Occam's Blog

An Old Post on Why I Think Theism is Irrational

with one comment

Note: I posted this elsewhere a few years ago, and I’m posting it here to save it.

Consider the following argument.

  1. The belief that God exists needs to be supported by evidence to be rational.
  2. The belief that God exists is not supported by evidence.
  3. Therefore, the belief that God exists is not rational.

The conclusion follows deductively from the premises, so the question is whether the premises are true. Both premises of this argument are controversial in philosophy of religion.

Premise 1 is primarily denied by Reformed epistemologists like Alvin Plantinga. I have read a number of Plantinga’s books, and I don’t find his arguments convincing. However, Plantinga has gone through multiple phases in his intellectual development and it would take considerable space to address all of these phases convincingly. Instead, I’ll just list a couple of general considerations and let people ask questions.

First, the belief that God exists is not comparable to beliefs like belief in the external world or belief in other minds, because a sane, informed person can seriously deny that God exists and not that the external world or other minds exist. Even people who believe that the external world or other minds don’t exist have to assume that they do exist in order to put forward their arguments.

Second, we do have some evidence that the external world or other minds exist, even if this can’t be put in the form of a deductive argument for the conclusion that an external world and other minds exist. We observe the external world, and we see other people move in ways that suggest that they are conscious. Plantinga does claim that we have this sort of evidence for God’s existence as well through religious experience and the like, but it seems unlikely that religious experience could sufficiently ground a large scale cosmological hypothesis.

Premise 2 would require a lot of analysis to establish convincingly. What one would have to do would be to choose a dozen or so of the most prominent arguments for God’s existence, then analyze each of them in depth to show that they do not support the claim that God exists. However, this has been done by atheists like Michael Martin in his book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and Herman Philipse in his book God in the Age of Science?, and I cannot repeat their whole analysis here. Again, what I will do is offer up some general considerations and let people ask questions.

There are a number of versions of the problem of evil that cast doubt on any attempt to establish the God hypothesis. Here are a few examples.

  • The problem of animal suffering argues that God would not allow animals to suffer so horribly over the course of millions of years of evolution. We would expect a loving, omnipotent, omniscient God to avert these millions of years of suffering if at all possible, so the fact that we do observe that these millions of years of suffering have happened seems to count against the God hypothesis.
  • The problem of divine hiddenness argues that people who seek God honestly should always find him if God is loving and wants to establish a relationship with everyone, but they do not, so divine hiddenness seems to count against the God hypothesis. This has been developed in more detail by J. L. Schellenberg.
  • The problem of horrendous suffering argues that particularly horrific cases of suffering count against the existence of God. For example, suppose a man comes across a woman alone in the forest, cuts off her arms with an axe, rapes her, and leaves her to die. It seems like a loving, omnipotent, omniscient God would prevent this if we know anything at all about what is good or evil, but he does not, so horrific suffering seems to count against the God hypothesis.

Now, I recognize that these arguments may be objected to on the grounds that we cannot know for sure what God has good reasons to do or not do, since we are not omniscient like he is. I have two responses to this.

First, I am not offering these arguments from evil as attempts to disprove or provide evidence against the existence of God, but as attempts to provide observations that count against the God hypothesis in the sense of making the God hypothesis more difficult to establish. The real work here is being done by premise 1, which says that the believer needs to provide evidence for God, and these arguments from evil are really just attempts to make it harder for the believer to accomplish that.

Second, arguing that God might have reasons of which we are unaware for allowing apparently bad events creates a skepticism about whether we ever know what we have reason to do. If a man coming across a woman in the forest, cutting her arms off with an axe, raping her, and leaving her for dead can be overall a good thing, how can we say that we know that anything is ultimately good or bad?

So, I conclude that the belief that God exists is not rational on the basis of my initial argument. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments.


Written by William

August 14, 2017 at 1:35 pm

One Response

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  1. Each person becomes what they love–even if that something is self-serving, which it usually is unless the person strives diligently to overcome the self-serving nature. We are here to overcome that nature because it is automatically divisive. That nature has no place in a unified entity. Love binds, but the self-serving nature separates.

    We now have a purpose for Man. We are in this reality to experience the results of a world ruled by that nature–the prince of this world. We see it all around us–daily. That nature is the true enemy of Man.

    Even non-believers in GOD see the results of that nature and use such results to deny HIS existence. They see the consequences, but they are blind to the cause–the self-serving nature that lives within. That nature appears to be who we are; but, in Reality, he isn’t. He is a supplanter of HE we should be.

    Man’s Soul is not one life in the sense that a unified block of Fe is pure iron. Thousands or perhaps millions of lifestyles define Man’s Soul. Most of these lifestyles are bound together by Love with many, if not all, supported by unified foundational lifestyles. They begin as “living water”, which is unordered life. As we learn to do things in the outer reality, we order the living water into a lifestyle that defines the Way to accomplish those things. Once each of those things is accomplished to satisfy the desire that began the search for the Way, they become a lifestyle. That lifestyle then becomes a habit we use in the applicable situations as they occur.

    Now how can GOD accomplish the following?
    1. Isolate the self-serving Soul of Man from the unity in which it is destined to live.
    2. Allow Man to have the knowledge of evil that doesn’t exist in “Heaven” while providing the means to choose and Love eternal things.

    The answer is to create a temporary reality that accomplishes HIS Purpose.

    When we see something we desire, the harder it is to obtain usually results in a stronger love for it after it is obtained. Of course, the self-serving nature is fickle and may change its mind; but someone truly seeking the principles and truths of eternal things will love them completely when found. They are not revealed to the self-serving nature—although that nature desires them desperately. They must be lived, and that is impossible for that nature.

    The Bible’s purpose is not to be a rulebook. Its purpose is to teach us about ourselves and how we mature into eternal Souls.

    It begins by telling us how we are in GOD’s Image.

    Video: How is Man in GOD’s Image: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6odS9k6uDeDLWQ4YkJ0MHNNWU0/view

    Anyone who understands that image will also understand fully verses Genesis 3:19, “from dust to dust”, as well as 3:16 “he shall rule over thee”.

    An atheist is someone who believes a spoon is intelligently designed and created; but a myriad of complicated, interdependent living organisms, with 1000s of synergistic internal systems that only function properly when complete, resulted through some unthinking random process called evolution.


    August 15, 2017 at 12:08 pm

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