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
that “finding alien life forms would be a great challenge to the very
perceived existence of God”. However, I have more often heard this from atheists. It is
commonly phrased as follows:
“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
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. Would it have been a better book if the Bible had
mentioned penicillin and how to make it? Certainly. But the omission thereof is not a
proof on the veracity of the book.
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
The aliens have religions that are completely different than ours, but similar in levels of
devotion and incompatibility with other religions.
The first scenario, however improbable, would gift powerful bragging rights to the specific
religious beliefs shared between civilizations. For example, say it was Christianity. The
probability of this religion developing independently on both worlds, without an actual god
existing, is very low. To find the same religion on another world would be incredibly
convincing to many people. Even die-hard atheists — the ones who understand probability
— would be given pause. It would not be proof of the existence of the Christian
god, but its sheer improbability would have to be considered evidence, and would
require serious consideration.
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? Why were they not given a revelation (Bible, Qu’ran, etc.) while we were? Are the
gods of Earth merely local instead of universal?
The third case is most probable I think, and would prove very little either way.
If God exists, maybe these ETs started with the same information about God that we had, but then
distorted it just like we did. If gods do not exists, maybe 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.)
Repeatedly, I have seen atheists make the claim that “most scientists are atheists”,
with the underlying meaning that smart, educated people do not believe in gods.
A few believers make the claim too — for the backward purpose of
convincing fellow believers that scientists aren’t to be trusted.
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
Atheists Are More Intelligent Than Believers
This claim comes worded in many ways, and its intent is similar to the scientists claim
above: if you’re smart enough, you’ll see that gods are myths; if you’re
still in religion’s grasp, it’s because you’re not smart enough.
This one is actually marginally true, at least according to
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
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.
It should be noted here, however, that Jesus himself allegedly preached that his teachings were
“hidden” from “the wise and learned”, but could easily be understood
by “little children” —
— indicating that he agreed with the premise that atheists are smarter than believers. There
are also scriptures like Prov. 3:5,
which instruct believers not to use their reason or understanding; to simply trust
in the Lord.
Similar to the “atheists are more intelligent” fallacy is the “atheists are
rational/logical” fallacy, which usually includes the claim that believers aren’t.
Unlike intelligence, which is often seen as innate, logic/reason are things that can be taught
and learned. Still, not only is the claim untrue (many atheists are irrational and illogical
while some believers are rational, logical, etc.), but it also does not disprove a god. My
advice: if you’re tempted to make claims about logic or reason, make them specific to a
particular argument, rather than a blanket statement about large groups of people.
Religion Is Responsible For So Much Bad Stuff
Religion and “holy” books have been cited to justify slavery, wars, treating
women and children poorly, the worst forms of capitalism, dictatorships, monarchies, racism,
misogyny, and so on. For a believer,
it might be a reason to strive for reform within his or her religion. For a secularist, it is
a reason to keep religion out of government. For an atheist, it can serve as a reminder of
what unfounded beliefs can lead to. But saying it doesn’t mean gods don’t exist.
Even showing that God himself did bad things (for example)
must be done under the stipulation that the stories in question are true, and — at most
— shows that a particular god isn’t as moral as its followers
claim. At worst, it might mean there’s a real god that is simply evil.
Because of this, it’s a red herring — a distraction. Mentioning it changes the
discussion from “do gods exist?” to “how bad, really, is religion?”
It gives the believer a chance to list all the good that religions have done, and the
good that religious people still do. It becomes a subjective argument about opinions and
knowledge and interpretation of history. Further, there is a long list of atheists who have done
bad things too.
This is related to the next failed argument often used by atheists.
The Church Is Full Of Hypocrites
This (true) claim is something I heard quite often just before I quit attending church,
and just afterward. When I talked to non-church-goers — many of whom still believed in
God — one of their top excuses was often: “There are just too many hypocrites in
the church.” Usually they would follow up by listing people they’d known who
preached holiness but did not live up to it. Today, I frequently read comments from atheists
harping on this point.
When you can find a person within a religion who preaches one thing but lives another (the
technical definition of “hypocrite”), all you’ve done is found a
hypocrite. You haven’t proved gods don’t exist or even that a particular belief
system is corrupt or incorrect.
At most, it shows that the person in question doesn’t truly believe what they preach.
If the person is in a position of authority at the church, or if there are a large number of
them, it might be a reason to avoid that church — or all churches. But it still fails
to prove anything about God himself.
And if you keep hammering at this point as a way to discredit a religion, you leave yourself
open for any accusations of your own hypocrisy to discredit yourself, or other person’s
hypocrisy to discredit any other worldview. If you find a humanist hypocrite, does it mean
it’s wrong to be a humanist? No. It just means you found a hypocrite.
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
(In the same way, there are many agnostics and atheists who just don’t think it’s
important enough to talk about.)
I bring this up because I’ve seen many discussions begin with the atheist assuming that the
believer they’re talking to is necessarily that kind of believer. It can certainly
pay to open by asking about the particular beliefs of the person in question, or using a more
general “many of them, in my experience” rather than “you”.
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
This claim is pointless on so many levels. On the logic level, it’s ad hominem — a
personal attack to make you feel better — and doesn’t prove anything. On a mental
health level, it ignores that mental health issues 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). On a social
justice level, it is using mental illness as a slur — which degrades and marginalizes
people who actually do fall into this category. Further, it ignores the existence of people
like me, who were once religious and then became atheists. Were we mentally ill and then
But perhaps most importantly, no professional mental health organization has classified
religion as a mental illness (though certain aspects, such as “hearing voices”,
could very well be symptoms of actual mental illness).
Perhaps not identical, but similar ad hominems include “dumb”,
“close minded”, “blind”, “stupid”, “delusional”,
etc. Any one of them could be true in a particular believer’s case, but not only do these
accusations prove nothing about a God or gods, but they hinder the argument too. And, to a
neutral observer, it makes you look like an ass.
Believers Are Atheistic About Most Gods
I’ve seen atheists say: “You’re already an atheist toward most gods;
we just go one god further.”
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, nor is it an argument against
any of the ones they don’t beleive in. It’s purely tautological; it only
states what is already known; they believe in a particular god, yet not the others.
For me, thinking of this did help, in a roudabout way, but only after I’d long doubted my
own God’s existence. As I researched several other religions, I realized that 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. In the height of
my faith, it would have made zero difference to me had someone told me: “you’re
already an atheist about most gods”.
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.
However — and I think this is very important — I think it’s
possible that a dent could have been made earlier, if someone had rephrased this. If
someone had opened a line of questioning with “Why don’t you believe in [some
God besides the Christian one]?”, they could have waited for my answer, and then suggested I
apply the same reasoning to my own God. The fact is, I have zero recollection of any reasoning
on my part as to why I didn’t believe in other gods. I further didn’t
understand the burden of proof. And I didn’t realize until relatively recently that the
only reason I believed in the Christian God is because I was born into a Christian family in a
nation where Christianity was dominant.
Assuming Reasons WHY Someone Believes
Another tactic I’ve seen atheists use is to assume the reason why a believer believes.
For example: “You’re only a Christian because you were born into a Christian family;
if you had been born in Pakistan, you would be Muslim.”
Note that in the previous section, I indeed said that’s why I believed as I did; but
I’m saying this now, after a few years as an atheist. I wouldn’t have
admitted it 25 years ago, nor would I have understood it. It is also not true of many other
believers. It doesn’t explain, for example, converts in non-Christian countries.
And, perhaps most importantly, the way someone became a believer isn’t indicative
of whether their beliefs are true or false.
On the other hand, if the conversation is between two people who know each other well, it
could be a worthwhile question to ask of the believer: “Do you think you would have
become a Christian if you’d been born to a non-Christian family in [any
Lest anyone misunderstand, I think all these topics make for excellent discussion, and a few of
them are clearly true (or at least warrant further study). However, I’ve seen them used
in debates and arguments as if they were good points. Arguing poorly and using logical
fallacies is best left to the theists, in my opinion.
It also, of course, depends on what the debate is about. If the debate is about whether gods
exist, then these are poor arguments to use. Interestingly, believers will sometimes bring up
these very topics — perhaps because they’re accustomed to atheists mentioning
them, or perhaps in an attempt to distract. The best response to those is to stay on
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• EDIT, 2016.05.10: Changed formatting of numbered list in
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• EDIT, 2017.07.11: Added meta tags to the html header —
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Added intra-page links to the More
menu. In the aliens section: reworded first paragraph, added three
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