A High School English Paper on Atheism

From a high school reader from a small town in North Dakota:

In my English class, we’re supposed to write a persuasive paper. I’ve decided to “persuade” my religious teacher, religious classmates, and religious school that God is a theory… I know my paper is going to cause quite a commotion,so I want it to be as factual as possible. Do you have any main arguments that I could present, or have an idea for a good way to start my paper off?

What advice would you give?

And I’m sure commenters can come up with some fantastic opening lines… :)

***Update***: The text of the paper that was eventually turned in can be found in the comments! Thanks to everyone for their help.

  • http://taolung.com Jon

    If it were me, I’d use “hypothesis” instead of “theory.”

    Even the most devoutly religious would admit that God can’t be demonstrated to be anything more than a hypothesis. That’s why they have to use faith. It would be an interesting paper because if done well, they wouldn’t really be able to disagree with any of it on a logical basis. They’d still invoke faith to believe anyway, of course, but at least it might illustrate a flaw in the thinking. There have been thousands of hypothesized gods and supernatural powers proposed throughout history, but there’s really nothing unique that sets this particular god hypothesis apart from the rest.

  • Nick

    When writing a religious paper, having a bunch of facts is like having a bunch of pictures and bunnies. Its cute, but religious people will just smile and giggle at it and then continue worshipping their big toaster man in the sky. Facts won’t have a damn thing to do with it. If they’re open to free thoughts and persuasion, they probably wouldn’t still be religious. It is a defense mechanism for them, a last line of defense against the harsh cold truth that we are alone right now, no one is looking out for us but ourselves, and the worst evil on the planet is also ourselves.

    But including pictures of some cute bunnies can’t hurt, so go for that, too.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Cannonball Jones

    My first suggestion would be to state that god is not a theory but a hypothesis i.e. more akin to speculation than anything else.

  • Secular Humanist

    Dear High-Schooler,

    A tip from an English major in college (Class of 1967): Narrow your focus, your topic is too big for a high school paper.

    As for your approach, my first thought was to use “doubt” as a tool. For instance, you can focus (narrowly) on the so-called “goodness” of God and cast doubt upon that goodness.

    Start out with Bible passages that show God is (supposed to be) good. Then go to Bible passages that show how horrible he really is — flooding the world and killing innocent men, women and chidlren, for instance. Go to other texts in the Old Testament that show how he ordered the slaughter of innocents.

    Finally, wrap it up with some quotes from the New Testament. For instance Jesus says that unless we hate our families, we cannot inherit the kingdom.

    Be sure to have three sections in your paper. The introduction, the body and the conclusion, with good transition between sections.

    Your whole paper then will introduce doubt by indicating the god of the Bible is supposed to be good, but in fact he isn’t.

    Good luck.

    Post it for us when you are done, and let us know what the reaction was.

    David

  • http://garics.blogspot.com gareth

    I agree with Cannonball. It’s not helpful to use “theory” in the misleading way creationists do.

    But I disagree with Nick. His point is essentially that nothing will convince religious people they’re wrong. But, even if true, that’s not the point. We might as well try, and it’s better to base our arguments on reason and evidence than shouting and emotion.

    I think that classic philosophical arguments, like the problem of evil, are a good place to start. Wikipedia has a category devoted to arguments against the existence of God.

    Another important thing to do is to list the main arguments for the existence of God and show how the fail.

    In the end I think you just have to come to the conclusion that, while certain definitions of God are incompatible with reason and evidence, it’s impossible to prove conclusively that certain things don’t exist. This is when you introduce invisible unicorns and Russell’s teapot.

  • http://princeofpithy.wordpress.com/ Prince of Pithy

    One problem is that you might be accused of “attacking” people’s religion instead of trying to persuade them. A way around that is to use atheist arguments as to why Zeus, Ra, Odin, and other such gods don’t exist. Show how the silly, fanciful, creation myths around such gods don’t fit with what we know from modern science. what is left unsaid may be just as important as what is said. Just an idea.

  • silvioricardoc

    Hmmm… Theory? Hypothesis?
    God is neither! You can’t even falsify the idea of a god.
    Maybe possibility is a better word…

    But I agree with Nick. Facts alone won’t work; altough you can, maybe, begin to convince them by using facts that they agree with and comparing those with the other facts that they would have rejected. They may feel the hypocrisy and give your facts a thought…

    A good thing, also, may be differenting just any god from a personal god. It’s much easier to reason about a personal god, since you can contrast the belief that god answers trivial daily prayers but doesn’t answer (or answers “no”) to people who pray to be saved from natural tragedies like earthquakes.

    A father that lets his children die for no reason is not a good father. If a afterlife would’ve been better, he should just kill us all. There’s no excuse for a personal god to allow for suffering. Well, some will say it goes against free will, but “the free will of nature” is a clumsy position, since planet Earth isn’t even a living being, and earthquakes still happen.

    And if he wants to show them that their god is not a certainty, he can do that too. Just show them they can’t trust their 5 senses–well, not even their own minds, actually–so they shouldn’t say they are sure about anything…

  • http://blog.chungyc.org/ Yoo

    Like what Secular Humanist said, I would suggest narrowing the topic and focusing on accomplishing one thing. It could be that the existence of God is a theory or hypothesis like any other, where one might want to compare it with other theories conceptually and how it compares in the supporting arguments or evidence. Or it could be a sort of satire where one argues for the existence of God, except replace God with something else (with access to the right people, it might not be satire at all).

    In any case, maintain focus and do not meander nor attempt to cast too wide a net.

  • Rachel

    I agree with Secular Humanist and his idea is an excellent one.
    Another alternate topic would be narrowing your focus to beliefs in christianity that are really borrowed from other religions (the great flood, Mary/Jesus Isis/Horus, etc.) to show that christianity is simply mythology that borrows from many ancient sources.
    Although I do like Secular Humanist’s idea better.
    I think also in this type of paper, you really have to come across as not emotionally involved, and highly analytical but pursuasive non the less.
    I strongly encourage you to review the logical fallacies index and make SURE you avoid this pit falls in your arguments:
    http://www.onegoodmove.org/fallacy/toc.htm

    I used to run a debate board years ago, and one of the rules was to pay strict attention to the index.
    And let me tell you any newbie, not versed in this who’d debate a point and used an argument that contained a falacy, well they got ripped apart.

    You’d do well to avoid logical fallacies, because anyone good at debating will rip your paper to shreds if you fall into these pitfals and the outcome you hope for will be the opposite.

  • Troll

    Avoid strawmen arguments at all cost.

  • Lauren

    This is an op-ed I wrote for my class, if you need some ideas.

    “God made me an atheist. Who are you to question his wisdom?”

    (Unknown)
    Who’s the most distrusted minority in America? Who can still be discriminated against without fear of prosecution? Admitting to being this would be political suicide. The prominent ones get death threats almost daily. And many have had to leave their homes and jobs out of fear of their community. Who are they, you ask? Atheists.
    Yep, the last secular minority to fight for rights. And guess what? I am atheist. There, I said it. Now I’ll say it again, this time with capital letters. I. AM. ATHEIST. Not the only one in this class either. And the mistreatment of atheists has to stop.
    For example, let’s take a trip to Ada, Oklahoma. A student, a Baptist, refused to take Professor William Zellner’s class. The reason? He was atheist. He wasn’t a kidnapper, a rapist, or a cannibal. He simply had a different view of the world. However, that was enough. He began to receive harassing notes and telephone calls, some threatening his life. His car and house were vandalized almost on a daily basis. “I am praying for Dr. Zellner” buttons were sold by a local church. And worst of all, his children, CHILDREN, were attacked and beaten by religious children (Downey).
    Or this. Atheists make up 21% of the U.S. Armed Forces. When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited. He saw that an officer was attending, and took this as a good sign. He has since been sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers. Minutes into the meeting, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to attack the soldiers about their atheism, saying, “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, which were Christians, wanted for America!” (Banerjee) Major Welborn told the soldiers they’ll be barred them from re-enlistment. (Banerjee)
    LIES! The Founding Fathers, according to letters between them that we have preserved, were almost all either deists (believe in a God, but one that doesn’t answer prayer/care about sins/sends people to hell/care about the world at all) or atheists by today’s standards. It was Jefferson who first proposed a “Wall of Separation” between church and state. He realized that the state could not function if it had to bend to the will of a religion. People who have “quotes” from Founding Fathers either have misquoted them or took the quote from one of the deists out of context.
    America is in no way founded upon Christian principles (or any religious principle, for that matter). To those who say we use the 10 Commandments as a basis for a legal system, might I add the punishment for adultery was being stoned to death. Oh yeah, and it was only the women who were punished, even if they were raped. The guy went free. We also don’t kill people for working on their Sabbath. Betcha didn’t know that one. Our legal system is in no way based on biblical ideas, or we would be a theocracy like the Middle East, with the women having no rights and the punishments being much worse than the crime.
    Another thing that makes me angry. Whenever religion is “attacked,” they claim everyone is discriminating against them. But, then this little article comes along. “Monique Davis to atheist Rob Sherman: `It’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!’ ” (Zorn) I kid you not. If you replace the atheist idea with any other religious idea, there would have been a MASSIVE uproar. Death threats. The whole bit. Nevertheless, Davis got away with it, nothing happened, nothing. The only response was from the Council of Secular Humanism for her resignation. Another snippet from that article reads “After Sherman thanked Davis for sharing her perspective with him, Davis shot back, “Get out of that seat …You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.’ ” (Zorn) A) This state was build upon humanistic ideas. B) No right to be here? Honestly? The stupidity oozing from the quote is palpable. FYI, that would contradict the first amendment, the freedom of speech, which Davis says is oh-so-religious and therefore should be obeyed. Hypocritical.
    As you can plainly see, atheists really are the only (insert adjective) group left who have rights to fight for. Either the general population believes that we are “devil-worshippers,” (hello, Satanists? If we don’t believe in your God, what makes you think we believe in your Satan?) or various people have tragically misinformed them. *cough*the religious leaders*cough* So, just something to remember. Next time you see the news, another suicide bomber, another hostage situation, give us a break. It’s religious ideas that cause that. Maybe we’re not so bad after all.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    To argue that God is a “theory,” or even a “hypothesis” seems too weak and vague as a thesis for a paper. After all, almost any belief, even one that’s seems very likely to be true, could properly deemed a “theory” or “hypothesis.” (Those “evolution is just a theory” statements are really only for people who don’t understand scientific terminology.) I would make the thesis something like a statement that there’s no good evidence for god/gods.

    Start out with Bible passages that show God is (supposed to be) good. Then go to Bible passages that show how horrible he really is. . .

    Is the paper supposed to be about how God is an unreasonable hypothesis, or about how Judaism and/or Christianity is an unreasonable hypothesis? I realize that most readers in a small town in North Dakota will confuse these two questions, but the writer should not.

  • Steven

    Writing a controversial high-school English paper sounds like a bold move, but is it really the best way to express one’s lack of belief? There are plenty of teachers and students who would applaud and enjoy such a exercise – but do they exist at this student’s “religious” school?
    I’d hate to see someone damage their academic career by leaving themselves open to becoming a victim of religious prejudice.
    If the paper is written, I would join with other commenters in suggesting a narrow focus. Here’s a possible thesis (I’m paraphasing Spider Robinson):
    “God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent – it says so right on the box. Scripture contains numerous examples where this is not the case. The bible itself casts doubt on God’s attributes and the foundations of faith”.
    Follow that up with some examples of not being omniscient (Genesis), not being omnipotent (unable to defeat chariots of iron) and not being omnibenevolent (drowning innocents in the flood). Don’t forget an antithesis – what if God was all of these things? How might the world be a different place?
    If you never come right out and say “God does not exist” you might actually open up a few minds and save yourself some grief.

  • Nick

    How about a persuasive essay showing that many of the traditions in Christianity are derivced from earlier creation myths? This approach has a clear factual basis and may be less prone to irking classmates while still getting your point across.

  • Helfrick

    How about starting with the definition of theory? It seems that people tend to believe that a theory is just a guess.

    You can also find some good material here: http://www.godlessgeeks.com/WhyAtheism.htm

    You might also point out that most people, who claim to be Christian, are not following what was written in their holy book.
    Divorce is bad: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”
    Having family is bad: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
    Owning things is bad: “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven”

    You could then ask why it matters if you are a moral person since you can commit the worst atrocities throughout your life and then say you’re sorry at the end and all is well. By the Christian way of thinking, Jeffery Dahmer is in heaven right now. Of course, this is mostly about Christianity. If you want to go the deism route, you could point to the sheer number of gods available (2,850 according to http://www.godchecker.com/) as a sign that there is some confusion. Use Russell’s teapot to refute the argument “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

    Most importantly, let us know how it turns out.

  • http://madsi.net Mads

    This essay by Bertrand Russell might help.

  • http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.com Eamon Knight

    One could always go for the Problem Of Evil, leading off with the Epicurus quote. Quoting from one of the old Greeks is always likely to impress a teacher ;-).

    Either that or just say: “God? God who? Get back to me when you have some evidence for this thing, OK? Then we can talk.”

    Short, sweet, and says everything that really needs to be said on the topic.

  • http://universalheretic.wordpress.com/ Vic

    I would start with phenomena that were explained with God before the scientific method. Like, early made did not know what caused thunder. They proposed a hypothesis, God. We have discovered that it is not caused by a supernatural being but rather by natural forces. Then progress upwards through time, with each era showing another cause that was shown to be natural in origin. End with the mysteries today and state that God was a good hypothesis, but, like many hypotheses, it did not make it to the exalted position of Theory because of the lack of evidence.

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com Paul Lundgren

    Along the same lines as Nick’s suggestion: take the first two chapters of Genesis, compare and contrast the accounts of creation. There are notable discrepancies in the order in which the world came into being, and the writing styles are very distinct. Use the word “inerrant” for extra emphasis.

    Good luck.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Eamon Knight:”One could always go for the Problem Of Evil, leading off with the Epicurus quote.”

    I’d be careful with the quote supposedly from Epicurus. IIRC, it hasn’t been traced back to him, and it is also suspiciously monotheistic, which makes little sense for someone from a pagan background.

    Also, the problem of evil is tricky because it isn’t quite conclusive. As Theodore Drange pointed out in the book Nonbelief and Evil, the argument from evil depends on the premise that God has no desires that conflict with the desire to have his creations be well off. Drange finds the premise reasonable, but notes that proving it outright to be true is problematic.

  • pdferguson

    You didn’t say how much time you have for this, but another approach would be to read one or more recent books on atheism (such as those by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, or Richard Dawkins) to find a topic that could be the basis of your report. These books provide a great look at the current arguments against the existence of the biblical God, and would also serve as reference for your paper. Each of the authors I mentioned is a very persuasive writer, and can give you a sense of how to write an argument well.

    As for a fantastic opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night…” has already been used, so I guess I can’t help there.

    Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    I think you should do your own homework, like everyone else, instead of getting a bunch of gullible atheists to do it for you.

  • Bart Mitchell

    I’ve often found that the best starting point against religion is to show that it’s a horrible science book.

    There are passages that describe Pi as 3, the world is flat with crystal spheres over it, and the big whammy, the 6 thousand year old earth and non evolving ‘kinds’ of animals. There are also quite a few geography errors also.

    By showing that the book can’t be trusted, you open the door for people to abandon it. And by simply attacking the bibles credibility, you might have some students on your side already. Not all christians accept it literally.

  • Secular Humanist

    Gullible atheists?

  • justin jm

    I suggest describing how early humans would have developed a belief in God; appeal to Douglas Adam’s “sentient puddle” story. You might work from there to show how the various religious doctrines have been changed as much by politics (early Christianity taking on pagan-ish features in order to appeal to the Roman population) as by alleged revelations.

  • Secular Humanist

    Bart, that is exactly how I got there. And it was Bart D. Erhman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” that made me realize the bible was not trustworthy.

  • High Schooler on a Mission

    All of your comments are helping so much!

    To answer some of your questions, I have until Monday to write this paper.

    Yes, now looking at what I am doing, I think I will have to narrow my topic.

    This paper is not my way of coming out of the closet about how I feel about God, and most certainly not being written to attack religious beliefs. I have the upmost respect for people with a religion of any kind. I’m just out to persuade them that in all reality,this God of theirs has never been proven to exist.

    And to Darwin’s Dagger, when you say that the people on this website are gullible atheists, do you realize you are posting this on a website called Friendly Atheist?

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    I’m with Steven. I admire your decision to take a bold and controversial stance, and I think it’s praiseworthy that you’re willing and eager to claim the label of “skeptic” or even “atheist” in a public way.

    But with that said, I doubt that much good will come of this tactic. It will look too much like you’re picking a fight with genuinely religious people (which I suspect is your true intent) and there’s no good reason to do that.

    I suggest you pick a topic that strikes a tone that is less “in your face, foolish Christians!” and more thought-provoking instead. You can certainly stir the pot enough, and educate yourself quite a bit in the process, by tackling (for instance) “Evolution but not intelligent design should be taught in high school biology classes” or “The existence of a federal agency that funds religious activities (the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives) violates the Constitution.”

    Either way, good luck. Remember to keep an attitude of confidence while delivering the speech.

  • Karl Withakay

    Not a theory, not a hypothesis.

    More of a conjecture, speculation, or unsupported assertion. Better yet, an invention, intelligently designed to fulfill a philosophical need.

  • SarahH

    We’ve got a thread going on the forums about different layers of doubt that leave a lot of intellectual distance between atheists and the belief in any god. You might want to check it out.

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    I’d focus on making a distinction between belief and knowledge and how they describe subjective and objective realities, respectively. Objective realities being what is really real while subjective realities are merely what we believe to be real.

    Then talk about the scientific method and how useful it is for describing the objective world.

    Show how belief in god and the scientific method don’t mix. This means religious beliefs cannot be shown to be knowledge or truth in any objective sense.

    Good luck with your paper, it should be a lot of fun to write. Reminds me of a paper I wrote in high school titled, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen” which my teacher made me read aloud in class. :)

  • http://trainbiggermonkeys.com/blog Yuri Nalarm

    In highschool I had to do a similar paper, mine was an “opinion” paper about the Nazis. Turns out I had the wrong opinion. Regardless of how well your paper turns out, I would expect some harsh criticism and a poor mark.

  • Richard Wade

    I haven’t had time to read all the previous suggestions, so please forgive me if this is a duplication.

    I would suggest that in your paper you not try to persuade others that a god is a theory or hypothesis. When attempting to persuade someone, first consider if it is even possible. The impossibility to prove or disprove a concept that has caveats added such as it is invisible, inaudible, is not subject to physical laws and does not necessarily want to be undeniably known makes the whole exercise a futile waste of time. Most people’s belief in gods reside in a part of the brain that is not subject to persuasion by rational argument. You might as well be throwing spit balls at a battleship.

    Rather, I suggest you write a paper to persuade people that those who do not believe in gods are not monsters. The public bigotry and mistreatment of atheists is a very real and very important issue, one that you will have to deal with your whole life. This is a subject with real examples and data that you can cite, myths and stereotypes that you can debunk. Challenging people’s prejudice is a battle worth fighting and a paper worth writing.

  • astrogal

    Be like my friend in high school and make sure to write it in Yoda-speak. He was trying to anger the teacher, but ended up getting a 100 with compliments because he executed the form perfectly!

  • P

    Attack the big arguments: cosmological, teleologial, anthropic principle, problem of evil.
    Open the paper with something like Russell’s teapot, being very vague, allowing the reader to realize the ridiculousness of it before pulling the plug and holding the mirror up for them.
    I wrote a paper like this in HS. It was handed back to me with a footmark on it and red pen scribbled straight through it (lovely Oklahoma sentiments). OH, and I also got a D because my teacher said it was ‘too imaginative’ (wtf?) and didn’t ‘pertain enough to reality’. I took the bad grade and laughed.

  • http://theangryphilistine.wordpress.com The Angry Philistine

    You, High Schooler, are my hero. If only I had the courage and audacity to perform such a feat in my educational years.

    Looks like you have lots of good advice already. Narrow your focus and hone in on what you know. Don’t try to disprove the entire bible line by line there is to much there.

    For there record I (a complete stranger I know) am very proud of you and you give me hope that the next generation may be bolder, and wiser than the ones that came before them.

    ~AP~

  • High Schooler on a Mission

    To Karl Withakay,

    Do you mind if I quote that?

  • Siamang

    I actually am going to disagree with the people who say it’s too broad a topic. I think it’s a properly narrow topic if you stick to the original statement “God is a hypothesis” and you don’t try to prove the hypothesis true or false.

    From Wikipedia:

    A hypothesis is a suggested explanation of a phenomenon, or alternately a reasoned proposal suggesting a possible correlation between or among a set of phenomena.

    I think if you want a narrow paper that opens the door to further critical thinking, you could write a persuasive paper arguing that God is a hypothesis that people make to attempt to explain the world we see around us.

    I’d look here for ideas on what to cover:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothesis

    I wouldn’t go about trying to argue that the hypothesis is true or false.

    I know to us this doesn’t seem novel, or that it would need much persuasion. But if your audience is people who believe that the Bible is Capital-T-Truth, this might be a new idea. You know your audience better than I.

    Knowing me, I’d probably go for a different paper. I’d argue that not only are we possibly in a Matrix, that if God was in a bigger Matrix, He would not know there was a Creator of Him!

  • .t.

    I recommend against the entire thing.

    Assume you do an extraordinary job and actually persuade some folks to consider your side. You will have made some very powerful enemies out of your local religious elders and painted a big target on your back.

    But suppose you don’t do so good… Then you’re the classic “atheist fool” that denies God – and now you’re a target of ridicule.

    I recommend that if you continue on this path that you keep the likely repercussions in mind.

  • Justen

    I found that Atheism Explained was a great book that laid out arguments on a step-by-step basis and was able to focus things down to smaller questions.

    I’d suggest taking a quick look through that book to help you choose a focus for the essay.

    http://www.amazon.com/Atheism-Explained-Folly-Philosophy-Ideas/dp/0812696379/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237481831&sr=8-1

  • Quentin

    Always a good starting point is to mention the myriad other deities they don’t believe in. You could also point out the flaws in Pascal’s Wager. I’ve used Leprechauns as an example of how PW fails: doesn’t the promise of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow entice you to believe in Leprechauns? You have so much to gain (a pot of gold) and nothing to lose by believing in Leprechauns, so why not? Good luck kid, the world is depending on you.

  • Duane

    I’d explore the Dennet perspective, that “God” is a malformed theory, a not-even-wrong theory. Even better, you could interrogate Dennet’s theory of a malformed theory, pursue whether it is testable, and keep every theist in suspense along the way.

    If you do this, please let me know what you come up with.

    Best,
    Duane

  • Siamang

    I’d also add to my comment above that it’s really important that you make clear that you aren’t going to attempt to prove the hypothesis correct or incorrect. You may have to say this a couple of times so that it gets across. You are merely asserting that it IS a hypothesis, and it deserves to be examined as one would examine other hypotheses.

  • J Myers

    Avoid strawmen arguments at all cost.

    Poe’s Law would suggest that straw man characterizations of religious belief do not exist, so your suggestion should be easy enough to heed.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    I agree that the focus should be narrower. “God” is more than a single claim after all. Pick one topic, say irreducible complexity or the claim of omnipotence, and attack that.

  • http://skepfeeds.wordpress.com/ Skepdude

    Well, the kid only needs to pick up Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” to get very good arguments he can condense and use for his paper.

    I would offer this idea as his opening line (which I also submitted to the FFRF as they were asking for ides for bus signs):

    “You and I disbelieve the same gods, except for one!”

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Another suggestion would be taking a common religious assumption like “We need religion to be moral” and examine how moral behaviour exists in non-human animals. The ethic of repricocity (The Golden Rule) exists in many pack or herd animals from fish to birds to mammals. Our human Golden Rule is simply a a formalised version of something that occurs naturally in the animal kingdom. I would say that this makes the religious adoption of this rule superfluous.

  • Siamang

    Alternatively one can easily argue the ignostic point of view in the space allotted.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theological_noncognitivism

    The gist is basically that the term “God” must be defined before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed.

    Since God is such an ill-defined concept, questions about the existence or the nonexistence of the undefined are rendered null before they are asked.

    As Thomas Jefferson said: Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.

  • Leanstrum

    In a high school paper, I’d do what’s already been suggested and stick to a narrow subject.

    I’d agree with going for the goodness of God thing. I’d argue that one cannot look at the world and conclude that it is run by a just and benevolent deity. To argue that his ways are simply mysterious is to avoid the question completely. That argument can be applied to any conceivable state of the world, so even if it isn’t true, it would be impossible to convince you so.

    Basically, I’d centre around the argument that God’s goodness is an assertion that is based on blind faith in the truth of a book that one assumes to be true, and not out of evidence.

  • Siamang

    I might say something like: first define God in such a way that no other believer in God would disagree. Make it very specific, not general and not using nebulous or ambiguous language (like God is the IS, or God is the I AM or the OHMMM or the Ground of all Being) And in a way so that it is clear and distinct from other concepts (not ‘God is love’ for example.. because you would never say “I God my wife”)…

    Once that is done, and not before, can the question be asked.

    If the concept is meaningless, the question is meaningless.

  • kMan

    I would consider opening the paper with a creation myth from another culture that sounds exactly like the christian one for the first couple of paragraphs. At the point where christians dismiss it as myth is a good starting point to illustrate the christian creation myth similarities, and why they don’t agree with science.

  • Siamang

    I’d argue that one cannot look at the world and conclude that it is run by a just and benevolent deity.

    Sorry, but these people have invented a devil to be that excuse. The world is in a fallen state.

    Then you’ll spend the whole paper arguing why the devil doesn’t exist. Too big a topic.

  • Karl Withakay

    High Schooler on a Mission,
    Knock yourself out. I just thought that up when replying to the post.

    Remember to stick to the subject at hand; both sides of the atheism debate tend to get bogged down on on whether believing in God is a good or bad thing rather than whether God exists or not.

    Benefits and consequences of a belief do not support the factualness of the belief.

    ex “I believe in God because it makes me a better person.” That may be a benefit of your belief in God, but it does not support the position that God exists.

  • http://selenophobic.wordpress.com Vicky P

    Well I did a research paper in my Sociology class on Religious Interpretations.
    Granted it was a slightly different topic, but I approached it in a scientific manner. In a way I explained how society is influenced by religions, and even included a small bit on my experiences as an atheist.

    It’s rather long, but I’m sure it could assist you in research. It’s also nice to see how others make their points :)

    http://questionablemorals.webs.com/Religousinterpretations.pdf

    Writing my research paper was enormously fun (yes, I’m a huge nerd), its also when I found a lot of Atheist blogs (such as The Friendly Atheist :P)
    Regardless, good luck in writing your paper.

  • Anfractuous

    Dear High Schooler on a Mission,

    If your assignment is to write a persuasive paper, the most important pre-writing activity is to determine who your audience is and to determine what arguments might actually be the most persuasive to that audience. Otherwise you will not persuade anyone; you will just hit a brick wall. Other posters’ suggestions to prove that God is evil, or not what Christians think it/he/she is, will be unpersuasive since the mind set of committed Christians will preclude their consideration of these arguments. From your comments, I would bet that includes your teacher, who will be grading this paper.

    In order to actually persuade a Christian audience of anything, it seems to me that you must pick a topic that allows your readers to consider logically some focused part of the God hypothesis. Attacking their god as evil or calling their way of thought stupid will not provoke thought, which is a necessary precursor to persuasion; such an antagonistic approach will just provoke anger, thus eliminating much chance of persuasion.

    So, in my opinion, you shouldn’t forget the purpose of the assignment in your desire to show your atheism. The best suggestion I saw here was to persuade your readers that atheists are not such bad folks. At least you have a “prayer” of attaining that goal, and lots of facts to back up that “hypothesis.”

  • Brooks

    If you’re arguing against God as a theory, perhaps you could focus on the intelligent design vs evolution argument. You could show how intelligent design is not a theory and how evolution is and dispel common myths creationists believe a theory is. But if you don’t want to offend your class, maybe instead of using the bible myth, you could use evolution to argue against the creation accounts of Greek mythology and show how the complexity of the universe does not point to the existence of the Titans. Maybe you could also explain how evolution does not necessarily disprove the existence of God in itself and how the two concepts are not incompatible with each other, but it does disprove certain beliefs about God that we don’t believe in anymore, like Greek mythology. If you want to go further in avoiding offending your class, also point out the number of religious scientists like Francis Collins who are able to reconcile faith with evolution and show how trying to disprove the theory of evolution to prove the existence of God is a fallacy and how evolution only explains how we got here, not the origins of life, but how two competing ideas aren’t always equally probable.

  • Brooks

    I also agree with what others said before to include Russel’s teapot in your paper as a response to an argument from faith. I also think you have to remember that some people are going to be offended no matter what you do because the mere existence of atheists is going to be offensive to some religious believers.

  • http://deepanalysis.blogspot.com Benjamin
  • Leanstrum

    Siamang

    Sorry, but these people have invented a devil to be that excuse. The world is in a fallen state.

    True, but Christians don’t think Satan has power over plate tectonics, so the problem of tsunamis, etc. remains. The argument of God not interfering with the elements can be dispatched by asking the reader if they’re prepared to refrain from thanking God for the weather.

    Also, Christians think God heals the sick, so it wouldn’t take too long to question his choices of whom to help and whom to leave to die. The obvious alternative that there is no deliverer of justice can then be presented.

  • matt

    An interesting story to bring up might be the story of Theseus and Minotaur.

    Story in short: King Aegis finds long lost son, Theseus, who volunteers himself to redeem his nation which much sacrifice 7 young people every so many years to the Minotaur and king Minos. Theseus kills the Minotaur and redeems the people by virtue of the Minotaur not being able to eat them anymore.
    Shorter: King gives up only real son to redeem his people.

  • Eliza

    Ahh, this takes me back.

    I wrote a persuasive essay in high school, ~30 yrs ago now, claiming: “Jesus was an existentialist” (that was the title). I used quotes from the gospels to support my claim. (I’ve been an atheist all my life, so it’s not that I believed this claim. I just thought it was interesting & amusing and thought I could write a paper supporting the claim.)

    It didn’t seem to shock the teacher, but my school was in the Bay Area in California. I got a pretty good grade on it. (I don’t recall being asked to share it with the rest of the class.) I kept it in a small file of “interesting things I’ve written” for about 20 years, then during a cleaning spree I threw it away, thinking I’d never want to look at it again.

    Now, of course, I have no clue how in tarnation one would quote Jesus to support a bizarre claim like this, and I really wish I’d saved the darn thing!

    Have fun. I’d advise keeping yourself out of your essay – make a claim then persuade with supportive evidence and logical argumentation. What YOU personally believe should not be the focus of the essay, & IMO should only come up if it adds to the weight of evidence (e.g., self as example of someone who’s been harassed simply for being an atheist).

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    Leanstrum:

    Also, Christians think God heals the sick, so it wouldn’t take too long to question his choices of whom to help and whom to leave to die. The obvious alternative that there is no deliverer of justice can then be presented.

    I’ve never been a fan of the whole “why won’t God heal amputees argument” as I think it fails miserably. That there is no “deliverer of justice” is not the most obvious alternative to a religious person. Instead, the temptation of Jesus in the desert shows that you can’t put God to the test. Secondly, and conveniently, you can’t know God’s will and overall plan for these people. In short, you can’t judge God based on a lack of understanding of God’s will.

    This is partially where those “atheists just don’t understand God” type comments come from as well as the perception that we’re arrogant since we “claim to know better than God.”

    A truly persuasive argument wouldn’t be so easily refuted using well known stories from the Bible.

    “We call their stories myth, and ours creed.”

  • Eliza

    I’ve never been a fan of the whole “why won’t God heal amputees argument” as I think it fails miserably. …you can’t know God’s will and overall plan for these people.

    It seems that God has a plan which involves more people becoming amputees.

    That must be why he had George Bush invade Iraq…. :-(

  • Leanstrum

    Tao Jones

    Secondly, and conveniently, you can’t know God’s will and overall plan for these people. In short, you can’t judge God based on a lack of understanding of God’s will.

    You’re right – I’m very used to hearing that. But what I said in my first comment is that I tend to ask how they would know the difference between a benevolent God with mysterious ways, and a malevolent/non-existent one. They’re basically arguing that we in our childlike intellect can’t possibly understand his ways, so he only seems not to exist. I tend to put forward the simpler alternative. You know, Occam’s Razor, and all that.

  • Anonymous

    I honestly don’t have any suggestions, but this reminds me of the time I wrote a paper I wrote for a college philosphy class that dealt very vaguely with religion and I cited Richard Dawkins. My teacher said it was a very thoughtful, well written paper, but then gave me a low grade and couldn’t figure out why – then I looked at my works cited page and my teacher had written an entire page about what a terrible person Richard Dawkins is, and although she didn’t explicitly take points off for it, I’m sure that was the source of my lower than expected grade. I wish this had happened more recently, I would have had more courage to confront her about it.
    Just beware of outcomes like that and be ready to stand up for yourself when writing papers like this.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    “High Schooler”, if you are reading this post, close your browser and open up your word-processor program of choice. You probably already know everything you need to know about the subject so just start writing. Have fun with it and have it be your own thoughts.

    Be sure to properly give references. Of course with this subject, you could take the easy way out and only quote the bible.

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    Leanstrum

    what I said in my first comment is that I tend to ask how they would know the difference between a benevolent God with mysterious ways, and a malevolent/non-existent one. They’re basically arguing that we in our childlike intellect can’t possibly understand his ways, so he only seems not to exist. I tend to put forward the simpler alternative. You know, Occam’s Razor, and all that.

    Okay, this makes more sense to me now. I guess it could sort of tie into what I was saying before about being clear on the difference between belief and knowledge. Your approach should force them to admit that their choice of “a benevolent God with mysterious ways” is a belief or desire rather than fact.

    Occam’s Razor is great, but in the religious mindset, “goddidit” is as simple as it gets.

    Eliza

    That must be why he had George Bush invade Iraq….

    :) So who are we to judge?

  • High Schooler on a Mission

    Do you know where your God came from? Do you know where he lives, who his best friends are, or even why people believe in him? Better yet, do you know where the proof is that he exists? Every religion has their own God, and a different view of him.Today, I’m going to present why there is no proof to the existence of God, and that this “God” every one believes in, is a conjecture, speculation, or unsupported assertion. He is an invention, intelligently designed to fulfill a philosophical need.

    The Book is the root of the three main religions. The stories in the Bible were recorded by the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ who devoted the majority of their adult lives to making Jesus and his father,God, known through out their country. They listened to everything that Jesus said and instructed others to do the same.Their main purpose in life was to uphold the Holy Word. The Bible is a record of all of God and Jesus’s doings. The stories in it are claimed to be accounts of what Jesus and God both did and said. If these tales of holy happenings are from the Christ himself, this would make him the biggest web spinner of all. The story of Adam and Eve, the first people, brings me to my first point. Genesis 2 opens with God fashioning a man from the dust and blowing life into his nostrils. God plants a garden (the Garden of Eden) and sets the man there, “to work it and watch over it,” permitting him to eat of all the trees in the garden except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for on the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then God creates the animals, attempting to find a help-mate for the man; but none of the animals are satisfactory, and so God causes the man to sleep, and creates a woman from his rib. The man names her “Woman”, “for this one was taken from a man”. “On account of this a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his woman.” Genesis 2 ends with the note that the man and woman were naked, and were not ashamed.

    Genesis 3 introduces the Serpent, “slier than every beast of the field.” The serpent tempts the woman to eat from the tree of knowledge, telling her that it will not lead to death; she succumbs, and gives the fruit to the man, who eats also, “and the eyes of the two of them were opened.” Aware now of their nakedness, they make coverings of fig leaves, and hide from the sight of God. God, perceiving that they have broken His command, curses them with hard labor and with pain in childbirth, and banishes them from His garden, setting a cherub at the gate to bar their way to the Tree of Life, “lest he put out his hand … and eat, and live forever.”

    Although speech was used to misguide Eve in the garden of Eden, there is nothing to suggest that the literal serpent had vocal cords. It actually did not need them. When God’s angel spoke to Balaam through a she-ass, the animal did not need a complex voice box similar to that of a human.(Numbers 22:26-31) Obviously, when this ‘voiceless beast of burden made utterance with the voice of a man,’ the power for the action came from the spirit realm. 2 Peter 2:16. There have been various suggestions as to how the serpent might have communicated with Eve. One idea is that it did so through body language or gestures.By using mere body language, however, how could the serpent communicate to Eve the idea that by partaking of the forbidden fruit she would become like God, able to decide what was good and what was bad? Furthermore, Eve participated in the conversation, answering the question raised by the serpent. The view that the serpent communicated only with signs or movements would lead to the conclusion that Eve replied by using gestures,whereas the Bible says that she spoke.(Anonymous opinion)

    While the Bible is filled with stories that science can prove wrong, my next point is The Last Supper. Paul was the first to write about the Last Supper, stating: For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.(1 Corinthians 11:23-26) The Bible clearly states in John 6:53-4: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” With statements such as this, the reader can only come to the conclusion that Jesus is endorsing cannibalism. God says these words to Noah and his family after the global flood. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:1-6). With these passages combined together, God is contradicting Himself, which is something no perfect God would do. With this error on a subject that is more then hard to swallow, we are brought to the conclusion that these passages are greatly fabricated, meaning man thought them up and wrote them down, confirming that God is just another theory.

    The biggest argument with religion, other then “Does He or Doesn’t He”, is the argument of how we all came to be. Creationism says that we were all made by some sort of Deity, who also created the world and everything in it. The creation week narrative begins with these words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. ” It takes place over a period six days and is followed by a seventh day of rest. In these seven days there are eight divine commands spoken:
    Day 1: God creates light. Here is the first divine command, “Let there be light.”
    God then divides the light from the darkness, and calls the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.”
    Day 2: God creates the heavens. Here is the second divine command, “Let there be an expanse…”
    God then divides the waters that were above this expanse from the waters that were below it, and he calls the expanse “Heaven.”
    Day 3: God creates dry land and sea. Here is the third divine command, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”
    God then names the dry land, “Earth” and the waters, “Seas.”
    On this day we also have the fourth divine command, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees…”
    Day 4: God creates lights in the heavens. Here is the fifth divine command, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…”
    These lights were made to separate light from darkness and to mark days, seasons and years.
    These lights consisted of “two great lights…and the stars.” One light was to rule the day, and the second was to rule the night.
    Day 5: God creates sea creatures and birds. Here is the sixth divine command, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”
    God tells these creatures “to be fruitful and multiply.”
    Day 6: God creates the land animals and human beings This is the seventh divine command, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures…”
    He makes wild beasts, livestock and reptiles.
    He then creates man in his image, male and female (1:27)—the eighth divine command: “Let us make mankind in our image…”
    God tells them “to be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” (1:28)
    God gives both humans and animals plants to eat (1:29).
    God describes his creation as “very good”.
    Day 7: Day of rest. God, having completed the heavens and the earth, rests from His work, and blesses and sanctifies the seventh day.

    The other theory of our coming to being is Evolution. Evolutionary biologists document the fact that evolution occurs, and also develop and test theories that explain its causes. The study of evolutionary biology began in the mid-nineteenth century, when studies of the fossil record and the diversity of living organisms convinced most scientists that species changed over time.However, the mechanism driving these changes remained unclear until the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, detailing the theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin’s work soon led to overwhelming acceptance of evolution among scientists.In the 1930s, Darwinian natural selection was combined with Mendelian inheritance to form the modern evolutionary synthesis, which connected the units of evolution (genes) and the mechanism of evolution (natural selection). This powerful explanatory and predictive theory directs research by constantly raising new questions, and it has become the central organizing principle of modern biology, providing a unifying explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.
    With the two of these ideas, it is clear that in all reality, God could not have said his commands and had them come to be, with out him being able to control all of the atoms and molecules that make up the living and non living things on Earth. Nowhere in His 7 days of creation, does it say that He created the particles that make up each and every thing on Earth. This lets us know that once again, there was a mistake in the Bible, this time where the creation of the “building blocks of life” was left out. Leading us to once again think that the whole thing is fabricated and that the existence of God has no proof.

    There are many things that religions say are proof of God. Such as the tomb where Jesus’ body was put. To be quite frank, anyone can put a body in a cave, cover the door with a big rock, remove the body, and tell everyone its was the rising of Christ. Jesus’s body’s disappearance meets many of the standards that are put forth when someone fakes their death. As for “modern day signs of God” such as weeping statues, wood with the face of God, and planes that narrowly escape their doomed fate, can all be proved that they are not a miracle by either scientists or a guy who knows how to rig a good sprinkler system.

    There are many other key points that I could talk about in this paper, but due to the fact I am limited in length, I have only touched on the topics that I feel are the most important: how the world came to be, the amoral behavior and contradicting passages in the Bible, the mistakes that a “perfect God” would not have made if he existed, and over all showing that there is no hard core proof to his existence. No matter how persistent the world’s religions are, they have yet to present any actual proof, and it will be almost impossible for them to ever convince people of any evidence they do ever present as real. In closing, as my last, blunt, and obvious reason as to why God is only a theory, is because a fact is something that can proven, something believed by all, and something that certainly did happen.Many people in today’s World don’t believe that God is a factual being, and until the day everyone does,God is a theory.

  • Gary

    There are many Christians, such as myself, that would say that God used evolution in his creation. I certainly do not believe that God created a world in a physical 6 days and a woman from a rib. Why not a sec, min, day, hour, or day? The 24 hour nonsense that many Christians claim is laughable. God and evolution are not inconsistent as long as the creation stories (yeah there are two) are not taken literally. The Bible is to be read in the same way you would read other literary works. I personally don’t like reading the Bible but that’s another story. I would love to dialogue with anyone who has any questions or concerns. I will warn you though, I don’t have all the answers and if I can’t answer it, I will tell you. I won’t pull the faith card. Although all statements are faith statements. garys439@msn.com

  • Gary

    Skepdude. I don’t know why you would try to turn any aspiring atheist on to Richard Dawkins. Any serious (academic) atheist knows he is a joke and distance themselves far from him! Don’t believe me, read books by real atheists. He is a crummy philosopher and needs to stick to the sciences. Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are much better at presenting the flaws of Christianity, particularly Christopher. The best book I have ever read was “An Anthology of Atheism and Rationality”. Def worth the money.


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