Posted on Sep 19, 2009 by Tom Gilson
Geoff left a comment yesterday pointing us to what he called “a simple presentation explaining why all of these arguments are ultimately unconvincing to most atheists.” The video, “Putting faith in its place,” represents itself as a kind of ultimate answer to all theistic arguments. It’s an example of the kind of thing that both perplexes and grieves me.
Overview of the Video
It begins with a logical presentation of what we can or cannot know about that for which we have no direct evidence, drawing the sensible conclusion that where we have no evidence, all we can know for sure is that logical impossibilities are logically impossible. The spiritual world, it says, is physically inaccessible to us, so all we can know about it is what cannot be true of it: that it cannot contain or include that which is logically impossible. “Logic alone cannot show that possible [divine] beings exist without evidence…. measurable, verifiable evidence.”
Therefore, says the video, every logical argument for the existence of God is fallacious, so then all one needs to do in each case is identify the fallacy. So for example, William Lane Craig’s argument leading to the necessity of a changeless disembodied mind as Creator must be wrong, and in this case the error is that “a changeless mind is by definition non-functioning.” Craig’s conclusion is self-contradictory and logically impossible.
Then it moves into discussion of “proving God with logic,” and says that 100 invalid arguments don’t accumulate into one valid one. But when those who take them as true disparage people by saying, “You’re worthless, you’re immoral, your lives are unlivable, I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens, you’re human garbage, non believers are human rubbish, join our religion of love and peace or go to hell!” those they try to oppress should be expected to try to refute such arguments.
So when we Christians try to pressure others into saying grace before a meal, one appropriate response might be, “Please, either show your god exists or stop nagging.” Don’t push your beliefs on me, in other words. “You can’t pester and bully people and then hide behind faith when you’re challenged on your behavior,” and “resorting to emotional blackmail is a dishonest tactic.”
Believers in God particular stumble over defining the deity: there’s no evidence for any attribute for their god. If your definition includes, “God is non-physical,” then immediately you have a God in mind that “by definition cannot be quantified, tested, perceived, even in principle.” If God (or a god) dropped a message from the moon, the most we could conclude is that something was going on that involved some “power, intelligence or technology unknown in number and unknown in its nature,” or it could be something like a hallucination. Coming to the truth of the matter is beyond the reach of our limited brains.
Even if there were some intelligence responsible for creating the universe, we could not know anything about its nature, its number, or whether it was interested in humans or could communicate. Anything that “can’t be reliably examined/quantified even in principle” is a “non-scientific concept” unsupported by logic or evidence.
So we who accept such a God have “no grounds for bullying or ostracizing” those who disagree. They’ll keep popping holes in our fallacious arguments until we’ve outgrown our need for everyone to agree with us.
In the end “It’s not whether we believe in gods but how we treat each other that determines our character.”
Response to the Video
Response to the Video
So goes the statement in the video. What shall we make of this?
First, to the extent that Christians (or those who claim to be Christians) attack those who disagree with them as indicated in the fourth paragraph (see above), I am very grieved about this. I am aware that it happens. I hate it, and I grieve it.
Yet there is such a thing as standing against ideas and for ideas; standing against falsehood and for truth. And those who say, “stop pushing your beliefs on me!” are themselves pushing a belief. Christians have every right and duty to speak our beliefs. The point is to do it in love and with respect.
I am further grieved and perplexed at the fallacies contained in this supposed comprehensive answer all fallacious beliefs in God. Is a changeless mind by definition non-functioning? Sure, if you define it a certain way, a way that has nothing to do with Christian belief. The Christian conception of God is that he is changeless in his being-ness, in his attributes and character; not that he is frozen immobile and incapable of doing anything. The video effectively proves that a certain kind of God doesn’t exist: a God that nobody has ever thought about believing in. It has no relevance to any God that anybody (Christians, at least) actually thinks might exist. It’s a straw man. But it’s supposed to represent the way any argument for God is fallacious.
It’s such an obvious error, it causes me to wonder if we believers have done such a poor job of communicating what we actually believe! But it’s hard to imagine that we’ve let something as basic as that go unstated.
The argument goes on scientistically to presume that if we cannot detect a god by physical means, then we can say nothing about it/him/her/them. Even if some great event happened by which something seemed to be communicating to us as a God would do, we could not trust our brains to conclude truly what really is behind those phenomena.
(It’s not at all clear how the author of the video thinks we can believe anything at all, even what we know through scientific means, given his absolute skepticism regarding how we should interpret putative messages from God. If aliens or hallucinations could be responsible for such messages, the same could be responsible for everything we believe. Brain in a vat, anyone?)
I suppose there is some truth in the idea that our own research and evidences can’t lead us to a correct and reliable view of God. If it were entirely up to us to investigate and conclude, then we would be incapable. But that would be to say that if there is some God, then that God must be incapable of communicating reliably to us. What a pathetic thing this god would be, whose skills are not up to those of the average human being. It cannot get a message across. I can get on the phone and say, “Hello, this is Tom,” and I can communicate that message successfully. But this video says God isn’t up to such a task.
This view that discovering the truth about God is entirely up to us, and that God has nothing to offer in the exchange, has a name: pride. It is the first cardinal sin, the foundation of all sin. It is saying, “God, thanks but no thanks, you have nothing for me, it’s all on my shoulders.”
Christians don’t believe in a deaf-mute God, any more than we believer in the kind of changeless God the video spoke of earlier. We believe God can communicate, and that he has done so.
So in summary, when Geoff offers this as an example of why non-believers are not impressed with arguments for God, I respond thus: Christians most assuredly ought not to be offensive. Our persuasion ought not to be to meet some inner need to make everyone agree with us. It ought to be an expression of love and truth, the sharing of good news about real life. That is my intent and my goal, and I hope I attain to it to some extent.
But the video’s arguments against Christian arguments are otherwise a complete failure, because they argue against a straw man, a god that nobody believes in and is irrelevant. The God in whom Christians believe is able to make himself known, and for those who will look and listen, he has done so.