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Column 101
Clinging to faith

Debating God's existence (i)

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 796 words
Publication date: April 1, 2007

Last week’s column listed over forty reasons that different people use to explain why they believe in God.

The arguments ranged from the apparently sophisticated  -  everything that exists has a cause; the cause of the universe can only be God – to the ridiculous – I saw the Virgin Mary in an omelet; therefore God exists.

All kinds of reasons are given to explain God’s existence, from the apparent effectiveness of prayer to the laws of chance, from the physical nature of the universe to the fact that so many people believe. 

These reasons are often absurd to rational people, but they have a powerful effect on those who believe in them.

Being a rich televangelist is a strong foundation for faith. Fear of anarchy and feelings of inferiority can be compensated by belief in an almighty. And of course there is the perennial failure to understand evolution.

The fact that so many arguments for God exist, and that so many people believe in them, is an indication of how weak most people’s reasoning is and how much people wish to believe in God. 

Like frightened children, their eyes shut, clinging desperately to a sheer rock face, believers cling to their faith, afraid that if they let go they will fall into an abyss of sin and despair.

We watch them, our eyes open, our feet on solid ground, trying to persuade them to look around and see that there is no abyss, that the real world is a brighter, more welcoming, more moral place than the inferno their imagination inhabits.

Talk to them gently, these believers. Some are ecstatic in their delusion. For others, their stridency and anger reflects their inner suspicion that the world they create for themselves is no more than an illusion.

Listen to the arguments they offer. Don’t ridicule them, but deconstruct their ideas one by one. They will not be instantly enlightened, but you may be able to set them on the right path.

Start by analyzing some of the simpler arguments. The wording may vary but at heart they are usually the same.

“If God doesn’t exist, my life is meaningless. Therefore God exists.” or “If there is no God, there is no meaning. But our lives have meaning. Therefore God exists.”

These arguments are similar, although the first reflects a greater sense of insecurity.  Both hinge on the meaning of “meaning”, which is where the problem lies.

“Purpose” is better word; the argument is basically “Life has a purpose. That purpose was created by God.”

Do not be distracted by the question “what is the purpose of life?”. You cannot do that without ascertaining that a purpose actually exists – and a purpose cannot exist without a consciousness to create it.

The key questions in taking apart this spurious argument are: “Why must life have a meaning? “What would your life be like without meaning?” and “Surely people can give their own lives meaning?”

The goal you want the believer to reach is that meaning is a human concept which we sometimes impose on situations where it is not appropriate.

From there you can point them in the direction of understanding that (a) purpose is not essential to life, (b) purpose can exist without God, (c) people can exist happily without either God or God-given purpose.

Here’s another argument: “The apostles and martyrs (of whichever religion is being discussed) wouldn’t have died for no reason. Therefore God exists.” 

Demolishing this one is easy. If the legends are true, the apostles and martyrs did indeed die for their faith. But their death doesn’t make their faith true. People have died for errors and delusions since the dawn of history.

How about: “There are many religions. They can’t all be wrong. Therefore God exists.” Or “There are hundreds of arguments for God. They can’t all be wrong. Therefore God exists.”

Yeah, right. There were many explanations for conception before science determined that eggs were fertilized by sperm. Every explanation was wrong. Many reasons have been given for invading Iraq, but they were all wrong.

That argument, by the way, is similar to the argument that goes “Many cool people, including people who are much wiser than me, believe in God. Therefore God exists.”

Sure. The wisest men in primitive tribes were convinced that the earth was flat and the sun was pulled across the sky by invisible gods. They all were wrong. The fact that some of those that we most respect believe in a God does not mean that the belief is true.

There are stronger arguments for the deity and we’ll examine them next week. In the meantime check out the following. Godless offers many more reasons that people give to believe. Rational responders gives plenty of ammunition to demolish them.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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