• Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tips #7 and #8: The Arguments’

    scott-m-sullivanScott M. Sullivan has apparently banned me from making comments on his Facebook page so these articles must be getting to him. I already responded to his previous “tips” so feel free to check them out (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6). In this installment, I will refute tips #7 and #8, which both focus on evidence. This should be fun.

    Tips #7 and #8 are: Learn the arguments for the existence of God & remember the difference between arguments for God vs. arguments for Christianity.

    According to Sullivan, there are three main arguments for the existence of God. These are presumably the three best arguments for God’s existence because no Christian wants to lead with a bad argument, right? So when Sullivan announced what these three arguments were, I laughed out loud.

    Still, it is important to point out as Sullivan does in Tip #8 that these are arguments for God and not for Christianity. So even if these arguments were valid, they still would not prove Christianity was valid. Christians often confuse arguments for God with arguments for Christianity. In any case, here are his arguments for God… not for Christianity.

    Number one: The First Cause Argument
    Look, I love Aristotle as much as any philosopher, but this argument is just bad and doesn’t take into account our modern scientific understanding of the universe. Basically, this argument postulates that because everything has to have a cause there must be a first cause that was uncaused – an unmoved mover. That unmoved mover is God.

    Problem number one with this argument is that it refutes itself. If everything has to have a cause than why doesn’t the unmoved mover need a cause? If the unmoved mover doesn’t need a cause, then why does the universe? Christians have tried to find a way around this criticism by tweaking the argument. Instead of everything having to have a cause, they changed it to “whatever begins” must have a cause. As it turns out, we know from cosmology that the universe did in fact have a beginning (i.e. the Big Bang) but we don’t know if that beginning had a cause. It doesn’t really make sense for it to have had a cause since space and time are linked there can’t really have been a “before” the universe. And since causes precede effects, if space/time is the effect then there can’t really be a cause… and least not in this universe.

    Dr. Stephen Hawking famously illustrated this point when he asked, “What is south of the South Pole?”  The question itself is invalid since by definition the South Pole is the most southern point on the Earth. Traveling past the South Pole, results in going north. To further understand how the universe might have started without the need for an intelligent deity, I recommend Lawrence Krauss’s book, “The Universe From Nothing.”

    I should also add that even if there was some kind of cause, there is no reason to believe that such a cause would have to be intelligent and certainly no reason to believe that it was the particular deity described in the Bible.

    Number two: The Design Argument
    This argument takes many forms. The most often form I hear is the infamous Watchmaker Argument. If you were walking on a beach and came upon a watch, you would conclude that it must have been man-made and not a natural phenomenon. Since the world is much more complex than a watch, we should conclude that the world also had a designer and that designer is God. The problem is that Charles Darwin discovered a much more likely designer. That designer is the natural process of evolution via Natural Selection.

    As for the watch, we know that is man-made because we know that people make watches and that there are watch making factories. When can we get a tour of God’s universe factory?

    Another form of the Design Argument is that the world seems so perfectly designed to support life. For example, if the Earth was just a degree closer to or further away from the sun, life as we know it wouldn’t be able to survive. This reasoning was refuted by Voltaire in the 18th century and yet it is still being used by Sullivan today.

    Voltaire satirically pointed out that noses were perfectly designed to hold glasses on our faces. The joke is that people obviously designed the glasses around our noses and not the other way around. Plus, this also points out our less than perfectly designed eye sight. Clearly, if the Earth was a degree closer to or further away from the sun, life as we know it wouldn’t exist, but perhaps some other life would or perhaps life somewhere else would. Another possibility would be that no life would and no one would be around to even ask why. The most logical explanation is that humans were designed through Natural Selection to survive on this planet and not that this planet was perfectly designed for us.

    A quick look around is all it takes to see that the universe isn’t actually very well suited to life at all. Even in the “Goldie locks” zone of Earth, there are diseases and natural disasters. Some berries are poisonous while others are quite healthy and tasty. The human body is pretty poorly designed too. Our eyes see only a small fraction of the light spectrum and our food goes down the same passageway as the air we breathe and often blocks that passageway, restricting and even cutting off our air supply. I could sit here all day listing all the not-so-perfect aspects of the human body and life on Earth and in space, but the point is pretty clear. People were not perfectly designed nor was this planet or universe perfectly designed for us.

    Number Three: The Moral Argument
    The third argument Scott M. Sullivan believes is “essential” is the moral argument. This is basically the assertion that because we have morals rules, that there must be a moral rule maker or moral law giver. Quite honestly this is just a poor understanding of morality brought about by the way kingdoms were ruled back in ancient days.

    Kings and Feudal Lords dictated rules and laws to their subjects and serfs. The King’s laws were absolute. But that isn’t how laws are made today. We have moved past this type of rule by authority. Today, representatives of the people (legislators) propose laws and representatives of the people vote on them and enact or repeal them. We don’t have lawgivers; we have lawmakers.

    How does this relate to morality? After all, not all laws are moral laws. Morality isn’t a list of rules that needs to be followed nor is it a list of restrictions that need to be avoided. Morality is much more nuanced and murky. Humans evolved a sense of empathy to help us work together to defeat larger predators. That sense of empathy is what gives us our moral grounding in the form of compassion. Raping someone isn’t wrong because God says so; it is wrong because we feel empathy for the person getting raped. Oh, in case you were wondering, according to the Bible, he didn’t say so. But that’s an argument against Christianity and I don’t want to confuse the two.

    Check out the rest of this series:
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #1’ – “Atheist Fundamentalist”
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #2’ – “Learn Logic”
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #3’ – “Scientism”
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tip #4’ – “Definition of Faith”
    Refuting: ‘How To Argue With An Atheist: Tips #5 & #6’ – “Red Herring/Strawman”


    Category: AtheismChristianityfeaturedGodMoralityPhilosophyScott M. Sullivan


    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.