Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (3 of 5)

Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (3 of 5) January 30, 2021

We’re stepping through ten terse atheist arguments, seeing how they stand up to responses from Christians such as Tim Barnett of the Stand to Reason ministry.

Barnett loves fallacies. Perhaps he’s even a bit lovestruck, because he’s seeing fallacies where they don’t exist in the atheist argument and missing them in his own. He included a fallacy counter in his video, and he was determined to identify a fallacy in each argument, whether there or not. He reminded me of Edward Current in his classic ten-point “Checkmate, Atheists!” video.

For the first four arguments, go to part 1.

5. Why is the devil still causing trouble?

Atheist argument: “God either allows the devil to exist and is an accomplice or it isn’t an all powerful God. An all powerful and all loving God wouldn’t allow the devil to exist.”

The argument cites Isaiah 45:7, which says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”

Christian response: “[This is] a false dilemma. It’s not an either-or. There’s another option. God is all-powerful and all-loving, and God allows the devil to exist because he has good reason to do so. Which is why philosophically trained atheists have largely abandoned this proof.”

My response: With this last line, he’s trying to get points without earning them. This is the appeal to authority fallacy: “Those atheists who are worth listening to have abandoned this argument, so you should, too. Nothing to see here. Let’s move on.”

“[This is] a false dilemma.” But not according to you! The dilemma given is: God (1) works with the devil or (2) is impotent to stop him. You’re supporting option 1—Satan is part of God’s plan. In fact, the first chapter of Job makes clear that Satan (who I’ll assume is the same person as “the devil”) works for God and is one of the good guys. “Satan” isn’t a name but a title: the prosecutor—God’s prosecutor. True, Satan is portrayed very differently centuries later in the New Testament, but that simply means that the Bible is contradictory and unreliable.

“God allows the devil to exist because he has good reason to do so.” Yeah? Like what? Give me an example of something that God could only accomplish through the devil rather than through miracles. Remember, the guy can do anything.

If you’re saying that God could have a good reason, even one that we could never understand, I agree. But rework the atheist argument from a proof claim to simply seeking the preponderance of evidence, as I’m doing with all of these, and this response fails. The atheist argument is just one approach to the Problem of Evil.

Satan’s story

Let’s return to the idea of the evolving Satan story. The book of Revelation says that the God vs. Satan bout is the most lopsided fight ever. (Since Satan is aware of Revelation, one wonders why he would participate in a real-life play in which his character dramatically and painfully loses.)

This evolution from being on God’s payroll to being God’s opponent could have come into Judaism from Zoroastrianism, which had the idea of two primary gods, one good and one evil.

Back to the Christian argument:

“The problem of evil is irrelevant to there being a God or not. . . . God could be the most evil and hateful being in the universe, however, it is irrelevant to the question of His existence.”

This wouldn’t be the Christian god, though, since Yahweh is said to be all-good. The atheist argument isn’t proving that the supernatural doesn’t exist but showing that the Christian god most likely doesn’t.

Evaluation: 10/10. I’d rather see a more traditional Problem of Evil than this use of the devil, but the argument still works.

6. The existence of other gods

Atheist argument: “The God of the Bible is jealous of other gods. This proves that this God is not the only God. With multiple choices, [this] only shows that there is no reason to choose [one over another]. If a God were true, there would be no other options.”

The argument cites Exodus 34:14, which says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

My response: The Bible (at least part of it) imagines a world with multiple gods—not just the Israelites’ Yahweh, but Chemosh, Moloch, Marduk, Baal, and other ancient Mesopotamian deities. And these are (supposedly) real gods—the Bible isn’t saying, “Yahweh obviously exists, but those nutty Moabites worship their invented god Chemosh.” There were multiple choices for a god but no good reason to pick one as preferable over another.

Christian response: “If you’re taking the Bible as true . . . then you realize that these ‘other gods’ are at worst fake or at best demons and lesser spiritual beings—ontologically nothing like God almighty.”

If we’re taking the Bible as true, then these “other gods” were just as real as Yahweh. In one confrontation, he was even beaten by one. This was the period of henotheism, where multiple gods existed (like polytheism) but only one was worshipped (like monotheism). The Bible even documents when Elyon, the head of the pantheon, parceled out the tribes of earth among the members of the council of the gods, giving Israel to Yahweh.

Who’s a false god?

“You’re literally taking a warning passage about worshipping false gods [in Ex. 34:14] and using it as an excuse to reject the true god.”

Let’s not be too sure about the reference to false gods. The first Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” doesn’t say that there aren’t other gods or even that they mustn’t be worshipped! It simply says that Yahweh must be the primary god.

“God is clear throughout the Bible that He is the only God (Isa. 43:10).”

Completely wrong. What is clear is that the Bible evolved over time.

The book of Isaiah was written in three parts, and this chapter is in the middle piece, written in the 6th century BCE. It’s true that verse claims God is the only god, but by this time, henotheism had been replaced by monotheism. The Bible evolved.

Evaluation: 9/10. I’m taking a point off because I think it could’ve been much clearer: The Bible itself says that Yahweh is just one of many gods. The Bible documents the evolution of the supernatural from henotheism to monotheism, which shows that Yahweh is no more real than any of the others.

Continue with part 4, where much is made of nothing.

Why can’t God just defeat the devil?
It’s the same reason a comic book character
can’t defeat his nemesis—
then there’s no story.
If God gets rid of the devil, there’s no fear.
No reason to come to church.
— Bill Maher

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Image from midiman (license CC BY 2.0)
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