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Opinion | Web Update

God’s non-existence and logical fallacies

Published: March 20, 2014, 1:09 am ET

This article will not try to demonstrate that God does, in fact, exist. It will not even attempt to provide a compelling argument for believing in God. This is not to say that there are many arguments for God’s existence that are also logically fallacious. This is merely an attempt to show, in very few words, that these certain arguments against the existence of God are logically fallacious:

1. Man created God.
2. Therefore, God does not exist.

This is perhaps the most common logical fallacy: neuroscience and psychology have found that the human brain is configured such that man will believe in God given certain stimuli (see Freud, Totem and Taboo or The Future of an Illusion). Therefore, God must not exist.

The physiological evidence for this premise is not lacking, but I want to show that the conclusion does not follow from the premise. This argument is a flawless example of the genetic fallacy, a rule of logic purporting that it is fallacious to invalidate an argument because of the origins of the argument.

In other words, an argument is not weak because the history of how the arguer came to hold the argument is suspect. This does not mean that it is great to believe in God in the absence of evidence – however, it is to say that one commits a logical fallacy if she concludes that God does not exist because a man’s physiology is the source of his belief in God.

So, even if I grant the fact that man first came to believe in God because of x (comfort in light of frightening circumstances, the desire for a powerful father, construction of sociological identity, etc.), it would be fallacious for me to conclude from this fact that he does not exist.

The fallacy applies because how I historically arrive at a belief has no bearing (apart from interest) on the substance of my argument. If you want to show that God does not exist, you must give a compelling argument against his existence in fact and against the substance of my argument. You cannot (according to logical rules) attempt to make an argument for God’s existence weak by appealing to how I came to believe, instead of why.

In short, it is a fallacy of irrelevance. This is not to say that the conclusion that God does not exist is false. It is to say that this particular argument against his non-existence is invalid. If you wanted to have a substantial (non-fallacious) debate concerning God’s existence, then you ought to discuss issues like God’s nature and the problem of evil, whether the Big Bang needs an atemporal cause, whether there are objective moral values and duties if God does not exist, etc.

In language more conducive to other disciplines, discovering one’s bias or predisposition is interesting and useful for other things. However, it deals with the arguer and not the argument.

Consider an analogous dialogue: “The death penalty is an immoral punishment,” and “You only think that because you are from X.” It might be true that many people from X are against the death penalty and that is strong reason why the protester is against the death penalty. But, it is easy to see that following the response, we are no closer to discovering the morality of the death penalty. In the same way, the psychology of religion is fascinating. Unfortunately, it says nothing about the religion’s claims.

Does God exist? The predisposition of the brain cannot tell us – it is irrelevant to the subject at hand.

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  • Ray Troy

    More logical mish-mash from Rhatican I see. No intelligent atheist would claim to be able to prove a negative (ie. demonstrate logically that God does not exist). I cannot logically disprove God any more than they I could logically disprove that an invisible Kangaroo follows Brandon everywhere he goes.

    But the burden is on the believer, the one making claims about the existence of something, to provide support for that belief. Here Brandon has created a straw man argument that no serious atheist has made in order to knock it down and feel more confident in his baseless belief.

    The atheist argument is in fact some combination of these points:

    1. The burden is on the believer to provide an argument to support the existence of a being they claim exists. A religious believer would recognize this principle in any other context (ie. If I was to claim to have a magical pet unicorn out behind my house that was passing on instructions on how my friend should live his life).

    2. No good argument exists which would establish the existence of even a deistic God, let alone the theistic God of any particular religion. The deist still has all his work ahead of him to establish the truth of a specific religion. Every theist is an atheist about every (or many) of the other Gods which people have claimed exist. Atheists just go one farther.

    3. Our current scientific understanding of the workings of the universe, limited as it may be, is based on hypothesis which do not suggest the existence of a God and certainly do not require the existence of a God to explain what we can observe.

    In short, Atheists do not argue that there is no God. That is a common misconception. An atheist is one who points out that there is no good evidence to support the existence of God and that the burden is on the believer, the one trying to tell us that he holds the key to the good life and eternal salvation (and who often seems to conveniently be soliciting donations), to prove that he is not talking nonsense.

    Brandon’s argument misunderstands atheism and essentially just falsely weakens the atheist argument so that he can knock it down.

    I’d be much more interested to see Brandon’s argument FOR God’s existence. It would, after all, be very unreasonable to believe something exists for no reason at all.

    You’ll notice his use of evasive language: “This article will not try to demonstrate that God does, in fact, exist. It will not even attempt to provide a compelling argument for believing in God.”

    There would be no need to write this article if it was possible to “provide a compelling argument for believing in God.” That argument alone would be sufficient to defeat the atheist argument. The fact that Brandon impliedly has to concede he can’t make a good argument FOR God essentially proves everything the atheist claims; that there is no good evidence for God’s existence.

    • Alexander Hutton

      @Ray Troy: Interesting how certain you are in point 2. Are you claiming omniscience? That’s a very absolute statement. You seem to have one of the qualities of (a) god yourself. Or does your certainty come from a biased predisposition?

      • Ray Troy

        I suppose we could rephrase to say “No good argument has ever been offered.” If one exists, humans have not yet found it. Either way, the point stands, because the point is simply that it’s silly to affirmatively believe that God exists, let alone claim that a specific God exists and he cares about you in very particular ways, without a scintilla of evidence.

        Assuming you are a Christian, you already know what it is like to be an atheist with respect to every other god humanity has ever imagined. Atheists just have the intellectual honesty to go one further.