Bad Religious Arguments, Part 1
After spending years and years in church programs and internet forums, you start to hear the same things over and over. Interestingly, there are lots of arguments and “evidence” for the existence of God that should only be convincing to naïve children, but are taken seriously by millions of seemingly-intelligent people. Let’s cover some of them.
The watchmaker analogy: Nothing makes me roll my eyes quite like someone beginning a sentence with “Imagine you are walking on a beach and come across a watch…” Well, the analogy doesn’t necessarily involve finding the watch abandoned in sand, but the essence is this: “When you see a complicated piece of machinery like a watch, you know that it was constructed by an intelligent designer; it didn’t get assembled randomly. Similarly, if you see complicated things such as organisms, you can tell that they were designed and created as well.” The idea behind the argument is to conclude that a creator exists by process of elimination. Obviously, it’s astronomically improbable that a working mechanical device like a watch could be created by random or natural processes. The same skeptical view is then applied to biological entities. Of course, I see a number of things wrong with this analogy. First, a watch is not alive. Certainly, metal pieces cannot come together in a timepiece and start ticking, but once there is even a very simple form of life, evolution can bring it to higher levels of complexity over time. Second, the analogy does not apply because we are already clearly aware that watchmakers exist and how they make watches; we do not have such knowledge about the existence of God or the origin of life. Third, the “designs” of living things are not consistent with the concept of a perfect God; many species have useless organs and continually change through natural selection. Fourth, an entity such as God is even more complex that humans and requires a designer as well, according to the analogy’s logic. I’m inclined to believe that the idea that human life appeared without a divine cause is at least as plausible as the idea that divine life just happens to exist.
The “You don’t know everything” argument: I usually hear this in the form of “Visualize that all possible knowledge in the universe is represented by a circle and everything you know is a shaded portion of the circle. I’ll be generous and say you have (something) percent of the circle covered. Since the knowledge of God’s existence may be in a part of the circle that is unknown to you, you cannot be certain that God doesn’t exist!” This is often accompanied by a statement that a reasonable person claiming to be an atheist must admit that he does not know for certain that God does not exist, but only claims that based on his limited knowledge. I don’t know why that part is included, since most atheists don’t claim they know for certain that God doesn’t exist, just that they do not have reason to believe such a thing. There are several problems with this argument as well. Its logic can be used to shed doubt on anything. “2+2=4? Gravity makes things fall? God exists? But you only know 1% of everything! Maybe there’s something in the other 99% that proves you wrong!” In any case, my favorite reply to this argument is “So fill me in.” That is, tell me what part of the circle I’m missing. It should be easy enough. Most religious people think it’s so obvious that they’re right, so they shouldn’t act like the answer to God’s existence lies somewhere among random bits of information, but should go ahead and tell everyone the location of the proof.