Responding to “Atheists Tackle Simple Theology and Arguments”

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Although I have not received the criticism of “you tackle simple theology and simple arguments” very much, atheists — particularly those labeled “new atheists” (whatever that means) — receive this criticism from their critics. During the recording of the NEPA Freethought Society‘s first podcast, I couldn’t help to think that some of the assertions being made by local individuals were very easy to attack because they seemed quite elementary, fallacious, silly, or otherwise problematic at face value. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) many arguments for gods can’t stand the criticism and are typically very easy to pick apart. Atheists often attack weak arguments and then are criticized for not going after “serious arguments,” but what can we possibly tackle if all of the arguments do not stand philosophical scrutiny?

After about two years of devoting a very large deal of time to participating in religious discussions, reading books, listening to debates, blogging about religious arguments, etc, I feel that I’ve ‘heard it all’ and don’t find many new arguments for gods that I haven’t previously tackled. While arguments may be more refined and while Christian academics may have thought about some of the issues more, their arguments are similar to those of lay theists who haven’t considered the issues. If there are some really good arguments out there, I simply haven’t heard them.

How about four popular arguments from one of the most renowned and respected apologists? I will note the main flaws, but I will not tackle them all here in full because they would require entire individual posts (and I have tackled these in previous posts that will be linked in this post).

Take, for example, William Lane Craig. One of his main arguments is the ‘Moral Argument’ which comes in many forms (You can’t make sense of objective moral values without God. Objective moral values do exist. Therefore God exists.). This argument ultimately boils down to an argument from ignorance (I can’t explain objective moral values, therefore God exists). Morality can be explained without invoking a god and morality coming from God is problematic because of the Euthyphro Dilemma. For more, please read my “A Naturalistic Explanation of Morality: Refuting the Moral Argument” and my “Making Sense of Ethics in a Modern Scientific Worldview.”

Argument two is the ‘Fine Tuning Argument’ which also comes in many forms (The universe is so finely tuned for our existence; for if the values for the fundamental constants for the universe were a wee bit different, human life would not exist. These values can only come about by chance or design. It couldn’t be by chance. Therefore the universe was designed by God.). This argument mainly fails because of a flawed understanding of probability. Given the vastness of the universe, it would be fair to expect somewhere where life would arise (and would also be reasonable to believe that there is life on some other planet) because there are so many different combinations of these values which would arise and be conducive to life. Why assume that any god would be needed here? Further, just because something seems ‘finely tuned’ (even if it is the case that if the values were wee different that there wouldn’t be life or other values wouldn’t work) does not entail that god did it. This argument appears to be another “I can’t explain this or this seems special, therefore god” move. I’ve addressed this more in detail here.

Argument three is the ‘Kalam Cosmological Argument.’ The argument is typically similar to this: Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. The universe has a cause. That cause is God. How does it follow that God created the universe? This argument asserts that God is uncaused and therefore created the universe (because everything else has a cause and we can’t have an infinite regress, apparently). Why can’t it be the case that the universe is uncaused or that the cause of the universe is not God (but rather the big bang)? I haven’t addressed this in length in my blog just yet (particularly because I am not well versed in cosmology), but might get around to it at some point.

Argument four is the resurrection of Jesus. Craig asserts various points, depending on the debate (an empty tomb, followers of Jesus claiming to see Jesus after he died, Jesus’ death by crucifixion on the cross, Jesus was buried, etc) and reasons, from these points, that the most rational explanation to draw is that Jesus was raised from the dead by God. For sake of length and for the sake of the argument, let’s assume all of these points are true. How can a miraculous explanation, the least probable event possible, be the best explanation for the given data? Competing hypotheses that may be drawn from the data are far more probable. Further, just because we can’t explain these facts doesn’t entail that belief in a miracle is permissible. I have dealt with this and more here in my “Jesus Resurrection Claims…” post.

Where are these advanced arguments that warrant belief? Presumably, one would be able to understand why individual theists believe what they believe and can possibly get reasons from them. If one were to say, “you need to handle some ‘serious theology'” and then not note that the ‘serious theology’ is (by actually stating the argument instead of pointing to a book), this seems tremendously problematic. The theist seems, at this point, to admit that he/she does believe for the reason mentioned in the ‘serious theology’ and instead may be admitting that he/she believes based on a weak reason.

Many of my blog posts are actually the results of conversations I have with theists and atheists. After conversations with some theists, I author blog posts discussing the arguments…and naturally ‘cover’ that which I encounter. I can only answer to that which is given to me and what I’ve been given so far is quite lackluster. This elusive ‘serious theology,’ apparently, is not commonplace and not provided by those who believe in gods. I can go hunting for some of this ‘serious theology,’ but what I have seen so far wasn’t very interesting.

I also tackle what some might say are ‘simplistic arguments’ because many give these are reasons why they belief or otherwise state these reasons when asked why they believe.

I have also attended a speech given by a theologian named John Haught in order to interact with ‘serious theology’ (ironically he is a critic of the “new atheists”). Haught argued that “God likes drama;” evolution and our universe, Haught argued, is one big “cosmic story” that God authored and if the universe were perfect, there would be no “drama” and no “story” (or at least the story that we have now, to be charitable). He also argued that people make Christianity more complex that it need be because the two main points are God’s love for the world and incomprehensible mystery (although, apparently, Haught believes that “God loves drama”).

Haught’s arguments are deeply problematic and do not suggest any sort of all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God exists. If “drama” is so important, I would wager that an omni-god can create the “drama” without so much destruction in the universe. This “drama” also is not consistent with an omni-god. If anything, it seems that Haught is applying post-hoc reasoning to ‘save’ his ‘god theory’ by asserting trying to reconcile the current state and history of the universe with an omni-god by putting “drama” up on some pedestal. My full critique of Haught’s ‘serious theology’ can be found here.

I am also the product of a Catholic education (as far as Catechism is concerned) in my younger years, have attended church on a regular basis, took theology courses at college, attended various religious discussions at college, and interacted with many believers. I have not seen this ‘serious theology’ or any argument that has given me pause.

This ‘serious theology’ reminds me of when I encounter religious groups proselytizing in public who refuse to have discussions. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, sometimes distribute literature in local areas. I ask them why they believe what they believe and their answers usually consist of “look at the trees, you can’t explain how this world looks so designed.” After a few lines like this showing that they obviously haven’t considered the arguments against their positions, I often hear “our debating guy isn’t here” (and the debating guy is almost never there). This ‘serious theology’ is quite similar to ‘the debating guy’ because they’re both never available.

Assume, for sake of argument, that some atheists indeed do tackle ‘simple theology’ and make silly arguments. It simply does not follow that religious belief is warranted or that atheists attacking ‘serious theology’ are not out there. Critics attack Richard Dawkins, for example, for attacking a ‘juvenile faith’ and discount him because of this. Well, what is the sophisticated faith and why should we believe the claims?

Many atheists have different perspectives. Some may go after the common silly arguments and some, like me, may often tackle the bigger issues. Personally, I don’t like discussing the Bible because I want to get at the ‘meat of the arguments’ by raising objections to fundamental claims made by believers by raising philosophical issues. Can I be charged with not discussing ‘serious theology’ when I have commented extensively on a very wide range of issues that theists commonly use? Where is this mystical ‘serious theology?’ Please send all inquiries to the comments section if you feel that I have not addressed something.

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