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Feb 13 2012

Arguing for the other team

An atheist viewer needs to argue for religion in his college philosophy class.  Message and response below the fold.

Hello gang,

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.

The assignment:

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?

 

My reply:

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.

120 comments

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  1. 1
    Legion

    I think the best ”argument” for god is that we don’t know everything. God might exist. This is at least true. God might exist, and we don’t know everything. All other arguments are either logically flawed, or lack evidence. The unfortunate part is, that saying that god might exist, isn’t really an argument at all… I feel bad for you ;-).

    1. 1.1
      reigngage

      God might exist? I’ve got bad news for you.

      What are the odds that a super wise third century monk-guy might exist who was able to re-write the “fable” of Matthew to be spot on in NINE data points regarding the phenomena known as the Star of Bethlehem?

      See BethlehemStar.net for the NASA based software documentary on the veracity of biblical…astronomy, in this case. I won’t spoil it for you but wait till you see what happened on 25Dec02BC!

      Worse, look at what NASA software again confirms happened on a certain FRIDAY in 33A.D. Yeh, it was THAT Friday. Which is the GOOD NEWS!

      1. LykeX

        So, just to be clear, you think that Matthew was wrong in saying that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod?

        With regards to the star, I really can’t be bothered to sift through that site. I’d prefer a simple, straightforward presentation of the argument, rather than an awful lot of fluff.

        Since you’ve apparently read it, perhaps you could answer this: If we accept that the star was a real phenomenon, how do you get from that to the existence of god?

      2. jonmoles

        Hilarious. Of course, you have outed yourself as a Poe because your grammar isn’t a wretched mess.

  2. 2
    jacobfromlost

    I think Kazim is right. You are only being asked to write a paper with a counterargument to your view. Including a counterargument actually makes your argument STRONGER.

    In an internet debate once, I actually use a theist’s same tactics to counterargue (satirically) for the existence of a group of extra-dimensional beings (after he already knew I was an atheist), citing evidence in nature of groups working together to be more successful in creating things than individuals…which (I argued tongue-in-cheek) was clear evidence that the entire universe had to be created by a group of creative beings outside of our universe. Even the entire universe is made of different processes, energies, and materials that all work together in a kind of harmony! Just like the extra-dimensional beings that created it! (I went on for some time, using music, art, cells working together, collaboration in architecture, ecosystems, symbiosis, bla, bla, bla, lol. It was quite fun.)

    The theist was not amused, but I asked them how I choose between believing in their god and my group of extra-dimensional beings, especially given that the arguments for the two were equally supported by the “evidence” around us?

    That’s usually when they get mad and say the bible is unique, or something. Well, my extra-dimensional beings are unique too! That reminds me–I should give them names.

    Note: You’re assignment doesn’t sound like anything that complicated. You argue for why you tend to believe there is no god, and include the counterarguments in support of god…then explain why those counterarguments are insufficient to support belief in a god.

  3. 3
    Tommy R.

    Although it may seem detrimental to your cause at first, I’d have to agree with Kazim. If they let you go on to counter all the points Christianity has to offer, it would greatly increase your chance of solidifying your intellect, but also the classmates’ understanding of how you operate. Have fun with it! :D

  4. 4
    Russell Glasser

    I just want to add this, after reading the assignment again:

    The assignment does clearly ask you to state the case for the countering position, and does not ask you to refute it. That doesn’t mean a refutation isn’t allowed, but it does mean you should spend the vast majority of your time making the affirmative case for religion. Maybe two paragraphs for each argument, and (if you like) follow it with one shorter paragraph saying why you don’t find the argument convincing. Your conclusion should, however, repeat the assertion that this is, in your opinion, the best case for Christianity that you think they’ve got.

    1. 4.1
      jacobfromlost

      Ignore my “note” from above. After reading the directions again myself, Kazim is right. As a former English teacher, I’d quibble with this assignment, but I also don’t know how it fits in with other assignments. And I second the fact that you should spend most of your time developing the argument for god/religion…but just to be intellectually honest with yourself, I would include refutations. (Short ones should be sufficient.)

      And I request no one read my posts for grammar and spelling errors now that I said I was an English teacher. Thak yoo.

    2. 4.2
      tosspotovich

      Kazim, I have to disagree with this approach. This paper is not about staying true to your position but demonstrating that you can play devil’s advocate like a defence lawyer with a guilty client. Atheistic views should only be given in order to counter them with the best theistic argument available. None of us here will find them convincing (PRATT) but the task states: “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.” The case will not be strengthened by claiming you don’t find your own arguments convincing. That discussion should follow, but outside of this submission.

      1. jacobfromlost

        tosspotovich,

        You may be right, but this would be up to the student to decide. Which is more important? My grade, or my intellectual honesty? This very problem is why I don’t like the assignment as written, but any professor who would mark you DOWN for including a brief reason why those arguments are insufficient (especially when the first the assignment asks for you to do is identify whether you tend to believe in a god, or tend not to believe in a god) is not a professor I would care to get an “A” from.

        Just one of those learning experiences in college that mirror real life, but on a smaller scale.

        (Also, in reading the directions a third time, they cut off rather abruptly. I suspect there was more to them than what is above.)

        1. tosspotovich

          @jacobfromlost
          Given the parameters of the assignment I would say the only intellectually honest approach is to give the best possible argument against your own position. Theists will have the same dilemma and the subsequent discussion could prove a real eye-opener to those sitting on the fence or those who believe through indoctrination but have never considered whether their ideas stand up to scrutiny (and actually care about truth). As this is “an extensive paper” I think our student could elaborate in part 1 about reasons for holding a stance but I’m not sure it would put the reader in the best frame of mind to be convinced by the argument presented in part 2.

          I commend the professor for approaching a potentially controversial topic in a challenging way and wouldn’t be surprised if zhe is a non-believer (though that could be my Aussie perspective showing through).

          1. M. A. Melby

            I agree. I’m also really stoked that you used a gender neutral pronoun.

            I’m wondering though, if there is a context in the course for the definition of “God” the student should be using.

      2. michaeld

        I think you’re on the right track 2 paragraphs for 1 paragraph against sounds like a terrible idea. It wastes your time researching and writing. Worse it wastes the markers time reading things that are irrelevant to the argument. Better to be short strong and concise then meander off topic.

        The one exception is 2 paragraphs for 1 paragraph defending against the objections is a great idea. I TA’d for an entomology lab course and something you learn when you’re marking compared to writing. There’s this desire as a student to throw in stuff just in case it is helpful. As a marker we actually had part of our grids marking down people for including redundant and pointless things.

  5. 5
    zengaze

    Kazim pretty much nailed it in his response. This should be childsplay for you! You have already that you have knowledge of the arguments by being atheist. If your in a class of christians the likelihood is that they have never looked near any of the arguments. But i digress

    Personally i would employ the same strategy as all the theist debate/book sellers. Argue as a deist, and hope no one notices your slight of hand when you jump to your theism of choice, if questions are posed jump back to arguing from the deist position. And assert, A LOT. Establish that a deity could (though couch it as “may well”) exist, shift the burden of proof, and then appeal to ego with such nonsense as “Do you really think you’re just a biochemical machine, and YOU don’t exist?!” Then assert ID.

    Job done.

  6. 6
    otrame

    You are asking for evidence and you know very well that there isn’t any.

    Do you have a theist friend who can help with the arguments for God? The important thing is to realize that the most successful arguments for the existence of a god are either from the emotions “I just FEEL Him” (which I once described as neurotransmitters on a bender) or from ignorance “How could all this exist without a Creator?” and the philosophical twistings that William Lane Craig has plagiarized from the real philosophers of religion, like Aquinas. If I were you, I’d go over them. WLC is readily available on Youtube (as are the videos pointing out how disingenuous and pathetic his arguments are).

    Try to approach them as if you would be willing to accept those arguments. At the end, of course, you are not going to accept them because those arguments from emotion, from ignorance, and from philosophical maunderings are not evidence, which you clearly already know.

  7. 7
    Kevin

    I agree. Start with Aquinas and Augustine. Definitely look at Kierkegaard.

    Funny, but for the life of me, I can’t see using any of the more-modern theologians. Not Plantigna — boring. Haught — nothing more than Aquinas in a modern suit-and-tie.

    Can’t think of a single modern theologian worth mentioning. Kierkegaard would be the end of the theological road.

    Of course, in deconstructing the arguments, Nietzsche is essential. Especially if it’s a philosophy class. Also Sartre, who is “interesting” in that he seemed to be able to separate religious thought from the question of the existence of god.

  8. 8
    HP

    If it were me, I would make a utilitarian case for the existence of god(s). That is, if we presume the existence of God, then we can use that to achieve certain social goods — social stability, membership in a community, moral/ethical consensus, etc.

    Historically, you could argue that belief in the existence of god(s) is necessary to make the transition from forager/nomad to settled agriculture, in order to overcome tribal or clan affinities and allow people to expand stable social structures to the city-state or nation. At least, so far as we know, no culture has independently established a civilization without transitioning from shamanism/animism to formal religion. Secularism only really becomes practical within an existing international social infrastructure.

    Then you could argue that a closed society where everyone believes that God is real, and acts on those beliefs, is functionally indistinguishable from a society in which God exists. So, I guess that brings in Social Constructivism/Constructionism and lots of other Po-Mo stuff that’s beyond my pay-grade, but leaves out the whole ugly question of theology.

    Anyway, that’s just off the top of my head, but that’s roughly the type of argument I would find more challenging.

    1. 8.1
      Dalillama

      “At least, so far as we know, no culture has independently established a civilization without transitioning from shamanism/animism to formal religion.”

      I’m afraid that this argument runs afoul of Chinese Folk Religion/Shenism. There’s no formal church or hierarchy, and the religious practices remain to this day effectively animist/shamanistic. IIRC, there are also a number of agricultural societies in Africa which retain their shamanistic practices as well.

  9. 9
    John Kruger

    I have difficulty thinking of any other topic that loses more consistently than religion.

    The Transcendental Argument is one that gave me pause for a while, although mostly because it is so complicated. It really boils down to an equivocation fallacy that leads to a contradiction that is resolved by god. In my opinion is mostly illustrates that logical absolutes create contradictions and are not a rational idea.

    The only other vaguely difficult argument I have encountered was the Fine Tuning Argument, which is really just a misapplication of probability theory.

    Of course, the main objection most skeptical atheists have is that you need evidence and cannot “math” or “philosophize” god into existence, which I have never really seen an argument against that is more than raging solipsism or boldly stating that all ideas are equally valid and require faith (both of which are somewhat trivial to answer).

    So, you can go with the more complicated ones I have given, at least then your instructor cannot accuse you of not trying hard enough as easily. They have major problems, of course, but all you can say is that they were the best you could find.

    Hope this helps. Good luck.

    1. 9.1
      Kevin

      The fine-tuning argument suffers from having its overarching supposition be not true.

      The universe is not fine-tuned for life. In fact, in 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the universe, life of any sort — much less intelligent life — is quite impossible. We’re an anomaly, the outlier of all outliers. Perhaps unique. That doesn’t make us inevitable — only present.

      Nor are any of the physical constants “tuned” to the degree claimed. In fact, I read a paper (peer reviewed in a physics journal) that argued the entire weak nuclear force could be eliminated and still wind up with pretty much the same universe we see today.

      The fine-tuning argument also suffers from the same problem all theistic arguments have. It assumes that the “solution” to the “problem” is a supernatural extra-universal intelligence with creative intent. Huh? How did you get from there to there? What is the nature of this intelligence? What is its source? How did it come into existence? How do you know anything about something that is extra-universal? What alternative hypotheses did you consider? How did you reject those hypotheses in favor of the god hypothesis. Show your math, please.

      When you start drilling down, the arguments for god are pretty insubstantial. It’s just that most people get stuck on the surface of the arguments, accepting without question untenable suppositions.

      1. John Kruger

        No arguments here, there are many problems with the Fine Tuning argument. I was particularly struck by the attitude of taking a result and then pretending that it happens by pure chance, then using god to get out of the impossibility of it all.

        Kind of like dumping a hundred dice on the floor, declaring whatever particular result occurs to be a 1/600 chance, then declaring the odds to be impossible, then god.

        I consider it one of the “better” arguments because you need to do more than recognize begging the question or find the poor structure of the argument to refute it. You are right that it is still pretty terrible, and all your objections are equally valid criticisms. There is plenty of fractal wrongness to go around.

      2. Andrew S

        First off, I am a believer in a supernatural existence and Jesus Christ as Son of Man though I will always admit to doubt and deep contemplation over the issue of His existence. My best argument against God’s existence would be that there are certainly periods of doubt in any believer’s mind at any given moment, making even the strongest suddenly the weakest. There is a complicated detachment and feeling of angst that infuriates me, and hopelessnes alone leads to animosity towards the possibility of God and religion. I sympathize with non-believers, though I find their incapability of sympathy for believers in return and their hate of religion deplorable to say the least. I understand (barely) that stubborn modernists find it hard to believe in something supernatural. Especially since they weren’t alive at the time to see it. But how do you explain Our Lady of Fatima and Padre Pio, as well as the vast expansion of civilization in the west and the perfect timing of Jesus Christ’s Passion that triggered these events and prosperity we now have? Not everyone will believe, and not everyone can. But if you ask me, there is a helluva lot more rationality to be found in Christianity than any other religion. Peace and fortitude to all atheists and faithful alike. Suffering is beatiful only when there is a purpose within it.

        1. Michael Brew

          That’s about a D premise right there, guy. I don’t think we ever use the “sometimes believers have doubts” reasoning. Usually, we appeal to internal inconsistencies within the various sacred texts or dogmas and the inconsistencies between beliefs and reality. You can do a heck of a lot better if you’re honestly trying to understand the arguments for atheism.

        2. jacobfromlost

          Andrew: There is a complicated detachment and feeling of angst that infuriates me, and hopelessnes alone leads to animosity towards the possibility of God and religion.

          Me: Not sure what that means.

          Andrew: I sympathize with non-believers, though I find their incapability of sympathy for believers in return and their hate of religion deplorable to say the least.

          Me: Not sure what that means either. I have sympathy that some people are irrational. I do hate the demonstrable dysfunction and harm that religion often inflicts on humanity. And I do tend to believe that many believers CANNOT empathize (which is different than sympathize) with the atheist position because they don’t even understand what it is, at least not when it is based on rationality. If they were asked to fake a rational stance on, say, a list of 10 common supernatural claims so that a panel of 10 rationalists were convinced that they were rationalists, I don’t think they could do it. Conversely, it is very easy for rationalists to slip into any forum of believers and fake their way through it so all the believers believe they, too, are a believer. This suggests there is something real to the rationalist position, and not to the position of the believer, in exactly the same way that a fake heart surgeon cannot fake his way through surgery with many real heart surgeons looking on, but a fake believer CAN fake his way through any discussion of beliefs and not even expert BELIEVERS can tell the difference.

          Andrew: I understand (barely) that stubborn modernists find it hard to believe in something supernatural.

          Me: Depends on how you define “believe”. It’s not hard to imagine supernatural phenomenon. But once you understand how to think critically and determine what is real, and what it is not, it becomes difficult in light of the lack of evidence to believe (ie, accept as true) supernatural claims.

          Andrew: Especially since they weren’t alive at the time to see it. But how do you explain Our Lady of Fatima

          Me: When you stare at the sun, your eyes become overloaded and don’t relay information to your brain correctly. Your brain, aware that your eyes are open and SHOULD be relaying information, just fills in the space with what is expected. If something was suggested a priori, or during the actual event, your brain just fills it in. It’s the same phenomenon that happens when your eyes are functioning correctly; both your eyes have literal “blind spots” where the optic nerve is located, but I bet you see no blind spot, do you? Why? Because your brain fills it in with what is expected.

          Andrew: and Padre Pio,

          Me: I’m not seeing anything inexplicable in the accounts I’ve read.

          Andrew: as well as the vast expansion of civilization in the west and the perfect timing of Jesus Christ’s Passion that triggered these events and prosperity we now have?

          Me: Only if you look at history with Christian-colored glasses. Civilization prospered insofar as it was rational and depended upon falsifiable methodology. Whenever falsifiable methodology was tossed and ONLY some form of belief was depended upon, suffering and dysfunction proliferated.

          Andrew: Not everyone will believe, and not everyone can. But if you ask me, there is a helluva lot more rationality to be found in Christianity than any other religion.

          Me: Only if you redefine rational. Appealing to irrationality is NOT “just another kind of rationality.”

        3. tosspotovich

          @Andrew S
          I’ve never heard of anyone with “animosity towards the possibility of God” but people who were mistreated at the hands of religion have good reason to be resentful and many non-believers sympathise with those affected. This has nothing to do with whether such a being exists.

          Your “periods of doubt” are your best arguments against the existence of your god? What about all the biblical claims which don’t resemble reality (let alone other passages in the Bible)?

          I’m not sure if you are claiming atheists feel “a complicated detachment and feeling of angst” or that you do. Since you could only speculate on the minds of others I’ll assume the former – a state easily explained by cognitive dissonance.

          “they weren’t alive at the time to see… supernatural existence and Jesus Christ” is an attempt to shift the burden of proof. Give us a good reason to believe. You don’t believe everything a witness (or the great grandson of a witness) relays to you just because you don’t absolutely know otherwise. You will hear this a lot from sceptics: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

          “more rationality to be found in Christianity than any other religion”… If you replaced “rationality” with “contradiction” I might agree.

          “fortitude to all atheists”… Isn’t this oppositional to open-mindedness?

          “Suffering is beatiful [sic]”… That is the kind of warped thinking that religion justifies.

  10. 10
    jacobfromlost

    These are interesting:
    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm

    I don’t think I’ve encountered all of these…but probably most of them.

    The google result dates the page “September 11, 2001.” I wonder if that’s a secret message from god?

  11. 11
    daemonowner

    I was reading The Christian Delusion, which does a good job of showing how the jewish creation myth was taken from egyptian and mesopotamian traditions, and we already know there were 5 authors to the pentateuch, and that the exodus did not happen, etc. So the idea that the jewish tradition is reliable is worthless.

  12. 12
    Alverant

    Good advice. I don’t think I could have done this assignment without sneaking some snarky comment in there. But I do notice the assignment does not name a particular God. It could be the christian god, jewish god, buddhist god, islamic god, or some all-purpose god of nature as defined by Einstein. That makes finding good arguments troublesome. Say you picked the last one and the teacher assumed it’s the first. Would he consider whatever nature god arguments you propse to be good?

    1. 12.1
      Chris Manders

      “. . . Buddhist god”
      Cough . . .

      1. HP

        Aah! Aah! Aah! CHOObhoddisatvaswholistentoyourdevotionsandansweryourimprecationsbutaretotallynotgodsbecauseIsaidsoshutup!

        Whoo. That was a big sneeze.

    2. 12.2
      Lynnea

      See, now I say that he writes it in reference to The Sun as a god. Then spend the essay giving the best argument for the existence of the sun – physical, reproducible, predictable patterns and evidence. Why would you expect anything less from a god that exists?

      1. tosspotovich

        Lynnea, the simple rebuttal we have heard time and again on AXP is: why apply the loaded term “God” to something we already have a name for?… love, truth, malaria, the sun etc.

        The equivocation fallacy won’t be any trouble for a professor of philosophy to spot. Then the supporting evidence for the physical sun becomes obvious hand-waving.

        If I was the Prof, I’d *hope* (+ mark) for something akin to TAG from the atheists and for the theists to point to all the evidence of the natural world and lack of evidence for anything supernatural.
        Meanwhile I would *expect* (- mark) each party to reveal their own bias via their inability to form a coherent argument against a position they feel is sound or that they have emotional investment in.

  13. 13
    Kevin

    Just some notes:

    The assignment asks that you present the ‘best’ case for (in your case) theism, not a good or convincing case. If the ‘best’ theologians don’t count, then I’m afraid that nothing would qualify.

    I would clearly define what God means at the beginning of your essay.

    In order to make your position easier to defend, the fewer attributes, the better. For example, defending deism is easier to defend than the God of the Bible. This approach would probably focus on cosmological arguments (i.e. can’t be infinite past, must have had a beginning, what caused this beginning?). Just add something like free will to make the deistic God distinguishable from a natural occurrence.

    1. 13.1
      R Johnston

      I would clearly define what God means at the beginning of your essay.

      That’s a primary problem with the assignment in the first place. There is no such thing as a generally accepted and clear definition of the god concept. One place where almost all arguments in favor of theism fall apart is in that they either grossly equivocate over the definition of god (i.e. the universe must have been created (invoking a creator god) therefore there exists a god that demands worship (invoking a powerful petty tyrant god) or they posit absurdly narrow definitions of god that don’t fit the argument being made (i.e. Pascal’s wager presuming a vengeful, spiteful piece of shit god who’ll punish a lack of faith in him). Theists arguing their position get around the complete lack of evidence by silently shifting or hiding definitions, but you can always catch the chicanery if you pay attention.

      There are some pretty clear descriptions of specific instances of gods, but none of these offer interesting existential questions: they’re all either trivially self-contradictory twaddle that can’t possibly exist in any sense at all (i.e. almost all variations on Jehovah); not necessarily self-contradictory but archaic and every bit as irreconcilable with observed phenomena as the various variations of Jehovah (i.e. the ancient Greek pantheon); defined so as to defy the possibility of evidence or good argument and therefore explicitly don’t exist by any scientific definition of existence and might as well be assumed not to exist by any colloquial definition of existence (i.e. gods that create the universe and then leave it alone); or gods that lack intelligence or wills of their own and that either trivially exist or whose existence doesn’t conceivably matter (i.e. nature gods).

      Clearly defining the concept of god is a Ph.D. dissertation, not an opening sentence of an undergraduate paper. It also spells the end of theism by crippling all arguments in favor of theism.

  14. 14
    Rilian

    Blech, I wouldn’t want to do this assignment. What if you don’t “tend” to believe either one of those options? Also, stay the hell out of my personal life, school.

    1. 14.1
      Russell Glasser

      Nonsense. College is exactly the place where they should not be delicately avoiding discussion of your religious beliefs and treating them with care and respect. If your college professors are not challenging your basic philosophies and axioms, then they’re not doing their job.

      1. jacobfromlost

        Toes should be stepped upon. All of them.

      2. Rilian

        I’m not saying they should “respect” my “beliefs”. I’m saying that assignment is *stupid* because it assumes that everyone falls into one of those two categories, and I understood the assignment to be to argue your own stance and then also argue the other stance, and do both convincingly. But the only way you can do that is if you hold your own stance for weak reasons. If you have actual logic behind your beliefs, there’s no way you could ever convincingly argue “the other side”. Setting up the arguments “the other side” often presents just to knock them down is not the same thing, and I don’t think it’s what this assignment means. Also, I do not want to share anything about my personal life in assignments. Professors and other students have no right to know anything about me.

    2. 14.2
      MichaelD

      After starting my volcano god idea I really want to write this paper :P. For when I am done I’ll convince not only myself but all who read it of the great volcano god Long may his soot blanket the sky and his fiery wrath fall on that brat down the street!

      OOOOO Other idea what about argueing for Vaal the lizard headed cave god!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ_TZ2pUctk

      I mean the universe is big why couldn’t he exist?

      The more and more I think about this the more I want to argue for the existance of a physical god…

  15. 15
    ryanslingerland

    I think you absolutely have to argue as a deist. It’s the only version that’s plausible. If you go with Yahweh then the whole problem of evil thing comes into play which I think is perhaps the most convincing argument against that particular God which does you a disservice in this one case (otherwise I find it delightful). I would use a combination of uncaused cause, fine tuning (in the sense of the laws of physics, not evolution lots of biological things could have been better “designed”), and use a deist god. Lots of Aquinas quotes, add a dash of Descartes, and a sprinkle of well timed and clever snark and I think you’ve got yourself and A+. Keep us posted.

    1. 15.1
      anat

      The problem of evil is avoided if one allows for an evil or amoral god. The question is about whether a god of some kind exists, not whether s/he/it/they is worthy of worship.

      1. drdave

        The evil god was Marcion’s idea (130-140 AD roughly). See also Stephen Law’s argument about an evil god: http://journals.cambridge.org/repo_A72V8TEm

  16. 16
    timduffy

    Take what you do believe/understand and label that “God” (God needn’t be the Christian God after all.) Be creative, vague, and fluffy. Use the fact that there is “something” as opposed to “absolutely nothing” and, voila, there must be God. If you need to flesh it out, use the wonder of the simplicity of mathematics/physics to explain the “how” of the universe (while being ineffective as to the “why.”) Add some bull about emotions, self-awareness, etc to make “a god” a more satisfactory premise than “no God.” Good luck.

    1. 16.1
      Escuerd

      @timduffy:
      That seems kind of contrary to the spirit of the assignment. The student wouldn’t be arguing for a position that they reject, but playing a semantic game of re-labeling things (granted, lots of theists do this, but I think it sort of defeats the purpose).

      @ the student:
      I think the assignment requires at least some dishonesty, if only by omission of counterarguments, which is why it seems troublesome. To my knowledge, there are no truly good arguments for the existence of God. You’re going to have to use either a bad premise or bad reasoning in each of them. In a philosophy class, it’s probably safest to load the errors into the premises as much as possible.

      Anyway, I only have a couple ideas of approaches you might take (after picking a god or set of gods to defend):

      1. Many people claim to directly experience the presence of God (or out-of-body experiences, what have you). Some people may lack this sense. But the existence of blind people hardly implies that there is no such thing as color.

      2. Belief in spirits with the power to influence the world occurs in virtually all cultures, which suggests that there’s some real, common cause underlying them, even if the details and names differ. A search for “theosophy” might be a good start for this approach.

      3. Minds are very good at perceiving and creating regular patterns, like the regularities we find in nature. We should therefore consider a conscious creator as a candidate to explain the regularities we find in nature. To wit, “Nature looks designed.”

      Yeah, these are all silly arguments, but they’re fairly common ones, and plenty of people find some variation on them convincing.

  17. 17
    Matt

    A good god (or even a decent god) is pretty much a non-starter, but I think it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to argue for the existence of an evil, apathetic (deism, as others suggested), or incompetent god. Think of Azathoth (Lovecraft) or “God’s kid brother” by the Dead Milkmen. Hume has a good quote about reality being God’s rough draft. I can’t be bothered to look it up now, but it might be worth your time.

    Best of luck!

  18. 18
    Michael Brew

    There’s also the option, since no specific god was mentioned, to argue for the existence of god-kings like Augustus Caesar or something. Who’s going to argue against that?

  19. 19
    Aratina Cage

    It could be fun to make the case that a god exists from the point of view of children who think Santa exists. Just build arguments for Santa and then replace Santa with a god, and presents with answered prayers, etc. But don’t make it obvious that you are doing that and see if anyone catches it.

  20. 20
    Cedrik

    I would proceed to introduce each argument with it’s logical fallacy. “The appeal to authority is frequently used…..” or “The Argument from Ignorance as we can see here….”

  21. 21
    liebore

    Take a page from the James T Kirk play book; don’t accept a set of rules that inevitably lead to failure. Claim you are a deist, and then argue the atheist standpoint from there. Unless your professor wants to take the position that s/he knows your real mind better than you do, you should be on safe grounds and your arguments will all be rock solid.

  22. 22
    MichaelD

    Technically it doesn’t even ask you to claim a christian god. So I wouldn’t bother bringing christianity into it at all. Better in my mind to argue a deistic god. Make him as nebulous and intangible as possible. As was said above the possibility of one existing is probably a decent starting point (since you don’t know everything). Bring in tag or other such arguements maybe? God as the source of logic and math and order ? I don’t think they’re great arguements but they are nebulous enough and complicated enough to at least pose some challenge.

    The fluffiest and most nebulous gods are probably the easiest to defend. Followed by probably by polytheism as the interactions between the gods can explain a lot of misfortunes etc. Personal monotheistic gods are then probably the hardest to defend. I guess a minor problem I have as written is the assignment doesn’t define god…

    Cause of course my god the volcano has some decent arguments for it :P Just look at his there you can literally see it smell it taste it etc. Just try to find someone to argue this volcano doesn’t exist. He spits lava when angry and just about anything might set him off. Maybe he’s just kind of indifferent to people I mean we are like ants to him. In the end all we can do is try to appease him and hope his molten wrath smites that lousy coworker and not you :P

  23. 23
    Richard Cornford

    Reading the wording of the assignment I suspect a trap or a loophole. It states:-

    There are two questions that you need to answer in this paper

    So there are two questions to be answered, and only two. The first is:-

    1. Do you tend to believe that there is a God, or do you tend to believe there is no God?

    Only two positions to choose from, belief that there is a God and belief that there is no God, and no option for there being multiple Gods, or not believing. Presumably the atheist’s is going to have to tend towards belief that there is no God, as that is the closest of the two options available to not believing that there are any Gods. (This particular false dichotomy would need to be highlighted as part of the process of adopting one of the available positions.)

    The second question is:-

    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?

    The rest of the assignment text may go on to talk about arguments for the existence/non-existence of a God, which may be relevant to the “position that you tend to hold” but not necessarily.

    What the second question is literally asking for is the best argument against the positions that you are forced to hold having only been given two options; the best argument against the belief that there is no God.

    That argument boils down to there being no way to demonstrate (let alone prove) the non-existence of anything that does not exist, including Gods. If you cannot show the non-existence of God then believing that there is no God would be unfounded, argued without having any impact on a position that in reality was not believing that there are any Gods, and avoiding any need to attempt to argue for the existence or non-existence of any God(s). And it would be an argument that has plenty of potential for “strong, clear, thoughtful, and precise reasoning”, most of it borrowed directly from modern Epistemology.

  24. 24
    MichaelD

    Matter and energy exist we can all agree on that so why shouldn’t god take the form of matter and energy?

    What if a crazy guy claimed to be god and be immortal? He isn’t dead yet, and you can’t really go kill him. He could make up any number of justifications and hand wave away his birth certificate (desire to blend in with creation and maintain faith) or reasons to not try to kill him (bringing about the end of existence if it is tried). Can’t forget a good freewill arguement he wants you to choose to be with him not force it on you. He has no need for money being god so doesn’t need yours (though an offering of bacon is always appreciated (who would turn down bacon???)).

    Back to the volcano god, we know that our mind is caused by the electrical signals in the brain. Well the magma at our gods core the highly conductive iron has a flow of electrons moving through it. Isn’t it possible that this is analogous to the human brain? That the volcano’s consciousness is found in the this electrical field? Of course the volcano is also merciful and helpful, the volcanic ash useful as fertilizer the soot keeping noisy airplanes at bay.

    At the very least with crazy guy and volcano you can always fall back on they are obviously existent and in this great universe I don’t know everything about isn’t it possible???

  25. 25
    Lausten North

    If the assignment is truly not about the Christian god, I would consider a pantheistic argument. This could be a lot more fun, allowing you to bring in anthropological studies of primitive people or the above mentioned history of foragers/nomads. If you were so inclined, reading up on Spinoza might help, but that could be time consuming.

    I’m surprised Kazim didn’t mention CS Lewis. His argument is easy to grasp. It’s in the first part of Mere Christianity or A Short Course in Miracles. I’m talking about the argument that if you say that our consciousness evolved from simpler forms, then it can’t be trusted. He says the only possible explanation for our common sense of morality is that it is given to us by a higher power.

    Maybe that stems from one of the people Kazim mentioned. Anyway, it was pretty popular 100 years ago, even among intellectuals, including Tolkien.

  26. 26
    kantalope

    I don’t see the problem here. You don’t need to have any emotional attachment to the position you are asked to argue. Just pick out the arguments that seem to appeal to people. Although the pro-god side of the equation makes the whole “while strong, clear, thoughtful, and precise reasoning will surely increase your grade” part a bit dodgy.

    I would go with St. Anselm’s Ontological. Lot’s of good research references and word games for the win.
    Clockwork Universe because you can get all Deisty and Enlightenmented.
    And then finish it off with some fine tuning…
    wide range of dates and would look good on the bibliography section.

    The personal experience thing, meh, but I don’t know what kind of literature that would have. But would give you chance to do some psychology philosophysing.

    For one of my college courses I got assigned the god side in a debate — but luckily for me no one was picking up the other side so half way through someone mentioned that light from the universe was way more than bible time old — so I announced “hey yeah. Why would god lie?” And switched sides. That blew some minds.

  27. 27
    Darketernal

    The sure bet is God of the gaps argument.
    Though it’s not a definitive argument for the case of god, there really isn’t falsifiability to it.

  28. 28
    Bob_Dobbs

    Simple really.
    God does exist as a useful and exceptionally imaginative hallucination. Not being of physical substance, she can do anything (also not of substance) which her followers desire.
    Let’s not get hung up on having to manifest consistent properties in the real universe to prove existence.
    God does exist because we (or at least the persons who matter) say so.

  29. 29
    tosspotovich

    There are some good comments here but many which could lead to a failing mark. By choosing your position for the assignment, your actual position is obvious enough (false dichotomy notwithstanding). Be careful not to barb your argument with facetious comments designed to dishonestly undermine yourself – there will be plenty of theists doing that.

    Sophisticated logical arguments are your best bet IMO. We all know you can logic simple mathematical equations into giving incorrect results. Just don’t make the holes in your premises too blatant.

    Avoid using evidence to support your side (duh!) and simultaneously discredit the proponents of said evidence as having some sort of agenda. Perhaps a pantheistic notion of god would be useful but probably glossing over the specifics will work in your favour. The less clearly your god is defined, the harder it will be to counter. Allude to god-of-the-gaps but getting entrenched in that path will expose the lack of actual support.

    Ironically the hardest method to counter would probably gain a fail. The good old Gish Gallop can be overwhelming when delivered verbally but in written form each weak argument is too easily dismantled.

    Good luck.

    1. 29.1
      Lausten North

      I think the ideas was to be logically sound, internally to his argument, although there will have to be problems with a premise or two.

  30. 30
    philosweeny

    I think the problem is that it feels like you shouldn’t put a refutation for your own work as part of the paper, but it’s like asking you to lie so you’re screwed either way :)

    If you are an ex-believer like a majority of atheists you could make the essay “what I used to believe; my strongest arguments for god”

    I think a better way would be to remember that this idea of a deity is NOT in any way limited to Christianity. You could argue for the existence of Zeus (how do you explain all that lightening then?)

    A third route is to make up your own god. Using the world around you describe what kind of god that would be proof for. You could throw in the old joke about the gay shield to show that this is clearly a god who hates people who are against gay marriage. Well, at this point you can make up whatever crap you like, it’ll be better than most apologetics anyway.

  31. 31
    strangelove

    The argument I had rattling around in my brainz for the longest is probably the Kalam cosmological argument. Not because I found it persuasive, but because there are so many things wrong with it that aren’t obvious. If you aren’t familiar with it and have a high tolerance for douchy smugness watch a few William Lane Craig on the U-shaped Tubes Another one I personally had a hard time with is Goedel’s ontological proof, which basically expands Anselm’s ontological argument. But it uses modal logic, so that’s fun for the whole day.

  32. 32
    daemonowner

    This actually sounds like fun. I might give it a try just for the hell of it. Heck, why not an Axp ‘devils advocate’ competition. =P

  33. 33
    theBuachail

    William Craigs argument for the existence of God based on the existence of objective moral truths would be worth looking at. I think if you can make a similar argument and outline the basis of it, it would demonstrate a rigorous attempt to examine the arguments of the other side and an appreciation of their world view.

    1. 33.1
      Reginald Selkirk

      Piece o cake. All you have to do is first prove the existence of objective moral truths…

      1. theBuachail

        Not necessarily. If you reference the Harris and Craig debate on this topic, the existence of objective moral truths was an accepted premise, and the debate focused then on whether or not God was required in order to justify those objective moral truths. Given that the point of this exercise is not so much to prove the point, but to take an honest shot at looking at the other side of the argument, it might be worth considering.
        I think it’s fair to say you’re not going to find proof on the other side of this argument, so the best you can look for is a reasonably coherent argument which many on the atheist side might have difficulty with.

  34. 34
    Bob_Dobbs

    Going non-christian again.

    Argue for Larry the first metagod currently busy two universes over in that direction (makes complicated pointing motion with tentacle).
    God in every aspect except for the infinities. Creator of this universe including YHWH (a teaser who fooled some bronze age chumps much to the amusement of Asgaard). How not included. Proof is currently hidden in a pot in a cave (exact location unspecified) in Palestine on a 6000 year old DVD (blue ray). “It could happen,” (Judy Tenuta.)

    We can’t see farther than a few billion light years and with really poor resolution. Lots of big physical gaps out there for imaginary beings and their arguments to lurk in.

    ==And Curley begat Moe and Moe begat Larry and they saw that it was very good (really? ‘very good?’, couldn’t they do better than that? Maybe an Outstanding or an Excellent?)

  35. 35
    Russell Glasser

    I see a whole lot of posters recommending that the student try to game the system, obeying the letter of the assignment but violating the spirit. These include:

    * Lying about his current beliefs so he can argue for atheism
    * Arguing for some tricky satirical stuff like “the sun is God”
    * Arguing that God “exists” as a mental construct
    * Arguing for some other kind of vague “alternative” gods
    * Throwing up a bunch of abstruse pseudo-academic word salad in the hopes of baffling the grader

    Ugh. Yuck. Blech. I hate those ideas.

    Yes, it’s possible that you could use these tricks to bullshit your way to an A and thereby avoid the responsibility of actually arguing against your real position. But you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favors by not doing the assignment as written. I’ll just repeat what I said in the OP:

    The point of the assignment is clearly to practice the important skill of looking at the best arguments that legitimately oppose your own point of view, so that you can understand your opposition to them and not strawmen. If you only look for the easy way out and try to portray the other side in the weakest way possible, you’re just pulling the creationist trick of opposing something that you don’t really understand.

    1. 35.1
      Bob_Dobbs

      Much effort in college papers is spent on gaming the system. It is a valuable skill to hone so the system can be gamed after (eventual, debt ridden) graduation.

      Kazim- you seem focused on actual arguments designed to prove/disprove the existence of God (let’s assume the locally prevalent Christian God in His many manifested variations.) Clearly, this has to be a re-hash of the arguments of the last couple thousand years of apologetics. Are you expecting the student to come up with a new one?
      I admire your fervor in continuing the atheist side of this old, old conflict. However, I’d expect the same outcome: After you’ve ‘proved’ the inadequacy of the arguments for God which have been tweaked over centuries, your opponent still owns the, “well, I just believe it.” defeater.
      But if you look at it as a game with a population of potential converts which are above the median of skill and intelligence (let’s call them wolves) and below the median (let’s call them ‘stupid people’) the ‘why’ of religion is visible after the arguments about reality are disposed of. The best Nash equilibrium play of the stupid people is to believe because it allows them to gang up on and often overwhelm smart people where they otherwise would be defeated one by one. And it is the best play for the wolves because they can wield the gangs of believers like a club. It is an evolutionarily stable system.

      I think most atheists are disgusted by and quite jealous of the power wielded by religious leaders. L.Ron envy; he had a really nice boat and a young crew to play with.

      “It helps if you think of it as a game, Bob,” (Robocop.)

    2. 35.2
      John Kruger

      It is kind of a catch-22. Most arguments for god rely on logical fallacies, yet “strong, clear, thoughtful, and precise reasoning will surely increase your grade.” The false dichotomy from the get go is also discouraging.

      Heck, if I knew an argument for god that had supported premises and sound reasoning I would not be an atheist.

    3. 35.3
      MichaelD

      I’ll free’ll admit my volcano god is not the best way to go with the assignment and was mostly for my own desire to have fun with it. So many assignments can just be dull and even if they are someone silly I always find some merit in at least thinking about ways to make them fun even if its not the route you go for in the end.

      I think part of the problem with this assignment (only problem?) is that it doesn’t directly address what kind of god you are arguing against/for. My grandmothers pentacostal god is very different and requires very different arguements then my mothers security blanket god. The assignment its self is vague on exactly what kind of deity one is arguing for.

      How many times have we heard someone try to defend their personal god with the most abstract of arguments? In my mind using arguments like fine tuning and first cause work very well (or better) but go against the spirit of arguing for a personal god (at least relying on them). In the end I’d probably have a conversation with the prof ( or maybe being in the lectures would give me a better idea) of what kind of god.

      I guess I’m also not a huge fan of this lines “Flashy, wordy, eloquent prose will do almost nothing to help your grade, while strong, clear, thoughtful, and precise reasoning will surely increase your grade.” As so much of theology and apologetics comes off as flashy (appeals to emotion), wordy (TAG, the ontological arguement) and eloquent (CS Lewis).

      At least Jeff the volcano god has a few decent points in his favor like matter and energy is all we know to exist thus if god exists why wouldn’t he be made of matter and energy. I’d say that line for example at least stands as clear and leaves little room for waffling or interpretation.

      In the end I think part of my problem/solution is knowing the professor or talking to them. A more humor filled or jovial professor might mark a creative and well thought out volcano god paper where as one who’s a more serious academic would prefer fine tuning arguments and the like. I took a class in witch craft, shamanism and the occult and that prof probably would have enjoyed Jeff the Volcano god :P.

      1. Bob_Dobbs

        I second MichaelD’s points particularly about assessing the mind of the prof. This, of course, is gaming the system.

        Three arguments in favor of a system gaming, non-standard argument immediately come to mind in the context of this student’s paper.
        1 of 3) It stands out. The grader will probably be judging between dozens of ‘uncaused cause’ arguments. BORING.
        2 of 3) Entertainment value. Similar to but not identical to 1) giving the grader a laugh may make them more well disposed toward the student.
        3 of 3) Creative. An attempt at a new and ingenious answer to an old problem shows the student to be innovative, an admired and rewarded trait these days.
        4 of 3) He might come up with THE argument which does truly prove the existence of God in everyone’s eyes and makes The Atheist Experience obsolete.

        To the student: you’ve got several strategies to choose from. Nice job on the research to date!

        Bob

      2. MichaelD

        Cause I’m still here and thinking about this I think here is where my problem with what you are saying comes in Russel.

        ” If you only look for the easy way out and try to portray the other side in the weakest way possible, you’re just pulling the creationist trick of opposing something that you don’t really understand.”

        I completely agree with that statement and assuming you’re not trying a captain Kirk Kobayashi Maru gambit on this project (aka the creative solution)This problem can well come up no matter what route you take. Argue for a personal god and the deists say you are stray manning their position to make it seem weak. How many times have we heard we’ll that’s not any real kind of a god you silly atheist no one believes in a personal god.

        Argue for a more sophisticated deistic god and you have people saying again that you are not fairly addressing their god and are making a weak claim for his existence by not say bringing up biblical prophecy or the argument from morality.

        Either way one side or the other can claim that you are straw manning them and this is precisely why you on the show as them to define their god before you talk about it.

    4. 35.4
      Reginald Selkirk

      I see a whole lot of posters recommending that the student try to game the system…

      Good point. That would probably piss off the prof, who prefers to be the only one allowed to game the system. Look at the way he has posed the question:

      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? …

      The presumption of monotheism vs. not monotheism has already been commented on. This is the sort of bozo who will try to trap you in a Pascal’s wager.

      1. michaeld

        To be fair “a god” does not mean there couldn’t be 12 or more.

    5. 35.5
      jwolforth

      I just checked the OP and the class is a “philosophy class on science and religion”. Some responses seem to be coming at this as if it is a guy who stumbled into a conservative christian class by accident and they are trying to trick him or something. The prof could have picked anything, like the 9/11 conspiracies or global climate change and the learning experience would have been about the same.

      As for the arguments themselves, the best ones end up only leaving a little room for the possible existence of something supernatural, then they make a huge leap to the god of their personal belief system. That has been done by everyone from St. Augustine to Francis Schaeffer, so I’m sure the professor will accept it.

    6. 35.6
      philosweeny

      I think the trouble is that ‘athiests’ are ‘apolythiests’ really, not believing in a whole heap of gods.
      He could write short paragraphs why each of the better known gods could be true.
      He doesn’t need to ‘game the system’ at all no.

  36. 36
    Brad

    It is an unenviable task you have there. Of course, the recap is that, by definition the arguments are unconvincing to you because you are, after all, unconvinced. Yet, like OJ’s lawyers or a pandering politician, you have to make the argument as if you believed it. Like Mohammed Saïd al-Sahaf (aka Baghdad Bob) it is Your Job to make the arguments.

    The surprising part is that you were asked what you tended to believe (although not in great detail). I can think of a few philosophers and religious apologists I’d like to see do this assignment. Many of the prominent ones are rather reluctant to declare details of what they actually believe, which makes it hard to go after the details; they reply ‘I never said I believed that, you’re going after a strawman.’

  37. 37
    Sandow

    What is God? If you define it a certain way, it can be easy to prove or argue for. I would say that God is an immensely powerful being capable of altering the world in a way that is not detectable by modern science. By that definition a God would most likely exist in the future as science develops.

    In fact, if time goes on long enough I think it’s pretty much inevitable that some scientist will create a machine that allows them to survive any events that would otherwise wipe out all existence. This scientist would then be a God to any new civilizations that developed afterword if he chose to interfere in their world.

    Arguing for or against God is all about the definition. If you simply say “magic man” then yeah it’s hard to prove. But if you describe specific qualities you can than speculate about how it’s reasonably possible those qualities could exist.

  38. 38
    JeseC

    Ok, philosopher stepping in here for a minute:

    The top arguments I have seen presented around here (as a graduate student at a fairly well-ranked place in philosophy) are the ontological argument (i.e. perfect being argument), the argument from design, and the argument from historical evidence. The ontological argument is probably the strongest but can be extremely difficult to get into if you’re not trained in formal logic. The other two are fairly easy to find examples of. For the fine-tuning argument, you need to get a version that argues that some states of the universe are intrinsically better than others (e.g. a universe with planets, life, etc. is better than one with just stars). The historical argument will of course commit you to a specific religion, not just theism. The argument from universality of religious belief is also decent, especially when paired with a good treatment of reliable/unreliable faculties.

    Some other points you might consider are the free will defense to the problem of evil, and various soul-building theodicies against the problem of divine hiddenness. Hopefully that’s enough for a paper – I’m pretty sure I could do a couple of graduate level papers with that information, so there should be more than enough options.

    1. 38.1
      Reginald Selkirk

      Great idea. Make a case for the Design Argument like Hume did in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
      Part XI (207)

      So well adjusted are the organs and capacities of all animals, and so well fitted to their preservation, that, as far as history or tradition reaches, there appears not to be any single species which has yet been extinguished in the universe.

      Of course Hume had the advantage of living in a pre-Darwin world, so that he could propose such arguments without being accused of subterfuge.

  39. 39
    Mark

    See responses under “Our Constitution favors science, not religion”, the second thread created on ACA’s message boards, http://www.atheist-community.org/boards/read_message.php?b=1&t=2.

  40. 40
    Reginald Selkirk

    So this is for a philosophy class on science and religion. How about this for a stance: Pretending your science is compatible with the prevailing religion is better than being tortured by the Inquisition.

  41. 41
    Lausten North

    Here’s one that your professor might not have seen before. Trouble is, I can’t tell you for sure what this guy believes. The best I can figure is, evolution is true, and the world is awesome, and god exists. But that’s too simple, he honestly promotes science and evidence based research and I’ve never heard him use a “god of the gaps” line of logic. He talks about science then every now and then just interjects something about god. It’s not so much a proof as much as an implication. http://evolutionarychristianity.com/blog/evidence-as-divine-guidance/

    I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure this guy out. I’m pretty sure he just wants to promote science and claim Christianity is a good thing and not get into any logical arguments about it.

  42. 42
    pyrobryan

    I would have a very hard time writing this paper because as an atheist, I don’t believe that there are any good arguments for the existence of a god. However, the assignment remains, so…

    I would have to say that the best argument for the existence of a god (not any particular god, but a generalized supernatural deity) would be the existence of the universe.

    It would seem impossible to get from a point in time infinitely in the past to the current moment in time, just the same as you cannot reach a point infinitely in the future (you can never reach infinity or it wouldn’t be infinity). So there must have been a point in time in the past that the universe didn’t exist. If at some point the universe didn’t exist, then it had to begin existing. Something that doesn’t exist cannot cause itself to begin existing. Therefore, there must be an outside force which can act to cause a non-existent entity to begin to exist. This outside force is, in the most basic of terms, what people call god.

    That’s the best I can come up with. It doesn’t address the question of what created god so the problem of infinite regress still exists, but we’re not out to prove the other side is right, just to present a “good” argument. And since it doesn’t define god as the “uncreated creator” it doesn’t matter if something else created god, only that the we provide an argument for the existence of god.

    I would be interested to know what the professor’s stance is (believer or non-believer). No matter which side he takes, it seems like it would be difficult to be objective when measuring opposing arguments as “good” or “not good”. Obviously atheists don’t believe that theist arguments are “good” despite the fact that they might find them to be to be irrefutable, or we would believe them, and vice-versa.

  43. 43
    DavidH

    Whether or not this is a strategy that is viable very much depends on who you are and what your relationship with your teacher is…

    (also how much if anything is ultimately riding on the grade given)
    .

    If it were me…

    First I would go to the teacher in question and explain my problem with the paper.
    That I have analysed all the arguments for theism (pretty easy given nobody has come up with anything new in at least a century) and have found no good arguments.
    And more to the point, as a rationalist I hold that that there can BE no good arguments for anything not supported by evidence and that require faith to be believed in.
    I would ask that I be allowed to do the paper detailing the reasons why the theists arguments don’t and can’t stack up.

    If the teacher says yes then you are sorted and you can write your paper no problems.

    If the teacher says no, then you are left with Five options (as I see it). Here they are in order of increasing risk.
    .

    Option One.
    Write the paper as they tell you, play devils advocate and try to find a convincing way of arguing for theism.

    Boring and ‘soul destroying’ but safe.
    .

    Option Two.
    Write the paper as above but put in a conclusion at the end briefly explaining why you find none of the above convincing.

    As described above, contains a fig leaf to make you feel better, still relatively safe.
    .

    Option Three.
    Same as option one, except you ALSO write the paper you wanted to write where you explain your position and trash all the theists arguments.
    And then hand both in.

    Hopefully safe as you still did the assignment as asked but you also did some extra work. Allows you full reign to express your views honestly with a relatively low risk factor. (this could backfire though if your work on the original assignment doesn’t come up to par with your paper trashing the theists arguments)
    .

    Option Four.
    Throw caution to the wind and just write the paper trashing the theists arguments and hope to hell that it gets accepted by sheer chutzpah. (although this option is undermined if you ask the teacher first)

    Very High risk, but complete intellectual honesty maintained throughout.
    .

    Option Five.
    This is the magical mystery option.
    There is an email that does the rounds every so often that is about the age of the internets that tells the (potentially apocryphal) tale of a student who when given a question on whether hell was exothermic or endothermic wrote a paper that was so different and imaginative than everyone else that everyone else essentially gets down-marked for not being that original.

    Option five is you write something completely off the wall, a piece of satire perhaps, a speech by Cicero, A Socratic diatribe… Whatever captures your imagination that allows you to do the assignment while making your position clear and having fun at the same time.
    Something that will jolt the teacher out of their stupor of marking 20~30 boring iterations of the same tired old arguments…
    Be original…

    Which is much harder said than done…

    Everyone is trying to be original…

    Almost everyone fails.

    Very high risk, very good chance of making total fool of self…
    very small chance of epic win if manage to pull off.
    .

    Choose wisely.

    DavidH
    .
    .

    Oh! and which would I pick?

    Assuming I couldn’t think of a viable Option Five…

    I would go with Option Three, extra work, but intellectual honesty upheld, and point made at the same time, while minimising risk.

    This option strikes me as being the best on a risk/benefit analysis.

    1. 43.1
      Russell Glasser

      So basically your favorite option is to complain to the professor that you are incapable of completing the assignment, and therefore you request special permission to NOT do the assignment and write whatever you feel like writing instead.

      I’m sure that the theists who have to argue against the existence of God find the assignment equally “soul crushing,” but that doesn’t mean I think they should get out of it either.

  44. 44
    jaycee

    Norman Geisler has some nice summaries of all the major arguments in favor of God and of course, in favor of his God (Christian). He had published at one point a concise encyclopedia of theist philosophy where you might find all this at a glance. Of course there is also Ontario Religious Tolerance’s website, which offers a lot of overview on the various arguments used by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc.

  45. 45
    sminhinnick

    Here’s an argument for god that I have not heard of before – because I just thought of it.

    It is based on a (testable!) hypothesis by Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog that was published as “Populating the Landscape: A Top Down Approach” in 2006 (http://arxiv.org/abs/hepth/0602091).

    Putting this idea as I understand it in plain language, Hawking and Hertog suggest that the universe was (and still is) in a quantum entangled state, stemming from its origin in a singularity – the Big Bang.

    Furthermore, based on Richard Feynman’s concept of the “sum over histories”, the universe started as every possible universe simultaneously. These early universes overlapped each other (or were “in superposition”), parts of one cancelling out parts of others, and other parts enhancing – in the same way that overlapping waves are variously cancelled and augmented as they move past each other.

    As Hawking & Hertog say, “The universe won’t have a single history but every possible history, each with its own probability.”

    Most of the early universes vanished because their fundamental constants made them unstable, and they did not lead to our existence. But there were some that did, and that is why our universe looks fine-tuned to us. It is the only result that COULD have lead to us – which is another way of looking at the anthropic principle.

    FYI – Another plain-English explanation is here: http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=125065

    The idea that occurred to me was this:

    If one path among an infinity of universes result in *us*, there should be other paths that lead (in principle) to an intelligent entity with godlike properties – including the ability to move across time and space to directly affect our version of the universe. Maybe even causing it!

    We sense this entity – perhaps because we are quantum-entangled with it – and we call it “God”.

    Ok – that’s the best I can do.

    I think that, even with the sum over histories, the probability of a god still adds up to zero.

    Good luck with the assignment.

    1. 45.1
      jacobfromlost

      I’ve heard this argument before. lol

  46. 46
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    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?

    -You could argue from an imaginative, conceptual level that god is a mass delusion and by virtue of that, the idea of god is real.

  47. 47
    Def-Star

    Philosophy. What a massive waste of time. It is nothing but a tortuous exercise in convincing oneself how smart and correct one is without the inconvenience of having to actually know anything. Who needs facts when you have syllogisms?

  48. 48
    jasper76

    This has probably been mentioned in this thread, but I would recommend pulling a Spinoza and going with the “everything in the universe is God” pantheist god. Of course, this is just poetry that renames the universe “God”.

    Or you could tap into the whole hippy-dippy “there is a universal pool of consciousness that all conscious beings partake of, and its called God”. Like the brain is just a tool to tap into the ether of consciousness, and each animal’s ability to tap into that pool is proportionate to it’s brain capacity.

    Just throwing out ideas. The typical Xian theist arguments are so weak. They are worth knowing, but I couldn’t in good conscious write a paper advocating them.

  49. 49
    jamessweet

    For me, I would focus on the Cosmological Argument. Once you understand what theologians mean when they distinguish “contingency” vs. “necessity”, you can throw up an awful lot of smoke with not a lot of effort.

    The Cosmological Argument also has the advantage that our current body of scientific knowledge does not (yet) have a ready-made refutation. For example, the Argument from Design is utterly useless (even though it once used be one of the better ones) because you can always just say, “Oh, you’re confused about how life came to have the appearance of design? Well here’s your answer…” There’s no equivalent when it comes to what set in motion the laws of physics that defined how the Big Bang would proceed. In this case it may even be a nonsensical question, but it doesn’t intuitively feel like a nonsensical question.

    So if you can get your audience to accept “What caused the laws of physics?” as a valid question, then you can argue that science doesn’t have the answer, and then use the smoke generated from your prattling on about contingency and necessity to pretend like a supreme creator is a reasonable answer to that question. To knock you down, an opponent must show that you are making unjustified assumptions — this is in contrast to most of the other arguments in favor of god’s existence, where it is easy for an opponent to show that the assumptions are not only unjustified but are in fact known to be false.

    As to the question of whether to actually argue in favor of god’s existence… my interpretation of the assignment is that you ought. It is not intellectually dishonest to do so, this is an exercise in debate. If you want, you could include a short addendum describing the problem with your argument, but I think you really should do your best to advocate for God’s existence. I don’t think the teacher is entirely wrong in thinking that’s a useful exercise.

    1. 49.1
      Def-Star

      The cosmological argument is readily refutable. The argument concludes that the unmoved mover/agent of pure actual/etc has no cause, yet exists by necessity which is, by Aristotle’s logic, as much a cause as anything. What causes God to exist? Necessity. You either continue with more regress or argue in circles, which is exactly the problem the cosmological argument was supposed to overcome.

  50. 50
    Stefan

    I agree with Kazim: the task is not (actually never) to trick the system.

    And I don’t think you have to convince the reader that theism is true or correct. Just argue for the position that is asked for: “what is the strongest case for the existence of God?”

    The strongest case in my opinion relies on the concept behind the word being ill-defined (it might mean anything and nothing at the same time, and the theologians seem delighted by this). It goes something like this: atheist means you deny God (or rather all different views of God). but atheists don’t even know what “God” means. they’re just assuming that religious positions are primitive (a common belief in some kind of superhuman person in the sky) but actually theists don’t believe that (or so they say). God by definition is that which cannot be explained and since there has to be something that we can’t explain (no matter how unimportant the question might seem…) there will always be the need for God. (A better case for this might make Marianne Talbot in the God Delusion Weekend Lectures http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGrFm6q1REM – if I understand her point correctly…)

    I don’t think there is a better “case” against atheism or for “God”. Even though I don’t think that “God” is a placeholder for not yet found ideas, I find it sometimes hard to argue against such word games (especially if I’m drunk).

  51. 51
    remysecor

    I’m not quite sure why, but the nature of the assignment bothers me, and I am trying to sort through my feelings.

    I do understand the value, as explained by so many of you, of understanding not only the other side’s arguments but the best of the other side’s arguments. Still, the assignment as set bothers me, a lot.

    First, I would find it very uncomfortable to argue on paper, even for a class assignment, for a position I did not support. Note: this is not the same thing as wanting to be ignorant of the other side’s arguments. It is rather the sense that I would be violating my conscience in arguing for a position I didn’t support.

    Second, the teacher in framing the assignment, either knows which side each student honestly supports or will know – provided none of the students games the assignment which I think highly unlikely. Just because it is a science & philosophy class doesn’t mean, to my mind, that the teacher has a right to know the political or religious beliefs of the students.

    If the teacher had arbitrarily assigned positions, then my second point would be irrelevant but the first would still stand.

    And, finally, what if one of these students some time in the not so distant future runs for a public office and somebody turns up this ancient class exercise for campaign fodder. Remote but not impossible. Hillary got pilloried for a paper she wrote in college some 30-40 years earlier.

    It is not, I emphasize not, because I am ashamed of my particular beliefs but rather, I guess, a sense of personal privacy. (I am not part of the Facebook generation.) It is one thing to announce to the world that I am an atheist or a Buddhist or a Mormon or whatever on my own terms, in my own time and place and being essentially forced to disclose some particular belief. What if, for ex., the teacher has an ulterior motive? Farfetched yes. In conspiracy-theory territory, no doubt. But at least grant me the possibility that a teacher with strong views on some subject might use such an assignment to seek out and punish those who disagree.

    I do realize that I am probably making too much of this, but I know that were I in that class, my first reaction on getting that particular assignment would have been to consider dropping the class.

    Since this is a gut reaction that I am trying to understand rather than an intellectual one, I’m not sure I can be convinced that I am taking this whole thing way, way, way too seriously. But give it a try.

    1. 51.1
      Rilian

      I agree with the point about privacy. I hate it when teachers make assignments that involve sharing personal information. I don’t do them.

    2. 51.2
      jacobfromlost

      I can see both sides, but at some point, in some context, you have to stop being afraid to let people know what you think (and college is the perfect context for voicing your views, letting others examine your views, and examining your own views and that of others in light of debate). I’ve had EXTREMELY religious professors, and at least one openly atheist professor, and there were no dire consequences to my grade or otherwise for saying ANYTHING to either of them. The atheist professor would toss out something like, “Of course we have no souls,” in a literary discussion, and a Christian student would say, “Maybe you don’t, but I do,” and smile. That’s what college is all about. The professor isn’t there to “pour in the knowledge”, but foster the debate and critical thinking, and challenge ALL views, and allow all views to be challenged (including their own).

      I also had a colloquium led by two believers–a bible-thumping Calvinist, and another Christian of some stripe. We only had 8 or so students in the colloquium, but had a wide variety of believers and nonbelievers. I can still remember one girl invoking Anne Rice in a discussion about Satan, and both professors rolled their eyes, lol. Good times. But it had no effect on her grade. (Professors who pile up complaints of descrimination will have a serious problem.)

      Also, the inverse of “someday that paper I wrote in college will come back to haunt me” is that someday a vast number of people who never wrote, said, or advocated what they really think find themselves surrounded by people they disagree with, and pretending they agree by remaining silent…and not quite sure if those people around them are pretending also. And fear wins the day.

      On the other hand, when I taught high school for nearly a decade, I never disclosed any personal positions about religion or politics. The community was hyper-religious, and I felt that disclosing atheism would undermine my effectiveness as a teacher with high school age kids and their parents (not to mention other teachers). I did, however, answer questions about eating bacon, not drinking coffee, not drinking alcohol, etc, and let the kids run wild trying to figure out what I could be. When they would say I couldn’t be X because those people don’t do whatever I just admitted to doing, I simply said maybe I’m a bad X (Mormon, Muslim, Jew, etc). It was a creative way to force critical thinking about a subject that probably wouldn’t have lent itself to any depth of thought with that population. (I think some kids actually did independent research on certain religions to formulate their focused questions and try to trip me up.)

      Maybe it was cowardly of me in a school with many openly Christian teachers, but I never denied being a Christian either, lol (My standard response to, “Are you an X” was, “Could be. Could be.”) The students were forced to see me as a person “who was possibly Christian, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Scientologist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, New Ager, Mormon, etc” (I would occasionally list these to widen their awareness of the options), and I think it was useful in making them realize that they really couldn’t much tell WHAT I was from my responses and behaviors. And I also liked to muddy the waters when they would note that the OTHER Christian teachers are very open, so by not being open I probably wasn’t a Christian; that’s when I would say, without missing a beat, that Jesus said to pray in private (and when one student said real men don’t have long hair, I pointed out that Jesus had long hair…and got a dirty look, lol). Good times. Good times.

      Of course, college is not high school, and your role as a student is different than your role as a teacher. In college, as a student, I would feel bad about hiding my personal views because I would think I would be undermining those who share my views, but hear no one else voicing them…so remain quiet also. How many times have I been in a meeting where some obvious objection or concern isn’t initially voiced, and suddenly one person has the courage to speak up (maybe even timidly), and more than half the room finally pipes up to ask the very same question, a question they were sitting on for fear of being the only one (and suspecting the entire room might think that crazy idea actually makes sense).

      Life is complicated, and you don’t always feel like revealing personal things, but if you NEVER reveal person views to be examined or criticized in a context that lends itself to that (college) I think you are not only missing out, but depriving others around you of an opportunity to learn about your views, their views, and everyone’s views in concert.

      1. Russell Glasser

        (applause)

      2. Rilian

        It’s being required to share personal information as part of a graded assignment that I object to. I take a class to get specific information, not to be put on display for other people to gawp at.

        1. jacobfromlost

          I understand. But any persuasive paper could be considered “revealing personal information”, as could any discussion in which a variety of views can be had. Whenever you get to that level (ie, college), that is just what is required.

          And what I learned from being a teacher is that no one is “gawping”. Most people don’t care, and the few who do are probably afraid to say they disagree with you.

          1. Rilian

            It may be that that’s how it *is*. But I don’t accept the claim that that’s how it has to be. Also, I haven’t felt that most classes were invading my privacy. It doesn’t happen that often, and when it does, I just don’t do those assignments. Most teachers don’t care. I had one teacher refuse to budge on the requirement of using personal information, so I dropped that class.

          2. jacobfromlost

            “It may be that that’s how it *is*. But I don’t accept the claim that that’s how it has to be.”

            Just to clarify, what I was saying is that is how it is in REAL LIFE (neither you nor I can change that). If a class is supposed to teach you how to think critically in a larger human conversation, then personal information is going to be involved. If the class is only there as a hoop to jump through to get a degree because masses of students demand they not be challenged about anything, that doesn’t change REAL LIFE. You’ve just come out of the class exactly the same as you went in–unprepared to deal with your role in a much larger human conversation in reality.

            My claim is that is how it has to be in the classroom in order to give you the skills to be a part of that real life conversation. Avoiding that lesson doesn’t teach you the lesson, and being capable of avoiding it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lesson to learn about REAL LIFE.

            It’s like the story of the country school board sizing up a prospective teacher to find out if he shared their particular beliefs. One of the members asked slyly, “What are your thoughts on the shape of the earth? Is it flat or round?” Without a pause, the teacher said, “I don’t know how people around here feel about it, but I can teach it either way.”

            Just because the round earth teacher can be avoided (or never hired) doesn’t mean you learned anything after exiting the flat earth teacher’s class, just as claiming you don’t HAVE to take the round earther’s class doesn’t change the fact that the earth is round. Likewise, claiming personal information or views shouldn’t be part of any class doesn’t change the fact that they are REQUIRED to examine them critically in a larger context, nor does it change the fact that examining them in a larger context is required in real life if education is valued. If education is not valued, what is the point of taking classes at all? It all becomes a shell game with no ball. As Socrates said, “The unexamined personal life is not worth personally living.” …or something like that.

          3. Rilian

            No, you’re not the same when you leave the class. You learn the INFORMATION that is covered in the class. That’s what I expect when I sign up for a class: To learn INFORMATION. Not to be forced to put myself down on the table for people to judge. In REAL LIFE, you have a choice of what you want to share about yourself with others. So it should be in school also.

          4. jacobfromlost

            Critical thinking is a skill, NOT information, and it must be practiced and honed. You should be well off the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy by the time you get to college. If all you leave college with is information, you’ve wasted your money. People don’t pay you for what you know–they pay you for what you CAN DO. People skills? Technical skills? Business skills? Critical thinking skills are key to them all, and require you to be able to examine your own views and thinking in a larger context, within a context of other views.

            In real life, some people will judge you no matter what. In real life, you have to stop being so scared of that. College is absolutely the SAFEST place to practice stepping out of your comfort zone. And life WILL force you out of your comfort zone eventually–if you have no idea how to handle that, it will shatter you.

            And I note that you are arguing with someone here, in public. We don’t agree with each other, yet you don’t stay quiet but keep voicing your personal opinion. Notice how the sky didn’t fall? Sure, we’re both anonymous. But does anyone in your college class actually know or care who you are?

          5. Rilian

            Yeah, information and skills, though skills can only be learned through practicing on your own; no one can really *teach* you a skill. Still that doesn’t not require giving personal information.

          6. Rilian

            Does not. I accidentally typed a double negative, but I’m sure you know what I meant.

          7. jacobfromlost

            Actually, it does when the skill is critically thinking about your views in a context of other views. The skill of argumentation, persuasion, discussion, critical thinking in a marketplace of ideas–all of these things are SKILLS that require to you to interact with other people, and they with you. You don’t go off by yourself and learn how to accept criticism of your ideas from other people, and in light of that criticism/debate, come to a better understanding of your views and theirs (and perhaps even change your views, or theirs).

            The fact that you are still arguing with me is evidence of that. If you didn’t think so, you wouldn’t still be advocating a contradictory view in public. The only purposes for continuing to respond are that you want me to change my mind, you want others to change their minds, or you want to make your opinion known to other people–and NONE of these can happen in solitude. (I would hope that you also want to test your ideas on other people to see what they think, and be open to changing your mind. That’s the primary way we learn as a species.)

      3. tosspotovich

        @jacobfromlost
        Makes me glad to live in Australia where most people are religious in culture only and frown on Bible thumpers.

        1. jacobfromlost

          Actually, the Calvinist professor is what tipped me into atheism (in all honesty he was pretty nice, except for his scary “fire and brimstone” voice). Upon some sincere questioning by me, he claimed an “absolutely evil” Satan and an “absolutely good” god would be in stalemate forever…until god throws Satan in the lake of fire at the end of time. It was the “forever…until” part that made me feel the gears grind loudly, then fall apart, in the god machine. I was pretty much an atheist before that, but self-described as an agnostic. I know most atheists say their atheism was a long process, but that comment was what did it for me–it was just SO stupid. It was like intellectual pain. I not only couldn’t believe it after hearing that, I couldn’t see believing anything remotely related to it again.

          I also remember the little Gideon bibles Christians would sometimes pass out between classes. When they would ask, “Are you interested in the Bible?” I’d always say yes. It was true. I love myths, lol. What surprised me was that the CHRISTIANS would be the most angry about those passing out the bibles. I rememember one girl snapping, “I already HAVE a bible! Thank you very much!”

    3. 51.3
      M. A. Melby

      This type of assignment is very very traditional. I think it’s a great assignment in a lot of ways.

      However, if this were a high school class, I would totally agree that asking about the students’ personally beliefs would be inappropriate.

      I guess that’s where I put the line for things like this.

  52. 52
    B-Lar

    Perhaps it might be of interest to instead of finding arguments for god (for which there are none other than as has been pointed out, that we cannot know everything, therefore unicorns) there could be a case made for BELIEF in god.

    By which I mean, in the absence of evidence for god, can we find evidence that belief in god exists. If god exists as a concept, then god exists and we can explore his nature that way.

    Its pretty weak, but its the only way Ive ever been able to consider god’s place in reality without intellectually punching myself in the balls.

  53. 53
    Tyrant of Skepsis

    Oh good grief. Write the damn paper and bring out some arguments for (the christian) god. It’s an important debate training technique to argue for the other side. If you do it well, it will strengthen you immensely in any future arguments with theists. I completely agree with Kazim, making a joke out of it and playing the system in a philosophy class and all the complaining about having to question ones own beliefs is ridiculous, what are you in a college philosophy class for?

    That being said, from my perspective: definitely the fine tuning argument, throw in a bit of presuppositionalist salt, then go for the specific christan god, historical arguments etc. I would leave out present day miracles, that’s silly.

  54. 54
    Rhett Samios

    Well, my first thought is that it’s a very badly worded assignment. Completely misrepresents the atheist position. But we can’t do anything about that.

    My second thought is, make sure you know what you are being asked to argue here. The way the question is written, you are not being asked to argue FOR the opposite position (ie an argument for the existence of god). You are being asked to argue AGAINST your position (ie, against atheism).

    Those are subtly different arguments to make. But they are different. The reason they are different is that you could be arguing against atheism, and still not be a theist. You could be a deist. You could be a pantheist. You could be a panentheist. There’s no way of knowing what position you hold, simply by making an argument against atheism.

    The good news? It’s a lot easier to make a halfways decent argument against atheism than it is to make a halfways decent argument for god.

    Good luck with it!rhe

  55. 55
    William Kaiser

    Well you could answer question #1 by saying that you will leave it to the reader (professor) to decide after you give your evidence. Say that you will use the arguments FOR god by examining the words and deeds of arguably the most influential man of the twentieth century. Make sure you say how this persons religious beliefs affected literally hundreds of millions of people directly and how his words and deeds still have a lasting effects on the entire world in the twenty first century. DON’T mention his name in this part of your essay. Make sure that this part of your essay is long enough to take up an entire page so that the reader will start speculating about who it might be.

    For question #2
    Quote mine Mein Kampf. Find all phrases that mention a god or any other phrase that intimates a divine power, such as the word “providence.”
    Quote mine the Nuremburg Laws of 1935.
    Quote mine speeches.
    Get statistics about how many people were affected.
    Explain how the Vatican was involved.
    Explain how the clergy in Germany was involved.
    DON’T mention the name of the author of Mein Kampf!
    Somehow (I can’t imagine how) conclude this proves a god exists because the person who wrote Mein Kampf would need divine providence to have this much of an effect, that he could not possibly pull it off without his god.

    They will probably go ape-sheet crazy. ;-)

    1. 55.1
      M. A. Melby

      That was brilliant.

  56. 56
    Don Martin

    May I suggest an anthropological approach? God certainly exists in the human imagination if nowhere else, and where that belief is widely shared, social benefits of cohesion, community purpose, and competitive advantages (nothing so assists ruthless competition as the belief that one’s competitors are not only wrong, but damnably so) may well flow from it. This gives the believer group a survival advantage. Consider how well it worked for the Muslims back in the 7th century–monotheisms are particularly good at this sort of thing.

  57. 57
    M. A. Melby

    Dig out functional MRIs – show that when people think about “God’s” opinion, they actually are cognitively referencing the self. Therefor, god is the self. Since you (personally) are self-aware, god is inside your brain, therefor god exists.

    (Only half-kidding)

    Seriously – have fun with this assignment. I’d love to see what your theist classmates come up with.

  58. 58
    M. A. Melby

    - or argue that existence is actually a “form” or conscience model of ultimate reality, and until a model is falsified it is just as good as any other model of reality (sans Occam’s Razor). So all aspects of supernatural beliefs that are by nature non-falsifiable (you’ll have to show that the existence of god is non-falsifiable by a particular definition) are just as “real” as any other model of how the universe functions (scientific or otherwise) EVEN though many of these non-falsifiable assertions are logically mutually exclusive.

    Just to be completely ridiculous – use Dr. Hawking’s recent arguments in order to support this idea.

    WHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

    Okay – I’m totally jealous.

    DO IT. I want to live vicariously through you. :)

  59. 59
    Michael Brew

    @jacobfromlost To be fair, I think the problem lies in making it mandatory to divulge specific information, especially that which could make a person a target for less savory bigots. Think how it might effect a gay person if required to disclose his or her orientation to classmates whose opinion or level of hostility might be unknown. Even if the classmates themselves aren’t hostile, a public statement like that won’t stay confined to that room. Atheists generally don’t face as much violence as gay people, but there is still plenty of discrimination to be had if forced to out oneself.

    1. 59.1
      jacobfromlost

      michaelbrew: To be fair, I think the problem lies in making it mandatory to divulge specific information, especially that which could make a person a target for less savory bigots.

      Me: Well, I think I have been fair. Nothing in the context of this assignment or this discussion suggests to me that anyone is being compelled to reveal specific information that will destroy their lives.

      michaelbrew: Think how it might effect a gay person if required to disclose his or her orientation to classmates whose opinion or level of hostility might be unknown.

      Me: But the assignment wasn’t “do you tend to be gay or not be gay.” I can’t imagine how that would even matter in a discussion or a persuasive essay/debate. It may be more analogous to “do you tend to believe in gay rights, or not believe in gay rights”, and being fearful if you advocate for gay rights people might think you are gay and be bigotted against you. Or, if you are very conservative/religious, fearful of advocating against gay rights for fear of the same. So everyone keeps silent and has no idea what the other people think or why, and no mutual understanding is every reached.

      michaelbrew: Even if the classmates themselves aren’t hostile, a public statement like that won’t stay confined to that room.

      Me: I don’t understand the context of an assignment in which one would have to divulge their sexuality to make an argument, or debate a point, view, or belief.

      michaelbrew: Atheists generally don’t face as much violence as gay people, but there is still plenty of discrimination to be had if forced to out oneself.

      me: It depends on the context. If you read my original comment in the thread, I described my own experience as an atheist high school teacher. I never divulged my atheism, and quite frankly, revealing atheism would have been much worse in that community than revealing homosexuality (and revealing you were a Democrat would fall somewhere between, lol). But the discussion was in the context of a college philosophy class, and writing a PAPER where you took a vague position (tend to believe in a god, versus tend not to believe), and then develop a counterargument for your position. That is NOT unreasonable–in fact, it is a very basic exercise in a philosophy class. (My initial criticism was in the context of mistakenly thinking it was an English course, not a philosophy course.)

      If the class is asking you to tell everyone if you are gay as part of an assignment, I would say that would be bizarre.

      My only point is that in real life, you are often forced to take a position in a larger context. For example, what do you do if you work in a very conservative school, and a teacher makes offhanded gay jokes? Often? Do you smile or laugh to hide your true views (and by doing that, add to the perception that everyone finds homophobia funny)? Because doing anything else will put you in the “other” camp. Likewise, in my experience, statements were floated around me such as, “God does this,” or “We need a Come to Jesus moment,” among other things, and if you reaction is anything but approving, you are pushed farther into the “other” camp–and believe me, NO reaction is a reaction. So I certainly know about the bigotry that can develop against you even when the only thing you do is NOT play along like you find the gay jokes funny, or give any indication of “praising the lord” when god or Jesus is invoked.

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