Is This How to Argue Against God?
by Randy Everist
I have recently become aware of an article entitled, “How to Argue that God Does Not Exist.” Sounds ambitious! Only occasionally, I will respond to these types of “arguments.” I put “arguments” as such because it’s more a case of assertions, only sometimes followed by purported conclusions. It’s sometimes difficult to know precisely what the argument is supposed to be. Nonetheless, I think I want to offer a few observations on it.
I. The Inconsistencies.
The author notes at the beginning that, “proving nonexistence is a logical impossibility,” but then claims he knows how to “prove that God does not exist through simple logic.” Well which is it? Is it logically impossible to prove non-existence, or is it simple? You can’t have it both ways.
There is also the issue of religious belief requiring fideism, except where it doesn’t. On the one hand, the author assures us that it’s been scientifically demonstrated that faith and knowledge are opposed to one another, whatever that means. In that same paragraph, he claims that this fideism (where you believe something someone else tells you that makes no sense and that you recognize as a lie—that entire claim has its own major problems, by the way) is a requirement underlying all religion. In the tips section, he says that one shouldn’t expect all theists to operate on blind faith, that they’re instead using arguments that “appear to be rational.” That is, the arguments appear to make sense, and appear not to be based merely on testimony. Now perhaps the author would argue the further thesis that, in fact, such an argument is based on testimony, and that testimony is either false, irrational to believe, or both—but that’s not clear.
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II. The Insufficient Definitions.
Speaking of this definition of fideism, there are multiple problems with this. First, it’s not clear that every religious believer recognizes that the testimony beliefs relevant to their religion are lies. This is because, amongst other things, perhaps it could merely be false (after all, a lie is an intentional falsehood, not just any falsehood). So perhaps then we can amend it, and all is well. Not a chance. There are people, myself included, who do not think the foundations of their religious beliefs are false. In fact, many of us think Christian theism is the best explanation of the world; the ultimate paradigm of making sense, as it were. Now, perhaps we are completely mistaken, but the point is that religious believers do not in fact know it is incorrect, and it’s uncharitable to assume that all religious believers are attempting to deceive when saying they believe something. So perhaps we can jettison that last clause, and focus on the basis of religion being that one must accept testimony beliefs. What’s supposed to be the problem with that? Well, perhaps one will say that testimony beliefs can be false. So what? Lots of things can be false, including scientific theories. No one calls for the abandonment of those. Further, testimony beliefs are actually fundamental to human epistemology. That is, if we could not accept testimony beliefs, we would know precious little. In fact, we wouldn’t be justified as toddlers, hearing our parent’s instruction (e.g., “Don’t touch that stove; it’s hot; hot things will hurt you and you will not like it,” or “Don’t cross the street without looking; a car may hit you”). On a denial of all testimony beliefs, the toddler would be completely unjustified in accepting this as true. Surely something has gone wrong…