Arguments For God that are Arguments Against God

Arguments For God that are Arguments Against God March 3, 2020

GOD AND CONFIRMATION BIAS

There is a theme in Jeff Lowder’s case for Naturalism:  the thinking of religious believers is often distorted by confirmation bias.  They look for evidence that supports their belief in God, but ignore, or forget, or fail to notice, evidence that goes against their belief in God.

When believers offer some reason or evidence for the existence of God, it is often the case that if you look a little closer at that evidence, or take a step back and look at the general sort of evidence or phenomena that an argument for God relies upon, you find powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, evidence that was missed or ignored by religious believers.

I usually go into the details of the logical structure and interpretation of arguments for God, but in this post I will try to stay at a higher level, touch upon a few arguments for the existence of God, and point out how those arguments actually provide reasons or evidence AGAINST the existence of God.  (Perhaps readers of this post can contribute comments pointing out their own favorite examples of such arguments for God that actually point in the opposite direction).

 

THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN

Probably the most common and most popular argument for God is the Argument from Design.  There are various versions of this argument that could be considered, but let’s consider a simple version of it presented by Norman Geisler:

  1. All designs imply a designer.
  2. There is great design in the universe.
  3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe.

(When Skeptics Ask, p.20)

One of the most common objections to this argument is the problem of evil.  Sure there are some wonderful, beautiful, complex things and creatures in the world, but there are also some horrible, ugly, complex things and creatures in the world.  There is pain, suffering, disease, and disaster in this world.  So, if we take a general look at the natural world, we find not only pleasure, happiness, health, and stability, but also the opposites of these good things.

Death clearly existed BEFORE human beings arrived on this planet, so the sins or bad choices of human beings cannot be the cause of death.  Death was built into the natural world.  Pain and suffering also clearly existed BEFORE human beings arrived on this planet, so the sins or bad choices of humans cannot be the cause of all pain and suffering.  Predation clearly existed BEFORE humans arrived, so the bad choices of humans cannot be the cause of predation.   Diseases existed BEFORE humans arrived, so the bad choices of humans cannot explain the origin of disease.

If we are going to attribute the apparently-designed-characteristics of the natural world to the plans of a designer, we should attribute death, pain, suffering, predation and disease to the designer.  That means that IF this world is the product of a designer, then the designer must be either IGNORANT (less than all-knowing) and the evils of this world were unintended mistakes by the designer,  or MORALLY IMPERFECT (either evil or uncaring) so that the evils of this world were intended or foreseen by the designer.  Thus, the argument from design is an argument AGAINST the existence of God, because it is, at most, an argument for an IGNORANT or MORALLY IMPERFECT creator of the universe.  But God is, by definition, the creator of the universe, and God is, by definition, all-knowing and perfectly morally good, so the existence of an IGNORANT or IMPERFECT creator logically implies that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.

I am not a big fan of Richard Dawkins, but he does make a good point against the argument from design:

Turning Watchtower’s page, we find the wonderful plant known as Dutchman’s Pipe…all of whose parts seem elegantly designed to trap insects, cover them with pollen and send them on their way to another Dutchman’s Pipe.  The intricate elegance of the flower moves the Watchtower to ask: ‘Did all of this happen by chance? Or did it happen by intelligent design?’…Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem.  Once again, this is because the designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin.  Any entity capable of designing a Dutchman’s Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s pipe. … 

(The God Delusion, first Mariner Books edition, p.145-146)

Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?

(The God Delusion, p.147)

The mind of the designer must, according to the logic of the argument from design, be more complex than the design of the natural world.  But then, according to the logic of the argument from design, we must infer the existence of a designer of the mind of the designer of our natural world.  But God is by definition eternal and uncreated.  So, because the mind of the creator of our natural world MUST have been designed by some intelligent designer, the creator of our natural world MUST have been created.  But God is by definition the designer of our natural world AND also, by definition, eternal and uncreated.  Thus, if the designer of our natural world MUST have been created, then it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, since the designer of our world was himself (/herself/itself) created by another being.

So, there are at least TWO WAYS in which the argument from design proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, which is the opposite of what the argument was supposed to prove.

 

THE ARGUMENT FROM CHANGE

One classical argument for the existence of God comes from Aquinas.  Here is how Peter Kreeft summarizes the Argument from Change:

…if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change.  But it does change.  Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe.  But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time.  These three things depend on each other.  Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time.  It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change.

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.50-51)

If we accept Kreeft’s assumption that God is the Source or cause of change in the universe, then this argument proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  This argument attempts to prove that the Source of change in the universe is a being “outside matter, space and time”, a being that is “unchanging”.  But God, according to the Bible and to the vast majority of Christian believers is a PERSON, a being who thinks, who communicates with humans, who makes decisions, who performs actions,  who creates things and creatures.

A thing or being that is “unchanging” cannot be a person, cannot think, cannot communicate with humans, cannot make decisions, cannot perform actions, cannot create things or creatures.  If God is a PERSON, then God is a being that CHANGES.  Thus, the Source of change in the universe cannot be a PERSON, but God is a PERSON.  Therefore, if Kreeft is correct that something is God only if it is both the Source of change in the universe, and if Kreeft is correct that the Source of change in the universe MUST be an unchanging being, and if something is God only if it is a PERSON, then it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  There cannot be something that is both an unchanging being AND a person.  Thus, the argument from change proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, which is the opposite of what it was supposed to prove.

 

THE ARGUMENT FROM DEGREES OF PERFECTION

Another argument for God from Aquinas is the Argument from Degrees of Perfection.  Here is how Kreeft summarizes this argument:

But if these degrees of perfection pertain to being, and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a “best,” a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings.

This absolutely perfect being–the “Being of all beings,” “the Perfection of all perfections”–is God.

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.55)

If this argument is correct, then God exists only if there is an “absolutely perfect being”.  One of the perfections of PERSONS is moral goodness.  So, given that God is a PERSON, God must have the perfection of moral goodness.  So, if this argument is correct, then God MUST be perfectly morally good, not just the morally best person so far, but so morally good that there could not possibly be a morally better person than God.

However, as Alvin Plantinga has argued, and as Richard Swinburne has concurred, there is no such thing as absolute moral perfection.  As Kant pointed out, there are some moral duties that a person can perfectly and completely satisfy, such as “Never tell a lie”, and there are also some moral duties that it is impossible for a person to perfectly and completely satisfy, such as “Give to the poor”.  No matter how much one gives to the poor (e.g. one million dollars), it is always possible to have given more (e.g. one million dollars plus one more dollar).

Thus, it is impossible for an absolutely perfectly morally good person to exist.  Therefore, based on the assumption that God exists only if an absolutely perfectly morally good person exists, it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  The argument from degrees of perfection implies that God exists only if an absolutely perfectly morally good person exists, so the argument from degrees of perfection implies a claim that in turn logically implies that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.

 

THE KALAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

There is an argument for the existence of God that Christian philosophers have borrowed from Muslim philosophers: the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Here is part of Peter Kreeft’s summary of this argument:

Now if the universe never began, then it always was.  If it always was, then it is infinitely old.  If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today.  And so an infinite number of days must have been completed–one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before–in order for the present day to arrive. …But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point–or any point before it.

So either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the universe began to exist.  

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.59)

The conclusion above that “the universe began to exist” is one of the key premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  But Kreeft’s reasoning above proves too much.  It proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.

God, by definition, is eternal, which implies that God never began to exist.  But Kreeft’s reasoning proves that it is impossible for such a being to exist.  Let’s substitute “the creator of the universe” for “the universe” in Kreeft’s reasoning:

Now if the creator of the universe never began, then it always was.  If it always was, then it is infinitely old.  If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today.  And so an infinite number of days must have been completed–one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before–in order for the present day to arrive. …But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point–or any point before it.

So either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the creator of the universe began to exist. 

By applying Kreeft’s reasoning to the creator, we arrive at the conclusion that the creator BEGAN TO EXIST.  But God, by definition, never began to exist, and God, by definition is the creator of the universe.  But Kreeft’s reasoning shows that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the creator of the universe to be a being that never began to exist, thus it is impossible for something to be BOTH the creator and a being that never began to exist.  Therefore, Kreeft’s reasoning shows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, the very opposite conclusion to what it was supposed to show.


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