Taking 10 minutes from a busy day to knock down New Atheism arguments

New Atheist activist Jerry Coyne has laid out his powerful arguments for atheism. Since Christmas is coming, and I have much to do, I don’t have time for any detailed response. So let’s just make this quick and dirty and have a look.

Coyne predictably leads off with:

1. God doesn’t give evidence for himself, even though he easily could, converting all the world to the true faith. But God WANTS us to know and accept him. Ergo, the best explanation for him being “hidden” is that he doesn’t exist.

Remember that for Coyne, and so many other New Atheists, “evidence” = a Gap. That is, Coyne is essentially arguing since there are no Gaps that must be explained by God, God must not exist. This is standard God-of-the-Gaps Atheism. I’d respond to it, but first we need the New Atheists to come clean on their god-the-the-gap reasoning and tell us whether or not they consider it to be a valid approach to reality.

2. The world is full of natural as well as man-made evils that make the innocent suffer. This cannot be comported with a loving and omnipotent God, even if you posit that all will be set right in the next world.

The argument from evil. This argument basically boils down to this: Since we do not live in paradise, there is no God. And this is not a straw man presentation of the argument from evil, for that is the very place where all arguments from evil ultimately lead. The fatal flaw in this argument is that if Jerry, you, or me, lived in paradise, we’d screw it up.

Okay, so #1 and #2 are the basic, core arguments of atheism: God of the Gaps and Argument from Evil. If you’ll recall, those were also the two arguments cited by the elite atheists and agnostics.

So let’s turn to the filler arguments (less common “arguments” invoked to pad the argument resume):

3. The existence of Hell, in which Craig believes, absolutely violates any conception of a loving God. No such God would consign people to eternal flames for trivial crimes like asking for evidence. If there is a Hell, then God is evil.

This is just another Argument from Evil, so Coyne is already inflating the argument count. Nevertheless, the existence of Hell would not prove that atheism is correct, now would it? Now, if the atheist wants to make a secondary argument, about God being evil if Hell exists, then one must ask the atheist the following question: If the God of the Bible did exist, do you want to spend eternity worshipping Him? If the answer is yes, why does the atheist want to worship a being whom Coyne describes as “a horrible bully and killer of the innocent?” If the answer is no, you have your reason for the existence of Hell. For if there is a Heaven where people are forced to worship God against their will, then God is evil.

4. Different religions give different truths. At most only one of them can be right, and if one is, it’s probably not Craig’s.

Different newspapers give different truths. Different history books give different truths. Even different people like Coyne and PZ Myers can’t agree on what is true when it comes to science like evolutionary psychology. Truth does not entail that it would be recognized with universal consensus. We can have consensus about false beliefs and true beliefs can be denied by the majority. There is no argument here.

5. The universe is full of superfluous stars and planets on which there’s no life. Why? Even the laws of physics could have been altered to allow the existence of only one galaxy—ours—without screwing up everything else. Theists have no explanation for this. Saying that “God’s will is unknown” is no answer, for if you play that card, you lay yourself open to having to explain how you then know God is loving, all-powerful, wise, a disembodied mind, etc., etc. Further, the earth will be toast in another few billion years. Is that part of God’s plan, too? Theists have no explanation for things like that.

This is not an argument; it is just an expression of personal taste. I see no logical reason for thinking that God’s existence entails that there should be no “superfluous stars and planets on which there’s no life.”

6. Who made God? Secularism provides the best explanation for the idea of God, for we have ample reason to think (and in fact have often witnessed) that gods are created by the human mind.

This is a nonsense question. We inquire about the origin of something if we have reason to think that thing came into existence. Treating God as if He is supposed to be one more thing that is part of contingent reality means you have not seriously considered the question of God’s existence, which is probably why this is a favorite argument among the pre-teens and young teens.

7. Scientific studies looking for God’s actions always fail. These include investigations of miracles like the weeping Jesus in India (sewer water), the Shroud of Turin (forged) and the “cures” at Lourdes (no regrown limbs or eyes)—not to mention several failed studies of intercessory prayer.

Another god-of-the-gaps argument, where Coyne is trying pad the argument resume by recasting argument #1. I dealt with this expression of the argument before.

8. Science continually contradicts God’s word, thus continually casting doubt on God himself. A hundred years ago, Craig would be have been preaching the literal truths of Genesis, Adam and Eve, the Great Flood, the Exodus, and so on. Now science shows that those ideas are wrong. Rather than take the parsimonious view that the Bible is a work of fiction, which is being whittled away completely by empiricism, theologians like Craig cry “it’s largely a metaphor.” Unlike scientists, they accept no evidence against the God hypothesis, but simply wriggle like eels, defending the view to which they were committed in the first place. This is not theology but confirmation bias.

First, what’s wrong with metaphor? Metaphors can often be used to convey a truth that goes beyond the attempt to describe the truth in literal terms.

Second, we have a straw man argument here, where Coyne seems to think that nothing less than a scientific description of the literal truth of the first chapters of Genesis can count. For example, if he is going to mention science and prayer (argument #7), why ignore the recent research that shows, People who “turn to prayer ‘as a coping response to the high demands in life’…are rewarded with increased strength and ability to resist temptation?” Are we supposed to believe that all science has contradicted “God’s word?”

Look, I became a Christian long ago not because of any belief about the Flood or Exodus, but because I believed, prior to becoming a Christian, that human beings are in need of salvation and cannot save themselves. Christianity is the only religion, and only worldview, which echoed and took this realization further. Empiricism has always worked to reinforce this core Christian understanding.

In summary, what do we have? God of the Gaps reasoning, the Argument from Evil, discomfort with the notion of Hell, confusing consensus with truth, a weird personal taste about how many stars should exist, a nonsense question usually asked by adolescents, more God of the Gaps reasoning, and a demand that the first chapters of Genesis are the only ones that matter and must be literally true.

That’s pathetically weak. Maybe that explains why Coyne so strongly censors his blog to keep out the dissenting voices.

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5 Responses to Taking 10 minutes from a busy day to knock down New Atheism arguments

  1. TFBW says:

    To be fair, these are not arguments for New Atheism. They are “Professor Ceiling Cat’s evidence for Not Ceiling Cat,” and should be understood as having all the intellectual gravity that implies. I mean, if you took them as arguments in support of atheism, you might note that none of them actually support the idea that there is/are no God/gods. At best, they are flippant pot shots against William Lane Craig’s specific vision of God, mostly by implying that God is a meanie rather than non-existent — although by argument #4, Craig’s specific version of God is almost certainly false simply because it faces so much competition from alternative hypotheses. Genius.

    Let’s give Coyne’s argument all the analysis it deserves by applying argument #4 against the atheist position. Different people have conflicting claims about the number and nature of gods. At most only one of those claims can be right, and if one is, it’s probably not Coyne’s. I mean, think about it: there are an infinite number of possible gods, existing in an infinite number of possible combinations. Exactly one of those combinations involves precisely zero gods, so the chances that there are no gods is infinity to one against. Some kind of theism is therefore almost certainly true. Atheists are therefore bonkers irrational.

    Of course, this argument is a load of rancid tripe, but you know where I got it from. All I’ve done is add a little rigour to the stupid, and point it back the other way. I have a new nickname for the man, based on the form of his arguments: “Jeery Coyne”.

  2. The original Mr. X says:

    “Remember that for Coyne, and so many other New Atheists, “evidence” = a Gap. That is, Coyne is essentially arguing since there are no Gaps that must be explained by God, God must not exist. This is standard God-of-the-Gaps Atheism. I’d respond to it, but first we need the New Atheists to come clean on their god-the-the-gap reasoning and tell us whether or not they consider it to be a valid approach to reality.”

    Quite so. Perhaps also worth mentioning that when presented with an actual gap, the average Gnu will just laugh at such reasoning as obviously pseudoscientific and unworthy of serious consideration.

    “The existence of Hell, in which Craig believes, absolutely violates any conception of a loving God. No such God would consign people to eternal flames for trivial crimes like asking for evidence.”

    I don’t think any mainstream religion says that people go to Hell for “trivial crimes like asking for evidence”. (In fact, didn’t Jesus supposedly give people quite a bit of evidence, in the form of all those miracles He performed?) Plus of course, in Christianity at least (with the exception of Calvinist-style predestination, but that’s always been a minority view), it’s not that God “consign[s] people to eternal flames”, but rather that God freely offers us the chance of salvation, but mankind if so stubborn and self-willed that many of us refuse to accept that offer. Criticising God for putting people in Hell is like falling into debt, refusing your friend’s offer of money to help you out, and then blaming your friend when you go bankrupt and your house gets repossessed.

    “If there is a Hell, then God is evil.”

    And if God is evil, then atheism’s still untrue.

    “Different religions give different truths. At most only one of them can be right, and if one is, it’s probably not Craig’s.”

    If we assume that each religion is equally likely to be true, this argument might make sense. However, there seems no reason to make such an assumption, and some very good reasons not to.

    “5. The universe is full of superfluous stars and planets on which there’s no life. Why? Even the laws of physics could have been altered to allow the existence of only one galaxy—ours—without screwing up everything else.”

    I seem to recall Christopher Hitchens saying something similar. This didn’t stop him from calling the mediaeval conception of the universe “cramped” and “poky”. Once again we see a prominent gnu atheist moving the goalposts when it comes to arguing religion.

    “Saying that “God’s will is unknown” is no answer, for if you play that card, you lay yourself open to having to explain how you then know God is loving, all-powerful, wise, a disembodied mind, etc., etc. Further, the earth will be toast in another few billion years. Is that part of God’s plan, too? Theists have no explanation for things like that.”

    Again, many gnu atheists call this a cop-out, but criticise theists who make truth claims about God (“Oh, so you’re telling us that God has made known to you personally what He thinks about X? The arrogance!”). Yet more moving of goalposts.

    “Who made God?”

    I dunno, Professor Coyne. What did the first evolved organism evolve from?

    “Secularism provides the best explanation for the idea of God, for we have ample reason to think (and in fact have often witnessed) that gods are created by the human mind.”

    Secularism is a way of handling Church-State relations, not something intended to explain the idea of God. Incidentally, gnu atheists normally get pretty annoyed when people conflate secularism with atheism, but I suppose fellow cultists have more licence when it comes to such matters.

    “7. Scientific studies looking for God’s actions always fail. These include investigations of miracles like the weeping Jesus in India (sewer water), the Shroud of Turin (forged) and the “cures” at Lourdes (no regrown limbs or eyes)—not to mention several failed studies of intercessory prayer.”

    I can’t comment on the weeping Jesus miracle, but the Shroud of Turin isn’t as open-and-shut as Prof. Coyne seems to think. As for the miracles thing, I don’t see how science could prove or disprove the matter one way or the other. At most, it could say either “This seeming miracle actually had natural causes” (which doesn’t tell us about miracle in general), or “We can’t discover any natural cause for this seeming miracle” (which doesn’t mean that there isn’t one).

    “8. Science continually contradicts God’s word, thus continually casting doubt on God himself. A hundred years ago, Craig would be have been preaching the literal truths of Genesis, Adam and Eve, the Great Flood, the Exodus, and so on. Now science shows that those ideas are wrong. Rather than take the parsimonious view that the Bible is a work of fiction, which is being whittled away completely by empiricism, theologians like Craig cry “it’s largely a metaphor.” Unlike scientists, they accept no evidence against the God hypothesis, but simply wriggle like eels, defending the view to which they were committed in the first place. This is not theology but confirmation bias.”

    The idea that the literal reading of a text is the most natural and/or obvious, and that interpreting something metaphorically represents some kind of retreat, is one which the writers of the Bible — as well as pretty much anyone else living before the nineteenth century — would have regarded as obviously absurd. Somebody really ought to tell Coyne that reading a metaphorical text as a metaphor isn’t “wriggling”, it’s just not being an idiot.

    (Incidentally, the very term “literal” originally just meant “true”, and a “literal reading” of a text could be literal (modern sense) or metaphorical, depending on the type of text. St. Augustine’s On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, for example, argues for what would nowadays be considered a non-literal reading of the book in question.)

  3. Matt says:

    Premise 1. The Christian God, if it existed in reality, would answer prayers as described the the Bible.

    Premise 2. In reality, prayers are not answered (as described the Bible or likely any other ‘sacred text’)

    Conclusion: The Christian God does not exist in reality.

    So God is not a ‘magic genie’. Do you think amputees don’t pray for themselves? Nothing is impossible with your God, according to the Bible, why does this God then only answer prayers in such a way to be totally indistinguishable from pure chance?! That is categorically not what is described in the Bible, not even close.

    That’s the only argument required really, and understanding that it is correct will save you so much wasted time and effort. Prayer is ineffective, if it weren’t we’d have noticed in the last couple thousand years.

  4. Doug says:

    I noticed. So did the subjects of these books. So your Premise 1 fails. Have you spent any time actually considering the prayers in the Bible, answered or otherwise? As Pascal wrote:

    there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.

  5. Doug says:

    (sorry: meant “Premise 2”)

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