How Not to Disprove God

As a Christian I’ve run across some very poor arguments against theism. I imagine you’ve probably heard them too. I thought it might be helpful to put together a list with a few of the most popular worst offenders. This enumeration isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully it can provide a few helpful pointers to some of the more zealous atheists out there.

1. If you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about psychology. Maybe humans do have a deep-seated desire to live forever, to see their enemies receive ultimate punishment, to have a perfect parent, to have someone omnipotent to thank for good things and to blame for disasters, or something else along those same lines. But so what? That doesn’t prove or disprove anything about God. It’s six o’clock in the morning, I haven’t had breakfast yet, and I have a deep-seated desire for a muffin; that doesn’t mean muffins are just a legend invented in the mists of prehistory to which no intelligent person could ever assent. Whether I want something or not is no proof of whether it exists. Maybe we have a deep longing for God or maybe we don’t. Either way, it doesn’t affect the question of his existence.

2. Along the same lines, if you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about brainwashing. Maybe all religious people throughout all time have only ever believed in God because their parents did or their friends did or their society did, but again: so what? We aren’t talking about why people believe in God, but about whether God exists, and God’s existence (or lack thereof) is independent of why people believe or don’t believe in him.

3. If you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about the Bible. It doesn’t matter whether the Bible contradicts itself, or whether the morality of the Bible is stone-age and repulsive — or at least, it doesn’t matter to the debate about God’s existence. The Bible could be completely true, or it could be a book of fairy tales or a pack of vicious lies, and in any case it has no bearing on the intellectual question of whether God exists. You can say anything you like about the Bible without ever proving a single thing about God’s existence. So if you’re just gunning for Christians, go ahead make a commotion about the Bible. But if it’s really God you want to argue about, you’ll have to focus elsewhere.

4. If you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about the violence of religious people. Maybe a world of atheists would be a wonderful place. Maybe human history would have been all rainbows and singalongs if religion had never shown up. I have my doubts, but let’s pretend it’s true for a moment. Let’s pretend that all violence and tragedy is rooted in religious faith, or at least that all religious faith has a tendency to violence and tragedy, and let’s see what it tells us about God’s existence: absolutely nothing. Perhaps religious people don’t really know God. Perhaps they know God and he actually wants violence and tragedy. Perhaps (and for my part I favour this one) even the religious people who do know God don’t always live up to the standards God gives them. But in any case, you can slander religion and religious people all you want, as long as you don’t expect it to win you any points in the argument over God’s existence.

5. If you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about the bearded man in the sky or the goblin king or the flying spaghetti monster. All you’ll succeed in doing is sounding ignorant. Theism does not posit a magical giant at the top of a mountain somewhere, or an ancient and invisible sorcerer in the sky. If you think it does — if you think anything vaguely close to this sort of notion — then really you don’t have enough knowledge even to enter the ring for a debate. Go back and hit the books.

6. Last one for now. If you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about the natural sciences. That might seem a bit extreme, but it’s true. Science cannot prove or disprove God. You can talk all day about how the physical universe could have come into existence without divine intervention, or how the rise of biological life or of self-conscious humans is completely explainable in terms of natural processes (though I doubt you’ll be able to make a very good case for any of these propositions), and even if you are right, and even if you can demonstrate that you’re right, it still won’t disprove the existence of God. What is science? Why does it work? What are its limitations? There are all kinds of philosophical questions that precede and justify natural science, without which science is just a nice thought experiment. All credible discussion of God’s existence belongs to the larger realm of philosophical thought that encompasses the natural sciences, not to natural science itself. If your aim is to disprove God, it really is a waste of time to set out any sort of elaborate scientific argument about the universe and its contents.

I can imagine someone at this point saying, “This seems unfair though. How am I supposed to disprove God without access to all these fallacies? Are there any other easy ways to disprove God’s existence?”

You have my sympathy. Life’s not fair. Happy debating.