In August of 2010 a reader, noting my disturbing lack of Christianity, suggested that if I only read Lee Stroebel’s The Case for Christ I’d see the light. Stroebel had written such a rationally compelling apologetic that the reader, a former agnostic, said she’d had no choice but to convert to Christianity. Although Stroebel depicts his book as building a logical case for believing in the divinity of the Jesus Christ character and aims his book at rational atheists, I found Stroebel’s book to be deceptive, one-sided and deeply illogical.
By December of 2010 another reader responded that Stroebel might indeed be a hack but that a reader “can go much deeper than this… you should pick up something better and read it.” His suggestion was that I should read books by William Lane Craig instead; that his words would be convincing.
So I’m reading Craig in his book God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, and while I’m impressed that he gives space to the voice of agnostic Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, I’m otherwise underwhelmed. Craig starts dancing away from logical integrity on the very first page of his argument:
Does God Exist? In order to answer that question rationally, we need to ask ourselves two further questions: (1) Are there good reasons to think that God exists? and (2) Are there good reasons to think that God does not exist?
Now with respect to the second question, I’ll leave it up to Dr. Sinnott-Armstrong to present the reasons why he thinks that God does not exist, and then we can discuss them. For now I want to focus on the first question: What good reasons are there to think that God does not exist?
I’m going to present five reasons why I think theism (the view that God exists) is more plausibly true than atheism (the view that He does not).
Did you notice the two-step? Step 1: draw a false dichotomy, identifying only two alternatives when there are actually more alternatives out there (Sinnott-Armstrong brings this up in Chapter 2). Step 2: assert that we ought to hold one of those two alternatives as true if the other alternative seems less likely to be true.
Craig’s approach is faulty because there are actually more alternatives out there than to “think that God exists” and to “think that God does not exist.” To name a few, we could:
- think that Cthulhu exists
- think that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists
- think that Brahma exists
- think that a computer on which the universe is a simulation exists
- think that we live inside a projected hologram
- think that the matter of the existence of a supernatural God cannot be not resolved by people living within a natural universe
- think that there is not enough information to know whether a God exists
These are all possibilities, some of them more likely and some of them less likely. But William Lane Craig asserts that the choice is only to “think that God exists” or to “think that God does not exist,” and to perceive that you must choose between one or the other.
If a car dealer approached you on the street and told you that you had to buy a car, and that you had to choose between buying an Edsel and a Yugo based on which was a better car than the other, would you go along with it? I sure hope not. The sensible thing to do would be to reflect on whether you actually needed a car, and if you did need a car to go research what other cars might be out there and what people had learned about them. You’d quickly find out that Edsels and Yugos are rotten cars and that there are much better cars out there on the market. If you live in a city, you might also figure out that it’s cheaper and quicker to take public transportation or ride a bike. Maybe that car dealer has been stuck with a load of Edsels and Yugos; if he wants to make a profit, he has to try and sell them. But that’s the dealer’s problem, not yours.
To “think that God exists” and to “think that God does not exist” are the Edsel and the Yugo on the car lot. The “God” character is supernatural, above and beyond physical existence, which is convenient for storytelling (because the “God” character doesn’t have to follow the universe’s rules) but isn’t about to be to proved empirically (because an entity that is beyond physical existence can’t be physically observed, and because the “God” character hasn’t been caught on film descending to the physical plane, burning bushes and hurling lightning bolts). On the other hand, proving that “God does not exist” is impossible, since the universe is gigantically huge and can’t be completely searched — maybe “God” is behind Saturn’s rings or in that gaseous cloud beyond Alpha Centuri or underneath a potted plant on a desert island — and since the realms outside of physical existence by definition can’t be searched. Proving that some entity doesn’t exist anywhere is a fool’s errand.
Reasonable people don’t have to wholeheartedly agree with either of his two alternatives. We can declare that we aren’t satisfied with the evidence for either possibility. We can look for other possibilities that fit our observations better. We can say that we don’t know.
If slick used-car sales logic is William Craig’s big introductory proof for the existence of God, the signs aren’t good for his follow-ups. I’ll keep reading, but my confidence is not high.