Neil Shenvi - Apologetics

Refuting Arguments for God

Christian apologists offer a variety of arguments attempting to demonstrate that God exists, such as the Moral Argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, or the Argument from Reason. So how are these arguments refuted? Many skeptics will attempt to refute the arguments one at a time, offering a variety of different objections. However, there is a much simpler and more powerful solution. What I propose in this essay is a single argument which will debunk not merely one or two, but all the arguments for God's existence. In other words, it will logically demonstrate that all such arguments are unsound. What's more, the argument -which I call the Preemptive Argument against God's existence - is extremely simple and can be adapted to many different problems, as I'll show in a moment.

So what is the Preemptive Argument? It is a syllogism, consisting of two premises and a conclusion:


Premise 1. If Argument A for God's existence is sound, then God exists
Premise 2. But God does not exist
Conclusion. Therefore, Argument A for God's existence is not sound

This argument is logically valid by modus tollens. Consequently, if the premises of the argument are true, then it follows logically that the conclusion is true: Argument A for God's existence is not sound. What is "Argument A" for God's existence? Simply put, it is any argument for God's existence at all. Argument A could be the Moral Argument for God's existence. It could be the Ontological Argument for God's existence. It could be any one of the various Cosmological Arguments for God's existence. It doesn't matter; all argument's for God's existence fall equally and inexorably beneath the power of the Preemptive Argument.

If the Christian resorts to offering 'evidence' for God's existence rather than a proof, the Preemptive Argument is still applicable. Here, the flexibility of the argument is evident. We can easily adapt the Preemptive Argument to refute claims of 'evidence' for God's existence:


Premise 1. If E is evidence for God's existence, then there is some evidence for God's existence
Premise 2. But there is no evidence for God's existence
Conclusion. Therefore, E is not evidence for God's existence

Once again, E can be any evidence at all, whether it is the supposed 'scientific evidence' from the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of physics or 'historical evidence' for the Resurrection of Jesus. In all these cases, the Preemptive Argument logically proves that these phenomena are not evidence at all.

Let me reiterate that the Preemptive Argument is a valid logical argument. Critics will search in vain to discover some flaw that renders it formally fallacious. It is not an appeal to authority, because it defers to no experts. It is not an ad hominem, since it utterly demolishes all theistic arguments in a respectful manner. It does not beg the question, because atheism is merely the lack of belief in God. It is a patently logically valid argument.

When confronted with the power of the Preemptive Argument, the Christian -rather than honestly reexamining his own beliefs and questioning whether they are correct- is likely to simply assume that his beliefs are true and attempt to find some loophole that allows him to escape the argument. Yet the logic of the argument is inescapable. Moreover, the argument itself is so flexible can be applied to almost any issue, whether it is the efficacy of your political party's economic strategy or the biological status of a fetus. This one argument renders all other arguments obsolete and unnecessary.

The brilliant Scottish skeptic David Hume wrote in his work Of Miracles': "I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures." Although his argument is universally accepted as unassailable, I believe that the Preemptive Argument offers an even broader scope for application. I urge all readers to learn this argument and to apply it whenever their views are challenged.


Is this satire?

Yes and no. Yes, because I doubt that anyone would actually use the 'Preemptive Argument' explicitly. But no, because I suspect that almost every one of us -Christian or non-Christian- uses this argument implicitly when our views are challenged or when we confront evidence that doesn't conform to our preexisting beliefs. Like our imaginary interlocutor, we often do not "honestly reexamine our own beliefs and question whether they are correct." We frequently assume that our beliefs are true (premise 2) and then conclude that the evidence in question must be flawed.

It is true that everyone has some presuppositional beliefs that are foundational to their worldview and which it is almost impossible to challenge. Such foundational beliefs are not unique to Christians. For example, what evidence do we have to prove that "you shouldn't believe claims, except on the basis of evidence"? Or what logical argument convinces us that "the laws of logic are valid"? But our resistance to new ideas and evidence goes well beyond foundational beliefs. Often, we adopt the views of our social environment or our peers wholesale without any real critical engagement. And once these views are adopted, they can be very resistant to reevaluation, causing us to ignore or misinterpret the evidence. [To readers interested in some recent studies on this phenomenon, I recommend this research by Yale's Dan Kahan or this research by NYU's Jonathan Haidt]. We only seek out arguments and evidence which confirm our beliefs; we rarely deliberately seek out those that challenge them.

If you are skeptical of Christianity, it's worth asking whether you succumb, at least partially, to this kind of confirmation bias. Do you Google "Evidence that God exists" or "Debunking evidence that God exists"? Do you only watch videos of atheists engaged in a monologue or do you also watch debates in which both sides are represented? Do you read The Reason for God or Jesus and the Eyewitnesses in addition to The God Delusion and The End of Faith? Obviously, it's unlikely that our consumption of information will be entirely balanced. As a Christian, I have to work hard to ensure that I am reading atheist authors, talking to intelligent skeptics, and really listening to skeptical arguments. But we should try our best to hear both sides. When the subject is as weighty as God's existence, when the choice is between forgiveness and condemnation and our very life could hang in the balance, it's imperative that we let our beliefs be challenged.


Related essays:
If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- Shenvi.org. I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It is phenomenal. Free sermons treating many of the topics covered by this book can be found
here.

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