Atheistic objections

Garret Merriam

Professor Garret Merriam argues that if God exists, then we can’t be moral.   In other words, we can only be moral if morality is not grounded in God’s existence.  This is a reversal of the moral argument for God’s existence.  It’s a moral argument against God’s existence.

Like many new atheists, Merriam argues that the Christian God commands and commits evil, so if morality is rooted in God and our moral duties are based on God’s commands, morality is impossible.  I don’t accept the premise that God commands or commits evil, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument.  Does his conclusion follow?  No.


MoralityThere are two senses in which something can be considered good.  Something can be good in a pragmatic sense: that which is the most effective means for obtaining some desired outcome.  For example, if we desire to eat an ice cream cone without getting ice cream on our clothes, it is “good” to start eating from the top of the cone rather than the bottom.  This kind of goodness is judged by something’s utility.  It is considered good because it works well, and the human subject values the fact that it works well.  We might call this kind of goodness “pragmatic goodness.”

Something can also be good in the sense that it has intrinsic moral virtue/character.  For example, it is “good” to try to save someone who is drowning.  This kind of goodness is judged by the intrinsic moral character of the act itself, rather than its utility.  Indeed, risking one’s life to save a stranger has little utility for the rescuer, but great moral virtue nonetheless.  This sort of goodness is not determined by what we desire or the value we attach to the outcome, but is rooted in the moral character of the act itself, wholly independent of what any human may think about it.[1]  We might call this kind of goodness “moral goodness.”  This is the kind of goodness moral philosophers have in mind when they talk about objective morality. (more…)

Most Christians are conExperienceGodvinced of God’s existence based on their personal experience of God rather than by rational argumentation (though some are convinced by a combination of experience and argument).  This is a rational justification for such a belief. After all, we generally take our experiences to be veridical unless and until we have good reasons for thinking our experience was not veridical. An argument for God’s existence based on personal experience goes something like this:

  1. I seem to have had an experience of God
  2. I should trust my experiences unless I have good reasons to doubt their veracity
  3. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of my experience of God
  4. Therefore, I have experienced God
  5. Therefore, God exists

Atheists will often claim that they would also believe in God if they had a similar experience.  It’s not uncommon for this claim to be followed up by a question: Why, if God exists, have they not experienced Him?   (more…)

Brute Facts Yellow Garbage CanCaleb Clanton wrote an article in the most recent volume of Philosophia Christi in defense of the cosmological argument.[1] More precisely, he argued for the principle of sufficient reason that undergirds the argument, and against the existence of brute facts which undercuts the argument. Here is a brief summary of his argument.

A contingent being is one whose existence is derived from a source outside of itself.  Everything we see around us is a contingent being: trees, rocks, planets, stars, and even the universe itself.  How did the set of all contingent beings originate?  While the vast majority of all contingent beings can be explained by appealing to a prior contingent being, this cannot go on ad infinitum because an infinite regress is logically absurd.  It follows, then, that the entire set of contingent beings cannot be explained by appealing to another contingent being because as the set of all contingent beings, there can’t be any additional contingent beings.  Only a being that is not contingent can explain the set.  A being that is not contingent is a necessary being, meaning it does not derive its existence from anything outside of itself, but has existence in and of itself by a necessity of its own nature.  Theists identify this necessary being as God. (more…)

God of GapsI’ve noticed that many nonbelievers (and even believers) misunderstand what constitutes a “God of the gaps” argument.  They tend to think one is guilty of a God of the gaps argument if they offer God as an explanation for some X rather than some natural phenomenon.  The problem with this definition is that it presumes the only valid explanation is a naturalistic explanation.  God is ruled out as a valid explanation for anything a priori, so anyone who offers God as an explanation for X is thought to do so merely because they are ignorant of the proper naturalistic explanation.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism and against theism.  One could only conclude that every effect has a naturalistic explanation, and that God is not a valid explanation, if one has first demonstrated that God does not exist.  So long as it is even possible that God exists, then it is possible that God may be the cause of X, and thus explain X.

What makes an argument a God of the gaps type of argument is when God is invoked to explain X simply because we do not know what else can explain X.  In other words, God is used to plug a gap in our knowledge of naturalistic explanations: “I don’t know how to explain X, so God must have done X.”  This is not at all the same as arguing that God is the best explanation of X, based on what we know regarding X and the explanatory options available to us.  Here, God is being invoked to explain what we know, not what we don’t know.


Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.


WaldoMany atheists employ the concept of divine hiddenness to argue against God’s existence.  If God exists, they argue, why is His existence not more obvious?

I have blogged on this issue previously (here and here), so I won’t rehearse the arguments again.  Instead, I’ll simply assert that I do not accept the claim that God’s’ existence is not obvious enough.  I think there is good evidence for God’s existence, and that God only appears to be hidden because we have not looked for Him with an open mind and heart.


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