The Secret Agreement between Atheists and Theists

by Eric Steinhart

Atheists and theists have a strange secret agreement. You can see it if you look at the way they treat the arguments for God, like the cosmological argument.

The theists say: (1) If the reasoning in the cosmological argument is correct, then God exists. (2) The reasoning in the cosmological argument is correct. (3) Therefore, the argument proves that God exists.

The atheists say: (1) If the reasoning in the cosmological argument is correct, then God exists. (2) The reasoning in the cosmological argument is not correct. (3) Therefore, the argument fails to prove that God exists.

Atheists and theists both agree on the major premise: if the reasoning in the cosmological argument is correct, then God exists. Why the agreement? Why grant that the cosmological argument is an argument for God? Sometimes atheists do point out that it might not be an argument for God – it might be an argument for something else. But I’ve never seen that possibility seriously explored. And it’s too bad.

On the one hand, atheists can attack theism by showing that the classical arguments for God are logically flawed. On the other hand, atheists can attack theism by showing that those very same arguments are arguments for things that are not God. Which attack is deeper?

I think it’s clear that the second line of attack is much deeper – it’s much, much more threatening. When your enemies attack your arguments, well, you can always deal with that. But when your own arguments turn against you, you’re in big trouble.

So I’m going to encourage atheists to look at the classical arguments to see what else they might be used for. Fix them up, make them all shiny, and use them to drive to some new place. For an illustration, stay tuned . . .

Guest Contributor Eric Steinhart is an associate professor of philosophy at William Paterson University. Many of his papers can be found here .

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