Refuting God: The Big Four

Frank Turek in a debate with Christopher Hitchens used three arguments to support the existence of God: Cosmological, Teleological, and Moral. It is worth noting that he does not include the Ontological argument, which William Lane Craig still infamously uses. Perhaps Turek understands that the argument is fatally flawed. I will address all four.

The Ontological Argument

This argument fascinates me, but it pulls a fast one. Developed by Bishop Anselm, it says that nothing greater than God can be conceived – this is part of the definition of God. Existing is better than not existing, and if we conceive of God as not existing, we can therefore conceive of something greater than God. To conceive of him as not existing is not to conceive of God. But from this, it is inconceivable that God does not exist, and so God exists.

Thus even the fool is convinced that something than which nothing greater can be conceived is in the understanding, since when he hears this, he understands it; and whatever is understood is in the understanding. And certainly that than which a greater cannot be conceived cannot be in the understanding alone. For if it is even in the understanding alone, it can be conceived to exist in reality also, which is greater. Thus if that than which a greater cannot be conceived is in the understanding alone, then that than which a greater cannot be conceived is itself that than which a greater can be conceived. But surely this cannot be. Thus without doubt something than which a greater cannot be conceived exists, both in the understanding and in reality.

Anselm, Proslogion II

If this argument is mind-boggling and confusing, it’s because it’s really incoherent. It is purely conceptual. The mere existence of a concept does not entail that there are examples of that concept.

But it’s difficult to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the argument. Immanuel Kant refuted it, however. “Existence”, he says, is not a property, like being strong is a property. If existence is just a property, than it could be built into the definition of any other concept – and so we can define a “dicorn” with the following properties: “a horse that 1) has two horns, and 2) exists.” By definition, dicorns must exist, so they exist. But this is clearly absurd. By this, we could prove the existence of literally any figment of our imagination.

The Cosmological Argument

The Cosmological argument goes as follows:

  • Everything that exists must have a cause.
  • The universe exists and so must have a cause.
  • Nothing can cause itself, so the universe cannot cause itself.
  • Therefore, something outside the universe must have caused the universe.
  • The only thing outside the universe is God.
  • Therefore, God caused the universe, and he exists.

There are two major flaws. First, who created God? The theist argues that God is an exception. No one needs to have created him; it stops at God. But why can’t we stop at the universe? If we admit of exceptions, than the universe can be an exception.

Second, what does it mean for God to “cause” something? We define cause based on events connected by physical laws – e.g., smoking causes cancer. But without a universe, there are no physical laws. Therefore, without a universe, what does it mean for God to cause something? We extend the concept of “cause” into a realm in which we have no idea how to use it.

The Big Bang Argument

Some modern Christians attempt to argue from the big bang. At the big bang, the physical universe began, including matter, energy, space, time, and physical laws. It came from nothing. Therefore, something outside the universe must have caused it. Only God can exist outside the universe, so he must have caused the universe and thus exists.

But the Big Bang may be the emergence of a new universe from a previously existing one – as is thought by some cosmologists. If so, it is superfluous to invoke God.

But either way, the Big Bang argument has every flaw that the Cosmological argument has. Again, what does it mean for God to cause the universe?

The Teleological Argument

The teleological argument says that where things we can observe cohere because of a purpose or function, they had a designer. The parts of the universe, like the eye, cohere because they have a function, and thus have a designer. The designer is not human, so he must be non-human – and he must be God. Therefore God exists.

The Darwinian process of replication can demonstrate an illusion of design without an actual designer. Replicators copy themselves, and they copy themselves, etc., and in a finite environment replicators must compete for resources necessary for replication. Errors that appear in replication (as replication is imperfect) will be rooted out, resulting in the ability of replicators to replicate more effectively. After a very long time, replicators will appear to have been designed for effective replication.

Therefore, parts of a complex argument serving a complex function do not require a designer. The argument is cut off at the roots.

The Moral Argument

According to the moral argument, moral truths exist objectively, like that slavery and torture are wrong. They are not grounded in the way it is but in the way it ought to be. (If slavery was dominant across the whole world, it would still be wrong.) The world itself cannot explain the way the world ought to be – and the only way to account for morality is that God established it and thus exists.

Plato refuted this in Euthyphro. Reference to God does not help ground morality – because there are two possibilities: Did God declare things wrong because they are wrong, or are things wrong because God declares them to be wrong? If the first, then we can use God’s reasons, whatever they may be, to ground our morality, without actually having God. If the second, morality is arbitrary – just as arbitrary as Christians want to claim that secular morality is.

Furthermore, the Bible commanded 1) slavery, 2) slaying of enemies, 3) execution of blasphemers and homosexuals, and much, much else. The god from which morality is drawn did not establish what we consider moral. The Christian must say, “Well, slavery was only permitted by God, but it is now wrong under the New Covenant,” whatever that means. But this moral judgment is itself based on a moral standard outside of the Bible, by which we judge the Bible. And so the Bible isn’t really the ultimate standard.

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