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Weak Arguments Atheists Use

Some Points That Atheists Would Do Well To Reconsider

Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.10.24


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I have witnessed many arguments — in person, in books, and online — between believers and unbelievers. Fortunately, some of these have been peaceful, intellectual discussions. While I’m convinced that the believer’s arguments are weakest, I have noted several used by atheists that don’t hold water, and would like to point them out.

While some of these statements are actually true, at least to some extent, they rarely have actual bearing on whether gods exist.


Finding Aliens Would Disprove God


Even some Christian thinkers hold the position that “finding alien life forms would be a great challenge to the very perceived existence of God”. It usually comes from vocal atheists, however. I’ve seen this fairly often:
“If aliens exist, then the Bible becomes less believable. Why is there no mention of aliens and alien worlds in Genesis? God created man, gave man dominion over the earth. Then later he sends Christ here. Never a mention of aliens and alien worlds... If God exists, and if God inspired the writing of the Bible, then don't you think He would have mentioned all the other life, intelligent and otherwise, that He created all over the Universe? This is a suspicious omission.”
No. Just no. The Bible also doesn’t mention a million things that clearly do exist or have existed. There is no requirement that a religious text mention everything that exists here or elsewhere in order to be true.

Further, even if the very existence of life forms on other planets could somehow disprove the Bible (and every other religious text in the world), that is immaterial to the question of the existence of gods. As atheists (and some believers, for that matter) can tell you, the Bible and other such writings were conceived and written by humans, not by gods.

As someone who regularly and consistently studied the Bible for many years, I can assure you it does not deny the existence of life on other planets. Clearly, the book is not concerned with the question of life on other planets, nor would it need to be, as it was clearly written with humans of planet Earth as its main audience.

However, depending on what kind of aliens we found, it could certainly have an impact on belief here on Earth, especially if they were sentient beings able to communicate with us. Consider the following three scenarios:

• The aliens have religions that are important to their society. At least one of the major religions is very similar to one of our own.

• The aliens have zero religion, zero belief in gods, and no record in their history of ever having such beliefs.

• The aliens have religions that are completely different than ours, but similar in levels of devotion and incompatibility with other religions.

In the first scenario, however improbable, whichever Earthly religion matched one of the aliens’ would have bragging rights for quite some time. Everyone else (on both home planets) would have some serious reconsidering to do. In the second scenario, religious people on Earth might have tough questions to answer: If there is a God, why did it create these aliens and not tell them about itself? I think the third case is the most probable, but would prove very little either way. Maybe they started with the same information about God that we had, but then distorted it just like we did. Or maybe there were no gods and they created religions for the same reasons we did.

For me, the only way that sentient alien beings could prove or disprove anything about gods are as follows: (1) they have reliable historical records showing they populated Earth with life at some point or witnessed the development of life here, or (2) they have a religion that is identical with one of our own religions. The first would not disprove gods per se, but would disprove all our creation myths. The second would be such an incredible coincidence that for many it would indeed prove a particular god’s existence. (Keep in mind, it might not be your religion; it might be some sect you’ve never heard of.)


Most Scientists Don’t Believe In God


First, this is demonstrably untrue — it’s actually less than half. Some atheists like to cite a survey of the National Academy of Scientists that shows 93% are atheists, but this is a relatively small body and the numbers don’t match up with other surveys of wider groups of scientists.

Second, it’s a logical fallacy (appeal to authority or argument from authority) to claim something is true simply because an authority says it’s true. In the same way, it wouldn’t prove the existence of gods if most scientists did believe in gods — and at some point in history, most of them did — for example, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin both believed in God.

God could still exist even if every scientist in the world said otherwise, mainly because most of science is concerned with observable reality, while god is — by many definitions — unobservable.


Atheists Are More Intelligent Than Believers


This one is actually true, at least according to meta-analysis of 63 different studies. The studies, conducted from 1928 through 2012, using various measures of intelligence and religiosity, show that the more intelligent someone is, the less likely they are to be religious.

However, there are a couple of problems with this argument. One is that the differences are very, very slight, and there are many exceptions — incredibly intelligent believers and incredibly unintelligent atheists. Another problem is that it depends on contested definitions of “intelligence”, something that scientists are still struggling to precisely define.

But perhaps the biggest issue is that it doesn’t explain people like me, who once believed but no longer do, or people who grew up without faith and then converted to religion. Did my intelligence suddenly jump up a notch when I realized I was an atheist? Or was I an exceptionally intelligent believer (or am I an exceptionally unintelligent atheist)?

And one reason it will never work in a debate against believers is that it comes across as either ad hominem (“you’re an idiot”) or argument from authority (“I’m smarter than you”), both logical fallacies.


Religion Is Responsible For So Much Bad Stuff


This is just a reason for religion to be better. Yes, people have used religion and “holy” books to justify slavery, wars, treating women and children poorly, the worst forms of capitalism, dictatorships, and monarchies. But saying it doesn’t mean gods don’t exist.

Even showing that God himself did bad things (for example) doesn’t disprove God. At most, it proves that a particular god isn’t as moral as some claim. At worst, it might mean there’s a real god that is simply evil.

Because of this, it’s a red herring and gives the believer a chance to list all the good that religions have done, and the good that religious people still do. Further, there is a long list of atheists who have done bad things too.


False Dichotomy: Atheists vs. Fundamentalists


It’s a mistake to assume that all religious people are fundamentalists, just like it’s a mistake for believers to assume that anyone who disagrees with them is an infidel. There is a wide range of belief and devotion in the world, not only between various religions, but even within specific denominations. Everyone who sits in a pew is not necessarily a “crazy”. Many believers are political moderates or liberal. Quite a few people believe faith is a private matter and can’t be equated with the irritating ones who knock on your door.

(In the same way, there are many agnostics and atheists who just don’t think it’s important enough to talk about.)


Everyone Is Born An Atheist


While technically true, I don't think it’s helpful to belabor this point when talking to believers. It certainly doesn’t prove the non-existence of gods, and only opens the door for arguments over semantics and definitions. Of course a baby doesn’t believe in God; it has no capacity or understanding to do so. Babies are also born without political parties, without the ability to fend for themselves, and without many other beliefs or abilities.

The only time it might be worth bringing up is in a theoretical discussion about how religion gets passed on. Most people seem to have the same general religion as their parents or wider society, for example. I would be interested to know about any studies done on babies/children raised without gods or the supernatural ever being mentioned to them, to see how they react to the stories when they eventually hear them. (In my experience, though, it’s difficult to live a single day without hearing about it; references to God and religion abound in movies, TV shows, books, billboards, and casual conversation.)


Religion Is A Mental Illness


Saying this ignores several factors. First, it ignores people like me, who were once religious and then became atheists. Were we mentally ill and then “cured” ourselves? Or just magically “got better”? Second, it ignores that mental health problems are almost never the fault of the person suffering from them — they are often physical in nature (genetic, injury-related, exposure to neurotoxins, etc.) or related to past traumas (abuse, for example). Third, it’s simply ad hominem and doesn’t prove anything. It’s a personal attack to make you feel better.

And believers often say the same thing about atheists.


Believers Are Atheistic About Most Gods


While it’s true that most believers — at least all the ones I’ve met — don’t believe in any other gods except their own, this isn’t an argument against the existence of that one last god they do believe in.

For me, thinking of this in a roundabout way did help, but only after I’d long doubted my own God’s existence. I had searched out several other religions, but realized that because I already didn’t believe in them I couldn’t just start believing in them without some kind of convincing evidence. By the time I got back to my own God, I saw it the same way. But that was part of my personal journey, and had to happen organically.

Saying to a believer “I simply believe in one less god than you” isn’t helpful. The phrase is meant to imply a similarity when in fact it highlights a huge difference. The huge difference is that they believe their God is real, while you don’t believe any gods are real.


Conclusion


There are a few other arguments I’ve seen atheists use that seem weak or pointless to me, but I’m withholding judgment on them for now. I’m still kind of new to this. The above are the ones that have jumped out at me the most.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I think all of these topics are fine for discussion, and a few of them might warrant further study. However, I’ve seen them used in debates and arguments. Arguing poorly and using logical fallacies is best left to the theists, in my opinion.





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