Straw Man Arguments Against Atheism (Continued)

I can never find the really good examples of stuff like straw man arguments when I’m looking for them. Since I’ve already spent so much time talking about straw man arguments and the rather aggravating habit of some Christians to try to tell atheists what atheism is, I’d feel like I really left something out if I didn’t post the gem I ran across today (via Atomic Mutant’s takedown).

See, I wanted to talk about about how some Christians actually go so far as to redefine atheism so that atheists can’t even exist! Surely there is no better example to use to prove that there is a problem here. Even most people who make straw atheist arguments accept that some atheists exist. Some people do put forward a narrower definition of atheism that excludes some of the atheists they have a harder time arguing against (e.g. defining atheism as gnostic atheism and ignoring the agnostic atheists). Most of them don’t make that definition so narrow that it couldn’t include anyone. But there are a few people who do. Like this guy:

Logically, it is impossible for a person to be an atheist! Why? Because to say there is no invisible God anywhere is to imply you have looked everywhere in the universe where God could possibly be and examined all possible ways the infinite invisible God could leave evidence behind of his own existence. Since these are both impossibilities for any person, then God might exist after all, even though such a disbelieving person has never seen him.

Let’s see how this argument holds up if we try to apply it to another unlikely being whose existence is contested:

Logically, it is impossible for a person to be a disbeliever in the Loch Ness monster! Why? Because to say there is no Loch Ness monster anywhere is to imply you have looked everywhere in the universe where the Loch Ness monster could possibly be and examined all possible ways the Loch Ness Monster could leave evidence behind of his own existence. Since these are both impossibilities for any person, then the Loch Ness monster might exist after all, even though such a disbelieving person has never seen him.

Except, oh wait, that isn’t what we mean when we say the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist! Guess what? That’s not what we mean when we say no gods exist, either!

The rest of their post is, frankly, one of the worst arguments for the existence of God that I have ever seen, and I’ve seen lots of bad arguments for the existence of God. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, though. If their answer to atheism is to argue that atheists don’t exist by redefining atheism, then why should I expect any of their other arguments to be any good?

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7 thoughts on “Straw Man Arguments Against Atheism (Continued)

  1. The other problem with his argument is that it goes against the claims of believers. They say god is everywhere acting in human affairs, so all a person must do is to look around for the said evidence and if it isn’t there, why assume it is anywhere else?

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    • Indeed. If you’re talking about the deist god, or some other god who doesn’t take an active part in the development of humanity, you might be able to use the “but you haven’t looked under every rock!” argument to say that your god might exist. But if you’re talking about a god who does miracles? Who isn’t above party tricks like turning water into wine? Then it looks pretty silly when there isn’t any evidence for these claims, and you’re still using arguments like “but you can’t look in every nook and cranny!” to defend your position.

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      • I don’t see why you exempt the deist god from this muddle. To see the extent of the problem, ask a deist to describe to you her conception of god. Then and only then can you say maybe there is a rock we haven’t looked but a god who heals the sick! why look for such under a rock? He should be in hospitals healing people not under rocks looking for beetles

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      • As I understand it, the deist god is one who created the world, and then left it entirely to its own devices, with no interference. Mostly, I’m just using the deist god as an example of a concept of god that isn’t falsifiable, explains nothing useful, and makes no predicitions. We might not be able to disprove the existence of such a god, but neither can we disprove the existence of an invisible, intangible pink unicorn who has no direct effect on the word. In either case, the argument that such a being might exist (and since the idea is put forward in a way that’s unfalsifiable, we would never be able to tell one way or the other) is technically sound, but that isn’t any reason to believe that such a being does exist.

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  2. As I understand it, the deist god is one who created the world, and then left it entirely to its own devices, with no interference.

    And herein lies the problem. The question is what is the deist’s conception of god? To talk of a god who created the universe leads you to two problems: to explain what god is and why the universe needs a creator and to at least be able to demonstrate the difference between an uncreated universe and a created one. I agree that such a proposition isn’t falsifiable but we still have a difficulty in understanding what god is.

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    • I think of the deist god like this:

      Take any argument that the universe must have been created. Assume that argument is correct. Then, label whatever did the creating as “god”.

      And… yea. Pretty difficult to understand what “god” is there. There’s almost nothing to work with.

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