Geoffrey Berg’s tome, The Six Ways of Atheism, is a small volume but it requires some unpacking to get at the core of what he’s trying to say. I’m going to tackle one argument per post and we should get through the book by Saturday.
Let’s dive in to the first argument, the Aggregate of Qualities Argument:
- If God exists, God must necessarily possess all of several remarkable qualities (including supreme goodness, omnipotence, immortality, omniscience, ultimate creator, purpose giver).
- Every one of these qualities may not exist in any one entity and if any such quality does exist it exists in few entities or in some cases (e.g. omnipotence, ultimate creator) in at most one entity.
- Therefore it is highly unlikely any entity would possess even one of these qualities.
- There is an infinitesimal chance that any one entity (given the almost infinite number of entities in the Universe) might possess the combination of even some two of these qualities, let alone all of them.
- In statistical analysis a merely hypothetical infinitesimal chance can in effect be treated as the no chance to which it approximates so very closely.
- Therefore as there is statistically such an infinitesimal chance of any entity possessing, as God would have to do, all God’s essential qualities in combination it can be said for all practical and statistical purposes that God just does not exist.
This argument fails to disprove God as Christians defend him. Berg states repeatedly that there is little chance a being in this universe possesses any of these qualities, let alone all of them. Agreed. But we never argue that God is part of the universe. Which means all of Berg’s statistical analysis and posturing about how language glosses over reality is moot. His rantings only apply to beings originating in and living in the known universe. God transcends that universe, and therefore isn’t subject to laws that define the universe.
Berg anticipated seven potential responses; this was (oddly) not one of them. All of the objections he considered were pathetic and require no rejoinder from me.
So Berg and I agree that God doesn’t exist in the known universe. That is only equal to “God doesn’t exist at all” given metaphysical naturalism.
One of the most frequent statements I hear when I talk about God with atheists is that there is “no evidence” that God exists, and that is usually followed by telling me that the burden of proof is on me, the theist, because I’m the one making the positive assertion.
However, an actual atheist, as I covered yesterday, is making a positive assertion — he is positively asserting there is no God. This is framed negatively, but he isn’t withholding judgement on my assertion. He declares it false.
Withholding judgement is agnosticism — not knowing. In which case, I’m obliged to prove my case (or at least make a reasonable argument for it) for the benefit of the undecided person.
But the atheist has gone beyond withholding judgement. He’s made one of his own, and for that he owes an explanation.
Think this through:
If I say, “God exists!” Aside from, “Praise Jesus, I know he does!” there are two potential replies. (Actually, there are more, but let’s just stick with these two for simplicity sake.)
Someone might respond, “I’m not convinced.”
This is your agnostic. I should lay out my case for him. If he remains unconvinced, we can discuss the particulars. He has no specific position, so he owes me no explanation beyond what my argument lacks.
The other potential reply is: “Poppycock! There is no god, you silly Christian. Science disproves him. Besides, there was never any evidence anyway.”
This is your atheist. It is totally disingenuous for the atheist to think I’m the only one with a burden of proof here. I will still lay out my case, however he needs to both rebut my case and lay out his own — merely rebutting my case doesn’t prove anything other than I have a poor case. It only moves us to agnosticism, being unconvinced. The atheist isn’t “withholding judgement”: he’s convinced that I’m wrong. For that, he owes me an argument.
One needs nothing beyond “insufficient evidence” to withhold judgement, but the moment rejection enters the picture, a judgement has been made and a logical argument for why must be presented. Saying “I lack belief in all gods” is a total cop-out and very lazy debating.
- 8/13/12 at 1:40am EDT because there were a lot of typos. I’m ashamed of that. 1-2 is fine with me because I’m not perfect, but there were probably 4-5!
- 8/19/12 at 12:41am: Another perspective from Steve Wilkinson here.
A comment, though marked as spam, poses an interesting problem nonetheless:
Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of god and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.
I had always meant to do a post on the difference, as I see it, between atheism and agnosticism. This seems like as good a time as any.
First, does it matter that there are a plurality of conceptions of God? And I would have to say, for all practical purposes, the answer is no. Atheism, as I will show, isn’t a point of view (as supernaturalism is).
Supernatural is outside of nature. Nature is your context: the container in which you find yourself. Therefore, that which originates in this universe is natural to us. However, that which originates outside the universe is supernatural.
Flip it, and that makes us supernatural to God, since we don’t reside on the same plane of existence.
Atheism is making a claim about how things are ordered, regardless of your particular perspective.
But who (or what) is God, then? True, there have been a plurality of conceptions of God. Accepting one over another doesn’t make all of those who reject your particular deity atheists. Infidels, yes. Atheists, no.
Think of it like this: in an election, I have several candidates to choose from. The front runners are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Or I can simply abstain and not vote. The gray area is this: If I vote for Obama, does that mean I think Romney is unfit for the job?
Well, not necessarily.
There’s no meaningful way to vote against Romney without voting for Obama. So if I want to afford Obama the chance to see his economic plan through but think that Romney would do an adequate job if elected, then I’m not anti-Romney per se.
On the other hand, I may think that Romney and Obama are equally wretched as leaders and statesmen, but vote for Obama because he’s currently more experienced.
Bottom line: a vote for one is not necessarily a vote against the other.
Which is an accurate description of agnosticism. Agnostic literally means “without knowledge.” Agnostics really don’t know whether there is a god, but they remain open to finding out. While they don’t see adequate evidence for God, they find no reasons to deny the possibility of God’s existence. They don’t know.
Finally, the burning question: what is atheism? Atheism is the rejection of all God-belief. In our election example, these guys are staying home from the ballot because the actively reject both candidates.
It is not simply “lacking belief in God.” Lacking indicates they could be persuaded with the right evidence. Nothing sways most atheists. Read these comments if you don’t believe me.
Atheism is a rejection of the divine, no matter one’s conception of it. It matters not whether that divine is supernatural (as monotheism posits), or within nature (as paganism posits), or in ourselves waiting to be unleashed (as New Age theology posits). Atheism rejects it all in one fell swoop.
Tomorrow, atheism and the burden of proof. That should both be interesting, and infuriating to my atheist readers. Because, spoiler alert, you guys have a burden of proof!
A warning to the sarcastically impaired… this post is meant in jest, but it raises a valid point that bears addressing by atheists of OUR time. Before it’s even a question from speed readers or skimmers, I am not de-converting.It has been horrid living under the Christian oppression for my entire life. I was only a Christian because my family raised me so, and only remained so because it was easy in a primarily Christian society.
But I have, at last, thrown off the shackles of Christian oppression and joined the Brights of society, in knowing the truth that there is no God.
I now post my anti-testimony so that others may find the strength to resist the mindvirus of Christianity. But let me start with a little history…
Christians in 4500 point to two incontrovertible “miracles” proving the existence of their god. The first is the so-called Resurrection, when their zombie lord allegedly rose from the dead.
The second allegedly happened five days after an anonymous writer of what they used to call a “blog” wrote this:
If one evening, every star in the sky began to move in unison, and converge to form an illuminated three dimensional Latin Cross that filled the entire void, leaving the rest of the sky utterly black, devoid of any stars or planets; with Jesus’ face superimposed upon it, speaking in all languages at once its expectations of us, and for good measure it simultaneously rained human blood across the planet; and this all lasted for 24 hrs so that every person on Earth could view the event for themselves … I’d buy it. I’d become the worlds greatest Christian. Or if it were equally strong evidence of some other god being, I’d be first in line to at least apologize to it for my denial and happily sacrifice to it, grovel at its hooves, or otherwise demonstrate my reverence.. (source)
Five days after that, it happened. Millions of eyewitnesses saw it, and thousands posted accounts online and newspapers carried stories and the media frenzy was born.
And so was Christian oppression. Because who could argue with an actual appearance of God?
But I echo the arguments of many critics of this so-called “event” of mid-2012. I now do not believe it happened. The facile replies of the Christian so-called apologists lack so much luster as to be incredible. Even fanciful.
So, here are my questions. . .
First, Why did God wait so long? Allegedly, your “savior” rose from the dead in the year 33. Yet, this fictitious event didn’t occur until 2012 — almost 2000 years later. It seems to me that if God truly cared about humanity, he would never let questions about his existence happen, since you go to hell if you don’t believe in him.
So he wouldn’t have waited. He would have made the first great miracle, the Resurrection, more obvious. The Resurrection, in fact, is all he should have needed to prove that Jesus was who he said he was. People would believe then.
The fact that your god needed a second miracle proves he is inept and not worthy of worship.
Second, Where’s the video of this event? Christian apologists claim that as a supernatural event, this couldn’t have been put on video. Therefore, all of the video from the time that shows a typical, non-rearranged night sky is what we’d expect to see.
Well, it seems to me that if God expected this miracle to convince everyone of his existence, that he’d leave more than just a few eyewitnesses. I know that it is claimed the “entire planet” saw this, but that isn’t good enough. The Resurrection was supposedly seen by over 500 people who were still alive at the time of writing, but I can’t question them now, either. Therefore, both miracles suffer from lack of adequate attestation. Which leads us to …
Why do you expect me to take this on eyewitness testimony alone? Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. I can’t question any of these people today, and supposedly there’s no actual video of this event. The hundreds of blog posts that still exist are no proof, since the Church could have put those together and claimed they were authentic.
I bet they even destroyed the counter-testimony, the people of the era who said this event never happened. There was bound to be lots of those, as I understand atheist activism was popular on the Internet of 2012. Where are all of the atheists who would have decried this obvious Christian propaganda?
Destroyed by the Church, that’s where.
So that’s my case. That is why I now stand with the atheists. Go ahead, theists. Prove me wrong.
In other words, given the space of time, people will find old ways to disbelieve new miracles. All of these arguments are repackaged versions of anti-Resurrection arguments. Nice try, Atheist Camel. Believe because of the Resurrection, or move along. It is the only sign you’re getting.
On this very blog, we have a clear example of the Unforgivable Sin. In fact, the clearest ever offered here. Alex said this:
It needs to be mentioned that the definition of nature is what science can measure and the reason we call your god’s being and doings supernatural is that when we measure, there is no god there, only natural explanations such as physics and chemistry. (source)
The Unforgivable Sin, from Mark 3:22-30 or Matthew 12:22-32, is the denial of the Spirit moving in our world. It is through the movement of the Spirit that we can see evidence of God acting in our world.
So, a little context. I deny the categories of natural and supernatural. Alex is saying that when we measure the doings of God, we find no God, just natural movements.
The first problem is that our instruments aren’t going to measure or detect God, who exists outside of the time and space we know how to measure. Instead, what we’re going to see are the effects that God creates, which are accomplished by the Holy Spirit. This is the evidence of God.
Denying that what we have seen is the movement of the Spirit is the Unforgivable Sin.
For example, Alex looks at biochemistry. The amazing complexity and well-oiled interactions of the various systems of our bodies, the ability of our bodies to obtain the raw ingredients our cells need to produce energy in the foods we eat and the drinks we consume all bear evident marks of design. The well-defined stages of growth humans go through, the inherent curiosity to learn and flourish, shared ability to define morality, to know what is is not what ought to be; these are the hallmarks of a being who can impart these things to us.
Alex, however, looks a this design and says, “Nah, random mutation acted on by natural selection — not a personal, intelligent force — created this.”
And that, my friends, is the Unforgivable Sin in a nutshell. The Pharisees saw the work of the Spirit in Christ as he drove out demons and cured disease, and they attributed it to Satan. Alex sees the work of God in chemistry and biology and attributes it to chance and natural laws. Both deny the Spirit’s efficacy, and both have severe eternal consequences.