Are there really “best arguments for God”?

I was going to post on a new paper about squirrel behavior, but Matthew has a nice post in line about fossils, so we’ll do that today. Squirrels can come later.  Right now I want to talk about an argument we atheists hear constantly. It goes something like this:

“You’re as bad as the fundamentalists you criticize; in fact, you atheists are like fundamentalists. You’re always going after strawmen caricatures of religion: those proffered by Biblical literalists. If you’re going to engage seriously with religion, you have to deal with its best arguments for God. Since you never do that, we needn’t take you seriously.”

When I first heard this, I took it seriously, and began reading about The Best Arguments for God. It turned out that “best” was really a synonym for “most nebulous”, or, sometimes, “those arguments for a God who can’t really be defined.” David Bentley Hart and his new book was often touted as one of the Best Arguments for God, but it turned out to be a distillation of what he saw as the common element in all religions’ concepts of God: a non-anthropomorphic Ground of Being who loves us and sustains everything by His ineffable presence. In other words, a Universal Force permeating everything, outside it all yet immanent in it all. Oh, and He’s—Hart apparently knew something about God’s genitals—”Love,” too.

Oy vey.

After a while, I realized what some of you have known for a long time: there are no best arguments for God, at least as theologians characterize them. What they mean by “best” are simply arguments, invariably couched in highfalutin academic prose, for a God about whom nothing can be said (although they seem to find plenty to say about it!). And I slowly realized that this characterization of “best arguments” arose not because religionists have gained more knowledge about God, but simply because their original concepts of god have been increasingly refuted by reason and lack of evidence. The most Sopisticated Theologians™ have thus retreated to a God Who Cannot Be Proven. It’s the “best” concept simply because it’s the least capable of refutation. In such a way theologians render their beliefs watertight, immune to evidence.

Then they pretend, as did the Eastern Orthodox priest Fr. Aidan Kimel, that this nebulous god is the historically consistent idea of God, one distorted by into an anthropomorphic and theistic God only in the 20th century. Well, that’s bullpuckey. I’ve read some of the early theologians, and while some of them see parts of the Bible metaphorically (but also, at the same time, literally), and have a less anthropomorphic God than some modern fundamentalists, they nevertheless were,by and large, Biblical literalists who simply pretended to divine what the Biblical stories meant. As far as I can tell, the going concept of God among early theologians was, by and large, that of a bodiless mind, some gaseous vertebrate who had desires, wished to promulgate a moral code, and did stuff.  And that is, historically, what believers thought as well.

It’s no accident that people like Aquinas thought that nonbelievers should be killed for heresy. If you can’t say anything about God, why should you be killed for not believing in him, or in the doctrines he supposedly promulgates?

The problems with the Best Argument for God argument are exemplified by Kimel. When I wrote a post (“An Eastern Orthodox priest says I know nothing of God“) criticizing his view that he (or rather St. Anthony the Great) had the correct notion of God, that of an emotionless being lacking feelings and an ability to be affected by humans, and that everybody else’s God was dead wrong, Kimel could not help but enter. He left the following two comments on my site before flouncing for good:

Fr Aidan Kimel

Like all bloggers I rejoice when my articles get cited and discussed on other blogs. We live for the traffic. So thanks, Jerry.

Now to the question of anthropomorphism and my quotation from St Anthony, one of the great ascetics of the Church. His insistence on the dispassionate and immutable nature of God is representative of the consensual tradition of both the patristic and medieval Church, both in East and West. This isn’t news. This is Theology 101. All you have to do is to pick up an older (pre-20th century) volume of dogmatic theology (whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or scholastic Protestant) and look under the locus devoted to the divine attributes, and you will see attributes like eternity, immutability, simplicity–each of which rule out the kind of anthropomorphism that concerns you. Or to put it in the language of St Thomas Aquinas, there ain’t no potentiality in the Godhead–God is pure Act.

The Eastern tradition (which was the dominant theological tradition in the Church during the 1st millennium) begins its theological reflection with the via negativa: we must first deny of God all creaturely characteristics before we can say anything positive about him. Or as St Dionysius puts it, God is Beyond Being.

You should know this, Jerry, and the only reason I can think that you do not is because you have restricted your theological reading to 20th century evangelical fundamentalists, who are imprisoned in their literalistic reading of the Scriptures. But evangelicalism is a post-Reformation, minority phenomenon and hardly representative of the wider Christian tradition. Until you acquaint yourself with real Christian theology, you will remain vulnerable to the charge that you don’t know what you are talking about.

I see you grew up in Arlington, Virginia. Did you by any chance attend Woodmont Elementary School. One of my classmates was Suzie Coyne. A relative of yours?

By the way, I never claimed that God didn’t have properties that transcended those of humans: eternity and the like. Kimel doesn’t know what “anthropomorphic” means: having some traits resembling those of humans. And I maintain that, historically, God did have some humanlike traits for both regular believers and theologians: emotions, beliefs, and desires. (And yes, “Suzie” was my sister.)

*****

Fr Aidan Kimel

Does it matter, whatever I were to write in response? Of course not. But if you really want to explore the question of apophatic/cataphatic theology and the nature of theological language I can certainly recommend books for you to read. I’d probably first point you to the Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas. For an outstanding presentation of Aquinas’s views on this question, see *Speaking the Incomprehensible God* by Gregory Rocca.

All I am saying is that if atheists wish to engage in SERIOUS debate about theism or Christianity, then they need to learn what ecumenical, mainstream, catholic Christianity really does believe and teach.

This is just commonsense. Before you can critique anything, you have to understand what it is you are going to critique. Otherwise, all you are doing is speaking out of ignorance. It’s easy to set up strawmen and then knock them down.

I’m not trying to convince you to believe in God, much less Christianity. I’m just asking you folks to stop caricaturing the Christian understanding of God. Is that too much to ask?

Daniel Dennett’s first rule: “You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, ‘Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.’”

That’s all I’m asking of you guys. Why is this an unreasonable expectation?

The refutation of all this is in the Bible, where God is clearly anthropomorphic: full of emotions, desires, and prescriptions: usually bad ones. He’s jealous, narcissistic, peremptory, and, in the case of Job, simply cruel, like a kid who burns ants with a magnifying glass. Is the Bible wrong about God? If so, Fr. Kimel, tell us how you know. And are you telling us that no theologian before the twentieth century thought of God as having emotions, or being affected by humans, or being susceptible to prayer?

In fact, this is a box we needn’t enter, for the whole idea of a Best Argument for God is specious. If you’re going to make one, you first must show that there is a God. It’s not self-evident, after all, and—just as we scientists must admit the logical possibility of a God—so religionists must admit the logical possibility of no God. The onus on someone making an existence claim is to support it with evidence. I can give evidence for evolution, or the Big Bang. If I were to posit that was once a pantheon of gods, as the ancient Greeks believed and the Hindus do now, and not just one god, there is no need to take that polytheism seriously without evidence. The same goes for monotheism.

You could make the Best Arguments for fairies as well as for God. I would tell Fr. Kimel that fairies live in my garden (why is it always garden fairies in these arguments?), and that they make the plants grow. He wouldn’t believe me, of course, because I can’t show him evidence. But then I’d pull out my hole card: that the fairies are simply ineffable plant spirits which one can’t see, but without them the plants can’t grow: they sustain the vegetation. They are the Ground of Garden. He still wouldn’t believe me: he’d say I was making it up. I’d then tell him that he was a Fairy Fundamentalist and that he hadn’t attacked the Best Argument for Fairies.

But I needn’t go on; you get the point. Before we have to address The Best Argument for God, people like Kimel have to adduce evidence that there is a God: some kind of supernatural being without which the universe would be very different. The burden is on them to show us that there is something to argue about. None of them do that—not Hart, not Kimel, not Plantinga. And so we needn’t take them seriously.

The best argument against The Best Argument for God is to adduce Hitchens’s Razor:

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

or its alternative, which I call Dawkins’s Corollary (see link above):

“The onus is on you to say why, the onus is not on the rest of us to say why not.”

In response to Kimel’s claim, “All I am saying is that if atheists wish to engage in SERIOUS debate about theism or Christianity, then they need to learn what ecumenical, mainstream, catholic Christianity really does believe and teach,” I would say this: “All I am saying is that if theists wish to engage in SERIOUS debate about the existence and nature of god, then they need to learn what science tells us about the use of reason and evidence to support existence claims.”

So here is my response to Fr. Kimel: “If you think there is a supernatural ‘being,’ first give me convincing evidence that it exists. And that evidence cannot be your personal revelation, or that of earlier theologians, but must be something that nearly all rational, objective, and skeptical observers would agree on. If you adduce Scripture as your evidence, then you’re also adducing the very kind of god you reject. Until you give me evidence as strong as that which I’d give you if you asked for evidence for evolution, I needn’t engage you or take your arguments for god seriously.”

Finally, why are theologians’ concepts of God more meaningful than the concepts accepted by regular believers? Seriously! What secret vein of knowledge can theologians tap that isn’t accessible to a religious layperson?

251 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      //

    • Filippo
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      sub

  2. John Hamill
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Omar Khayyam had theologians figured out a long time ago…

    And do you think that unto such as you;
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
    God gave the secret, and denied it me?–
    Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too.
    Omar Khayyam

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Bazinga!

    • rickflick
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      I see that Omar Khayyam was born in Iran in 1048. Does that mean there is hope for the middle east?

      • AdamK
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        It means there was hope for the middle east in 1048.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          Zing

          • Jo5ef
            Posted June 26, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

            Well, while we’re on the sublime Omar:

            “Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
            Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
            Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
            Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust”

  3. Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    ““All I am saying is that if atheists wish to engage in SERIOUS debate about theism or Christianity, then they need to learn what ecumenical, mainstream, catholic Christianity really does believe and teach,””

    Hmmm, I already know that, having been one of those Christians. You believe in a magical being that interacts with people, just like every other people who invented a god in their own image. The god gets more vague because you know that you have nothing to support your claims. You whine that anyone who says your claims are false isn’t “serious” enough. It comes down to insisting that your and only your god exists, the way you say it does, and everyone else’s god is nonsense. Why, it does seem that you are quite an atheist, sir. Congratulations.

  4. Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Highlights of this post:

    Jerry: “Oy vey”

    Fr. Dingus: “there ain’t no potentiality in the Godhead–God is pure Act.”

    [I LOVE claims like this. All that “acting” should be observable and testable in the natural world.]

    Fr. Dingus: “evangelicalism is a post-Reformation, minority phenomenon and hardly representative of the wider Christian tradition.”

    [No-no I’m not nutty and dogmatic like those people over there, usually accompanied by hand waving and the like. Oh and spoken like someone who never attended Catechism.]

    And finally a huge thanks for sharing the link on Aquinas. I’m going to get some mileage out of that one.

    • krzysztof1
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Does the good father mean that everything that happens “is” God? “Act” is what is, then. There may be other “acts” of which we are unaware–parallel universes, for example. But if that’s all there is, why call it God, unless you are a pantheist?

      But I suspect what’s really behind the statement “pure act” is “pure intent.” All theologians are teleogists first.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I don’t know what the good Fr. meant. Much of what he said is self contradictory. I can only guess. Certainly impersonal Deist versions of g*d a la Hobbes, et al, would not require holy text, church dogma, or ritualistic tradition. At most, an inspired awe of nature.
        His lips say no anthropomorphization, his church teachings say otherwise.
        As for g*d act vs potential, theologists can’t have it both ways there either. If miracles occur, prayers are answered, people have existential experiences they attribute to g*d, then they can be tested, measured. They must necessarily define the attributes of what they claim.
        I don’t know if teleolgy is as apt as magical thinking is:
        “Zusne and Jones (1989: 13) define magical thinking as the belief that

        (a) transfer of energy or information between physical systems may take place solely because of their similarity or contiguity in time and space, or (b) that one’s thought, words, or actions can achieve specific physical effects in a manner not governed by the principles of ordinary transmission of energy or information.”

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

          It seems to me that yet another contradiction in the cosmological argument is that the incarnation of Jesus is not pure act. Pure act is defined as zero potency; I.e., no potential to become something else. I don’t know what kind of mental contortions could justify that God becoming man as Jesus doesn’t fall into the potency category.

          Just another example of the cosmological argument refuting Chritianity. There’s simply no way to bridge the gap and it’s hard to say whether there’s even a way to justify anything beyond deism or pantheism if the argument is accepted. This effectively amounts to atheism in practice.

  5. Nathan Teegarden
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    subscribing in anticipation of the hilarious “best arguments” that theists will post in the comments.

  6. Jim Knight
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Jerry has “cut to the chase,” and laid it out on the line! This is the best, most succinct description of our situation and position that I have seen in a while…

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Agreed.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        I also agree. This was brilliant. Kudos to Professor Ceiling Cat!

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      And since the “best theological arguments” theme is like whack-a-mole, we need to file the link to this post for easy access when necessary, just as PZ’s Courtier’s Reply is utilized.

  7. flies01
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Before we have to address The Best Argument for God, people like Kimel have to adduce evidence that there is a God

    How is this different from saying, “Before we have to address your evidence for God, first you have to adduce evidence that there is a God?”

    • darrelle
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Not much. The difference is that arguments and evidence are two different things. Evidence is something you use to support your arguments. Or not.

      • AdamK
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        An explanation has to have something to explain. So far, theologians haven’t established that they are explaining anything at all, since the “theos” is not in any way observable.

        “As St. Dionysius put it, “God is Beyond Being.”” So “is” isn’t “is” in this very very special plea. The sophisticated-theological way to assert the existence of God is to redefine “existence.” (But just in this case.)

  8. Pete Moulton
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “What secret vein of knowledge can theologians tap that isn’t accessible to a religious layperson?”

    I have it on good–well, sorta good–authority that every graduate of any seminary receives a super-secret and very special thesaurus of obfuscations, and a copy of Aquinas’ little known gem, “If You Can’t Dazzle Them With Footwork, Baffle Them With Bullshit.”

  9. Rhetoric
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    No Adam and Eve, no original sin.
    No original sin, no Jesus.
    No Jesus, no Christianity.

    If Genesis is metaphor, then how do you discern what is metaphor and what is not?

    Shouldn’t we be worried about god having a massive mood swing again like he did between the Old and New Testaments?

    • darrelle
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I don’t think he had a massive mood swing, I think he just learned the value of deception. The NT seems, at first blush, to be much nicer, but if you pay attention it is arguably worse than the OT. Now you don’t just die, now you get an eternity of the worst agony that can be imagined.

      So sorry to see you suffering like that, all you had to do was completely submit yourself to me, and I did give you the freedom to choose so it’s your fault, not mine.

    • bobsgutarshop
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Perhaps we should welcome ssh a mood swing. Maybe this time god will turn into one of those people with a cooler full of beer at the beach who keeps handing out cold coronas to everybody. . . but probably not.

      I have an uncle who says atheism is invalid on the face off it because “we can’t know god and thus can’t prove god doesn’t exist.” To which I responded by referring to god in the feminine. WOW DID HE NOT LIKE THAT!!! Every time I would refer to god as “her” he’d get all frustrated and shout “GOD ID NOT A WOMAN!” and then I’d ask him . . . “how do you know?”

      See, there is just now way being a theist could ever be that much fun.

      • Marella
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

        It always amazes me how much people who say “we can’t know god” know about god! Karen Armstrong is one of my faves in this regard. Her great thick tome “History of God” is a very long winded way of saying we can know nothing of god, but she never stops telling us all about God.

  10. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I can’t imagine what must go on in the minds of people like Kimel or Plantinga. Since they reach for nebulous non-concepts like ground of being, they must know that’s a lack of any evidence undermines their positions.

    Their minds must be in a turmoil of conflict, unless they are just completely delusional.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Completely delusional.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Agreed, on the grounds that the simplest explanation is the one to consider first.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        A very useful concept, applicable here and in numerous other places, is this: “It is very hard to get a man to understand something when his whole paycheck relies on his not understanding it”.

    • bobsgutarshop
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Potential Undercard for an MMA or boxing match:

      “Kid” Kimel & “Pound ‘Em” Plantinga vs. The Biologos Bruisers in an all out no holds barred cognitive dissonance cage match!

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        hahahahahahahaha! Good one!

    • reasonshark
      Posted June 26, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

      What you have to remember is that theologians are like Romantics: thought is all very well, but emotion has the final say in the matter. They don’t merely think they’re right, but FEEL it in their very marrow (figuratively speaking, of course). It’s like hope: no matter how bad things get, it’ll work out in favour of god in the end.

  11. Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Well, let’s see: Here’s from the the Catholic Church in the USA, online catechism:

    By love, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided the definitive, superabundant answer to the questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life.

    69 God has revealed himself to man by gradually communicating his own mystery in deeds and in words.

    70 Beyond the witness to himself that God gives in created things, he manifested himself to our first parents, spoke to them and, after the fall, promised them salvation (cf. Gen 3:15) and offered them his covenant.

    71 God made an everlasting covenant with Noah and with all living beings (cf. Gen 9:16). It will remain in force as long as the world lasts.

    72 God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants. By the covenant God formed his people and revealed his law to them through Moses. Through the prophets, he prepared them to accept the salvation destined for all humanity.

    73 God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son, in whom he has established his covenant for ever. The Son is his Father’s definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him.

    And what they probably recite as a profession of faith, every Sunday:

    We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of all that is, seen and unseen.

    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial of one Being with the Father.

    Through him all things were made.

    For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

    On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

    With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.

    He has spoken through the Prophets.

    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

    We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    Seems pretty darned anthropomorphic to me. Their God does things; and does them like a person. And cares about what you eat and when and who you have sex with and when. And expects you remember him by ceremonially eating his blood and flesh.

    My favorite site for “proofs” of god is here.

    My favorite is Torquemada’s Proof:
    1. See that bonfire?
    2. Therefore God exists!

    • DV
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      The Francis Collins version:

      1. See that frozen waterfall?
      2. Therefore God exists.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        hehehehehe! 🙂

      • Darth Dog
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Actually it was way more complex than that.

        1) See those three waterfalls
        2) Therefore the Trinity exists

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Well done with the new wording, “consubstantial with the Father”! This, of course, was done a few years ago to more closely reflect the original wording that has been somewhat lost in translation.

      It’s funny how anytime one brings up these prayers and teachings that have been steadfast throughout the entire history of the Church, the Ground-of-Beingists declare that we’re straying off topic. “This discussion is about the best arguments for God, specific doctrines are another topic,” which is really just a debating trick used to attempt to score points. What is really maddening is that Hart, Kimel, Feser, Platinga, Haught and their ilk all like to lay claims to the “God of classical Christianity” but then refuse to discuss the testable attributes assigned to it. And, if you dare bring up the point that “consubstantial” means “of one being” and it logically contradicts the counterclaim that God can’t be said to exist in the way that a talking salad would exist, he is the Ground of Being, it’s dismissed as mystery, or we simply are reading the words but not understanding the meaning, or whatever other gambit suits the agenda.

    • lkr
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      “sitting” and “right hand” are the clinchers — pretty difficult for the gaseous invertebrates. And “ascending into heaven” suggests that all post-Ptolemaic astronomy should be put back on the Index.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 28, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        😀 The jellyfish thank you for their acknowledgement. Perhaps you can work out a deal with them so that they don’t sting you….especially the box jellyfish.

      • GBJames
        Posted June 28, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Jeeze, lkr! Those parts are just metaphors!

        • Posted June 28, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Metaphors for what? I’m serious, I’d like to know. It’s one of those questions I can never get them to answer directly. Instead, there’s some long-winded response involving metaphysics and advice to go read author X, Y, and Z.

          • Posted June 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            No joke.

            A perfect example is Luke 19:27: “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

            The apologists will instantly — and, correctly — point out that this comes from a parable.

            However…it’s a parable about Armageddon, and this refers to when Jesus himself will do exactly that: kill all those who reject him as part of the Day of Judgment.

            How Jesus telling a parable about the time he himself is going to kill all non-Christians in which the character that is a stand-in for himself tells his followers to kill all non-Christians is supposed to be something other than a commandment from Jesus to kill all non-Christians is utterly beyond me.

            But, yes, the words are, indeed from a parable. A very violent, bloody parable in which the point is that Christians are supposed to kill all non-Christians. But it’s a parable!

            Bah.

            b&

          • GBJames
            Posted June 28, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

            Damn. I forgot to use scarcasm tags again.

            • Posted June 28, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I got the sarcasm. I needed indirect question tags.

    • John K.
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      A variation on the “Look at the trees!” argument.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I rather liked

      Argument From Guitar Mastery:
      (1) Eric Clapton is God.
      (2) Therefore, God exists.

      Although I would call this a heresy against Robert Fripp.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        It’s a trinity! The Clapton, The Fripp, and The Hendrix. 🙂

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          And where does Robert Johnson fit in?

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

            Quite. And whence Django, Page, Gilmour and Blackmore? There’s more than just a trinity if we’re talking guitar gods, you pack o’ heretics.

            • Posted June 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

              An Olympic pantheon!

              Add May, Giltrap, …

              /@ (back home)

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

          Heretics, all of you.

          Julian Bream is of course the one true god.

          • Posted June 26, 2014 at 4:30 am | Permalink

            John Williams? Pepe Romero? David Russell (my current favorite)?

  12. Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I’ve read many, many arguments/”proofs” of god. I’ve condensed, simplified them to their barest premises and summarized them here:

    1. Popularity:
    a. People have always believed in gods, therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).
    b. All people at all times “felt the need” for god(s), therefore, like the other needs (hunger for food, thirst for moisture, lust for sex) the object of that need must exist, therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s)

    2. Utility:
    a. Belief in god(s) provide(s) comfort, social cohesion, social supports, moral compass, world view. Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).
    b. Morality: It is asserted that morality is provided by god(s). Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).

    3. Design:
    a. The life we see around us had to have been “designed” by god(s). Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).
    b. The universe is “designed” for human life by god(s). Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).

    4. Necessity:
    a. There has to be a god (or gods) that is the greatest thing imaginable. (ontological argument; Anselm)
    b. There has to be a god (or gods) that is the first cause. (cosmological argument; Aquinas)

    5. Personal experiences:
    a. I had this amazing “feeling of god(s)”, therefore god(s) exist(s).
    b. I have personally seen god(s) turn around lives, therefore god(s) exist(s). (Or god(s) turned my life around.)

    6. Science is unreliable:
    a. Science can’t explain everything, therefore god(s) had to have done the things we can’t (yet) explain. God(s) must exist to fill these knowledge gaps.
    b. Science makes assumptions about the universe (e.g. physical law continuity through time and space), therefore that’s faith, it’s the same as faith in god(s), therefore god(s) exist(s).

    Every argument I’ve seen advanced by any believer, mainly online encounters, has fallen easily into one of these categories. If someone has seen one that doesn’t, I’d like to know about it.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      I think you covered all the bases.

    • Somite
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      There are people hard at work to wring out the flimsiest possible argument for god. This is what passes for a reasonable argument among philos. Not for the faint of heart (or stomach)

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2012/06/13/the-best-argument-for-gods-existence-the-argument-from-moral-agency/

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        From the link:

        “I do not contend that the existence of moral agents is certain on theism; for example, a morally perfect God might, for all we know, create only moral patients rather than moral agents or create only moral agents that are not embodied. Nevertheless, there are reasons on theism that we do not have on naturalism to expect the existence of moral agents. For example, the fact that such beings have a distinctive sort of dignity or worth does not raise the probability of their existing on the assumption that naturalism is true, but does raise the probability of their existing on theism.”

        I honestly have no idea whatsoever what this means.

        • Somite
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          Yes. This type of argument relies a lot on obscurantism which doesn’t help the case for philosophy in general.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Is it considered philosophy or theology, though?

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

              …there’s a difference…?

              b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                😉

              • Tim Harris
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

                Yes, have a look at the writings of, say, Benjamin Williams, Philip Kitcher, Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, and then, perhaps, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, not to mention some of the Greeks…

                Sometimes getting an easy laugh is worth resisting.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          It means nothing, of course. Which makes it perfectly respectable theology.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          Yes: Theobabble. Spin up the word salad to 11, then claim your reader isn’t sophisticated enough to follow.

          “[N]o one who has something original or important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood; people who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief.”

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

            +1

            Remember who said it?

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

              Peter Medawar, The Hope of Progress, 1974

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Thanks.

        • Todd Steinlage
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          So glad you don’t know what it means, either 🙂 I sometimes feel like I have to wade through this crap, even though I don’t buy it from the first sentence; so everything that follows doesn’t make sense. Seems like word vomit to me.

          • Posted June 26, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            Seems like word vomit to me.

            The traditional phrasing is, “word salad,” but your take on it is rather more visceral….

            b&

        • reasonshark
          Posted June 26, 2014 at 12:49 am | Permalink

          Translation: Humans have souls, because I don’t give a shit about real people and just about imaginary pwecioush shpeshial shoulsh that magically make people worth not killing for my own amusement. Because I’m an ethical person, of course. Naturalism says souls don’t exist, therefore naturalism is wrong. Theism says souls exist, therefore theism is right. Therefore god exists.

        • Robin Brown
          Posted June 26, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          It seems to be saying that theism entails moral agency whereas naturalism doesn’t. To which the response is “so what”. A entails B doesn’t mean that B entails A. So this doesn’t say anything about whether moral agency entails theism.

    • wonderer
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      “Every argument I’ve seen advanced by any believer, mainly online encounters, has fallen easily into one of these categories. If someone has seen one that doesn’t, I’d like to know about it.”

      I think the moral argument might be outside your categories:

      1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

      2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

      3. Therefore, God exists.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Utility.

      • Chris
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        The argument from objective moral values is fairly popular among philosophers and others nowadays. It has the virtue of being tolerably clear, but there are good answers to it. (Not that it matters, define things as you like, but it’s odd to lump it with the other, quite different arguments, under the odd label utility.)

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          I think the Utility label is good. We need a system to help us interact appropriately. A tool. Theists claim god gave us this tool, or that the tool isn’t possible without god.

        • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

          It’s under utility because it is basically an argument from utility. We like morality. Morality (I claim) comes from God. We need God for this good thing. God exists.

          The current arguments just pull semantic slight of hand: Like becomes “endowed with” or “have a natural inclination towards.” but it’s really just “we like it.” And that comes down to: we recognize the utility of it.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Worth saving! And so clear–what a contrast to the other side’s obscurantism.

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Very good list and nicely succinct. Thanks for sharing it!

      This list does seem to cover all the bases when it comes to arguments for god. I think the list could be augmented with some of the reasons that people actually do believe in god, reasons that they don’t list as ‘arguments’, but which constitute the real reasons behind their belief. Chief among those are: indoctrination and fear (of death, of the uncertainties of life). I suppose indoctrination is related to #1, and fear is related to #2. And many people do gain very real comfort and faith affirmation from personal experiences, #5, (I can’t count how many times people have seen some random turn of events in their life that pleases them as evidence of a loving god, turning their brain off apparently to forget all the times things don’t work out). In any case, the actual reasons for belief are quite different from the arguments for belief.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Fully agreed. I think you have the reasons nailed as well: Fear of death and indoctrination being 1 and 2 (not sure which order).

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      1) This argument is no longer impressive, as the population of “nones” is up to maybe 20% of the population, and growing steadily.

      2) Non sequitur.

      3) See Darwin, Charles.

      4) See the Jesus and Mo cartoon about defining a beer into existence.

      5) See Raven’s comment: “All faith claims are just voices in someone’s head. Whatever you call them, they are unprovable and there are millions of voices in people’s heads…all saying different things.” When I’m in a less charitable mood, I ask them, “Why do you expect me to live my life according to your psychological proclivities?”

      6) God of the gaps.

      Tell them to come back when they have some more!

      “From the point of view of truth and evidence, faith is exactly the same as prejudice. Declaring an opinion to be a matter of faith provides it with no new evidential support, gives no new reason to think it true. It merely acknowledges that you have none.” Jamie Whyte, Crimes Against Logic

      • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        Exactly. When I get one of these tired old arguments from a believer, I show them this list, tell them where theirs is (“You are claiming 3.b”) and note that solid refutations are easily found online: Do your homework.

  13. Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Every proposed claim for the existence of D*g reduces at its core to one and only one lame argument: it’s presupposition, all the way down, baby. The True Believer would substitute “up” for “down”, of course; that heaven/hell idiocy, you know.

  14. Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    One of the basic beliefs of (at least) Xians and Muslims is that a particular set of thoughts (electro-chemical states in your brain neurons) has a causative effect on the real world.

    For example: Believe in Jesus and you will live forever.

    With that kind of metaphysics (your thoughts control the world (Deepakity anyone?)), then something like Anselm’s Ontological Argument would have force (for that person). They could believe that. It’s a small step from the other principle that they base their life upon.

    Likewise with personal experiences. And popularity.

    I’ve had many people pull out the, “Christians have held true to their beliefs and died for them for centuries. They have to be true. It would defy human nature otherwise.”

    I generally reply, first, you aren’t paying close enough attention to human behavior. And second: Why don;t you believe in Hinduism? It’s adherents have held true it, dies for it, for even longer than Xians! Q.E.D.: Hindusim is true, and Xianity isn’t!

  15. David Evans
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I think that last paragraph is weaker than the rest (which is very good):

    “What secret vein of knowledge can theologians tap that isn’t accessible to a religious layperson?”

    Similarly, if I wanted to argue that higher mathematics is all nonsense, I could ask

    “What secret vein of knowledge can mathematicians tap that isn’t accessible to a mathematical layperson?”

    None, of course. We believe mathematicians know something the rest of us don’t because they have thought long and hard about their subject, testing their arguments for consistency with each other and with their observations. Their knowledge is accessible to anyone with some ability for abstract thinking and the willingness to put in the work.

    It may be that the case of theology is different, but you can’t just assume it.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      You can check the calculations of the mathematician regardless of bias.

      How do you check theological god-claims?

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      No, I disagree with you here. For this is not a philosophical problem but an empirical one: what is God like, and what does he want? You can’t answer that simply by thinking long and hard about it–it’s a matter of evidence. And theolgians have no better access to evidence than do regular believers.

      Seriously, do you think that theologians have some access to information about the existence, nature, and desires of God that the less “sophisticated” layperson doesn’t have. If they do, then the knowledge about God should have advanced (and converged among religions) in the last 500 years or so. It hasn’t, and of course different religions, after all the lucubrations of their theologians, haven’t settled on common “truths.” So yes, I don’t see this question as being solvbed by “long and hard thought”. Mathematics is a logical discipline, not an empirical one.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        Yes, religions continue to splinter and proliferate, just like any other cultural meme. If they were onto something real, they would converge, as you said.

    • GBJames
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Much comes down to what we mean by thinking “long and hard”. In the case of Mathematics there is some directional and logically consistent consequence of the long, hard thinking and the thinking is ultimately grounded in observation (if I add an apple to the apple I have, I’ll have two apples).

      With Theology, not so much. Theologians study one another without the faintest grounding in reality for the object of their study. (As Dan Barker noted, it is a subject without an object.) It matters not a whit if you study nothing long and hard, you’ll just end the day with as much nothing as you began with.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        Nothing of substance perhaps, but there sure has been a whole lot of theology produced.

        Cracks me up how theologians quip incredulously about how anyone could believe that “something came from nothing,” when they and their ilk have produced such an enormous amount of . . . ., well, something, from precisely nothing.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          And they believe precisely that: Something came from nothing, was poofed into existence, when their God created it.

          It shows incredible lack of self-awareness and logical ability for a believer to accuse a person who accepts evolution of believing “something comes from nothing” (leaving the big bang out of it; although: Hawking.)

          • Tim Harris
            Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

            But why should there be ‘nothing’ anyway? The question as to why there should be something rather than nothing is ridiculous. Why should there be nothing rather than something? – that’s the question to throw back in these people’s faces.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Good point, darrelle.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      “What secret vein of knowledge can mathematicians tap that isn’t accessible to a mathematical layperson?”

      None — because it involves a progression from common ground. If you can understand numbers and arithmetic (1+1=2) then you have a concept of the basics. We all know what it is like to progress into mathematics, then continue till it is too hard. And we know what it is like to go beyond that point til it is harder still. The framework for a mathematician knowing things the layperson doesn’t know is not controversial.

      Theists are more likely to use the comparison between being blind and being able to see — with atheists being the “blind man who denies that sight exists.” A horrible analogy, since there are no blind people who deny that other people see. It’s just too obvious from other lines of evidence — such as someone behind you saying “watch out for the tree!”

      The progression from common ground which theists would like to use is one where people who believe in God are like people who love more deeply than others, appreciate art more, feel things at a more sensitive level or contemplate with more richness … with atheists like the second group which doesn’t. They get so frustrated when we fail to take the bait on that one.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I think it comes down to two points:

      1) Mathematics can be correct according to all the discovered rules (which at the fundamental level are easily backed empirically). Higher level mathematics may all be logically correct but have no bearing on reality, that’s why models that are mathematically correct are dismissed when empirical evidence is found that doesn’t support them.

      2) I would say the best arguments for God are grounded in logic and are at least internally consistent (which is not to say the best arguments are very good, they simply abstract things away to the point that they may fall under (1) above as a logical possibility, but not grounded in evidence). But the God most people care about, even the Sophisticated Theologians, is separately argued for in different ways that result in a contradiction somewhere. It’s like stating as a premise that 2 = 3, then stating that 3 * 3 = 9 and 2 * 2 = 4, therefore 9 = 4. All sound logic after the obviously wrong assumption that 2 = 3. The sophisticated arguments bury obvious contradictions and unproved assumptions much deeper, but the point is that for the argument to stand, the premises must have some evidence. I don’t care how many hundreds or thousands of logically consistent pages they write given unfounded premises.

  16. John Crisp
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    There’s a touch of the “Grand Inquisitor” in the arguments of all these theologians. The anthropomorphic God is the one that the “simple people” believe in. If you want to engage seriously, you need to engage with the ever retreating God whose definition/description becomes vaguer with every argument. Why not call him the primaeval vacuum from which all existence emerges? Oh, physics has already got there…

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      Here’s a good place to repeat this again:

      “You always attack the worst of religion and ignore the best. You go after rabble-rousing chancers like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, rather than sophisticated theologians like Tillich or Bonhoeffer who teach the sort of religion I believe in.”

      If only such subtle, nuanced religion predominated, the world would surely be a better place and I would have written a different book. The melancholy truth is that this kind of understated, decent, revisionist religion is numerically negligible. To the vast majority of believers around the world, religion all too closely resembles what you hear from the likes of Robertson, Falwell, or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or the Ayatollah Khomeini. These are not straw men, they are all too influential, and everybody in the modern world has to deal with them. (Richard Dawkins, answers to criticisms of the first edition, in the second edition of The God Delusion, page 15)

  17. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Genesis 1:27.

    “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;”

    But woe to the unsophisticated non-believer that might think this sounds rather anthropomorphic.

    After all the bible isn’t really Christian theology….

    I think I’ll start asking for evidence as a fundamental( gasp! ) entry point to discussions about Yahweh’s proposed attributes.

    There is no spoon.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Sounds rather polytheistic as well.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Depending on our feelings of grandeur we can relate.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted June 26, 2014 at 4:53 am | Permalink

        Maybe by ‘Our image’, J was speaking for all the previously existing animals rather than a collection of ‘gods’; that would come closer to explaining any properties of humans.
        Or, that plus naturalistic evolution…

    • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      Sophisticated Theologians™ have a patented Metaphor Detector, Model Revelation Thunder 666-ZXL (racing stripes option), that allows them to discern that all parts of the bible that, were they to publicly state that they believed them as written, would embarrass them, are in fact metaphor, while the parts essential to their dogma are actually true.

      Magic!

  18. Kevin
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I have yet to hear of a definition of god, good or bad. That makes any definition, by default, as good as any other.

    Steven Weinberg:

    “If you want to say that ‘God is energy,’ then you can find God in a lump of coal.”

    • colnago80
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Maybe god is the quantum vacuum.

      • sbridge
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        Is that you Deepak?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        Since all existence is derived from the ground of being and good coffee beans depend on the ground, Columbia must be the home of deity.

        Can I haz sophisticated theologian status now?

        • rickflick
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          Can you translate that into Latin?

    • John K.
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      There you have it. For us to take a god concept seriously it has to actually be defined. In the 3 step process of reasonable belief we are yet to enter step one, a coherent and testable idea. I won’t even entertain step 2, evidence, until the priors are met.

      I swear the entire providence of Sophisticated Theologians™ is to deliberately avoid a coherent definition and simply wait for the exasperated capitulation of their detractors to make their arguments from ignorance.

      Most normal folk just say the words to be part of the tribe and never bother to think all that much about what they actually say.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Well, unfortunately Christianity has a highly polymorphous/amorphous slippery concept of God. As Edmund Cohen observed, the Biblical God is not so much a blank but a blur.

  19. Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    This is what theologians and believers really believe but (generally, in polite company, when they wish to not be viewed are nutty) don’t want to admit. (Please see the cartoon at the link.)

    They believe in magic; but hate, as Sophisticated Believers™, to admit it.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Nice way of putting it.

  20. Sastra
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    “If you think there is a supernatural ‘being,’ first give me convincing evidence that it exists.”

    With all due respect, I don’t think this ought to be your first demand. As you’ve already discovered, the definition of God needs to be clarified. If this isn’t done at the start the theist can spin his or her wheels around and around and get nowhere while insisting that you’re the one staying still and they’ve whooshed right over your head.

    At the very least, it ought to be described in such a way that it can be told apart from Existence or Being which is in fact NOT God. After all, it’s perfectly coherent for an atheist to say that “When conceived of as a whole, Reality is a dispassionate and immutable (in that it cannot become non-reality) Ground of Being because God does not exist.” Any theist who whines that we atheists don’t understand God and trots this version out needs to carefully consider that a god which isn’t anthropomorphic at all is equivalent to atheism. We now understand God better than they do.

    At best, it should be formulated like a hypothesis. Good luck on that.

    Because the desire to understand the concept of God well enough to make it testable is what draws the scorn of the Sophisticated Theologians. That’s why they compare us to fundamentalists. Fundamentalists believe and say things about their religion which makes predictions in the world. The Creationists claim that if evolution happened, then God does not exist — so evolution didn’t happen. We atheists are fine with the idea of a grand, significant, crucial theory making a prediction.

    Theologians recognize that this way lies falsification. And THAT’S why they lump us in with the fundamentalists. Too much reality gets in the metaphysics.

    Their “proofs of God” are really just ways to think about God, seek God, notice God, appreciate God, recognize God, contemplate God, find God, and experience God. This is what we ought to be doing. If we insist on being atheists, this is what we ought to expect them to be doing. No approaching God like a hypothesis which might be true or false.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Name calling (branding us “fundamentalists”): Always a sign that you have no argument to make.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      If you agree up front that there’s no scientific/rational evidence for a god, then the following conversation about said god’s abilities/properties is easily recognized as what it really is; A conversation about nothing.

      But I don’t think the majority of believers would agree that there’s no evidence for their deity, and that might be the starting point of the conversation.

      I guess as non-believers we have to play along and at least for the duration of the exchange talk as if this god exists. Otherwise what’s the point of discussing it’s properties?

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        *its

      • Sastra
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        I don’t think any believer would say there was no reasonable evidence for God — including the sophisticates with their ineffable gods which they effing go on and on about. Existence itself is evidence — if you know how to ask the question the right way.

        Atheists always ask the question as if there was an alternative which didn’t suck all meaning, joy, and love out of the universe.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          I assume I just can’t see the sarcasm tags.

          • Sastra
            Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

            Oh, right. Like I really need to use sarcasm tags.

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

              Was that sarcasm?

              • Sastra
                Posted June 26, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

                Oh nooooooooo — that wasn’t sarcasm. I totally meant it, really.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          I don’t think any believer would say there was no reasonable evidence for God — including the sophisticates with their ineffable gods…

          Maybe I’m feeling a bit philanthropic today, but I’m not sure I agree with you there.

          If you emphasize scientific when asking for evidence, it is my experience that a common ground can be reached.

          All evidence for god is emotional and if you clarify that as your entry point before progressing then there’s a conversation to be had whether you agree with the notion or not.

          Although I guess if you agree to disagree up front then it sort of deflates the following discussion….this is where beer and wine might come in handy to get the juices flowing.:-)

          • Sastra
            Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

            If you emphasize ‘scientific’ when asking for evidence, my experience is that most theists will deny that there is and/or can be scientific evidence for God. But even emotional evidence (“when you look at a sunset you feel God’s presence”) is considered a reasonable basis for belief. That is, it’s sufficient for anyone who is properly “open-minded.”

            The real debate may be whether this sort of open-mindedness is under those circumstances more like fair assessment and willingness to be persuaded … or more like subjective validation and motivated reasoning.

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

              Given that different believers’ emotional experiences lead them to completely conflicting conclusions about God, I don’t think that’s a way to get evidence for anything.

              • Sastra
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

                If you go back far enough there seems to be a basic core all theists agree on: God is very important; God has mind-like attributes; God is not too much like us. Emotional experiences which involve differing details seem to point to this unified holy trinity.

                The theists who argue, squabble, kill each other, and/or play passive-aggressive mind games over who understands God properly (and who doesn’t) also come together in harmony over this simple fact: atheists are wrong.

                (Ok, I do have New Age friends who insist that no, they do NOT believe that ‘atheists are wrong’ — but from what I can tell they’re screwing around with the implications and meaning of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (ie “you’re not ‘wrong’ to be at the stage you are in.”)

              • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                If you go back far enough there seems to be a basic core all theists agree on: God is very important; God has mind-like attributes; God is not too much like us.

                I’d have to put some thought into it, but that’s certainly true to at least a first approximation. Some deists and pantheists might take exception to the second, but it’s questionable as to whether the term, “theist,” properly applies to them.

                You can also narrow it down quite a bit and not shave off significant numbers of theists. The gods they worship have our best interests at heart or otherwise care about us. The gods have a special interest in either humanity as an whole or some particular subset of humans. The gods also have great powers, far beyond those of mere mortals. The desires and intentions of the gods are accessible to, at the very least, an elite few, if not all who seek with sufficient sincerity and devotion.

                Of course, once you open it up that far, Epicurus takes over and we’re left wondering why Jesus never calls 9-1-1.

                You might have some Newage friends who’d find fault in one or more of those characteristics I added, but I bet the odds are rather far against. Abrahamic theists would emphatically agree, once the generic divine references are replaced by the suitable specific names. Non-Abrahamic religious followers might prefer something less specific, like “Cosmic Quantum Consciousness.”

                b&

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

              If you emphasize ‘scientific’ when asking for evidence, my experience is that most theists will deny that there is and/or can be scientific evidence for God.

              They often do, but this where I would ask them to be open-minded about the future of science.

              If they deny the possibility of scientific answers to religious questions it is very easy to show that they’re applying a double standard.

              Instead of accusing you of being close-minded it might make them think twice. Or at the very least you have something to throw back at them if need be.

              • Sastra
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                That’s good.

                I also find it useful to ask them if, in principle, God could provide/have provided scientific evidence of its existence, had that been its will or plan. Run this so-called epistemic ‘logical impossibility’ up against Omnipotence … and watch what happens.

                Faith is an immunizing strategy; it’s not really intrinsic to religion or God.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Yeah, it’s like trying to hold on to an eel sometimes. Slippery as f*ck.

                I guess there’s always the last resort of the faithful: “Only if it’s god’s will”.

                Arguing against the belief in belief is equally exhausting with a lot of postulations and no hard evidence, so again I still think the best approach is to require some before getting into whatever god-concept it is.

                Maybe this is why these kind of discussions are often most enjoyable one-on-one and with a friend. It very quickly gets personal if they believe.

      • Marella
        Posted June 26, 2014 at 2:23 am | Permalink

        Their “proofs of God” are really just ways to think about God, seek God, notice God, appreciate God, recognize God, contemplate God, find God, and experience God.

        And get paid for doing the above.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      The “proofs of God” are really just apologetics – a way of keeping your faith in light of all the contrary evidence from science and other religions.

    • JimV
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Well said, and worth a try, but (and I’m embarrassed to be naive enough to interject a “but” and anticipating a smack-down) wouldn’t the answer be something like, “God is incomprehensible to our intellects and therefore can’t be completely defined – neither can your Reality; God is Reality with the addition that Reality loves you.” (Many people are fortunate enough to feel that Reality loves them. Others would like to believe it, despite contrary evidence – as in “God has a plan for us and we’ll understand it eventually although things seem bleak now.”)

      If they are willing to leave the “love” part out and say God is emotionless, then God=Reality becomes identical to atheism for all practical purposes, as you say – a nice point. (You should write a book on theology – if you haven’t already. I would buy it.)

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        I think you just described God of the Gaps with the caveat that the gaps love you. Given the relentless advance of science, God loves you less and less every day. 😉

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          “…the gaps love you.”*

          Love it! 🙂

          (*But not as much as they love flagella.)

      • Sastra
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        Any rebuttal which emphasizes God’s incomprehensibility a little too much brings on the Wittgensteinian “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

        Your “God is Reality with the addition that Reality loves you” though is not incomprehensible. It’s not only fairly explicit and possibly good enough for a working definition — but it’s probably a pretty damn good summary of exactly what Kimel and the Sophisticates are trying as hard as they can to NOT come out and say (but mean anyway.)

        Sure, you can dress it up with a lot of bafflegab from ancient and modern philosophy (potentiality vs. actuality, beyond being) but push comes to shove, God is “Reality that loves.” Or that does something — anything — which is normally associated only with things which have minds (creates, intends, desires, balances, judges, values, experiences, etc.)

        God is not so much beyond description as it is beyond dispute. Or so they hope.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Yes, if you define god as “God is incomprehensible to our intellects and therefore can’t be completely defined” then they should, as Sastra noted, stop immediately from trying to make calims of any sort about the god — even whether such exists.

          If you can’t define it in some way, what possible reason could you have to assert that it exists? It’s nothing.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      With all due respect, I don’t think this ought to be your first demand. As you’ve already discovered, the definition of God needs to be clarified.

      Yeah, unfortunately I agree with you. We had to define what the Higgs boson looked like before we could get evidence of it.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        …and in addition to equations, there probably was an element of faith involved in Higg’s early speculations.
        This analogy really seems to have legs!

      • Sastra
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        The definition of God doesn’t have to be perfectly clear, of course. Before physicists looked for evidence for the Higgs boson though they knew it would have to have some connection to the rest of physics. The same for “life” and DNA. A better definition comes afterwards; we just need something to work with.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      As you’ve already discovered, the definition of God needs to be clarified.

      This, plus one other nitpick.

      Are there best arguments? Of course; it’s a comparative.

      Does even the bestest of the best rise above the level of idiotic childish nonsense?

      I’d call that the interesting question…except that then the tables would turn and I’d have the rest of the pendants piling on me….

      Jerry, I can’t thank you enough for your patience in wading through all that “sophisticated” theology. That you applied the same rigorous academic analysis to this problem as you do to your students’s works gives your analysis so much more weight than those of pundits like me who have so much trouble just making it past Genesis.

      …and now I’m giggling helplessly over the thought of Jerry being asked to sit in on Hovind’s dissertation defense….

      b&

      • rickflick
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        “the thought of Jerry being asked to sit in on Hovind’s dissertation defense…”

        Actually, I doubt there was any actual place to actually sit.

        Great thought though.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        “Are there best arguments? Of course; it’s a comparative.”

        Best by what criteria? Is one unsound argument superior in any objective way to any other unsound argument?

        What “better” seems to mean in this context is the difficulty in determining the cause of the unsoundness.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          Best by what criteria?

          Doesn’t matter. Pick any ordering function you like, even the number of times a certain letter appears or simply a roll of the dice. It doesn’t even have to produce a single result, and the result doesn’t have to be repeatable.

          Any ranking function is going to produce some set that includes all three of, “best,” “worst,” and “average,” even if all three sets have the same elements.

          b&

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        “Jerry, I can’t thank you enough for your patience in wading through all that “sophisticated” theology.”

        Hear, hear!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      I see where you’re going with this and it may be an interesting tactic because it is essentially asking the same thing but it a way that forces the believer to think about how he/she will prove this being is a god which would also prove god.

      I suspect though, at the end of it all they will stomp off in a huff very much like Fr Kimel did, grumbling that we just don’t get it and until we do, then there is no point talking to us.

  21. Myron
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    “Or as St Dionysius puts it, God is Beyond Being.” – Kimel

    To be beyond being is not to be, but theists certainly do believe that God is, i.e. exists. Nothing can both be and not be. As soon as you say that there is a god which is beyond being, you have contradicted yourself. This is logic 101!

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Yes, but you’ve forgotten magic. They employ magic to overcome this logical conundrum (but hate like hell to admit it). Magic overcomes and explains all.

      Favorite forms of magic?:

      Make up new word meanings

      Assert that (their) god is beyond human understanding (nevermind that they then move right on to making claims about what this god is like)

      • AdamK
        Posted June 26, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        The Beingness of God is Eternal Being, whereas ordinary mundane beingness is contingent upon His Creation, His loving sharing-with of His Nature by which Pure Being is echoed in our subsidiary, contingent, fallen being as spiritual creature in His Image.

        Or something.

        (Just remember that it’s impossible to think clearly about these things without adding extra capital letters at the beginning of important-sounding words.)

        • Posted June 27, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          “it’s impossible to think clearly about these things without adding extra capital letters at the beginning of important-sounding words”

          YES! Ain’t that the truth! The theologian (or believer apologist) does the exact opposite of good writing. They write to confuse and obscure and puff themselves up as authorities (who can’t be questioned).

  22. Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    The Best Argument for Fairies is classic.

  23. Ian Hewitson
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    A few weeks ago I mentioned that a Church of England vicar friend of mine retired from his position after 40 years of service. This post made me think of him.

    Several times over the years I’d sat in his impressive study and gawped at the impressive floor to ceiling book shelves heaving with hundreds, if not thousands of volumes of wordy prose on religion (and other stuff as well, I should add). Each time I left I thought to myself that there’s not a single word in all of those books that can offer even a grain of evidence for the existence of God. Not one verifiable, hard piece of evidence, and that in reality, all of the effort and time spent writing all of this mountain of text was utterly futile. In my mind, it was all complete and utter junk – the study of nothing. Yet many times I’ve asked myself how it is that my vicar friend could believe ANY of it and the only answer I could come ever up with is that very simply, and for whatever reason, he wants to. So with Fr. Kimel.

    I was at a neighbour’s funeral on Monday and it turned out to be a much more Christian affair than I expected. The service centred on the fact that the dead man is no longer in pain and is now in heaven with the angels and that we, the congregation, will all meet him again. The vicar’s words were incredibly powerful and the devasted family’s seemingly unshakeable desire to believe all of this left me pretty stunned. For a fleeting moment I was actually envious of their faith. I realised that there’s nothing I could ever say that would convince them that what they believe is nonsense. Again, so it is with Fr. Kimel.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Since I became a fully self-aware atheist*, I’ve attended religious services on a number of occasions. Each time, I scratch my head and wonder that these (mainly) intelligent, well-educated people can believe these bollocks.

      My experience at my father’s funeral was similar to your experience. I was sad to see my Dad go, and I loved him very much. He was my first, best teacher in many things (though we disagreed often, mainly on politics). But, all the God crap, and Heaven. Really?! But I wasn’t about to pop my Mom’s happy bubble (and still won’t).

      (* I spent some decades not thinking hard enough to say it to myself clearly, even though I was a de facto atheist; The God Delusion was the trigger for that final change. I still had a soft spot for religion during that time and had a taint of “belief in belief”.)

      • Sastra
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        I think that your trigger for change is the answer to Ian’s skepticism regarding whether anything at all will shake a belief that is so truly comforting (though elaborate, enthusiastic systems and expressions of denial do not really fit my own conception of maturely ‘coping with death.’) Even people who value faith know what it is to think hard about a belief. Is it true — or is it just comforting?

        The minute you admit to yourself that there is a difference between truth and convenience — and that you, personally, care more about the former than the latter — then you are no longer “unshakeable.” That’s the big one.

        When I first read Jerry’s title — “Are there really “best arguments” for God? — my first thought was that for many people the ‘best’ argument for God is the insistence that we do not, should not, could not argue over God’s existence.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Yes, that nails it!:

          “for many people the ‘best’ argument for God is the insistence that we do not, should not, could not argue over God’s existence.”

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        I had an interesting discussion with my wife recently. About the strongest argument she has for belief is that the thought of no afterlife is depressing. She really could care less what anyone else thinks insofar as she’s not going to go out of the way to convince people that they should live a certain way to obtain this afterlife or that we have a set of known divine revelations. Frankly, I could care less about this sort of belief. I can tell her the reasons why this belief doesn’t have evidence, but my life doesn’t hinge on her changing it. If this is belief in belief, then so be it.

        OTOH, we also discussed my parents, who are devout Catholics. With them, we mostly go along to get along and I just try to avoid religious topics, which is becoming increasingly harder as they become more and more devout as they age. I’ve discussed this with other members on the site before and I am really torn, not so much as you say about bursting your mother’s bubble, but on the detrimental effect proclaiming atheism to them may have on our family dynamic. There’d be no taking it back and I’ve seen other family members completely shunned for much less.

        I’m completely on board with you that religious belief is insidious, but fantasy-busting doses of reality causing emotional strain is not even remotely near the top of the list. I think I value my relationship with them more now that I know this is the one life we’re guaranteed to have as opposed to the ace in the hole of everyone reuniting one day in spite of any tragedy that befalls us. Perhaps if there was no enjoyment in seeing them, it would be a easier decision to just be more frank. Religion really does poison everything.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          As to proclaiming your atheism to devout elderly parents, I apply the same rules as I try to apply to any speech I might choose to employ: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Does it improve upon silence?

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            Excellent thoughts. Just because criterion 1 is fulfilled, doesn’t mean the others are. And they are important too.

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, the first one is the only one I can certainly say yes to. Is it better than silence? That is almost certainly no. Is it necessary? It appears to be heading that way ultimately. Is it kind? Not sure how to even assess that.

          • Jo5ef
            Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:01 am | Permalink

            Those are good rules.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          Giving advice to others on this subject is something I am hesitant to do. You might take a look at this book: Coming Out Atheist

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            Thanks. I’ll put it on my reading list. I imagine the moment of reckoning will come sooner or later. Close family members who are religious are really the only group I am not up front with. I would say that within my circle of friends and even coworkers, there’s almost zero religiosity. I suppose that’s an advantage of working in Computer Science in New York. It does always seem that the family dynamic plays out differently. I’ve certainly seen it with gay family members.

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            Thanks. I’ll put it on my reading list. I imagine the moment of reckoning will come sooner or later. Close family members who are religious are really the only group I am not up front with. I would say that within my circle of friends and even coworkers, there’s almost zero religiosity. I suppose that’s an advantage of working in Computer Science in New York. It does always seem that the family dynamic plays out differently. I’ve certainly seen it with gay family members.

            • GBJames
              Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

              One thing I will say… Living in the closet comes at a price. And the value of family relationships that are built on dishonesty cannot help being cheapened when some members of the family are, or feel they are, required to live a lie. Still, everyone’s situation is a bit different.

              For me, family members all need to face reality. If some can’t deal with it, so be it. But staying closeted prevents others from coming to terms with it. Most people who come out find that their family is able to deal with it and everyone benefits.

              • Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

                Absolutely it cheapens it. As a relatively newly ordained member of the Catholic clergy, my father said that one of his main “callings” was to help those who are skeptical in the faith. How utterly ironic.

                But as I’ve said, I’ve seen treatment of others in the family. His own father was an atheist and it’s the strain I witnessed in their relationship (which extended to other parts of the family) that I have to weigh against the burden staying closeted. It’s not so much fear of the unknown about how they may react, but fear of the ways I already know them to react. I do think it’s inevitable that I tell them though as the burden will only worsen, especially as my kids grow up.

              • GBJames
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                As I indicated earlier, I can’t in good conscious project my view on this deeply personal situation. But in my experience, honesty is nearly always the best policy.

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

              You could put it on their Christmas list. Or send them a link to Tim Minchin. Perhaps anonymously, if it would seem kinder.

              • Posted June 26, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

                That may possibly cause them to bring the exorcists in, which could provide for some entertainment in and of itself.

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          Agreed, across the board.

  24. Draken
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Kimel is trying to move the goalposts (no crosstopic pun intended) backwards even further, into the pre-20th century. I think he just threw the 20th-century theologians under the bus in the process.

    If God is so impersonal (“pure act”, whatever that may mean), you have to wonder where the Jesus mythology comes from. After all, the doctrine is that he was not just a powerful representative of God on earth, but that he was God- I wonder how many people have been killed for daring to dispute this.

    Other christian Sophisticated Theologians have the same problem, of course. God’s just a vague ‘ground of being’ yet they do believe in the Trinity. If God was just a conscious blob, there would not be at least three competing world religions trying to kill each other over it.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Yes, he (on his great and powerful Oz Authority) has dismissed the bulk of Christian theology, including many trotted out as the Best ‘Phisticated Xian Theology™ has to offer.

      And, when you claim that your God is ineffable, then you have dismissed the entire field of theology. If this God of yours is so vaporous as to defy human understanding and grammar, then you are telling yourself to STFU about it (already!).

  25. Lowen Gartner
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I refuse to discuss the existence of God unless the advocate has a clear definition that is falsifiable. At that point, we can go over their evidence. Needless to day, I don’t have any discussions regarding the existence of God.

    From Wikipedia

    Ignosticism or igtheism is the idea that every theological position assumes too much about the concept of God and other theological concepts; including (but not limited to) concepts of faith, spirituality, heaven, hell, afterlife, damnation, salvation, sin and the soul.

    Ignosticism is the view that any religious term or theological concept presented must be accompanied by a coherent definition. Without a clear definition such terms cannot be meaningfully discussed. Such terms or concepts must also be falsifiable. Lacking this an ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the existence or nature of the terms presented (and all matters of debate) is meaningless.

    • reasonshark
      Posted June 26, 2014 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      I go back and forth on this. On the one hand, some definitions make a kind of intuitive sense, if not explicit sense: for instance, the anthropomorphic kinds can be understood with our knowledge of how human minds work, and even the abstract ones like the “omni-” sort can in principle be grasped. On the other hand, once you start throwing words around like “divine being” and “father, son, and Holy Spirit”, you have to suspect that the ones giving those descriptions don’t actually have any real coherent idea in their heads and are just riding on and projecting their feel-good feelings as a result. It also doesn’t help that trying to trace a consciousness without the usual external cues that a body would provide (behaviour, neuroanatomy, etc.) is nigh impossible, among other things.

      The problem is that “god” can mean whatever you want it to mean, from a superpowered human, to the sum of all human consciousness, to some abstract logical principle that pops up out of nowhere and claims special pleading. There’s no reason to get entangled in such an unrewarding thorn bush.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      That is a strict subset of atheism, of course.

  26. rickflick
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Most of these “best arguments” seem to be less existence arguments than descriptions of what proponents think God is like. They try to place God just beyond arm’s reach so that existence arguments seem to be unnecessary. That’s no argument at all.

  27. Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    An excellent post, as always. And I learned something new today.

    I learned that there is an Emperor Has No Clothes Award given by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It includes a very funny gold statue made by the same people who make the Oscar statues. Furthermore, our Dr. Coyne won this award back in 2011.

  28. Hempenstein
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Anthropomorphic god is ruled out by pre-20th century texts, eh? If I pointed the good Fr to a lengthy Wikipedia page on the Hand of God, I expect he’d wave this off as metaphorical. But if it’s anything but a dodge to get around the second commandment, why portray a hand? And for that matter, where’s the need for a second commandment if this god was understood as nebulous?

    Another example of The Hand (not shown on the W’pedia page) is in coinage, and I suspect it’s not unique: the Hand of God extends from the clouds, proffering a crown in 1620 to Swedish King Gustav II Adolf’s wife, Maria Eleonora, as his queen.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      “…dodge to get around the second commandment…”

      Ooh, there should be an art contest for Best Graven Image of the Ground of Being.

      • grasshopper
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        If I were to enter the contest, I would begin with a nice blank canvas .. and leave it at that.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Not, of course, if you’re Catholic. “Graven images” are not mentioned in the Catholic version of the commandments, and they also separate coveting a neighbor’s wife and goods into two separate commandments. Think about all the statuary, paintings and stained glass windows the Church would have to get rid of if they decided to take that clause seriously – never happen. I was raised Catholic, and never heard the term in my catechism classes. When I first heard the phrase, my youthful imagination fixed on the word “graven” and somehow figured it out to mean that tombstones were a crime against the deity, but I was reassured that only the hellbound heretic Protestants believed it.

      It occurs to me though, that since all US currency is produced by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving that every single banknote is, technically, a “graven image”. I therefore declare that by the authority of the Protestant Second Commandment, that, for evangelicals and other fundamentalist Christians, possessing money is a serious sin and can only be mitigated by sending it to me. Now.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure you’re aware then that what the Catholic commandments lack in graven images is more than made up for by a large amount of gravely disordered acts outlined in the Catechism.

        Strictly speaking, anthropomorphism has been declared a heresy since the 4th century, excepting the idea that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Really, this is just mental masturbation (also a gravely disordered act) as now we’re circling right back to the attribute of being a being but not a being at the same time, and how a subset contains properties not found in a superset of it, etc.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          I entered first grade in a Catholic school in January of 1963, so the catechism what was taught was pre-Vatican II (which was from October 1962 to December of 1965), so by the time the changes mandated by the council reached the parishes, I had stopped reading it (I gave up on the church somewhere around fourth or fifth grade). The parish my family was in was very conservative, and they resisted making the required changes (like switching to an English mass and having the altar face the congregation) until they were threatened with having the entire staff replaced. They probably used the old catechisms for many years after that. I have not felt motivated to keep up with current doctrine.

          Another thing I found out about my school that I didn’t know until just a few years ago was that whenever an “undesirable” family tried to enroll a child – undesirable in this case meaning anyone who was not white European – they were told that there was a Polish language requirement for bilingual education. That was true at one time – but it was discontinued in 1924. So they were lying to keep a policy of discrimination in place.

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            Fourth of fifth grade? I can only wish I’d done the same. I had a similar upbringing, though about 2 decades later. My parents ran in some of the most conservative circles Catholicism has to offer. One memory of my youth (sometime in the late 80s) was going to a traditional Latin Easter Mass. I only requested to go since it meant staying up until 3am.

            I can’t say I recall anything of the night other than yelling at my father that he’d just blown through a red light at 45 mph on the way home in his state of delirium. My takeaway in hindsight is that if there’s a best argument for God, it may be that the Catholic Church survived for nearly 2000 years mumbling in Latin. The 3 hour Mass may possibly, to this day, qualify as the 3 most boring hours of my life.

            • E.A. Blair
              Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              The main reason I lost faith that early is that I was constantly bullied and was treated like the offender. I had to spend all my recess periods sitting on the back porch of the convent alone with books instead of being with the other kids because I was a “disruptive” presence on the playground. If I could have a do-over for that time of my life, I would have gone to the public school two blocks away and asked for asylum.

              The last straw, however, was when I got beat up in a corridor in the basement of the church building after a meeting of something called the “Christian Youth Organization” which we were all pressured to join. One of the parish priests waled in on the fracas and soundly berated my attackers – not for beating me up, but for doing it in a church. When I got up off the floor, I asked him if it would have been okay if they had done it int the parking lot, then told him that he’d never see me in that building again.

              • E.A. Blair
                Posted June 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

                Typo apology: “waled” should have been “walked”.

  29. TJR
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    IMHO the first question to theists should always be “which god?”

    Quetzalcoatl? Huitzilpotchli? Azpilicueta?

    Vishnu? The Ground of Being? Allah? Odin?

    As has been pointed out above, unless they can give a good reason for considering their god rather than any other then their whole argument doesn’t even get off the ground.

  30. Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Theoretically there’s a best argument for the existence of god iff arguments in favour of the existence of god can be given a total ordering as to goodness.

    However, even granting that, it doesn’t follow that any of the arguments should be persuasive in any fashion whatever.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      if not iff

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Actually “iff” is also valid in that sentence.

        b&

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          +1

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:15 am | Permalink

          Never use iff if if will do.

          Maxim of laziness (mathematical logic version)

          • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

            But iff is an excellent tool for identifying the maths geeks!

            • Posted July 3, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

              Except that some partial orderings would have also worked (I think) so “iff” is not correct.

  31. dan
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Apparently the god/gods only reveals him/herself properly to those who have phd’s in the hogwart theology. Apparently the fundamentalists are mistaken. Apparently God isn’t the author of confusion. LOLLL

  32. leonkrier
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    What Kimel is not acknowledging is that both western and eastern Christianity absorbed Platonism for its theology, Neo-Platonism (a la Plotinus) for its mysticism and Stoicism for its morality. The Apotheosis Theology of eastern Christianity is essentially Neo-Platonism dressed up in Christian myths, symbols and rituals. Under these powerful philosophical influences of the first few centuries of Christianity, there was a gradual distancing from the anthropomorphisms of the Bible and an effort to create a philosophically based Christianity which would appeal to the intellectual elite of the Roman empire. Once this is recognized, it is easy to discern Kimel’s line of argumentation.

  33. Mark
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    There aren’t ANY arguments for god, much less best arguments. This is similar to saying there’s not a best argument for astrology.

  34. Robert Seidel
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I always go by the Argument from Media Coverage: If there was convincing evidence for god, we’d have heard about it. And unless that happens, I don’t care for theology.

  35. Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    To be fair, or at least accurate, I think the fundamentalist charge is rooted more in our refusal to accept even just a little magic than in what arguments we address: “you’re just as bad as the literalists; flip side of the same coin; you won’t meet in the middle; of course there’s no evidence to support magic, but I don’t wanna talk about that!”

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      As I’ve said to many believers: If magic is admitted, then ANY effect can be equally well assigned to ANY cause. The rules of logic fail and nothing reliable can be concluded. Full stop. Once you admit magic, then you know nothing.

      • Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        …and we know this to be true in no small part due to the perfect success of the various conservation laws. Even the tiniest violation of conservation of energy, for example, could trivially be exponentially exploited to literally change the very fabric of existence and the laws of nature — never mind merely turning water into wine!

        b&

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Oh, don’t go getting all sciencey on me!

          The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics shows that evolution is impossible! So there!

          🙂

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            I’ll see your SLOT and raise you that big bright yellow thing in the blue thing above the ceiling!

            b&

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              🙂

            • Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

              Hey, now, that’s heresy! The only thing above the Ceiling is His Lordliness, Ceiling Cat, as we all know, as common sense tells us, and since we all have a need for Ceiling Cat, in fact there is a Ceiling Cat shaped hole in our beings.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:17 am | Permalink

                Ceiling Cat’s hole is square, if a bit rough round the edges. Is that the shape you refer to?

        • Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

          How about the most glaringly obvious claim that violates this principle; the bodily resurrection of Jesus? It is long established Christian teaching that Jesus rose body and soul into Heaven. The empty tomb is, after all, a key argument apologists make in establishing the central claim of Christianity. If he rose from the dead and his body went to Heaven, and Heaven is not of this Universe (I’ve never seen a claim to the contrary), there is matter and energy that simply disappeared. This is the Humean definition of a miracle, a grotesque violation of the laws of nature on your behalf. This carries a very heavy burden of proof, no matter how many unfalsifiable Ground of Being arguments are put forth.

          • Posted June 25, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

            Absolutely — and add in all of Jesus’s other miracles, as well.

            Christians like to distance themselves from the miracle speak when talking to atheists, but it’s the first thing they talk about in church. All y’all know my fondness for mentioning the fondling of the intestines…but I’ve frequently heard that exact parable cited in sermons for why those in attendance should believe that it’s all real.

            b&

            • Posted June 26, 2014 at 4:57 am | Permalink

              Oh yes, Thomas!

              But Thomas was BAD! He was credulous, and that’s very, very BAD!

              Blessed are those that have not seen and believed, don’t ya know.

              They love to try to have it both ways. Another clear sign that they are simply not thinking clearly on this subject. They don’t want to. They want comfort, not truth.

              • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:43 am | Permalink

                He was incredulous … (get your damned meanings straight!)

              • Posted June 26, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                Yes, that’s typically the whole point of the sermon: Thomas the skeptic (boo! hiss!) had the temerity to doubt Jesus, so Jesus really showed him. And, because Jesus did show Thomas, there’s no need for anybody else to ever question any of it ever again. Poor Thomas doubted for us so we may have faith.

                …and, of course, not even an hint of a WTF!? over Thomas groping a ghoul’s guts through a gaping gash….

                b&

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

                That’s a lot of alliteration Ben! 🙂

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

                I wonder, did Jesus ever patch himself up or did he walk around for 40 days like this? If so, surely he could’ve told people about the forthcoming germ theory of disease and at least pointed out that some sterile bandages should be applied.

              • Posted June 27, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                I like a lot o ‘literation, and I can not lie….

                b&

              • Filippo
                Posted June 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

                I’ll take alliteration over flitteration any time.

  36. Gareth Price
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    One thing that some theologians have access to which most lay people do not are the Greek versions of the New Testament. I once pointed out to a Methodist Minister that Jesus’ ressurection was not unique given that the gospels tell of Jesus himself raising three characters from the dead. However, he replied that I didn’t know what I was talking about as the Greek word for Jesus’ resurrection is apparently completely different from the Greek word for the other resurrections. He is right – I didn’t know that.

    However, I did feel that he was using this to somehow bamboozle me.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      He’s absolutely right.

      And when I eat an apple, it’s completely different from someone else snacking on an apple.

      QED

      • ascanius
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        the minister was a liar. see reply to diana.

        • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          Ignorant seems more likely, just repeating what an authority figure told him in seminary. But either will do.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Tell him to explain the Greek and insist that this is independently verified by a Classicist who understands the real low down of the etymology.

      • ascanius
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        the methodist minister was either a liar for jesus, a poor greek scholar, or both.

        the two principal verbs describing jesus’ resurrection are:
        (1) ανιστημι: make to stand up, stand up, hence, raise up (from the dead), rise up (from the dead)

        αναστασις, the related noun, is the most frequent word for the resurrection (literally a standing up)

        and
        (2) εγειρω: awaken, wake up, rouse, hence raise/rise from the dead

        here’s how these two verbs occur when Jesus’ own resurrection is mentioned (i’m sparing you the actual verb forms)
        Matt 28: 6 (2), 28:7 (2)
        Mark 16:6 (2)
        Luke 24:7 (1), 24:34 (2), 24:46 (1)
        John 21:14 (2)

        contrary to the minister’s assertion, the same verbs are indeed used when describing the raising up of others.

        in 2 instances, in conjunction with (1) and (2) there is a third verb (3) ανακαθιζομαι: to sit up. it is obviously a slightly weaker image than (1) the standing up.

        jesus raises the widow’s son:
        Luke 7:14 (2) and (3)

        jesus raises jairus’ daughter:
        Matt 9:25 (2), Mark 5:42 (2) and (1), Luke 8:55 (1)

        jesus raises lazarus:
        john 11:23 (1) john 11:25 (1)

        saints resurrected at the crucifixion:
        Matt 27:52 (2) Matt 27:53 (2)

        peter raises tabitha
        acts 9:40 (1) and (3)

        so it’s clear to see that forms of the same verbs (1)ανιστημι and (2) εγειρω are used whether talking about jesus’ resurrection or the raising of others.

        i for one am thoroughly tired of liars for jesus.

    • ascanius
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      he was either ignorant or else he was bamboozling you. see response below.

  37. H.H.
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Shorter Fr. Kimel: “God is not anthropomorphic, he is more like a human being with magical powers.”

  38. KP
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    David Bentley Hart and his new book was often touted as one of the Best Arguments for God, but it turned out to be a distillation of what he saw as the common element in all religions’ concepts of God: a non-anthropomorphic Ground of Being who loves us and sustains everything by His ineffable presence. In other words, a Universal Force permeating everything, outside it all yet immanent in it all.

    After 3 months, I am still only about 60% through that book. It is excruciating.

    What they mean by “best” are simply arguments, invariably couched in highfalutin academic prose, for a God about whom nothing can be said (although they seem to find plenty to say about it!).

    The “highfalutin’ academic prose” is ridiculous and, for all of the high brow vocabulary and haughty (pun intended) language, they say nothing that can, in any way, be evidenced. In other words, they are just making shit up.

  39. Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Fr. Kimel: Daniel Dennett’s first rule: “You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, ‘Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.’”
    __

    Jerry did exactly that while adroitly refuting the position at the same time: “Then they pretend, as did the Eastern Orthodox priest Fr. Aidan Kimel, that this nebulous god is the historically consistent idea of God, one distorted by into an anthropomorphic and theistic God only in the 20th century.”

  40. Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Compare excerpts from theology to any science text written for popular consumption. The scientist speaks clearly; they have nothing to hide. There’s no “enabling,” restoring,” “mystery,” commensuration,” or “conviction.” The scientist tells you what the data are and the principles that tie those data together in a comprehensible system.

    Compare theobabble with any other writing.

    These people are just pulling this nonsense out of their nether regions.

    There is a powerful confirmation bias at work here, otherwise, no one would put up with the word-salad. People wouldn’t gush over dense, jargony, feel-good nonsense statements. (Listen to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” (NPR) some time — if you have a strong stomach.)

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      One of the relatively few things on NPR that make me wanna hurl!

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      Well, not any other writing. There are other disciplines in which pulling nonsense out of nether regions is a common MO.

  41. Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Fr. Kimel: The REAL God people (Xians) believe in is not anthropomorphic.

    Me:
    The Apostle’s Creed
    The Nicene Creed
    The Catechism

    Official stances documents of the RCC.

    And: You need to get out more and talk to actual Xians.

  42. nilou ataie
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I have a question for Fr. Kimel. With all due respect, when the christian clergy is raping small children, lying to Africans about condoms and AIDS, and hating on homosexuals are they leading with God or god?
    Thanks in advance for clearing that up.

  43. Posted June 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I love the Cosmological argument:

    1. All things that exist require a cause (except my God, fingers crossed! Fingers crossed!!)
    2. The Universe exists
    3. The Universe had to have a cause
    4. That cause is God (and, by the way, my God doesn’t require a cause, because … well, just because! Because I say so! I’m jumping up and down saying “because I say so”, over and over again! Nyah, nyah, nyah! I define my God as being un-caused, so there!! No, this is NOT special pleading! Oh, you just don’t get it!)
    5. Therefore, God exists

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      The fun thing is that 1-4 are irrelevant to the point they would like to make. Let’s try a 5 year old’s perspective:

      1. All things that exist require cake
      2. The Universe exists
      3. The Universe had to have cake
      4. That cake is God
      5. Therefore, God exists

      The only difference between 5 year’s old reasoning and religious reasoning is that the latter use grownup’s terms.

      But it is all water under the bridge now. Cosmology has rejected the philosophical idea of classical physics theology use. The local universe, of which we see the small part that is the observable universe, emerges as a consequence of quantum fluctuations in the inflation field. Without fluctuations, the universe would be infinitely large.

      Does a quantum fluctuation have an immediate cause, is it the result of [channeling Kimel] a “pure Act”? Ask Shroedinger’s Cat.

      • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        See! That’s the universal quantum consciousness!! 🙂

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      By the way, IMO the idea of ’cause’ died with Galton, who introduced correlation in the 1880s, and Einstein, which introduced causality in the 1900s.

      Any attempt at modeling a strict ’cause’ would be open to questioning, if not ridicule, after that.

  44. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    If you run out of garden fairies, you can always try the pixel pixies of computer screens, without which no refresh would happen. They are the Ground of Web.

    All I am saying is that if atheists wish to engage in SERIOUS debate about theism or Christianity, then they need to learn what ecumenical, mainstream, catholic Christianity really does believe and teach.

    I love that there are 36 000+ christianist sects, yet Kimel is satisfied with learning just one.

    Reversely, why would one need to learn about that type of theism instead of pondering mainstream magic agency thinking in general?

    Kimel makes a good argument why one should study psychology of madness in order to engage in SERIOUS debate about theism.

    By his own rationale, Kimel isn’t serious but is caricaturing magic agency belief.

    This is just commonsense. =D In fact, skeptics have long claimed that you should get to grips with the most general sense of the subject. Bothering with all the sect paraphernalia and apologetics isn’t germane.

    Which gets us back to magic agency belief and its fundamental lack of evidence.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      But, but, but — it’s a matter of life and death whether you eat crustacea or not!!!

      • GBJames
        Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Certainly this can be true for the crustacea.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 25, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          I love (to eat some) crustaceans. Does that mean I am a christian god to them?

  45. Posted June 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    What’s hilarious is that the last thing a theologian like Fr Kimel, and an actual working priest, would want would be for Fr Kimel to come to a service or two and educate the congregation on the true nature of God according to someone who by definition knows more about the subject than the priest who invited him. Heads would explode.

    I suggest we might want to develop a few straightforward questions for these theologians who insist on a non anthropomorphic god.

    For instance, if god is really a Ground of Being, doesn’t that mean that he does not listen to or answer prayers? If god is really just a Ground of Being, doesn’t that mean that Original Sin, Heaven and Hell, and Jesus himself are just useful myths, but not actually real?

    Let’s get these guys on the record – fun times ahead.

  46. Vicki
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    The proper answer to this would be “OK, you’re the believer. First we’ll define god, then you go and figure out what the one best argument for god is. Then we can discuss that.”

    I would want to get up front answers to some questions like “Was/Is Jesus god?” In writing. Partly that’s so he can’t get slippery later; partly because it might be amusing to let his fellow Christians know that, when asked flat out, he denied the divinity of Jesus.

    • Vicki
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      To be more explicit: A “best argument for the existence of god” has to be consistent with the definition of god. If Jesus is not god, his alleged deeds aren’t arguments for god; if he is, the argument has to be consistent with that. And so on for any other claims about the entity, such as miracles, power, or benevolence.

  47. Posted June 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s it obvious by now that the best arguments for God are whichever ones you haven’t specifically refuted that day – so that when you move on to refute those, the old ones can pop up again, seemingly unchallenged?

    It’s the great game of Theology Whack-a-Mole.

    • Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      Much like the argument from the THE THEOLOGIAN YOU HAVEN’T READ! So there, you are not seriously engaging with the best theology has to offer. I can dismiss you now (without addressing your arguments or objections or requests for evidence.)

  48. kelskye
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    The unfortunate thing about the notion of a “best” argument for God is the idea that argument is the path to God. How many theists do you know who have come to believe in God on the basis of argument? The arguments are there to fend off the sceptics.

    When people have experience-based beliefs, the idea that it’s a rational position goes out the window (beyond the justification that the experience is the reality – I am experiencing typing on a keyboard right now). If there are good arguments for God, there being kept well away from most believers. I’ve come to realise that the “best” arguments is like the “irrefutable evidence for the Global Flood” – something that really impresses those who already believe and something entirely unpersuasive to those who don’t.

    What are these fabled arguments? As far as I can tell, there are none. No matter how many theists tell me that there are good arguments that I’m ignoring, when it comes time to produce, the arguments are pitiful and don’t even begin to establish their position. It’s sad, really, but the caricature of atheists ignoring true faith persists.

  49. madscientist
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m compelled to laugh every time someone mentions that mound of manure “summa theologica” – that work is an utterly vapid rambling exercise in tautology. It only wows people with little intellect.

  50. Posted June 25, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    “I’m not trying to convince you to believe in God…”

    What? That should be the first step in any argument you have about god.

    All I am saying is that if theists wish to engage in SERIOUS debate about theism or Christianity, then they need to first establish that the object of their argument actually exists.

    Duns Scotus or Thomas Aquinas are filigree that are properly dealt with after the foundational claim is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

    Would Fr. Kimel feel obliged, after I present him with zero objective evidence, to read the several thick tomes I’ve written describing the Martians I met when I traveled to Mars in a rocket I built in my basement before concluding I was suffering from psychosis?

    Oh, that good old courtier’s reply.

    • Posted June 25, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Well I really ought to read entire posts before commenting. That would prevent me from repeating the post, almost verbatim.

  51. Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    The argument from Lee Strobel:

    1. Lee Strobel wrote this AWESOME book about why Jesus was really a factual person who did all the things they say he did in the bible.

    2. Therefore God exists.

    I was (seemingly) seriously challenged by a believer (online) to read Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, apparently they were thinking I would be convinced by it.

    All it convinced me of (I’d never really looked into it) is how absurdly weak the evidence is for a historical Jesus — at least as described in the bible. There basically is no evidence to corroborate the stories in the gospels. (Nevermind that they conflict with each other! And I’ve had that throw at me as positive evidence for their historicity! See, they vary. That’s what we’d expect from human scribes over millennia. See, they are true! … entirely missing the point of, you know, which ONE of them is the correct story … Yes, logic is not their strength.)

  52. eric
    Posted June 26, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    What they mean by “best” are simply arguments, invariably couched in highfalutin academic prose, for a God about whom nothing can be said…
    …It’s the “best” concept simply because it’s the least capable of refutation

    I’m a bit late to the party on this post, but I still maintain that when believers pull out a “best argument,” its often just a courtier’s reply: what you’re seeing is just the first in an ifinite series of hoops they are setting you up for. The moment you refute or point out a problem with their ‘best argument,’ they’ll tell you about another ‘best argument.’

    Heck, sometimes they don’t even wait for a refutation – sometimes they are like a TV promotor of miracle cures – they just have a new ‘best’ every week, and nevermind how internally inconsistent such serial claims are when taken as a whole.


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