Thursday, February 10, 2011

Answering Atheist Objections

These are not scholarly objections to theistic or Christian arguments, by and large, but rather more popular-level objections. They are of the sort you may run into on the Internet, or even with an atheist acquaintance, family member, or friend.

1. You believe ____________? How can an intellectual person believe that?!

This is the “appeal to incredulity,” as I like to call it. This kind of objection is seen largely because Christianity and/or theism is just not seen as a viable option for thinking people not ready to run a suicide cult. This is why apologetics is useful for the Christian. “It [the Gospel] is always heard against the background of the cultural milieu in which one lives.  A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the Gospel which a person who is secularized will not.  For the secular person you may as well tell him to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ! Or, to give a more realistic illustration, it is like our being approached on the street by a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement who invites us to believe in Krishna.  Such an invitation strikes us as bizarre, freakish, even amusing.  But to a person on the streets of Bombay, such an invitation would, I assume, appear quite reasonable and be serious cause for reflection.”1

The answer to the objection lies in the fact that rational people occupy “both sides of the aisle.” If a valid argument is presented which contains premises which are more plausibly true than false, then a person can be comfortable both with the rationality of his position and the fact it is theistic or Christian in nature. Only if the objector can point to a specific argument as invalid or a specific premise as untrue can he accuse the Christian of being inaccurate (and many times, even the charge of irrationality can yet be avoided).

What to do?
Point out, kindly, that this is not an objection to any argument the Christian has made, and show him there are arguments to the contrary. While the objector may howl that he does not believe these arguments, his lack of belief does not demonstrate you are being irrational. Rationality is simply having some justification to hold a belief or set of beliefs. This should allow you to focus the conversation.

2. You believe some Sugar Daddy in the Sky made everything, and I believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster. He is also omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Any reason you have for accepting one can be applied to the other, and any reason for rejecting one can reject the other.

This is a famous objection. Notice again it does not target any specific argument, just the concept of God as a whole. There are several problems with this objection. First, it doesn’t argue for atheism at all. It doesn’t undercut the warrant for any of the premises of theistic arguments. What it does is attempt to establish that we do not know which kind of God is the real one. (Of course, this is not its intent: its intent is appeal to ridicule, where it is hoped the theist will quietly abandon his arguments instead of being forced to accept something so ludicrous as a Flying Spaghetti Monster.) Second, the concept is a derivative. That is to say, the objector takes the concept of God and gratuitously tacks on the attribute of its being “spaghetti,” “flying,” and a “monster” (whatever that may mean). Since the objector gets the idea of such a god from the traditional concept of God, we can say it’s really not that plausible after all that the FSM exists to the exclusion of the real God (explanation: view it like a bad remake of your favorite movie. Everyone knows where the idea came from, but it’s an absurd knock-off. Why assume the second is purer or closer to the concept than the first [leave chronology aside and this illustration still works]?). Finally, once again Craig comes to the rescue when he mentions, “Moreover, it’s plausible that any ultimate explanation must involve a personal being which is incorporeal. For any being composed of material stuff will exhibit precisely that specified complexity that we are trying to explain….That immediately rules out the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a final explanation."2 That is to say, if some animated ball of spaghetti were postulated as the metaphysically ultimate explanation, it simply fails—for then it would cease to be, metaphysically speaking, actual (material) spaghetti.

What to do?
Mention these rebuttals in a humble spirit. I would start with the fact this is not at all an argument against theism or Christianity. From there, one could move to the fact that such a being as the FSM fails to match the descriptions postulated by theistic arguments (that such a being is immaterial, timeless, spaceless, etc.). At that point, the objector may wish to debate whether theistic arguments really do entail those conclusions. But at that point, you have them right where you want them: debating the evidence!

I hope this helped a little. What are some of the objections you’re hearing? Have any stories or questions or topics you’d like to see?

                [1] William Lane Craig, “Christian Apologetics—Who Needs It?”, , accessed February 10, 2011.

                [2] Craig, Question #33, , accessed February 10, 2011.


  1. This helps a bunch. In reading the article, I am reminded that Jesus did not defend himself when ridiculed. He lovingly presented truth to those willing to hear it.

  2. Thanks for the comment man! :) You bring up an interesting point. Jesus disputed with the Pharisees on a few occasions, but he knew when to keep silent. It's a lesson I hope to learn well someday. :)

  3. I find #2 deeply flawed I'm afraid. By ascribing attributes to God, the risk is the accusation that God Himself is the product of human minds.

    No, the argument cannot revolve around what WE decide are attributes and qualities of a god.

    The FSM is a poor choice. What if somebody playfully suggested Odin, or Zeus? They are certainly more "godly" (by our definition) than the FSM.

    The only acceptable answer is an uncomfortable one, but one a good Christian should have no problem giving; FAITH.

  4. Thanks for taking time to write! While I can appreciate the value of faith (and its necessity), I do think it’s a mistake to say we cannot ascribe any properties to God. Aside from contradicting biblical theology, it seems by saying none of God’s properties are able to be named we are either saying God has no properties (which is probably not what you mean) or we cannot know any of God’s properties. By saying the latter, we are in effect saying God has the property of being ineffable. But then it follows we do know a property!

    As to “alternate gods,” almost all of them fail to correspond individually to the requirements of arguments proffered. Even if they all applied corporately, Ockham’s Razor shaves the complex explanation in favor of the simple, if all else is equal. At worst, Zeus and the like are an alternative to Christian particularism, and not a parody as the FSM is intended to be.

  5. An excerpt from your post:


    Finally, once again Craig comes to the rescue when he mentions, “For any being composed of material stuff will exhibit precisely that specified complexity that we are trying to explain….That immediately rules out the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a final explanation."2


    This may be true (in the spirit of full disclosure, I think 'God did ___' is, as an explanatory feature, an explanatory train wreck) if the FSM were not composed of divine material stuff such that it embodies supreme simplicity (whatever 'simplicity' here amounts to).

    If you push me and inquire into the nature of this 'divine FSM material stuff', I will say it consists of the same stuff non-physical, incorporeal persons are made of...

  6. Hi Aaron. That indeed is just a track people take. But then it remains the case they're either simply ascribing gratuitous properties to God, or, by renaming all of them, just describing God with their own proffered name (replete with anthropomorphisms, like in Christianity where the Bible speaks of God's "wings").

  7. Hi Randy,

    Now here is the rub: I see no reason at all to draw an identity relationship between 'divine FSM material stuff' and the so-called non-physical 'stuff' 'God' is composed of. Of course, you can *can* assert that they are identical, but such would be a bare assertion.

  8. Hi Aaron. Hope all is well! I would just say that based on the comment beforehand, we know that the type is surely identical (else I don't know what it means to exprss). As far as the FSM just being identical to God, its features that differ from God tdo so on a gratuitous and derivative basis. So, typically, when one presses this point, the FSM-proponent will typically say "oh no, you've misunderstood: the FSM is timeless, spaceless, good, omnipotent, omniscient." But then, because of the indiscernability of identicals, it just is God, albeit with a bizarre name. ;)

  9. Randy,

    The grad school offers (and rejections) are beginning to come in, which makes for a tense period.

    Regarding the issue. "(else I don't know what it means to express)." It sentence "divine FSM material stuff" intends to express divine FSM material stuff.

    Re: 'indiscernability of identicals'

    The FSM is patently *not* identical to your deity because, presumably, your deity is not composed of 'divine FSM material stuff', and the FSM is not composed of non-physical personal stuff (whatever that amounts to) as you presume your deity is.

    In other words, to say 'because of the indiscernability of identicals... ' you must first presume that 'divine FSM material stuff' is identical to 'non-physical personal stuff'. Other than merely wanting to assert an identity relationship, I see no reason to assert that there is an identity relationship.

  10. Hi Aaron. Wow I guess it would be a tense period. I hope you are able to choose a school that will best fit your needs/desires! :)

    I think I understand what you're saying, but it seems gratuitous, and thus the FSM as an objection doesn't seem to work (that is, it loses whatever motivation it was supposed to have for stating it as an alternative to God). If the FSM is nothing like God, then it doesn't apply. If it is identical to God, then it doesn't apply. If it is like God, but not identical, then it is gratuitous, and does not apply!

    I prefer Law's evil god, myself. :)

  11. Randy,

    I have yet to receive responses from most of the schools I applied to, but things are beginning to look like I will have the opportunity to choose between schools.

    Perhaps confusion entered in when I wrote: "If you push me and inquire into the nature of this 'divine FSM material stuff', I will say it consists of the same stuff non-physical, incorporeal persons are made of..."

    First, I did not mean to assert that 'divine FSM material stuff' is the same stuff as 'non-physical person stuff'. Rather, I meant to assert that both are equally vacuous utterances, flatus vocis if you will.

    Second, even *if* the stuff your deity is made of and the FSM is made of are the same, it does not follow that the two are identical. E.g., your deity could be omnibenevolent and the FSM could be morally indifferent.

    That said, I do not find the FSM gratuitous. I find such postulated alternative deities entertaining and elucidating. Entertaining for the obvious reasons and elucidating because any argument one can run to support belief in traditional deities can be run in order to support belief in the FSM. Which should highlight, in comic relief, how probative the arguments for traditional deities are.

  12. I don't think just any arguments can support an FSM. For instance, the moral argument, kalam cosmological argument, and modal ontological argument all preclude FSM. The moral argument gives us a morally perfect being (which under the most recent conception won't work), the KCA requires a non-physical entity (there is no non-physical spaghetti; it's just not what spaghetti is!), and the ontological argument postulates the MGB, which if the FSM is, it just identifies God. :)

  13. Randy,

    I can fashion the KCA to accommodate 'divine FSM material stuff'- mind you, we are not talking about normal spaghetti.

    The moral argument (so-called) is simply horrible (much worse than than modal arguments, which are themselves pretty bad off). Even so, I can utter such sentences as 'The FSM is the super-duper moral law giver' and they seem to me to be just as coherent as 'The Abrahamic 'god' is the super-duper moral law giver'.

    And ontological arguments can also be fashioned to accommodate the FSM. At the very least, we can identify the FSM as being coequal in all its 'metaphysical perfections' (whatever such utterances mean) to your deity. (We can borrow a page from Zoroastrianism here.)

  14. Hi Aaron, as to the KCA--then this is just a gratuitous assumption! As to the moral argument, it's just renaming God inasmuch as we take him to be in the sense of the moral argument. And finally, the ontological argument gives us a maximally-great being, which being, in theory, would be the same as God--and more to the point, entirely gratuitous!

  15. No, Aaron, you can't logically do that. I call appeal to ridicule on your argument.


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