This Is How You Don’t Do It

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about God. In particular, I love to wrestle with the traditional arguments for his existence (cosmological, teleological, moral, transcendental, ontological…well, all right, not the ontological one; Anselm can go to hell) and their atheistic counterparts (in particular the problem of evil). Regardless of where you fall on the theistic spectrum, this are of the philosophy of religion is fascinating and, if you come at it from the right direction, can be lots of fun. I even enjoy attempting to strengthen arguments for God, essentially challenging my own atheism at the same time. Occasionally, however, I come across someone who tries does the same thing in such a spectacularly awful way that it just sucks all of the enjoyment right out of it. When people say that there are no good arguments for God, they’re probably thinking of something like the following.

1. Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.

Many examples showing God’s design could be given, possibly with no end. But here are a few:

The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.3 Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.

And our moon is the perfect size and distance from the Earth for its gravitational pull. The moon creates important ocean tides and movement so ocean waters do not stagnate, and yet our massive oceans are restrained from spilling over across the continents.4

[…]

4. Does God exist? To state with certainty that there is no God, a person has to ignore the passion of an enormously vast number of people who are convinced that there is a God.

This is not to say that if enough people believe something it is therefore true. Scientists, for example, have discovered new truths about the universe which overruled previous conclusions. But as science has progressed, no scientific discovery has countered the numerical likelihood of an intelligent mind being behind it all. In fact, the more science discovers about human life and the universe, the more complex and precisely designed we realize these to be. Rather than pointing away from God, evidence mounts further toward an intelligent source. But objective evidence is not all.

There is a much larger issue. Throughout history, billions of people in the world have attested to their firm, core convictions about God’s existence — arrived at from their subjective, personal relationship with God. Millions today could give detailed account of their experience with God. They would point to answered prayer and specific, amazing ways God has met their needs, and guided them through important personal decisions. They would offer, not only a description of their beliefs, but detailed reports of God’s actions in their lives. Many are sure that a loving God exists and has shown himself to be faithful to them. If you are a skeptic, can you say with certainty: “I am absolutely right and they all are wrong about God”? (Source)

Argh.

Aaaarrgh.

Marilyn Adamson, you’re doing it wrong.

That first one is possibly the worst design argument there is. Despite what a lot of people think, there are in fact teleological arguments that don’t have particularly convincing responses – sure, even those arguments themselves aren’t the best to begin with, but they’re still valid and they’re very much a legitimate challenge to atheists.

The one here is just pure crap, though. Imagine a universe with a single planet orbiting a single sun, inhabited by a species very much like human beings. It would be quite a remarkable coincidence if the only planet in the entire universe was capable of supporting intelligent life, wouldn’t it? Now compare that to our universe, which contains billions of stars and planets. We find ourselves on Earth, a planet that ‘just happens’ to be suited to our kind of life. What’s the difference between the two? In the former universe, there was only one potential area for life to develop. Assuming that the single planet’s conditions were not designed in any way, it seems highly unlikely that it would within it’s star’s habitable zone and contain liquid water. In our universe, however, there are most like an enormous amount of planets. As Richard Dawkins put it (and I’m paraphrasing here), the sheer size of the universe means that if the odds of life developing are a billion to one, it will still happen a billion times.

The second argument manages to combine stupidity with a profound misunderstanding of what most atheists actually believe. The near-ubiquity of religious practice is fascinating and, arguably, still unexplained. Yet it does not constitute a strong argument for God’s existence, just as the near-ubiquity of belief in magic and other supernatural powers does not mean that they actually exist. I’m also curious about Adamson’s insistence that skeptics claim to be absolutely certain that God doesn’t exist; if you know anybody who actually believes this, point me in their direction so I can slap them.

Depressingly, a Google search for ‘Marilyn Adamson’ reveals that this thing has been posted all over the internet. Theists, you do yourselves a major disservice by giving people the impression that this is the best you have to offer.

(For a more thorough reply to Adamson’s essay, click here.)

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4 Responses to “This Is How You Don’t Do It”


  1. 1 James Skemp January 14, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Hi Waffle,

    This was posted all over the University when I first saw and responded to it.

    I too was amazed at how many people pointed to this, but … yikes.

    Dead-on regarding the single world versus multiple; that’s actually new to me.

    Thanks for the mention,

    ~James

  2. 2 augustine January 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    No problem, it’s always good to link other blogs. However, my username is actually ‘augustine’ – ‘waffle’ is the category I put all my posts in (to imply that I am ‘waffling’, or talking crap). You’re the second person to make that mistake, which means I should probably rethink using that as a category…or change my username to ‘waffle’, I guess that could work too!

  3. 3 James Skemp January 15, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Okay, I see that if I hover over waffle – category. I thought that was a weird name, but I didn’t see anything else, and, well … to each their own :D

    Out of curiousity, where is your actual name on the page (outside of your comment)?

    ~James

  4. 4 augustine January 15, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    I don’t think it shows up anywhere :/ Apart from my comments. Which is a downside to this otherwise attractive blog theme that I’m only noticing now…


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