I’ve ran into numerous arguments, in favor of believing in a god, that have been downright baffling. That’s not unusual. One topic I’ve been pondering larely, is the underlying “common sense” or intuitive level thinking that goes into creating or accepting these arguments… in particular, why I might accept or reject a claim on an intuitive level.
I think there’s three basic levels to our assessing of claims:
Intuitive / Gut Feeling / Common Sense
This is the fast, but inaccurate level. We vet the incoming claim against what we already accept as true about the world.
It’s not automatically good or bad, right or wrong. Most of the time, it works decently well. If my car mechanic says he/she is going to use vegetable oil instead of motor oil, in my engine, I’m immediately thinking “I haven’t of doing that before! Isn’t vegetable oil for food, and motor oil for engines?” This sounds extremely dubious.
I don’t need to whip out the lab equipment, and start setting up laboratory conditions, to assess that this is probably a bad idea.
Higher Logical Reasoning
It’s possible that the vegetable oil is a recent discovery, and it actually works quite well. This may be a shock, but “common sense” is frequently flat-out wrong, as science tends to demonstrate. It’s common sense that satellites should fall. They are. That’s why they’re still in orbit. This notion is counter-intuitive, but true. Our higher reasoning skills are often needed to arrive at more accurate conclusions.
The downside is, it’s also very resource-intensive. I don’t have the time, energy and/or money to reason through every claim I come across. That’s why so many theistic claims can’t even get past the “look into this more” proposal stage… as they have little to nothing to even make an investigation appear worthwhile.
That’s why, when I’m asked by a Christian to read the Bible, I require them to read every other religious book written (and in the original languages)… ever. Then, I’ll consider it.
Another downside is, higher logical reasoning doesn’t always come to correct results. If you work hard enough, you can mine reality for a bunch of supporting evidence, and then weave a narrative around it that can be convincing. This is how we get sophisticated rapture predictions, or conspiracy theories in general.
We have a third level to help with that:
On this level, we’re re-evaluating our own approach, and questioning our own motives and assumptions. Science employs all three levels, with particular attention towards making sure those unreliable humans aren’t messing up too much.
What I’d like to do, for the sake of transparency, give my own personal “gut feeling” responses, before I would usually dive into the higher level assessments, for different claims.
|“Read the Bible, and you’ll see!“||I don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of it. I’m interested in evidence. If I want to provide evidence for evolution, I may refer you to the fossil record… not just say “Read book XYZ”, and if you don’t believe whatever it says, you just weren’t sincere enough” Science books don’t contain evidence. They contain references to evidence. Where is the referenced evidence in the Bible? Also, that’s a lot of time/work you’re asking me to do, without any compelling reason to think that it’s anything other than a waste of time.|
|Pascal’s wager – “You’re safer to believe, and nothing to lose”||It’s crystal-clear transparent to me that you’re making a plethora of unwarranted assumptions. Once the question, “How do you know you have the right religion or religious doctrine?” comes to my mind, the argument is 100% obliterated. (and no, “because Jesus resurrected” doesn’t solve that problem)|
|Kalam Cosmological Argument – everything that begins to exist, has a cause. The universe began to exist, therefore it had a cause. God is eternal, so didn’t need a cause. God caused the universe.||On a gut level, sure, I agree, something probably caused the universe. You appear to merely be plugging in your preferred answer with no emperical confirmation. I don’t find unevidenced claims compelling.While I don’t hold that the universe “came from nothing”, that actually requires fewer absurdities – one – that something can come from nothing. You’re asserting more – minds that exist apart from a physical brain, brains that exist outside of space and time, or anything at all existing outside of space and time, etc. These are things that I have no experience with, in the real world. That’s less believable to me than the universe coming from nothing.|
|Ontological arguments – (Excerpt below from IronChariots.org)
||It’s a word game with no emperical confirmation. That’s not compelling. Logic is great as a guide, but it’s only a part of the engine. I also see that the word definitions aren’t clear. What does “greatest” mean? The argument is too subjective, and loses worthiness. Any other discussion is just the specifics of what’s wrong with it.|
|“Without God, we wouldn’t have morality!“||I have no problem with the idea that humans, trying to get along in society, figured out how to do it, and called it “morality”. I don’t believe that it needs an absolute source to somehow “validate” it. Arguments to the contrary don’t make much sense to me. Some people seem to go so far as to insist that there’s some abstract “morality” thing, that an interdimensional being came up with, that we have to figure out what it is, and abide by it (we’ll be punished if we don’t), completely separate from any real-world concerns. This seems silly to me.|
|DNA is code, and all other code we know of is written by an intelligence.||I don’t buy, on a fundamental level, that information can’t be naturally occurring. I see the statement as being somewhat arrogant, as though humanity is the beacon for the rest of reality… instead of evolution producing a ton of information on its own, and humans barely entering the scene and scribbling down some notes. To me, DNA is the example of non-intelligent code. My experience with reality, is that if something is complex, it’s more likely that it’s natural, as opposed to the other way around. Human invention can barely hold a candle to the natural world.On a similar note, like “kinds” in evolution, I don’t find that “specified complexity” is coherent, or provides any real problem. It more reveals to me that the person arguing for it has a narrow vision of what reality can do.|
|[Any argument poking a hole in evolution, the Big Bang or abiogenesis, to support creationism]||Evolution is not why I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in God, because people like you, haven’t provided sufficient evidence. Also, I’ve had so much experience with creationists providing ill-informed arguments, that my first impression for any argument provided is that the person has misrepresented or misunderstood something, and it’s just a chore of figuring out what it is. Whenever I’ve dug in, this has held up with 100% unambiguous accuracy.Ultimately, there’s just no connection between atheism and evolution, so “disproving” it does nothing to cause me to question my theological position. I’m happy to discuss the topic, but only in terms of progressing science education.|
|“You know, deep down inside, that God exists.“||“Hold on, let me check my own mind… nope. Was this supposed to compel me, somehow?“|
Now, this isn’t to say that any of the above reactions are correct, but if you can’t even solve the baseline issues I have, you’re going to have a tough time convincing me.