10 Atheist Arguments I Like (part 2)

10 Atheist Arguments I Like (part 2)

~ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 ~

I must start with a confession, and that is — I’m cheating with the numbering of this list. You see, “arguments” (and I use to the term loosely) one, two, and three are all related and quite similar. Though the points discussed in each of the three sections flow from one another, it is still worth listing each of the arguments seperately, if only for the nostalgia of recognizing them, like when we saw the Millenium Falcon in the new Star Wars. “I saw my friend in grad school comment that on an unrelated Facebook post five months ago!”

It warms the heart.

Last time,  we spoke about the idea that what is at issue in monotheism is merely an incomplete form of atheism, or, as the famous quote goes, “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” This was noted to be a generally wonderful point, because it forces the monotheist to think of his god differently. We noted (very) briefly that the answer to this claim is that the monotheist G-d is very different from other “gods.” If we do not believe in Hercules or Loki, it is for very good reason, and a reason that does not apply to the One G-d of monotheism.

Not convinced? That’s why we have

2. “Believing in G-d is like believing in the tooth fairy.”

Or as Queen put it, “You say, ‘Lord,’ I say, ‘Christ, I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Super Man.'” Or Santa Clause. Or  Poseidon.  Or whatever. The point is, there are these imaginary people that they tell us about as kids, but some of us never grow out of believing in the “G-d” one. If you think that G-d exists you’re stuck in your childhood, foolish, buying into the big lie. The atheist has merely managed to stop foolishly believing in one more contrivance than the monotheist.

Now, just who exactly is supposed to be pulling the wool over whom’s eyes, or whether someone need be deceitful for someone to be fooled is an issue for a different time. What we’re dealing with here is the substance of Freddie Mercury’s point, i.e. that not believing in G-d is the same as not believing in any other character or being we have never actually seen with our eyes.

This is, unfortunately, not true, because everyone agrees that the criteria for reality does not involve actually seeing something with our eyes. Sure, if G-d were like a person, if He were a demigod like the pagan deities, who are basically like superman with less Jewish backstories, then the only way to affirm His existence would be through seeing Him or believing the testimony of those who have. This is because these beings are basically people, like anyone else. You know they’re there if you see their body, same way you know your aunt has shown up at the family reunion and it’s time for slobbery kisses.

G-d, if He doesn’t have a body (a point that, like G-d’s existence I’m sure, is still widely considered to be up for debate), would be rather hard to spot. That’s okay; there are other things that don’t have a body and have never been seen, and we believe in them. Some of these we know through their effects, like recalcitrance or love or the wind. This is unhelpful in trying to determine whether G-d exists, since His effects are just as up for debate as his existence, and this sends us down the rabbit hole of the whole “science vs religion” thing which, no matter its outcome, is utterly unnecessary.

It is unnecessary because there are other things we know to be true, but not through seeing their bodies, and not even through their effects. These we know with a more arcane, thoroughly human form of perception, that is, through logical demonstration.

Take, for example, Euclid’s magnificent proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers, still beautiful and true after 2300 years. This proof does not involve anything physical, nor does it affect anything we can observe. It is an example of deductive logic whose premises and conclusion deal in purely abstract concepts. As far as I know, very few people go around saying, “Believe in Euclid’s Theorem? I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, either.” The reason very few people go around saying this is because it’s stupid. You are comparing something that can only be known to exist through witnesses or the testimony of witnesses (the tooth fairy) to something that is said to exist because basic premises and logic itself leads us to that conclusion (Euclid’s theorem).

Now, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to argue with deductive mathematical reasoning. What it means is that if we are to argue, we should really argue with either the premises or the logic of the demonstration. On the contrary, if you do not believe every number can be broken down into prime factors, or you are a fervent skeptic of modus ponens (having read that thoroughly disturbing Lewis Carroll story), by all means — argue these things. But comparisons to the existence of mythical figures accomplishes nothing at all.

If you haven’t yet guessed it, it’s worth saying now: I really do believe G-d is more like Euclid’s Theorem than the tooth fairy. That is, His existence is classically known through a process of demonstrative logical deduction, not through seeing Him or His effects in some way.

Very well, you may be thinking. What is the demonstration? Where is the proof? What are the premises or logic that we must criticize, rather than saying G-d is like Peter Pan?

But that’s for next time, when we’ll discuss the perennial question, “What caused G-d?” For now, for those of us who believe in G-d, it is worth meditating on the difference between Frankenstein and G-d. And rest assured: The great religious philosophers of all three major monotheistic religions have always said that the difference is sizeable indeed.


  • ericlinuskaplan

    December 27, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    have you read Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion?

    • Tzvi Kilov

      December 29, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      No, but it’s on my list.

  • Mendel

    December 27, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    To many athiests, the scientific and logical arguments for god have become so outdated and sort of meaningless to the point where to believe in a deity is indeed in a sense quite similar to belief in a tooth fairy.
    And at the same time, if you look at the popular conception and even portrayal of god to the masses by the cloth in the big 3 monotheistic religions, it is so downright silly that the comparison to the tooth fairies and spaghetti monsters becomes quite accurate.

    • Tzvi Kilov

      December 29, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Totally agree.

  • LS

    January 11, 2016 at 4:23 am

    For the deep-thinking theist, who spent years of intense study plunging the depths of their faith’s greatest thinkers, perhaps G*d is more like Euclid than he is like the tooth fairy. I don’t concede the point, but I’ll grant the assumption for the sake of discussion.

    But for the work-a-day man of G*d who fills their time with work and family. Who teach their children about G*d because that’s what everyone agrees is good and proper.

    How different are G*d and the tooth fairy for them?

    • Tzvi Kilov

      January 11, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      I mean, fair enough. That’s really the point of these articles — that unless you engage and really think, the G-d you worship really *is* like the G-d the atheist doesn’t believe in, and that’s a problem!

      Just as I am engaging with “bad” atheist “arguments,” I would never begrudge an atheist to engage with silly things theists say; indeed I am familiar with those things and they annoy me.

      (There is also the point to be made, by the way, that I don’t necessarily agree that all there is to know about G-d is rational per se. But I do believe that the rational arguments for His existence at least are valid. Some of the more childish or silly things that people say about G-d are actually *true*, in some ways and from other perspectives, but for someone who actually thinks they have to do a lot of acrobatics to see it that way. =D The idea that G-d has a body, for example, is antithetical to everything I’ve written here, but people think it is so because of what it says in the Bible. There are ways of reconciling the two, obviously, but I’m not sure how much patience an atheist would have for it.)