance of life, and life is a valuable thing. That this is so is remarkable; there are numerous ways in which the universe might have been different, and the vast majority of possible universes would not have supported life. To say that the universe is so ordered by chance is therefore unsatisfactory as an explanation of the appearance of design around us. It is far more plausible, and far more probable, that the universe is the way it is because it was created by God with life in mind."
Ordered does not mean purposeful. Inferring purpose or design from apparent order alone is nonsensical, we have no basis of comparison other than the current Universe. If we had a few others with known properties to compare then the appearance of ours would mean something, but we don't.

The argument also suffers from severe observational selection in some of its premises. Notice that this universe, allegedly ideal for life, contains an absolutely huge number of things that exterminate it. It's overwhelmingly hostile to life on the whole. Except for this tiny planet in the middle of nowhere, the entirety of the known universe is uninhabitable. Even if there is another inhabitable place we couldn't get there in a lifetime thanks to its astounding scale. Earth itself is plagued by calamities that kill thousands of people every day. Eventually even Earth itself will die, rendered uninhabitable as the Sun nears the end of its lifespan and roasts all life, the oceans and atmosphere from the surface. It was barren long ago and it will be again. That doesn't exactly spell out "Created with life in mind."

About how things could have been: So what? The fact is that if it wasn't, we wouldn't be here to talk about it. Being surprised about it is absolutely ridiculous. Humans could have been green, should we gawk in amazement at our skin tones? It's all completely irrelevant. It doesn't say anything about the Universe the way it is now.

Saying the Universe is the way it is by 'chance' is misleading because it implies random chance. But everything we know about the universe follows probabilistic patterns in varying degrees. The Universe is the way it is due to the laws of physics and a degree of chance.

The argument implies that rarity is favourable evidence for it, but that doesn't make sense. Rarity isn't impossibility, it's the opposite; by definition, rare things can happen. This is especially important to note in this argument, because life only had to happen once. Chance isn't unsatisfactory as an explanation of its existence. We already have an explanation why life fits its environment so well, one that's supported by a mass of scientific evidence. That's biological evolution; life fits so well because everything that didn't fit died - namely the overwhelming majority of species that have ever existed. They're all dead Dave. Yup, created with life in mind.

Formal Moral Argument:

"The form of morality [implies] that it has a divine origin: morality consists of an ultimately authoritative set of commands; where can these commands have come from but a commander that has ultimate authority?"
Morals aren't based on an "Ultimately authoritative set of commands," let alone composed of them; they're not absolute, they even change over time and vary between cultures.

So where did morality come from? Morality can be explained through sociobiological evolution; a set of behavioural traits that increase our chances of survival, augmented by information learned from society and other incidental factors. They encourage cooperation within our species and in eliminating others that threaten it. Those of us that damage our species are removed from our society; we call this justice. Their overall effectiveness as instincts, then, is why we possess them now. They help our species thrive.

The actual 'commands' aren't specified, but given the generally Christian nature of these arguments I presume it's a reference to the Ten Commandments or at least to the Bible in general. Morality can't possibly stem from either of those things; humans had morality before they existed, have morals that are not present in either and also morals that conflict with them, even in cultures where nobody has heard of Christianity.

Perfectionist Moral Argument:

"A problem: how can it be that morality requires perfection of us, then morality cannot require of us more than we can give, but that we cannot be perfect? The only way to resolve this paradox, the argument suggests, is to posit the existence of God."
The premise that morality requires perfection of us is false, the argument is unsound. Morality is a product of instinct and knowledge. It doesn't require anything from us in the sense that this argument implies; it seems to reify the concept, as if it literally required something in the way we humans expect things of each other. Moral instincts exert influence in the same way any other instinct does, and people make reasonable expectations of others based on their own. It's not some magical obligation from on-high.

Besides, there's nothing to solve. It's not a paradox at all. The phenomenon of expecting more than someone can give is common, perfectly possible and utterly obvious. It's not even unusual.

Even given the premises and assuming they are paradoxical, positing the existence of a god doesn't solve anything. It's a non sequitur - the premises don't magically change because you invoke the "God did it" excuse. It would still be a paradox, one made by a god.

Argument from Religious Experience:

"Personal religious experiences can prove God’s existence to those that have them. One can only perceive that which exists, and so God must exist because there are those that have experienced him. While religious experiences themselves can only constitute direct evidence of God’s existence for those fortunate enough to have them, the fact that there are many people who testify to having had such experiences constitutes indirect evidence of God’s existence even to those who have not had such experiences themselves."
What the argument fails to mention is the fact that people from all religions claim to have these experiences. Most of these gods are mutually exclusive and contradictory so at the very least we know that the majority of these experiences are delusions.

The argument then introduces the premise that all perceived things exist. This is trivially proven false. Magic, demonic possession, conspiracy theories, alien abductions. Take your pick; people perceive fairies. Apophenia and pareidolia are also examples of false perceptions.

Another factor comes into play in religious experiences as well. There's often a large amount of communal pressure on people in a highly religious environment. People want to be special or 'chosen by God', and they can deceive themselves or be deceived much more easily because of this. Another thing to take into account are pious frauds; people that believe that they're justified in lying about witnessing miracles, receiving divine guidance or having religious experiences because it supports and spreads belief.

Anecdotal evidence is completely unreliable. Since we know that the experiences are probably delusions, and that some people believe they have good reason to fake the experiences and even low standards of what constitutes one, they're certainly not acceptable evidence; direct or otherwise. They show that some people perceive a god and nothing else.

Argument from Miracles:

"The occurrence of miracles demonstrates both the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. If the Bible is to be believed, then Jesus’ ministry was accompanied by frequent miraculous signs that his claims and his teachings were endorsed by God the Father. His resurrection from the dead was, of course, the greatest of these, and is still taken by many today to be a solid foundation for their faith. Miracles typically involve the suspension of the natural operation of the universe as some supernatural event occurs. That can only happen, of course, given the existence of some supernatural being."
Having miracles as a premise is a pretty flagrant assumption. As with religious experiences, the problem of mutual exclusivity arises: lots of religions are based on such claims and none of them are more likely than any other, yet because they're mutually exclusive we know that it's impossible for them all to be true. Some of them are definitely delusions, but billions of people believe them regardless. If people can be wrong on such a scale then what reason is there to think they're right in this instance? What makes a Christian miracle a cut above the rest in likelihood? Wishful thinking.

Another issue is what exactly constitutes a miracle. Some consider perceiving Jesus' face in grilled cheese a miracle. Such things are not anything remotely special or unusual, given that the perception of such things is just an artifact of mental pattern recognition, much like seeing familiar shapes in clouds. In the Bible, miracles are things like making infinite food supplies, bringing people back to life; things that are physically impossible. Given that such things never happen anymore, it seems obvious that they never really happened and were exaggerated through the hundreds of years of passing the stories on by word of mouth. When investigated scientifically, miracles have a nasty habit of disappearing entirely or turning out to be something completely mundane, or even complete fabrications.

Another example: Imagine that you're a soldier in a squad of 10 men. Things aren't going well, and all of your squad are murdered by the enemy - except you. Is it a miracle that you alone survived? A lot of people would say yes, even though 90% of the soldiers were killed. Pointing this out will often result in the rationalisation that we can't fathom the mysterious ways of God. But apparently they know a miracle when they see it. Go figure.

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