“This is gonna be a good one.”
That’s how a recent Red Pen Logic video from Tim Barnett begins. His confidence was in response to Brien Doyle’s brief list of atheist arguments, “10 Ways to ‘Prove’ God Doesn’t Exist.” Barnett gives the entire list a grade of 0/10, he found a fallacy in each one, and he encouraged fellow apologist Mike Winger to respond as well. I’ve also added a rebuttal from Who Is Like You Ministries to the Christian side of the argument.
Sounds like this should be a tough challenge. Let’s take a closer look.
(Brien Doyle’s atheist arguments are in blue. I’ve put the Christian responses in green and, to avoid clutter, have avoided labeling most sources.)
1. We must be taught that God exists
Atheist argument: “The fact that a human being has to tell you about the existence of your God proves there’s no God. We would be born with knowledge of its existence.”
Christian response: “Here’s the first fallacy, a non-sequitur, where the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.”
My response: Most of the Christian responses come from Tim Barnett. He was eager to find logical fallacies in each atheist argument, but we’ll see that he’s living in a glass house.
“Research has shown that humans are predisposed to believe in supernatural agency behind the world. God belief will crop up in humans unless indoctrination pushes it out, so by your own standard, this is actually evidence for God.”
That’s evidence for evolution, not God. A rustling in the bushes could be the wind . . . or it could be a jaguar. Seeing agency, even if there is none, and running away would’ve been a protective instinct. It’s a small jump to go from seeing agency behind a sound in the bushes to agency behind drought, illness, and lightning. The plausible naturalistic explanation trumps the supernatural explanation.
And the Christian thinks that indoctrination is a point in their favor?! Remember the Jesuit maxim, “Give me a child until the age of seven and I will give you the man.” Christianity continues only because it indoctrinates impressionable children. Reverse this by making Christianity an adults-only activity like voting, driving, or military service and see how long Christianity lasts (more).
Does it not exist, or do we just not know about it?
“Let’s say that no one knew of the existence of God because no one was told about it. That means nothing when it comes the actual existence of a divine being. Ignorance of something does not equal non-existence.”
And if the supernatural existed but left us alone, its existence would be irrelevant to anyone’s life here on earth. Christianity’s problem is its claim that God exists and is eager for a relationship. Surely such a god could make his existence obvious.
Imagine a post-apocalyptic world where all evidence of science and Christianity were destroyed. The societies that emerged from the rubble would eventually recreate the same science we have today. They would likely recreate religions of some sort, but they wouldn’t recreate Christianity. Christianity can’t be deduced from nature.
“We all have knowledge of God, but some suppress it.” Romans 1:18–20.
Yes, the Bible says that God’s attributes “have been clearly perceived,” but the Bible is no authority. The world is full of people of different faiths saying that their god(s) are the real ones. Don’t quote the Bible; quote evidence.
But we teach children about lots of things
The atheist argument is that knowledge of God must be taught. “Human beings have to tell us about the existence of all kinds of things, but that doesn’t prove that those things don’t exist. For example, teachers tell terrified students about fractions, but that doesn’t prove there’s no fractions. Bad start.”
The atheist argument says that, if God existed, we’d be born with that knowledge. Sure, that’s one way that God might’ve done it, but that’s not the only way. A better argument would say that God would be obvious from the environment, since that’s how we learn of the existence of everyone and everything else.
The Christian response compares knowledge of God with knowledge of fractions. Every educated adult understands that fractions exist and we all understand them the same way. Unlike math, religion is a cultural trait, varying across the world. There is a map of world religions, but there is no equivalent for math (or science). Also, fractions aren’t all-knowing and eager for a relationship, but we’d expect an omnipotent god to make his mere existence obvious.
Since Barnett likes to point out fallacies, this one is a false analogy.
Bad indeed. Be careful with those charges of fallacious thinking.
Evaluation: The atheist argument is the Argument from God’s Hiddenness, which I think is the most powerful argument against Christianity.
I’ll give an evaluation of the strength of the argument at the end of each, adding in any improvements from the critique. I give this one 10/10.
Let me make a meta comment about these ten atheist arguments. They’re flawed because they claim to each be a proof that God doesn’t exist when they should simply remind us that atheism is the default, that Christians have the burden of proof, and that each argument against God has the preponderance of evidence on its side. That’s a more reliable way to win the argument. I’m surprised that the Christian respondents didn’t take a charitable interpretation of the argument and respond to the strongest version they could make.
Well, no, I guess I’m not surprised. They do that all the time.
2. God belief is geography
Atheist argument: “A God belief is simple geography. Being raised in a Christian home decides which God you believe in.”
Christian response: “This is a textbook example of the genetic fallacy. You cannot invalidate a belief by showing how someone came to hold that belief.”
My response: No, it’s not a textbook example of the genetic fallacy, but your response is a textbook example of misunderstanding the fallacy. “Genetic” comes from “genesis,” referring to the origin of the claim, and an example of the fallacy is “X is a bad person, and he says Y, so therefore Y must be false.” Or “X is a good person, and she says Y, so therefore Y must be true.”
Now suppose I ask the question, “Is there a God?” and decide the answer with a coin flip, crystal ball, Tarot deck, or Ouija board. Is the belief that I come to reliably correct? What if I adopted my religious belief saying, “If it was good enough for Mom and Dad, it’s good enough for me”?
Or (dare I say it?), can we invalidate a belief by showing that it came from a flawed process?
Time for a quiz!
Let’s return to the original argument. Barnett plays a teacher in his Red Pen Logic videos, and we can illustrate the atheist argument as a multiple-choice word problem.
The population of Somalia is almost entirely Muslim. What is the likelihood of a Somali baby growing up to be a Muslim? Is it closer to:
〈 〉 24.1 percent, the fraction of the world’s population that is Muslim, or
〈 〉 99.8 percent, the fraction of the Somali population that is Muslim?
Religion is a social trait. Children pick it up like language. More.
But flip your argument around: if you’re programmed based on where you come from, the same must apply to your atheist belief.
The symmetry you imagine doesn’t exist. Children raised in a religion-free environment usually aren’t atheists because they were taught to be atheists but because they were not taught to be religious. By contrast, Christians are Christian because they were taught to be. Christianity must be taught, and atheism need not be taught. Atheism is the default. Remove tradition and religious books, and Christianity would vanish. There is no objective knowledge from which to rebuilt it.
“Where you are born and what you believe has no bearing on the actual existence of God.”
Right, but that’s not the issue. The question is: given that religious belief of children maps reliably to the religiosity of their society, what is left unexplained by the explanation, “There is no God, and religion is a social construction”? The correlation is very strong; who doubts what causes what?
If Christians want to dismiss this argument, they’ve lost an important tool. If almost all Somalis grow up to be Muslim but it’s not because they mirror their environment, then what explains it? Do Christians want to say it’s because Islam is correct?
Evaluation: 10/10. People adopt the traits of their environment—language, customs, and religion.
Continue to part 2: God and time + copycat argument.
defend the existence of a deity
seems comical if this god truly exists.
How many apologists do we need
to defend your existence?