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Understanding (and Refuting) the Arguments for God
Skeptic Michael Shermer presents ten major arguments for the existence of God — and counters each one.
Michael Shermer has made a career of skepticism — he is the founder of Skeptic, for one — but in his 2000 book, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, he does not come across as the hardcore atheist you might expect. (He prefers "nontheist.") One can appreciate his honesty and integrity. In a media that both champions and lambasts the so-called "New Atheist" movement, Shermer says one thing: Show me the evidence.
Certain fundamentalists and atheists alike see the question of God as an either-or proposal, not content on the murky speculations presented by the other "side." As Shermer points out, what we consider "miraculous" simply means what we do not currently understand. In the books he investigates 10 arguments for the existence of God. It should be noted that he does not question whether religion is right or wrong; he merely looks at these arguments from a reasonable standpoint.
1. / 2. Prime Mover/First Cause: The first two arguments essentially state: Since everything is in constant motion, there must have been something that first moved everything. And that is God.
This argument results in an infinite regress. If God is the entirety of the universe, and everything in it must be moved, then something must have moved God. Rephrased, God either must be in the universe or is the universe. If God does not need to be caused, then not everything in the universe needs a cause. If everything does need a cause, then something caused God.
3. Possibility and Necessity Argument: Not everything is possible, for that admits the possibility that there could be nothing. If nothing once existed, the universe could not have come into existence. What exists of its own necessity is God.
Shermer borrows from Martin Gardner by stating that this is a "mysterian mystery" — the idea that nothing is unknowable is due to our minds being unable to process the thought of it. It is conceivable that nothing could exist; we just cannot imagine it.
4. The Perfectionist/Ontological Argument: This convoluted argument presented by an 11th century archbishop named St. Anselm boils down to: a) There must be a cause for our very being, goodness, and perfection, and b) Is it impossible to think of God as nonexistent.
As Shermer points out, if the first point were true, you would have to add the false, ignoble, and worst, all of which would also be God. This argument is not uncommon: God seems to be around when things go well, suddenly on leave when they do not. As for perfection, humans invented this concept. You can always think of something "better than," as in adding one to infinity. Finally, it is impossible to think of anything as nonexistent, since our thoughts are always on something that exists, has existed, or could potentially exist. This argument proves nothing.
5. The Design/Teleological Argument: The heart of the modern creationist model: Since things act for a reason, there must be a designer. Otherwise how could we explain the perfect symbiotic relationship between insects and flowers?
Shermer points out that there are many design flaws in nature, such as the hind legs of a python and a whale’s flipper. I’ll add the human neck, which from a structural standpoint is not up to par with the 14-pound weight of our heads, especially with all the gazing down at our phones. If God perfectly designed us, he would have foreseen the ridiculous amount of time we stare at devices; thus, our necks would be much sturdier.
6. The Miracles Argument: The miracles of the Bible and any after can only be explained by an intervention from God.
As stated above, a miracle is simply something we cannot explain. To imagine all the great works of literature written thanks to the human imagination, then to somehow think the Bible is a special edition where everything is true, is foolish. It is, like other books of its time and since, a work of fiction.
7. Pascal’s Wager Argument: The famous wager by French mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal: If we bet God does not exist and he does, we have everything to lose and gain nothing. If we believe, we have everything to win.
Obviously there is no proof in this argument. As Shermer points out, if believing implies going to church, attending services, and so forth, then there is much to lose: time. Also, what god are we talking about believing in? If not the Judeo-Christian God, you’d have a lot to lose as well.
8. The Mystical Experience Argument: Mystical experiences have existed throughout history in many cultures. They imply some sort of direct connection with the divine, usually in the form of "light" or a "feeling."
Shermer points out that the "visions" experienced in such encounters correlate with temporal lobe seizures or other neurochemical reactions. For myself, I have experienced a number of such "visions" on LSD, ayahuasca, and other substances. While emotionally and mentally profound, I see no reason to attribute chemistry to a creator.
9. Fideism, or the Credo Quia Consolans Argument: This is not an argument at all. Basically, it means you believe in God because it consoles you.
Many people believe in religion for exactly this reason. And yet, if beliefs are based on emotions rather than evidence, it negates the necessity of reason and science altogether. You can’t argue against this one as it’s not an argument, but it still does not hold up from a logical standpoint.
10. The Moral Argument: Alongside the creationist argument, this is the most popular: How can there be morals without God?
The notion that everyone would turn into robbers, rapists, and murderers if it were discovered there is no God is ludicrous. Morals are based on cultural upbringing and, to a degree, genetics. Likewise, if morals were the domain of God and He is omnipotent, then there is a flaw in His creation when humans do bad things. There is no sense in this argument; altruism and empathy are part of our evolution as social beings. Living in society helps us create morals for the betterment of the whole.
Image: St Salvator church, God. (Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images)
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.