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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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.