Common Christian Arguments for God and Why Don’t They Don’t Work

Zack Ford wrote up a list of common arguments he hears his Christian friends making in favor of a god and why they don’t work. He’s found that their arguments fall into a handful of categories or memes:

  • “It’s true because I believe it.” — The “Truth” Meme
  • “These are my beliefs, so you need to respect them.” — The “Respect” Meme
  • “If my beliefs are not being respected, I’m the victim.” — The “Victim” Meme
  • “Atheists are ego-worshippers/self-centered/selfish/etc.“ — The “Selfish Atheist” Meme
  • “We can’t prove there is a God. You can’t prove there isn’t. So neither of us is right or wrong!” — The “Stalemate” Meme
  • “Well, since we can never know, it’s better to just believe, just in case.” — The “Just Because” Meme

He goes into much more depth for each meme and provides several examples of each — it’s a very interesting read.

(via ZackFord Blogs)

  • http://diaphanus.livejournal.com/ Ian Andreas Miller

    Nice, but where is the mention of the “Great Atrocities” meme?

  • David D.G.

    Nice essay. It covers a lot of apologetic ground.

    ~David D.G.

  • Stobrawa

    Why don’t they don’t work? Was that a typo or do I have to unravel the double-negative?

  • Larry Huffman

    Well…the ‘truth meme’ is very close to the classic ontological arguement…The ‘respect’ and ‘victim’ are two sides of the same coin…though I would question the victim side as actually being an apologists arguement. More like a consequence or a ground to stand on for the ‘respect’ case…and the final two (‘stalemate’ and ‘just because’) fall in line with Pascal’s Wager. And…the ‘selfish atheist’ item is really just the consequence side to the morality arguement and in a way, Pascal’s wager, already well covererd.

    After all…apologists are apologists…and the thing they are apologizing for has not really changed at it’s core for 2000 years. So, while the list is concise and interesting…it is just a rehash of known arguements.

    The ‘respect’ item (along with the ‘victim’) are not classic arguements, because, classically, respect was simply given…period…to religion. So it is relatively new. But it has been covered nicely as well in recent years, in the areas where some modern authors have attacked religious liberals and moderates.

    Not meaning to be too critical, but I think some very fine work has been done in recent atheist-written books to discuss these arguemetns in greater detail…illuminating their actual origins and counter claims.

  • http://zackfordblogs.wordpress.com ZackFord

    Hey Larry, You make some great points!

    I know, of course, that the points themselves are not new. I’m currently rereading The God Delusion and see the same arguments being brought up by Dawkins. My goal was to articulate the arguments into the kind of language we’ve been hearing a lot lately… address the arguments not as arguments but as simply cultural ideas that are quite pronounced.

    I make no assumption the ideas are original, just perhaps that this presentation of them makes it easier to identify them when they are encountered.

  • Larry Huffman

    Zach…I kind of felt when I wrote the comments that it was coming accross too critical. I should have highlighted that the list was concise and interesting of it’s own merit more. I did not mean to be so negative. I felt like Carlin (we only need 2 commandments!)

    It is good as a standlone essay. Well done in fact. I enjoyed it. (I am such a crumudgeon these days…hehe)

  • http://zackfordblogs.wordpress.com ZackFord

    Thanks Larry. No worries! :-)

  • SarahH

    Very interesting. I tried to play Devil’s Advocate in my head while reading it a few times, and it’s hard to think of any arguments for theism that can’t be nailed down firmly into at least one of those categories.

    What survives is this: Some theists (moderates and liberals, for the most part) don’t claim to have any proof that their belief system is correct and don’t puff up when it’s criticized – they simply rely on the fact that religion *works* for them, and that’s all they need. They believe because they want to believe, because it feels nice, because they like the results of belief in their lives.

    So long as they don’t claim that any of this constitutes proof of anything supernatural involved, I don’t mind this approach, but it can be frustrating trying to discuss any religious topic with someone of this mindset.

  • http://zackfordblogs.wordpress.com ZackFord

    You make a great point Sarah…

    If someone is of the mindsets “Ignorance is bliss” and “To each hir own,” there is not a lot to engage with. I respect those people, because they’ve made a choice ONLY for themselves. As long as their actions don’t infringe on the rights of others, I could almost be content just to let them be.

    For that very reason, which I think you have acknowledged, those perspectives are moot in the discussion of defensive memes. They have no need to be defensive, because nothing is on the line for them.

    I said “almost” before, though, because I am NOT content to let them stay in ignorance. I think those of us who have found freedom outside of religion (i.e. The Matrix) need to work to free others. Like you Sarah, I will still continue to engage and press intellectually, regardless of how frustrating it might be.

  • Josha

    I also have some points to add after having similar discussions with my well-read, traditional Catholic friend. Although I know these may have been said before (ie The God Delusion).

    -The reason I have no belief in God is because I haven’t read the rational, intelligent theist literature in depth (St. Aquinas, St. Augustine…).

    -If my conclusion on god is based on emiricism then I would also have to conclude many other things don’t exist (freedom, rights, love).

    -If you never discussed these issues with anyone when you had a “crisis of faith” then that is why you are an atheist now. And it’s pointless now to do so since you are obviously stuck in your belief (or don’t want to believe).

  • Richard Wade

    Josha, it is to your credit that you didn’t crown your circular-thinking, sophomoric friend with a heavy, blunt object (I’m assuming you didn’t, and I don’t suggest it.)

    One good argument against the existence of God is the existence of apologists. If he is as they describe, then why are they needed? Spin doctors for the Divine Embarrassingly Absent. It’s Argumentum ad Verbosum. They’re talking so much so therefore it must be true. (Or maybe if I just say yes I believe they’ll finally shut up.) Somewhere I heard one argue that the complete absence of evidence was actually proof of his existence. My head collapsed in on itself like a falling souffle.

  • stogoe

    I think the Stalemate Meme is wrong. It should read “We can’t prove there is a God. You can’t prove there isn’t. So that means of course my God is real!”
    This fits much better with what I’ve seen in the real world.

  • Will

    Hey Zach,

    I think you could find some other great ones from Guy P Harrisons book “50 reasons people give for believing in god“. Its a great read for everyone.

  • http://www.aperfectfool.com Codswallop

    The “respect” arguments are my personal favorites. They remind me of what H. L. Mencken said: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

    Damn! I wish I had said that.


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