This post is a series by Jeff Cook.
Socrates said, “Philosophy begins with wonder” and nearly all human beings at all times have looked at the world around them and, given its beauties, powers, and complexities, asked if what they saw was designed by a mind for a purpose. I think it is vitally important to think hard about God. Whether or not you are a committed atheist, a believer in God, or something quite different—knowing why you come down where you do is a mark of a good character, of a thoughtful soul, of a person who cares about what reality is like.
I love Top 10 lists. I will watch “The Top 10 Doily-Knitters of All Time” if its on. This post continues a set of two Top 10 lists: for and against God-belief. I write these lists as a theist, as one who believes in God (though that may change by the end), and the arguments below are the ones from which I feel the most pull and seem to capture the rationality for rejecting God belief best.
The best reason to believe in God are coming, but for now what I’d like to hear in response is: Are there good responses that I don’t include? Which of these arguments do you find the most compelling? Which one’s give you pause, or have actually swayed your thinking? Do I pitch the arguments well, or could you state these arguments in a more compelling way?
And of course the real question—Did I get the list right?
Here’s the recap:
#10 – The Logical Problem of Pain
#9 – The Argument from Believers
#8 – No Good Gods
We move to #7 – Evidential Problem of Pain
- The type and quality of pain in our world makes the existence of a supremely good and powerful God less likely.
- The type and quality of pain in our world constitute evidence against the existence of God that outweigh the totality of available evidence for the existence of God.
On balance, we have a good reason not to believe in a God.
Ah. This argument is stated in a way that is more cutting than the Logical Problem of Pain. It is not as decisive as the Logical Problem—relying on premise 2, which needs significant argumentation to back it up. However, there are many who—at the end of the day—do not think that the arguments for God belief (which we will hit soon) are all that compelling. For those in that spot, this argument can pull one from agnosticism to atheism.
As I argued with Reason #10, I suggest that arguments based on “meaning” and “quality” are not merely value judgments which need substantive support, but that those who affirm such arguments may not have all the necessary information presently to make such value judgments. For example, there are some pains in our world that appear to be meaningless given their type and quality, but after many years may be seen as great goods: the bitter divorce of one’s parents, the birth of an autistic son, the bankruptcy of one’s family, the lose of a spouse. In retrospect such pains are never enjoyable at the time, but may have soul-building power and value in both the life of the one suffering and those who affected on the sidelines.
#6 – Power and Goodness
- If God exists, he is both all-powerful and all-good.
- An all-good being can only preform good acts.
- A being that can preform both evil and good acts is more powerful than a being who can only preform good acts.
- Therefore, a being cannot be both all-powerful and all-good.
God cannot exist.
Which is more powerful a god who can (1) only do good, (2) only do evil, or (3) can do both good and evil? It seems the god who accomplish both good and evil acts has the most potential power, and as such the very notion of a being who is both all-good and all-powerful is internally problematic.
Aquinas pitches this problem and then answers it by saying that goodness is defined by function (Aristotle). A barber aims at cutting hair well, and a “good” barber always achieves his goal. Conversely, a “bad” barber aims at cutting hair well, but lacks the power to pull it off. God, being all-powerful (and all-wise), knows what he ought to do and has the power to accomplish his tasks, and as such is a “good” God. If God failed to achieve his aims, and thus act badly, it would not be a display of power but a display of weakness.
As such, Aquinas concludes that the most powerful being imaginable must be exceedingly good.
#5: Design Flaws
- If God exists, he is an excellent architect of our world.
- The function of a human being is to attain happiness (Aristotle).
- If God is the architect of our world, God has made us to seek and attain happiness.
- Our world is poorly constructed for humans to attain human happiness.
- Therefore there is not an excellent architect of our world.
Therefore, no God.
This is my take on an argument from David Hume in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Hume has a great deal of fun arguing for Premise 4 citing “four unnecessary miseries”: the existence of physical pain, our world being governed by law and not miracle, God didn’t give us what we needed to be happy morally and intellectually (that is, human beings just aren’t that impressive), and the fragile nature of our world. Hume doesn’t think this disproves the existence of a creator, but he does argue that the creator is certainly indifferent, and as such God, a supremely good being, does not exist.
It seems to me this argument hinges on the idea of human happiness. If happiness means pleasure—as it often did for David Hume—I think the argument works. If the argument means goodness of soul—as it did for Aristotle—the argument fails, for I think it can be argued strongly that the difficulties we experience have a spectacular ability to fashion and shape our souls.
The list will conclude next time, but I must include an “Also Ran” category:
The Best Humorous Argument Against God’s Existence: The Ontological Argument for God’s Non-Existence
(1) God can do the most marvelous acts imaginable.
(2) The creation of our world is one of the most marvelous acts imaginable.
(3) The merit of such an act is the product of its quality and the creator’s ability (That is, the greater the disability of the creator, the more impressive the act).
(4) Non-existence would be the greatest handicap.
(5) The creation of our universe by a non-existent creator would be a more marvelous act than the creation of our universe by an existent creator.
(6) A non-existent creator of our universe can do more marvelous acts than a creator which exists.
Therefore, If God can do the most marvelous acts imaginable, God does not exist.
A version of this argument comes from the Australian philosopher Douglas Gasling. It seems logically impossible in my mind for a non-existent being to do anything, and therefore Premise 5 and 6 fail because they reference an impossible state of affairs.
(The list will continue soon…)
JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. www.everythingnew.org