Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (2 of 5)

Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (2 of 5) January 28, 2021

Tim Barnett is attacking ten atheist arguments in a recent Red Pen Logic video. Here’s how he recalls stumbling across them.

So, a few days ago, I’m scrolling through the comments section of this channel, and I came across something that left me speechless. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was serious or if it was just a joke.

Wow—the atheist argument is in tatters before we even begin! Let’s poke through the rubble and see if anything is still standing after Barnett’s savage analysis.

For the first two arguments, go to part 1.

3. How could God cause the Big Bang without time to do it in?

Atheist argument: “There was no time before the Big Bang, so that means that there was no time for a God to exist in or create things in.”

Christian response: “Christians have traditionally held that God is a timeless being, outside of time, prior to creation.”

My response: Make up whatever properties you want for God, but that won’t magic away the problem. You must first show that this God exists. With evidence. The Bible makes vague hints at God’s timelessness, but the Bible is no authority. Iron Age thinking isn’t helpful when dealing with 21st-century physics.

And be careful what you wish for, since God as a Time Lord calls down a rain of new questions. How can you create anything if you’re outside of time? In particular, how did timeless God create time (or turn it on or however you’re inventing God’s relationship with time)? Isn’t timelessness permanent, since causes require time? How do you go from being timeless to within time?

And do you really want to imagine God outside of time? Such a god would be inert. Only within time can God judge, decide, punish, create, have emotions, take pleasure in things, and so on. Some of these actions of God—like deciding to create time or loving other members of the Trinity—supposedly happened outside of time.

All this science fiction must be justified. Apologists try to talk their way out of a logical predicament of their own making, but then they expect a pass to avoid having to justify their exuberant claims.

God’s properties—exalted or mundane?

“Since the universe is space, time, matter, and energy, then the thing that made the universe needs to be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and incredibly powerful. The timeless nature of the origin of all things is another piece of evidence for God.”

Reshaping God to cooperate with modern physics is a recent project. The original hearers of what became the first books of the Bible roughly 3000 years ago had no concept of this debate. Back in God’s early days, he had to personally investigate stories he’d heard about Sodom and Gomorrah, he spoke to Moses face to face, and he was beaten by rival god Chemosh (more). Omniscient and omnipotent God was a later invention. An unchanging god who nevertheless evolves over time isn’t the Creator. It’s just fiction.

Evaluation: 8/10. Most listeners won’t be comfortable with this concept of being inside or outside time (it certainly makes no sense to me), but the argument works.

4. What’s good for the goose . . . 

Atheist argument: “The Abrahamic God cannot exist because it wasn’t the first God to be created. There are other gods that have been proclaimed to exist before this God. They can’t all be true. So, if we can deny the existence of one of these gods, we can use the same method to deny them all.”

My response: I interpret this argument to be the copycat argument (the Bible copied stories from earlier local religions, which shows it was invented) plus a demand for consistency (whatever arguments Christians use to invalidate other religions must be applied to Christianity, and if Christianity is special, they have the burden of proof to show that).

Christian response: “If this is a good argument against God, then it’s also a good argument against science since older false concepts are often replaced by newer true concepts. On Doyle’s logic, since the older geocentric view is false, we can just deny the newer heliocentric view by the same method.”

Science and mythology aren’t evaluated the same way. To see this, imagine a murder crime scene. If you know it was a murder, you also know that there were one or more murderers. The murderers may be unknown to the police, but you can’t have a murder without at least one. Contrast that with astrology. Many different incompatible astrology systems have been developed, and none are valid. You can have a pseudoscience without any valid theories for how it works.

Science is like the crime scene. You may not know the scientific explanation, but there must be one. Religion is like pseudoscience. It’s quite possible that none are correct. (The Monty Hall problem is related.)

This is like saying that fake van Goghs prove there are no real van Goghs.

No, it’s observing that every single religion could be false. By talking about fake van Goghs, you’re acknowledging that one or more real van Goghs exist (or did exist). Again, the two camps are like astrology (for which there are zero valid systems) and murder (for which there must be at least one murderer). There could be zero real religions, but there must be one or more real van Goghs to make sense of the concept of a fake van Gogh.

This comparison of science with religion is a false analogy. We evaluate scientific theories with evidence. A new theory might supersede the old, the old might still be standing after the challenge of the new, or a third theory might overthrow them both. There is no “current champion” within religion, because they’re cultural traits. Shintoism won’t come to America and vanquish the reigning champ in a few decades, as could be the case with an upstart new scientific theory that better explains the evidence than the old one. (The map of world religions comparison expands on this.)

The progression of religions through history

I assume we agree that people make up religions. We see the fingerprints of the (human) creator in Mormonism, Scientology, and others. Christianity has the advantage here because those new religions have a paper trail, and Christianity’s origins are clouded by time. But having an obscured beginning is hardly a selling point for a religion trying to prove the truth of its supernatural claims.

The Bible story picked up elements from neighboring cultures. Genesis describes earth’s geology as water in the sky and under the earth, taken from an earlier story from Sumer. Noah’s flood had parallels in the stories of Gilgamesh and others. The supernatural conception of Jesus followed those of gods and kings, and his resurrection had precedents, too.

What should we look for in the Bible to show that it, unlike the other ancient myths, is actually true? We’d look for its story to be unique. We find instead that world religions make up a family tree like we see with world languages, with Christianity just one more entry, more similar to religions from nearby areas and less similar to distant ones.

Or see the comparison another way. If Christianity were the single correct religion, it would look radically different, like Disney World, with the other, manmade religions more like a trailer park. There would be no contest. Instead, we see Christianity fighting for market share like the rest with no particular reason to think it’s more likely true than others.

However the Christian evaluates and rejects other religions, Christianity is cut down with the same scythe. The Christian might acknowledge much of this but insist it doesn’t prove that Yahweh is false. I agree, but that’s the way to bet.

Evaluation: 10/10. This one was poorly worded, but I think the copycat argument plus a demand for consistency—that Christian be evaluated with the same critique as the other religions—works well.

Continue to part 3 for arguments God allows the devil to exist + other gods exist.

I contend that we are both atheists.
I just believe in one fewer god than you do.
When you understand why you dismiss
all the other possible gods,
you will understand why I dismiss yours.
— Stephen Roberts


Image from Martin Sanchez (free-use license)

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