There are no good arguments for the existence of God

One of the less silly-sounding criticisms made of popular atheists is that we don’t deal with the best arguments for religion out there. That criticism was one of the main reasons Michael Ruse gave, in his review of The God Delusion in the academic journal Isis, for claiming the quality of popular atheist writing is “downright awful.” Similarly, the New York Times review of Dawkins’ book accuses Dawkins of not knowing that the ontological argument “comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy to refute.”

And as a blogger, I know that if I write a blog post criticizing one religious apologist, there’s a good chance I’ll get comments complaining that the person whose arguments I should be answering is really someone else, and until I’ve dealt with that someone else, my work is worthless. Here’s an example from an actual blog comment: “Remember, if N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God isn’t in your references then you haven’t really engaged with anything.”

I think this criticism is wrong because I don’t think there’s any such thing as “the best defenses of religion.” That’s because I don’t think any arguments for religion come anywhere close to being good. And by that I mean I don’t think any arguments for religion come anywhere close to giving a good reason to think any religious claim is actually true.

You may have noticed that this criticism of popular atheism is very similar to a criticism I already dealt with in chapter 2. There, I pointed out that it’s reasonable to ask creationists to deal with the version of the theory of evolution that modern scientists actually accept, because there’s a fair amount of agreement among scientists about evolution, but you can’t demand the same of critics of religion because there isn’t similar agreement among theologians about God.

A similar point applies here: it’s reasonable to insist that creationists deal  with the evidence for evolution, as most evolutionary biologists understand it, because biologists basically agree on what the evidence for evolution is. That’s true even for creationists who think there’s no remotely good evidence for evolution. Similarly, if theologians basically agreed on what the evidence for the existence of God is, you could insist I deal with that evidence, even if I thought the evidence was rubbish.

But in fact, theologians don’t agree on what the evidence for the existence of God is. Ask ten religious thinkers what the best arguments for the existence of God are, and one will give you Aquinas’ five ways, another will tell you about his cutting-edge formulation(s) of the ontological argument, a third will claim the Quran is so perfect that God must be the author, and so on, until you get to the handful saying the arguments don’t matter. So no matter what arguments an author like me or Dawkins decides to deal with, someone will think he didn’t choose the “best” ones.

That does not mean we can’t argue about which arguments for the existence of God are most worth dealing with. I’ve made different decisions about that issue than other atheists. But it rarely makes any sense to use another person’s decisions about that issue to dismiss their work as “downright awful.”

There is, though, a related criticism which I take more seriously. Daniel Dennett, in his review of The God Delusion, wrote:

What do I wish were different in Dawkins’ book? The same thing I wish were different in mine. Sometimes he just cannot conceal his mounting impatience with the arguments he has obliged himself to consider, and when his disrespect, or even contempt, shines through in spite of his strenuous efforts–I know just what he’s going through–he must surely lose many readers. Good riddance to them? Well, no, this is a problem…

However, Dennett notes, a fully respectful treatment of the arguments on the other side, “is well nigh impossible when the arguments you wish to rebut are too flimsy,” which Dennett thinks the arguments for the existence of God are. Then Dennett asks a question:

Still, what are we to say to those who, not being experts on the arguments themselves, have often heard them spoken of highly, and may well feel entitled to a more patient account? I think I can imagine mustering the good will, the humor, and the pedagogical doggedness to satisfy them, but I certainly couldn’t find the strength to do it now, and on present showing, Dawkins couldn’t either.

Dennett finally says that, “Perhaps some claims should just be laughed out of court.” I have a different solution to this problem. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing a series of posts which won’t give the patient account of the arguments for the existence of that many may feel entitled to. What I will do, though, is explain in as carefully as carefully as I can without boring anyone why I don’t think any arguments for the existence of God come anywhere close to being good.

  • Pingback: Bill O’Reilly’s argument for the existence of God | The Uncredible Hallq

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    The main reason, for me, that there aren’t any good arguments for the existence of god is that almost no one who believes in god was actually convinced by any of the sophisticated arguments for the existence of god.

    The Ontological Argument? How many theologians became theists because of it? No, most Christians (for example) have some sort of born again experience and then go looking for arguments to supplant their belief.

  • Steven Carr

    The modern Ontological Argument was developed basically by Alvin Plantinga and seeks to show that his god exists in every possible world.

    This is the same Alvin Plantinga who is feted by Christians for having ‘refuted’ the problem of evil by his contortions to find one single possible world in which his god could exist.

    But how can Plantinga’s god exist in every possible world, when he had to spend hundreds of pages trying to construct even one world in which his god could exist?

    Baffling….

    And why should Dawkins have to refute both versions of Plantinga – the Plantinga whose god exists in all possible worlds, and the Plantinga whose god exists in only a few possible worlds?

    You can’t blame Dawkins for not refuting both of Plantinga’s contradictory arguments. There is only so much woo anybody can get into their head at once.

  • G.Shelley

    This looks like it should be interesting.
    Given that there are no good arguments, are there any “less bad” ones?
    How many will you be covering? I can think of
    1) Ontological argument – Traditional (God is the greatest and if he didn’t exist he wouldn’t be the greatest, therefore he exists) and modern (Plantinga, which you covered recently, but to me as a non philosopher, is essentially “God might exist, and if he might exist, he must exist somewhere and if he exists somewhere he exists everywhere therefore god exists”) are sufficiently different that they probably deserve different treatment, though both are trying to define god into existence while simultaneously avoiding any actual definition of god

    2) Pascal’s Wager

    3) Argument from Morality – Again, there are two types, one states there is a common morality, so god must exist, the other that if morality didn’t come from god, anything would be acceptably, which would be really awful

    4) Various arguments from the bible

    5) The Lord/Lunatic/Liar argument popularized by Lewis, which is really a subset of (4), though proponents don’t seem to realise this

    6) The various arguments from science

    • Leo

      I have seen a couple address the “Legend” part of #5. But all their argument amounted to was asserting there wasn’t enough time for a legend to form. And they may (it’s been a while since I saw the argument) have quoted someone else (like a historian) who agreed with them. Which is an argument from authority, as should be obvious to people like us.

      • josh

        I’ve never understood why a combination of lunatics and liars was supposed to be anything less than a compelling explanation for the origin of Christianity. Especially when that’s what every modern example of a religious founder or would-be founder looks like.

  • http://lifetheuniverseandonebrow.blogspot.com/ One Brow

    ONe main reason there is no good argument for God, is that you can’t prove God without assuming the equivalent of God. Because there is not evidence, youare required to make a series of assumptions, the intersection of which is smaller than the existence of God.

  • John

    Just wanted to post to say that I look forward to reading the different takes on the arguments.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Similarly, the New York Times review of Dawkins’ book accuses Dawkins of not knowing that the ontological argument “comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy to refute.”

    That’s only because modern versions can run to many pages, which gives them more room to hide the question-begging and special pleading.

  • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

    Oh, come on, now. Dawkins was impatient and crabby because he was ignorant and preferred to remain so. Read the “citations” at the end of God Delusion. Dawkins did no real research for the book. He cited a few friendly web pages, on-line articles by fellow skeptics, and New York Times articles, and pretty much nothing from the religions he purported to disprove. He got just about everything wrong, because he was too lazy to get it right, and he knew so many of his fellow skeptics only cared about tone and style, not about substance.

    Rebutting Dawkins was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. He just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Plantinga, by sharp contrast, does his homework, and knows how to think. If skeptics can’t be bothered because an argument by one of the world’s leading philosophers is several hundred pages long, and is full of, well, philosophy, that’s the price of admission to debate at that level. If you don’t want to pay it, that’s your business. (And yes, if you want to debate the Resurrection, you SHOULD read Wright, and probably Habermas, Craig, and Licona, too.)

    Plantinga does NOT rest much on the Ontological Argument, however. He says it’s a valid, but not very persuasive, argument, because the premises are too close to the conclusion.

    • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

      Dawkins’ book was a polemic, and it was also a book dealing conceptually with conceptual problems. There’s actually no need to cite studies when you’ve got purely conceptual answers to purely conceptual problems. It’s no more necessary when dealing with arguments for/against the existence of deities than when dealing with mathematical proofs.

      Well, the ontological argument is ridiculous in whatever formulation, but the one that confuses me most is the so-called first cause argument – specifically, why anyone thinks it’s valid. The formulation, “something can’t come from nothing, so there must be a god”, is possibly the silliest of them all, but they’re all predicated on a fundamental formal flaw. If there’s no universe (and hence no time, physical law, causation, matter, etc) then there’s nothing stopping anything at all from happening. If something can’t happen, then there’s something already in existence stopping things from happening.

      That whole argument is based on deriving properties of not-universe from properties of the universe. It’s basically true that “something can’t come from nothing” inside the universe, but inferring that this principle applies to the existence of the universe itself (including the very existence of causation) is a step too far.

      Anyway, you may believe that refuting Dawkins is the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but countless pseudo-physicists working in their garages believe that overturning relativity is the easiest thing they’ve ever done. If you found it that easy, then you probably made a mistake.

      • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

        Al: If you debate concepts, then if you want to argue well, you still need to read the best arguments for those concepts on the other side. This, Dawkins obviously did not do.

        Why are you so willing to cut Dawkins so much slack, and me so little? Aside from the fact that he’s an atheist, so you’re on his side? It’s not like he has special expertise, in the most relevant subjects. You seem to be comparing Dawkins on religion to Einstein on physics: the guy in the garage trying to overthrow established scholarship, is not me, it’s Richard Dawkins.

        • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

          You seem to be comparing Dawkins on religion to Einstein on physics: the guy in the garage trying to overthrow established scholarship, is not me, it’s Richard Dawkins.

          Not Dawkins on religion – Dawkins on issues like the argument from design. Dawkins is an authority on such subjects.

          The reason I’m willing to cut Dawkins some slack is because he makes an effort to make sense and the arguments he outlines in The God Delusion are generally very good. It’s a polemic, but it makes an effort to be accurate. Most criticisms of the book are not vindicated upon reading it.

          Al: If you debate concepts, then if you want to argue well, you still need to read the best arguments for those concepts on the other side. This, Dawkins obviously did not do.

          Regardless of whether he chose the best examples of the arguments or not, he didn’t need to provide an extensive bibliography, which you criticise him for not doing. He didn’t need to cite anything, he just needed to provide the arguments. And he did provide the arguments. Many people, including me, have looked into the idea that sophisticated theology, so-called, has fundamentally different or better arguments than pop-theology (if there is even a distinction there) and come away wanting. The fact is, the ontological argument is bunk, and if Plantinga has a different formulation of it that is somehow miraculously valid, then it has to be a different argument altogether. Formally speaking, it’s dumber than a bag of bricks.

          • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

            No, Al, Dawkins’ arguments are generally awful, as many better-informed skeptics have recognized. He may “make some effort to make sense” in the trivial sense that he argues from premises his fellow skeptics already agree on, but sorry, that is not the same as making an informed and persuasive case for anything. And no, Dawkins made very little effort to be accurate, which is why he was caught in so many blunders. (I detailed 160 or so on line, many of them major, and other scholars have mentioned some I overlooked.) The book was well-written, but for informed critics, a high-density kill zone, a collection of naively-accepted, easily-debunked errors. As I put it in an article in Touchstone Magazine in May,

            “Richard Dawkins may have made life a little too easy for Christians. The God Delusion seems like one of those Potemkin villages, complete with abandoned Buicks, that the army used to set up to measure the velocity at which rubble is wafted horizontally after a nuclear explosion. The ideas in his atheistic assemblage, poorly constructed to begin with, and long since discarded by theologians, philosophers, and historians, serve temptingly as targets. Like all that induces sloth, the “New Atheism” may be bad for our souls.”

          • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

            Certainly, I wouldn’t have used the exact arguments Dawkins does. I find others much more powerful. But Dawkins’ book was, again, a polemic. A clear, powerful, well-written polemic. It’s quite simple in language and very transparent in meaning. The arguments are mostly sound – and this is clearest of all when tackling the ontological argument, which is an idiotic argument.

            The God Delusion is not a book I was especially enthusiastic about when it came out, I was mildly underwhelmed when I read it (although I enjoyed the language), and I had been an atheist for many years before reading it, so it had no particularly profound effect on me. But it wasn’t the awful, ridiculous book you portray it as. It seems like your “arguments” against the book amount to a heck of a lot of bluster and not a whole lot else.

    • khms

      (And yes, if you want to debate the Resurrection, you SHOULD read Wright, and probably Habermas, Craig, and Licona, too.)

      If you “SHOULD read Craig” (I’m assuming you mean https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lane_Craig) for anything, then that anything is pretty much guaranteed to be ridiculously stupid. Which does not throw a good light on your other assertions. Craig’s arguments always seem to amount to a combination of lies and fallacies.

      Plantinga [...] one of the world’s leading philosophers

      Oh yes, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Plantinga .

      Actually, it seems “He is known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics and Christian apologetics” and “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God” – which is not really the same thing, and I seem to recall reading comments from philosophers who didn’t think all that much of Platinga as a philosopher.

      In any case, typical arguments for god fail for me pretty much in the first few seconds (as in, obviously silly) – if your argument amounts to “if I can describe it, it must exist”, there’s no need to read 200 pages to know that it’s stupid. (Now, if instead the point is to convince someone who was fooled by the 200 pages, then there’s a reason to read them. But those people as can’t be convinced by pointing out the ridiculous basic concept are typically immune to logical argument anyway.)

      • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

        Yeah, Craig’s a real dummy. That’s why Common Sense Atheist says he’s defeated pretty much every single atheist, including eminent scholars, who have gone up against him. Of course, he hasn’t debated PZ (“I don’t do debates, I just purge anyone who crosses me on Pharyungula”) Myers, yet.

        You object, “Well, oral debates don’t count — it’s so hard to think in the heat of the moment.” Well, read Craig’s debate with John Crossan on the Resurrection, and the written articles that follow, in their book. Even Jeff Lowder, an atheist I respect, recognizes that Craig easily won. The others I mentioned should probably be read first, but yeah, if you want to debate this issue, the guy who keeps handly winning debates for the Christians shouldn’t be neglected entirely.

        • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

          Craig is a real dummy. He presents a lot of bullshit as if it’s reasonable argumentation. He proclaims that there is such a thing as objective, absolute morality and objective, absolute aesthetics (yeah? then how come he doesn’t like the awesomeness of Revocation?), which is insane gibberish and prima facie absurd. He claims Biblical genocide is reasonable and not appalling because Yahweh is doing it, which is a very strange thing to claim.

          He’s a hack. He’s good with words, like a lot of American Christians, but as a philosopher, well…

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          David, go read this post, in particular the subheading “Does Craig win all his debates?”

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          Also, please watch this video for a clearer idea of why so many people think Craig is dumb.

    • Steven Carr

      I think what David Marshall is saying is that Plantinga is a genius who has shown with his Ontological Argument that his god exists in every possible universe (no matter how much evil there is in that world), and has also shown in his refutation of the Problem of Evil that his god can exist in *one* possible universe that also contains evil…..

      No wonder Dawkins can’t refute that! Who can refute somebody who can’t even get a coherent argument going in the first place?

      • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

        Steven: I said just the opposite, in plain English. Not even Plantinga makes any such claim about his own Ontological Argument. It’s an interesting sideline issue.

        • Steven Carr

          I see.

          So why the hell is Dawkins supposed to refute a ‘sophisticated’ philosophical argument which were are now told is ‘a sideline issue’?

    • sqlrob

      Except Plantinga is missing one, key point.

      Evidence. Put up or shut up. He has done neither. All the assumptions about the world means squat if it’s not supported by evidence.

      It’s basically true that “something can’t come from nothing” inside the universe

      No, it’s not. Stuff comes from nothing all the time. The truer statement is “on average something can’t come from nothing” (wanna guess what the measured sum of energy and matter in universe comes to? Hint: It doesn’t violate “on average”)

      • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

        No, it’s not. Stuff comes from nothing all the time. The truer statement is “on average something can’t come from nothing”

        Sure – that’s why I put the “basically” there (which I appreciate isn’t especially clear). But thanks for making this point in any case, because it’s another hole in the first cause argument that makes it prima facie absurd when put up against empirical facts about our universe.

        • sqlrob

          That’s also not the only thing without cause, so there’s even more holes in the First Cause argument.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Here’s what I said about Wright in my comment at my old blog:

      As a matter of fact, he isn’t in my references because I read some of his work and decided it was rubbish, not even deserving comment. His entire argument is that the disciples couldn’t have come up with the belief in the resurrection, which is a beyond silly notion. I do address it briefly, though, citing William Lane Craig as the source, and I’m not sure what putting Wright’s name in the footnotes would have added.

      Why do you think I should read Wright? Is it because you think he actually has a halfway decent argument, of for some other reason? If for some other reason, what is the reason?

      “Everyone knows Wright is great” is not an acceptable answer to that question. I’ve read too many crappy pieces of apologetics that I was assured would be great, but turned out to just repeat crappy arguments I’d heard plenty of times before.

      • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

        Chris: If you “decide” that “Wright’s work is rubbish,” just about anyone who is more familiar with that work than yourself, will reach a stronger conclusion about your opinions. It sounds like too many creationists who say, “I read Darwin, and found it was rubbish,” or “What does Dawkins know about life history?” Whatever else Wright is, there is no doubt he is deeply informed, a brilliant historian, and a thinker whose work demands serious and careful attention from people who engage it carefully. Shrugging him off marginalizes you, not him.

        “I’ve read too many crappy pieces of apologetics that I was assured would be great, but turned out to just repeat crappy arguments I’d heard plenty of times before.”

        Maybe the problem is with you. I’ve read a lot of crap atheist arguments, too, but I generally find that eminent scholars writing in their own fields have a lot to say that is worth learning, whatever their religious viewpoint.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          Here’s the difference: there’s actually a scientific consensus about evolution and the evidence for it. There’s no historical consensus, or even a consensus among Biblical scholars, that the resurrection happened or that Wright’s arguments for it come anywhere close to working.

          Furthermore, in these posts I’m going to talk about a lot of crappy arguments, and why they’re crappy. But there are too many crappy arguments out there to explain the problems with every crappy argument. That’s my response to you if all you’re going to do is complain about my failure to address all the arguments you’d like me to.

          On the other hand, I’d be happy to respond to you if you can explain why you think Wright presented good evidence for the resurrection.

          In short: evidence or GTFO.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Plantinga, by sharp contrast, does his homework, and knows how to think

    I consider it ironic that Plantinga was one of those proffering the “Dawkins is philosophically naive” line, considering the knowledge of biology he put on display in his EAAN.

    If skeptics can’t be bothered because an argument by one of the world’s leading philosophers…

    A sad statement on the current state of philosophy.

    • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

      Reginald: Sure, I’ll take Dawkins on (general) biology, and Plantinga on (general) philosophy, though without committing myself to agreeing with everything they say even in their own fields. Call me crazy.

      And please, no more of that “sad commentary on philosophy” nonsense. Most of the atheists who can argue their position well, in my experience, are those with training in philosophy. Atheists who only have training in some field or other of science, like Dawkins, strongly tend in my experience to be very bad at making a case for their positions, and often don’t even know what the opposition is saying, or get it confused.

      • Steven Carr

        Marshall still says he has philosophy on his side.

        He would do better saying he had facts and evidence on his side. That would be wrong, as he has no facts and evidence on his side , but at least he would meet with more than ‘Who cares?’

        If you want to claim that a being exists, you can’t do it with philosophy, no matter how many words you write in a book.

        • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

          Steven: Facts and evidence are useless without reasoning, which is the foundational branch of philosophy that connects facts to conclusions.

      • baal

        Too many philosophers and the christian apologists among them, can’t agree that the Real-World(tm) exists. I’m inclined to not accept arguments for the supernatural, until and unless, the argument allows for an objective reality.

        • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

          I’ve run across atheists who ask the same question. This is one of the merits of Christian epistemology: it explains why one should accept the existence of the universe, even if one has to argue in a circle to prove it.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        And please, no more of that “sad commentary on philosophy” nonsense. Most of the …

        My comment was about Plantinga being considered “one of the world’s leading philosophers.” Whether or not atheists are philosophically trained or argue well is a complete nonsequitur, which does not speak well for your own logic skills.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          Correct. If Plantinga was one of the world’s leading philosophers, but his work was also sucky, that would be a sad commentary on the state of philosophy even if all atheist philosophers were even suckier. Indeed, all atheist philosophers being even suckier would reinforce the point.

          Though arguably, the “sad commentary on philosophy” jab is a bit unfair to philosophy. For example, most philosophers of science are good about knowing WTF they are talking about when they talk about science, which Plantinga fails at.

          • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

            I actually didn’t say a single bad word about atheist philosophers. Most of those I know, I respect.

      • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

        David Marshall wrote:
        >And please, no more of that “sad commentary on philosophy” nonsense. Most of the atheists who can argue their position well, in my experience, are those with training in philosophy.

        Ah, David! Still trying to defend the indefensible, I see!

        Let’s be clear: anything that you consider a good argument is likely to be considered ridiculous by most scientists (and by most atheists). Philosophers and theologians employ methods of “argument” that simply seem bizarre to those of us well-trained and knowledgeable in science.

        The philosophers have had two thousand years to come up with anything significant, and I have yet to find even a single philosopher (I’ve asked many, sort of a hobby of mine) who can list even one significant, non-obvious, non-trivial result in philosophy to which an overwhelming majority of contemporary philosophers would agree.

        You do not need to be able to cast a horoscope to know that astrology is nonsense. Indeed, those who are enmeshed in insanity have trouble seeing it for it what it is, but there is a simple test by which outsiders can judge: show me your results. By that simple criterion, philosophers fail, by their own judgment of each other’s work.

        To put it bluntly, philosophy is per se a proven fallacy.

        Aquinas had it right when he argued that philosophy is the handmaid of theology. Religious lies and nonsense followed by philosophical lies and nonsense to prop up the lies of religion.

        Only the death of philosophy can free us from the lies. We have the good fortune to witness that death.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

        • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

          Western philosophy has been around longer than 2,000 years – it’s usually dated to the early sixth century BCE with Thales of Miletus. But of course, your entire argument is a ridiculous deepity. It’s also clearly based on a bullshit distinction: philosophy that works and on which we can all agree is called “science”. It’s philosophy of the natural world, based on a method derived by philosophers from first principles of philosophy to avoid religious disagreements from infecting our understanding of things. So if you want an example of something good that philosophy has produced, it would be pretty reasonable to point out that your scientific worldview comes from philosophical reasoning first and foremost, from the notion of “empiricism” to “consensus” to “fallacy”. You can say that this is just ego-boosting for philosophers, but it’s not. I’m not a philosopher, by the way.

          Modern philosophy departments concentrate on a few conceptual problems that don’t have simple empirical answers. Maybe this is totally fruitless, but saying that philosophy has produced nothing in 2,000 years is utter bullshit.

          • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

            Al West wrote to me:
            > It’s also clearly based on a bullshit distinction: philosophy that works and on which we can all agree is called “science”. It’s philosophy of the natural world, based on a method derived by philosophers from first principles of philosophy to avoid religious disagreements from infecting our understanding of things.

            Oh, c’mon! You really, really know so little about the history of science that you really believe that science is “based on a method derived by philosophers from first principles of philosophy…”?????

            Ah, well, I guess you really do.

            I know that one of the silly folk beliefs of the Web is to believe that anything of value can be proven in 1000 words or less in a Web posting. But, I’ll just ignore that particular idiocy and suggest politely that you actually learn science and the history of science.

            If you do, you will find out that, no, no, no, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Harvey, et al. were not doing their work “based on a method derived by philosophers from first principles of philosophy…”

            This particularly bizarre meme has been spread for decades by the Randian cultists who, weirdly, mention Aristotle (!) as the philosophical source of modern science, despite the fact that those living at the time (and scholars today) acknowledged that modern science was a revolt against Aristotelian thought.

            And, more recently, some neo-Thomists, even more bizarrely, are claiming that science was the working out of Thomas’ goofy ideas, even though modern science was very clearly a revolt against Scholasticism (the Randian cultists veer in this direction occasionally, too).

            So, in all sincerity, I will ask you from where did you get this bizarrely false idea? The Randian cultists? Neo-Thomists? Or do you have some third source I have not yet seen?

            Inquiring minds want to know!

            Following cults like the Randians and neo-Thomists is a hobby of mine.

            Dave

          • http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.co.uk/ Al West

            It’s irrelevant whether the first scientists were people you consider to be “philosophers” or not; science is indubitably based on a philosophical background that is not immediately obvious to people without that background. The idea that the universe is at all regular, that it is possible to know anything at all, the idea that the natural world can be studied without invoking supernatural explanations, that observers cannot achieve an objective understanding on their own and should be eliminated from the equation to as great an extent as possible, that the world is fundamentally material and works by causal laws – these are not self-evident principles that plopped into existence devoid of any philosophical background. Every one of those ideas comes from some earlier precedent, argued over by philosophers before eventually turning into what we call “science”. So, yes, what you said is bullshit. Oh, and if you think Galileo wasn’t a philosopher, you should probably go ahead and read what Galileo wrote.

            Moreover, Aristotle really was an early scientist, sort of. He conducted physical experiments and early zoological fieldwork (of all things). He made detailed observations and tried to collate all of his empirical data into a rational understanding of the universe. The fact that his works later became dogma is moot; imagine if today, Newton’s works were treated as dogma. Imagine if we all believed that Newton had described the perfect truth of the universe better than anyone ever, and that this was taught in schools and formed the basis of a university education. Would that mean that Newton wasn’t a scientist? Of course not. It would mean that we screwed up and didn’t understand the purpose of his work or why it was important.

            But of course, you’re primarily interested in being combative and in setting up rigid distinctions between philosophy (which is namby-pamby bullshit) and science.

        • http://christthetao.blogspot.com David Marshall

          Dave Miller: “Let’s be clear: anything that you consider a good argument is likely to be considered ridiculous by most scientists (and by most atheists).”

          Really? So if I think the old canard, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Socrates is therefore mortal” is a “good argument,” by your reasoning, most scientists and atheists will consider it “ridiculous?”

          Well so much the worse for scientists and atheists, in that case. Or rather, so much the worse for your powers of observation and calculations of probability.

          Your nonsensical comments are the kind of thing that made Stephen Law tear his hair out, I’ll warrant.

  • Steven Carr

    MARSHALL
    If skeptics can’t be bothered because an argument by one of the world’s leading philosophers is several hundred pages long, and is full of, well, philosophy…

    CARR
    So it is light on actual facts and actual evidence….

    One piece of evidence is worth a hundred pages of somebody sitting at his desk and trying to magic his god into existence using only the power of words.

  • coryat

    The ontological argument is bunk. I have seen Anselm’s version, Malcolm’s and Plantinga’s and they are all bunk. If Plantinga is such a hyper-genius why hasn’t he been able to sort out all this ‘properly basic belief’ business so as to exclude the great pumpkin? (slightly off topic)

    And when you David Marshall cite Craig as an authority… I don’t even know where to start with that one.

  • left0ver1under

    When studying or investigating something new, we always – or should – start from nothing, with no preconceived biases and anything we think we know should not be accepted as true until verified. On that basis, there is no justification for believe nor proof of any “god”.

    But the religious cannot get past that, they have a mental block, a dishonesty and/or an intellectual capability of starting from the view that “god” has to be proven, that it can’t be assumed to exist. They are unable and unwilling to assume, even for a second, that the other person is right.

  • mnb0

    “One of the less silly-sounding criticisms made of popular atheists is that we don’t deal with the best arguments for religion out there.”
    While formulated this way it is a silly criticism indeed (who is going to decide what the best arguments pro are anyway?) it is the reason I try to push you to refute as many such arguments as possible, not only the fundie ones.
    Countering fundie- and creacrap is easy. It has been done many times before. If you want to distinguish yourself you should find yourself some liberal christians to bash. Don’t tell me there aren’t in the States and I’m pretty sure it will be useful for Europeans like me if you include them in your book.

    • http://homeschoolingphysicist.blogspot.com PhysicistDave

      mnb0 wrote:
      >If you want to distinguish yourself you should find yourself some liberal christians to bash. Don’t tell me there aren’t in the States and I’m pretty sure it will be useful for Europeans like me if you include them in your book.

      Yes, there are of course liberal Christians on this side of the pond..

      But the problem with “refuting” liberal Christians is that they are unbelievably cagey about saying what they actually believe. I’ve interacted with some liberal Catholics recently, and any criticisms tend to be met with “Well, you atheists clearly do not understand the sophistication of Catholic thought.” And, no details beyond that at all. Kinda hard to respond to.

      With liberal Protestants, it will be things like “The important thing is not what happened historically but the ultimate meaning of the Christian ‘kerygma’.” If you try to inquire as to what the kerygma is or says, what its “ultimate meaning” is, or whether Jesus believed in or proclaimed this kerygma, you do not get any meaningful answer.

      Just a few days ago, I was chatting with a well-known liberal Biblical scholar online and mentioned that he would (obviously!) be viewed as a “liberal” by most evangelicals. He responded that I did not really understand what his view of Jesus importance was and that some scholars might even view him as an “evangelical.” Perhaps, but note that he did not deign to fill me in, at all, as to his actual view of Jesus’ importance. He wants it known that he has some such view, but he does not want anyone to know the details, lest they actually challenge him. (I already had gathered this from his books before our personal exchange.)

      So, criticizing or debating liberal Christians tends to be rather hopeless; about all one can do is point out the sociological fact: these are people who know the old-time religion is false but who do not quite have the courage to say so in public.

      Dave Miller in Sacramento

  • Emptyell

    David Marshal @ everywhere

    Do you have any substantive point you are trying to make?

    All I see is endless unsubstantiated opinion. You offer the reader little to no reason to care about what you are saying. Is your intention to be anything more than just argumentative?

  • Emptyell

    Regarding the ontological argument.

    Is there really any more to it than just begging the question with lots other stuff thrown in to make it seem somehow more profound and sophisticated than “God, therefore God”?

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  • http://www.reasonablefaithhonolulu.org Steve

    As a Christian, I would agree that the Ontological Argument sucks. How many people would agree to the word “possible” in one of the premises if they new that this definition of “possible” was going to be construed to entail NECESSITY further on down the road?

    That being said, we still have The Cosmological Arguments, The Teleological (Design) Argument, The Hardware of Life Argument, The Software of Life Argument, The Noological (Existence of Mind) Argument, The Axiological (Moral) Argument, The Argument from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, The Argument from Historical Veracity of Scripture in General, and The Argument from The Shroud of Turin, at a minimum. For more, see here: http://www.amazon.com/Atheist-Professor-Doesnt-Should-ebook/dp/B0084Y3Q14.

    Best,

    Steve

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      This is borderline-spam, but I’ll let it slide.

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  • http://ignosticmorgansblog.wordpress.com LordGriggsSkepticGriggsyCarneadesHume

    I called for Marshall to counter my arguments @ Amazon Religion Discussions. I don’t take his refusal as cowardice but feel that I could have outmaoeuvered his argumentation from what I had seen.
    I recall no atheists there taking him seriously.
    Google arguments about Him -that square circle and arguments for God, my discontinued threads there to see if I could have done so.
    I was Skeptic Griggsy and later Ignostic Morgan there. I had many other threads there.
    For the record.

  • Brian

    I just, well, disagree. I think there are plenty of good arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Supernatural Religion. I am still learning, of course, but I think I have seen enough pieces of the puzzle put together to know what the final picture will be.

    Reading The Last Superstition by Edward Feser was a real breakthrough for me. It did not me make a believer right away, but it did introduce me to classical philosophy and philosophical realism. I began to see and agree with the inevitably of the truth of realism and, therefore, the consequent inevitability of the existence of God. I think we’re all realists.

    I guess we theists just have to do a better job at communicating our arguments. I don’t think we have done that.

  • Seeker

    David Marshall appears to be one of those Christian apologists who simply disregards the truth whenever it suits his purposes.

    Here is a list of 33 pretty blatant falsehoods and other deceptive arguments from his book about the new atheism, posted on an Amazon forum.

    http://www.amazon.com/forum/religion/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1M9TK6UGAX6EO&cdPage=1&cdThread=Tx3UCB48O3G6426

    Or just google “David Marshall and Lying for Jesus”

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