Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 16:29:07 EST

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    I apologise for the delay.

    On Wed, 12 Jan 2000 14:44:08 -0600, Chris Cogan wrote:


    >SJ>...William Lane Craig....defined "atheism" as "the view which asserts
    >>that God does not exist"....Craig asked Zindler...: "What is the evidence
    >>that atheismis *true*?".....If atheism is to be accepted as true, then
    >>atheists must show that God *does not* exist.
    >>Zindler repeatedly tried to sidestep Craig's question, even trying to
    >>redefine atheism out of existence as effectively agnosticism...maybe
    >>...Chris ... would ...make the case for atheism by answering ...Craig's
    >>question: "What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?"

    >CC>Atheism, as such, is mere non-belief in a God (under typical definitions),
    >so the question, as Craig states it, is *mis-*stated (this is, I believe a
    >typical tactic of Craig's, though it has been some time since I bothered
    >with him, so I may have him confused with someone else).

    Disagree. One can not believe in something simply because one has never
    heard of it or thought seriously about it. People who simply have a non-
    belief in God (as opposed to those who believe there is no God, are non-
    theists, not a-theists.

    I am a case in point. I grew up in a non-Christian home and AFAIK never
    heard about God or if I did hear about God I never thought seriously
    about Him. I was then a non-theist. When I did start thinking about God in
    my early teens, I decided that God did not exist and became an atheist. On
    Chris' definition of atheist there was no change in my position from when I
    simply had a neutral no belief in God, to when I had a positive belief that
    there was no God.

    CC>However, as you indicate, there are other forms of atheism. Agnosticism is

    Disagree that "agnosticism" is a form of atheism (although the effect is
    similar). Webster's online dictioanry defines "agnostic" as inlcuding:
    "a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and
    prob. unknowable" (; and "atheism" as
    "a: disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity".

    Therefore, to argue that atheism is true, one would have to try to show the
    non-"existence of deity", ie. "that there is no deity".

    CC>Another is agnosticism with a *presumption* (not an actual claim) that
    >God does not exist. This form is the strongest form that does not implicitly
    >require some sort of argumentation. The stronger form is the claim that God
    >does not exist. This form, unless it is merely an overstatement of the
    >previous form, *does* make a "positive" claim about what exists or doesn't
    >exist. Therefore, it does involve a burden of proof.

    See above. If the claim is that "God does not exist" then this is *atheism"
    (there is no God), not "agnosticsm" (it is not known, or knowable, that
    there is a God).

    CC>But, the proofs vary according to specifics of the God defined. Some Gods
    >can be dispatched with a simple argument from evil,

    As Craig pointed out in his debate with Zindler, the "argument from evil"
    presupposes that there is "evil". He pointed out that the existence of
    evil in turn presupposed objective moral values, which Mackie, on of
    the world's leading atheist philosophers admitted could not be admitted
    to exist without providing a powerful Moral Argument for the existence
    of God!

    CC>others by arguments from
    >internal contradictions implied by the definitions,

    No such "internal contradictions" have been shown to exist within theism
    and infact neither Zindler (or Chris BTW) stated any.

    CC>still others by the
    >ultimate meaningless of the definitions (that is, they sound like
    >definitions, but, upon closer examination, are seen to be incoherent, or
    >free of specific concrete by reference to which it might be said what they
    >actually might be), and so on.

    Again Chris does not state what these alleged "meaningless" and "incoherent"
    "definitions" are!

    In any event, even if it *was* diffucult for theists to formulate a totally
    bulletproof argument for God's existence, so what? There are no totally
    bulletproof arguments in *anything*, including science, especially as it
    gets closer to ultimate reality.

    But as I said in my post, "Craig pointed out that it was not
    good enough for Zindler to argue that there is not enough evidence to prove
    that God *does* exist. If atheism is to be accepted as true, then atheists
    must show that God *does not* exist".

    Chris, like Zindler, has presented no arguments for why atheism is *true*,
    ie. that theer is no God.

    CC>I have yet to see a strong variant of the Christian God that is not
    >logically contradictory or defined in such a way as to be meaningless.

    See above. Chris needs to shows that atheism is *true* (ie. there is no
    God), not only that Christianity may have problems with its definitions.

    CC>But, there is a fundamental problem with nearly *all* variants. It is this:
    >The God is alleged to be *the* primary existing thing, and to be in "total"
    >power over what exists. Yet, this God must be made of something, of some
    >sort of substance (or "substance" if literal substance is too strong). This
    >substance must have a metaphysical status of its own, or it cannot be said
    >*really* to exist except as a contingent attribute of, state of, process in,
    >or thing made of, something else (and that something else would then be the
    >*real* primary existent substance -- or at least one step closer to being
    >the primary existent substance).

    It seems to me that Chris' basic fallacy above is assuming that God's
    "substance must have a metaphysical status of its own" and that it is
    "contingent". The Christian claim is that God is *necessary* not

    CC>But, *whatever* God is made of, *it* is metaphysically prior to *Him* (if
    >not also *temporally* prior to Him). He did not create it. He did not create
    >Himself. But, if this basic substance is primary, then God is not really
    >God, at least by some definitions, because it is what He is made of that is
    >metaphysically primary, not He Himself.

    Chris' fallacy is assuming a distinction between God's person and his
    substance. The Christian claim would be that *both* God's person and his
    substance are *eternal* and therefore it is meaningless to claim that God's
    substance was "metaphysically prior" to His person.

    CC>This disproves the existence of a
    >certain type of God, but the difference between this type of God and
    >standard types is too small to be significant, at least in this context
    >(though, oddly, it has implications for theistic morality).

    Actually Chris has not even disproved the existence of that "certain type of
    God". He set up one definition of God and played it off another defintion
    of God! If someone believed in a god whose substance was metaphysically
    prior to his person, then they would not agree that Chris has disproved
    their God.

    Chris needs to disprove the existence of *God* (e.g. the *Christian* God),
    not just play one defintion of God off against another.

    CC>Clearly, as a "perfect" being (such are the allegations, anyway), God must
    >be the epitome of perfect order and structure for such a being. There cannot
    >be, in God, the kinds of "design" flaws that we find throughout ordinary
    >living organisms. He must be a *perfect* example of form following function,

    This is a fallacy. It envisages God as some sort of perfect big machine
    which must by necessity crank out perfect little machines.

    But the Christian God is a *person* who can *choose* to create across a
    whole spectrum between imperfection and perfection. Even Genesis 1 says
    that God created only "good" and as a whole "very good". But as Christian
    writers like Spanner have pointed out, this "very good" included wild
    animals and a natural world which man had to "subdue":

    "It is expressed in the mandate given to man in Genesis 1:28 which reads,
    'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have
    dominion...over every living thing...' This mandate thus charged man with
    `subduing' the earth. The Hebrew word for 'subdue' is kabas, and in all its
    other occurrences in Scripture (about twelve in all) it is used as a term
    indicating strong action in the face of opposition, enmity or evil. Thus, the
    land of Canaan was 'subdued' before Israel, though the Canaanites had
    chariots of iron; weapons of war are 'subdued', so are iniquities. The word
    is never used in a mild sense. It indicates, I believe, that Adam was sent
    into a world where all was not sweetness and light for in such a world what
    would there be to subdue? The animals, it suggests, included some that
    were wild and ferocious, and Adam was charged to exercise a genuinely
    civilizing role and to promote harmony among them. In fact, this function is
    set out very suggestively in Psalm 8, where man's Godlikeness, his strong
    delegated authority ('all things under his feet'), his encounter with
    opposition (`the enemy and the avenger' and the secret of success (the open
    celebration of God's glory, even by babes and infants) are the significant
    emphases. What man failed to do it fell to the lot of Jesus the Messiah to
    accomplish, and it is no surprise, therefore, to find this psalm referred to
    our Lord in the New Testament. All this seems to justify us in believing
    that man's role was designed to be a Messianic one." (Spanner D.C.,
    "Biblical Creation and the Theory of Evolution," 1987, p53).

    In any event, claims about "design flaws" are presuppose the critic knows
    what the design goals of the Designer was. For example, car manufacturers
    deliberately design in obsolescence. There is no reason why an Intelligent
    Designer should be obligated to build flawless designs, according to some
    abstract notion of what was perfect. Indeed, such flawless designs might
    not fit in with design goals of the ecosystem as a whole.

    Actually, I have recently posted on another List my speculation that the
    Christian God could not actually produce absoluetly pefect designs without
    logically contradicting Himself:

    If intelligent design only means things that are absolutely perfect, then
    nothing in this world is intelligent designed!

    Indeed, from a Christian perspective can an absolutely perfect God make
    anything else that was absolutely perfect? I doubt it as this would lead to
    similar logical contradictions as "can God make a rock so heavy He can't
    lift it?". Paradoxically therefore IMHO the Christian God *must* make
    imperfect designs, so it is no argument against the Christian Argument
    from Design that design is imperfect!

    CC>But, Houston, we have a problem. Such a God could not, obviously, have just
    >popped into existence by magic from nothing. Nor can we imagine such a thing
    >just always existing. Such a being would have to be *constructed*. It would
    >have to be *designed*. And yet, prior to its existence, there could not be,
    >by definition, *anything* to do the designing.

    As Chris has already said, the *Christian* God is "*the* primary existing
    thing" so to talk of Him having "popped into existence", or having "to be
    *constructed*", or having "to be *designed*", or "prior" to His "existence"
    existence is a category fallacy:

    "Furthermore, the question "What or who made God?" is a pointless
    category fallacy, like the question "What color is the note C?" The question
    "what made X?" can only be asked of Xs that are by definition makeable.
    But God, if he exists at all, is a necessary being, the uncreated Creator of
    all else. This definition is what theists mean by "God," even if it turns out
    that no God exists. Now, if that is what "God" means, that the question
    "What made God?" turns out to be "What made an entity, God, who is by
    definition unmakeable?" (Moreland J.P., ed., "The Creation Hypothesis",
    1994, p22)

    CC>No, we cannot argue that perhaps He *evolved*, because, prior to His
    >existence, there could not be *anything* to provide an environment in which
    >such beings could evolve.

    See above. In the case of the *Christian* God, there was *no* "prior to His

    CC>Let's see: He can't just pop into existence already fully formed. He can't
    >create Himself from nothing. He can't evolve. As a specific being, he can't
    >be metaphysically primary. He's clearly the product of *infinitely
    >intelligent design* but also absolutely without possibility of *being*
    >designed, because, by definition, there cannot be a prior existing thing to
    >do the designing (and who would therefore be the real God, in any case -- a
    >God just as in need of design as the one we started with).

    See above.

    CC>I suggests that this argument pretty well eliminates the possibility of any
    >true God existing. There are, of course, numerous ways to *try* to
    >resuscitate Him, but I don't know of any that come close to working.

    What "argument"? Chris needs to do a whole lot better than that if he
    wants to show that God (e.g. the *Christian God) does not exist!

    CC>Why does this work? It works because the "standard" concepts of God all
    >define Him (as the pronoun suggests) as some sort of mind. What I have done
    >is point out that, *whatever* He is, He must have a substantial basis of
    >some sort (or end up being metaphysically *identical* to perfect
    >nothingness) and that it is not possible that He either *always* existed
    >(i.e., infinitely) or that he merely popped into existence fully formed.
    >Logically, God *does* require a designer; we can't resort to naturalistic
    >explanations in this case, and we cannot logically just accept the existence
    >of such a perfectly constructed being as a logico/metaphysical primary (it
    >*requires* an explanation).

    Why exactly is it "not possible that He either *always* existed (i.e.,

    I thought I remember Chris claiming that the universe had always existed?

    Why should Chris think that the finite universe we are in should have
    always existed but deny that an infinite God could have always existed?

    CC>I believe all logically possible prospective ways of dealing with this
    >predicament either fail outright or lead into yet *worse* predicaments, or
    >lead into further iterations of the same predicament (i.e., designers
    >requiring even *more* perfect designers for their own existence, etc.).

    Chris' problem is in his starting point. His conclusions are wrong
    because his premises are wrong.

    Basically Chris has set up a straw man god that neither the Bible,
    historic Christian creed, or leading Christian philosopher believes

    Chris needs to show that God, particularly the *Christian God, does not
    exist. All Chris has done is show that a particular type of limited
    god does not exist (and I am not even sure he has done that!).

    CC>This line of argument, and the general incoherence of all mainstream
    >"concepts" of God lead me to the conclusion that, not only do we not know
    >that God exists, not only may we *presume* that He doesn't exist (until
    >Craig or someone comes up with a sound argument), but also that we know that
    >He does *not* exist.

    It seems to me that any "general incoherence" is in Chris' *understanding*
    of the Christian God!

    I note Chris did not quote from any Christian philosopher's statement
    about God and deal with that. All Chris has done is set up an Aunt
    Sally god an proceed to knock it down. And he hasn't even done a
    good job at that!

    CC>Of course, something like theism could still be salvaged by merely
    >redefining "God" to make Him a supreme being in a much less demanding sense
    >(one who evolved from earlier beings many trillion trillion trillion
    >universes ago, perhaps, and who is only *extremely* powerful, etc.). From
    >*our* point of view, we could not tell the difference (unless He told us, of
    >course), so nearly all of the alleged facts of Christianity could be saved
    >(along with the similar alleged facts of thousands of other religions). But,
    >somehow, I don't think religious folk are usually willing to settle for a
    >possible God if His power, etc., must be limited. They'd rather have their
    >current Gods, even though He can't possibly exist. That is, given the choice
    >between a logically possible God who doesn't quite measure up to their myths
    >and a God who measures up to their myths but who is logically impossible,
    >they will nearly always opt for the impossible God. Faith does not care much
    >about logic (to understate it considerably).

    From the quality of Chris' arguments some (even non-Christians on this List)
    might think rather that *lack* of "Faith does not care much about logic"!

    CC>And yet, such a "lesser" God would be just as good for us, in objective
    >terms, as any God ever proposed. For example, he might provide us with souls
    >that are revived in something akin to Heaven, he might answer prayers, he
    >might appear in people's visions and carry on conversations with them, he
    >might smite the heathens such as myself, and so on. If he didn't let on, and
    >if people managed to avoid lines of argument such as mine above, he could
    >play the role of any variant of the Christian God without any human *ever*
    >detecting that he was not *truly* a supreme being in the sense Christianity
    >and other religions usually use.

    If Chris wants to believe in a "`lesser' God" that's OK, but then he
    should stop calling himself an "atheist".

    CC>So, a question arises: Given that we mere humans could never tell the
    >difference, it's obvious that, for explanatory purposes, such a "lesser" God
    >would be *exactly* as good as *the* (alleged) God, *why* do Christians (and
    >others) insist on a God that imposes an insuperable burden of proof, that is
    >*infinitely* more than is required by any known facts (even if we assume
    >that *some* sort of god is required), and so on?.

    My *greatest* God has not only created the universe and sustains it moment-
    by-moment (all 125 billion galaxies of it at last count), but He also has
    revealed Himself in history, culminating in Him entering space-time to
    died on the Cross for my sins, and He has given me (present tense) *eternal*
    life. Moreover, He is coming back soon to take me to be with Himself and
    to judge with perfect justcie every human being who has ever lived for *every*
    evil thought, word and deed they have every committed. Today about 200
    million people believe strongly in that *greatest* God, and another 1 billion
    people (at least) believe nominally in Him.

    Chris is welcome to his "`lesser' God"!

    CC>The answer I think is that such a God, though impossible, and though a
    >massive violation of the principle of Occam's Razor, and though generally
    >logically needless, is nevertheless more "religious." People like the idea
    >of an infinite being, an all-powerful being, an all-knowing being, etc. The
    >use of such descriptions gives the typical God an "aura" of being *the*
    >final answer to all questions, *the* ultimate basis in metaphysics, etc. It
    >gives people the *feeling* that they have finally "arrived," that no more
    >thought is needed. The use of such terms also gives people an excuse for the
    >apparent incoherence of the idea of God. Since, by His basic nature, He is
    >supposed to be "beyond" or "outside" of our natural world, we have an
    >instant excuse for the fuzziness of claiming the existence of something that
    >is a mind and yet existentially powerful, is immaterial and yet exists, etc.
    >It is a wonderful example of, and excuse for more of, what I call
    >"Rationalistic Claptrap" (the sort of fog-based "reason" of people like
    >Descartes and Plato).

    It isn't that "People like the idea of an infinite being, an all-powerful
    being, an all-knowing being", but that all people (including Chris) *know*
    deep down in theirn heart of hearts that that is what God *really* is.

    CC>In my next post, and directly relevant to the topic of this list, I will
    >propose a "micro-god," to account for the rich diversity of life on Earth as
    >we know it today. I will do this to point up both major flaws in ID theory
    >and to emphasize a point related to Occam's Razor in relation to evolution.

    See above. Why should anyone even *bother* with Chris' proposal of "a
    `micro-god'"? If it was true it could be ignored and if it wasn't true
    it could be ignored!

    CC>But, for now, my answer to the question, "Is atheism (in the strong sense)
    >*true*?" is: "Yes. Standard Gods *cannot* be metaphysically primary *as*
    >Gods, and they *cannot* exist without either being designed or evolved, both
    >of which are definitionally excluded.".

    Chris has not shown that God (e.g. the *Chistian* God) does not exist. To
    do that he would at least have to quote from the *strongest* of Christan
    theistic arguments, e.g. Swinburne or Plantinga, and show them to be false.

    Just refuting his own Aunt Sally (and he didn't even manage that!) is
    simply not good enough!

    CC>The *evidence* that atheism is true is thus inherent in the very *idea* of
    >God (as normally defined). QED.

    And Chris has not presented *any* actual "evidence", in the form of quotes
    from leading theistic or atheistic philosophers!

    So I finish with William Lane Craig's question to Frank Zindler: "What is
    the evidence that atheism (ie. the claim that God *does not* exist) is

    Zindler just sidestepped that question and so has Chris. NQED!


    "So, the geological time scale and the basic facts of biological change over
    time are totally independent of evolutionary theory. It follows that the
    documentation of evolution does not depend on Darwinian theory or any
    other theory. Darwinian theory is just one of several biological mechanisms
    proposed to explain the evolution we observe to have happened." (Raup
    D.M., "Evolution and the Fossil Record", Science, Vol. 213, No. 4505, 17
    July 1981, p289).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

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