An atheist viewer needs to argue for religion in his college philosophy class. Message and response below the fold.
Hope you all are doing well. I’m not sure how to approach this without sounding like I need free help, so I’ll just lay it out:
I’m taking a philosophy class on science and religion, and we have an extensive paper due in the future that I’m having trouble laying out. Essentially, we have to take a stance (for me, it would be atheism) and then spend time making a collective argument against it. The goal, according to my teacher, is to help us understand that there can (what?) be plausible arguments for and against the existence of god on both sides of the tracks. This brings me to a critical situation, simply because I cannot for the life of me think of a single piece of convincing evidence for the existence of a god or gods. I know I’m not the only one though, just think of all the Christians in my classroom that are going to have to give logical arguments against theirs! The best part, is that my professor said only GOOD arguments count, so I can’t use simple things from evangelists like Ray Comfort or the like. Of course that would be dishonest on my part to begin with.
So this brings me to the question: If there was such good evidence for the existence of a god, what the hell is it? This is why I come to you, my friends over in Austin. As an atheist, I feel inclined to say that no such evidence (to me) has fared to be good or convincing.
I was wondering if you guys and gals could lend me some advice here. I’m not asking for anything extensive, but just from basics here that I can use to hash out this argument better.
What evidence, philosophical or otherwise, would you deem worthy for arguing for god? Fear not, I am an honest college student and won’t copy anything you say verbatim without giving credit.
This has been an interesting conundrum for me, but I thank all of you regardless.
This will be an argumentative paper – that is, you will be required to make a case for some position, and you will be graded almost solely on how strong a case you make. Flashy, wordy, eloquent prose will do almost nothing to help your grade, while strong, clear, thoughtful, and precise reasoning will surely increase your grade.
There are two questions that you need to answer in this paper: 1. Do you tend to believe that there is a God, or do you tend to believe there is no God? 2. What is, in your mind, from the research you’ve done for the paper, the strongest case that can be made against the position you tend to hold? That is, if you tend toward believing that there is no God, what is the strongest case that can be made for the existence of God? Likewise, if you tend toward believing that there is a God, what is the strongest case that can be made that God doesn’t exist?
First of all, it’s not necessarily the case that you have to wind up agreeing with the position that you are arguing for. Rather, I would treat this as an opportunity to line up what are the best arguments for the other side, for the express purpose of knocking them down.
Certainly you are right to think that the best arguments for the other side do not come from Ray Comfort. But there is a long tradition of esteemed philosophers trying very hard to justify their faith in Christian doctrine. These include Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who argued for the “uncaused cause” principle; Blaise Pascal, who pioneered the much-maligned Pascal’s Wager; Descartes, who famously jumped almost directly from “I think therefore I am” to “…therefore God exists”; and of course William Paley who was a proponent of the argument from design.
Are any of these really great arguments for the existence of God? Nah. But collectively, they are some of the most well known and widely used arguments, and possibly among the best arguments that people know how to make. So if you can pick a few of those, make the case for them honestly and convincingly, and then show how easy it is to knock them down, then you’ve shown the case for atheism to be that much stronger by comparison.
Ultimately, of course, that is exactly the point of arguing for the other side. You don’t want to be in the position where someone can accuse you of “just not understanding” what the best arguments for Christianity are. On the contrary, you want to be able to demonstrate a very strong command of the opposing arguments. Your essay should say to people, “Look at this! I have taken a serious look at some of the very best arguments for Christianity, I have argued for them in a way that should be seem fair to actual Christians, and now I will show that they’re still not good enough to make the case.”
You should make a habit of doing this, and please don’t underestimate the importance of this technique. Your high school classes almost certainly didn’t focus on this as a method of persuasive argument, but it starts to crop up more and more as you get into higher level classes, and it will serve you well in all kinds of disciplines. If you were going to pursue a scientific degree, for example, you’d have to write peer reviewed papers. Part of the process of peer review is that the reviewers look for holes in your point of view, try to think of any objection that will knock your case down. If you have already thought of all possible objections, and explained how your argument beats them even before someone else can make them, then you’ll have a much greater chance of successful publication.
So be enthusiastic about tackling this topic. Getting inside the head of your opponents, and making their arguments for them, is one of the best ways to learn how to strengthen your point of view.