Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Our Assessment of the Various Arguments

by Francois Tremblay

I hope that this article will be a compilation of various opinions on the arguments, as regards to their complexity, efficacy, scope, and use in debate.

Since I am the one who started this article, I should make a table of all the arguments and some basic criteria – at least the arguments we have now. So here it is. Then I will add some general comments. This table is only my personal opinion, so feel free to argue any of these points.

  • SA: Strong Atheism
  • yes+: proves more than S-A
  • inductive: true by induction
  • limited: does not cover all cases

    I evaluate “complexity” only on the basis of how difficult and long it is to explain and use the argument sufficiently, not the full depth of the argument. Also, the more complex an argument is, the more easy it is to attack.

    Argument Complexity Proves SA for God-Concept Proves SA for Christian God
    Noncognitivism (general) simple yes+ yes+
    Materialist apologetics (general) simple yes+ yes+
    Argument from Correct Choice complex yes+ yes+
    Argument from the Fact of Existence very complex yes yes
    Argument from Moral Autonomy complex yes yes
    Argument from Scale very complex limited yes
    Argument from Evolution simple limited yes
    Cosmological Argument/ Transcendence and Personhood simple yes yes
    Occam’s Razor very simple inductive yes
    Problem of Evil (general) very simple variable yes
    Argument from Non-Belief simple limited yes
    Teleological Arguments very simple inductive inductive
    Ignorance Argument simple no yes
    Big Bang Cosmological Argument complex yes yes

    Here are some advantages or disadvantages of using some of these arguments in debate, at least that I can see. I would welcome input from debaters on this, if they use such arguments in a debate. I can add their comments here. Just email me.

    Noncognitivism: The ultimate argument, since it demonstrates that alll religious language is meaningless, and that any rational discussion can only take place from a strong-atheistic perspective.This is a simple argument, that covers all possible bases (definitional and process-based), and puts the entire burden of proof on the opponent. Its only problem is that a sophisticated debater may engage you on your theory of meaning. But unless you are debating a theologian, this is not a problem. Read the first part of George Smith’s book for a more detailed discussion of this line of evidence.

    Materialist apologetics: Another simple argument, which opens the door to all the other materialist arguments in your arsenal. Forces the Christian to justify his use of logic, causality, principles, morality, etc. No serious objection can be raised against it (I cover Frame’s refutation in my article), and it undercuts your opponent’s entire reasoning.

    Argument from Correct Choice: I may be biased about this one, since it’s my invention, but it seems to be particularly adequate to start a debate. If the very issue of the debate at hand presupposes strong-atheism, you can corner your opponent very early in the debate. Of course, it requires to explain Materialist Apologetics first, which you should do anyway.

    Argument from Scale and Argument from Evolution: I don’t think these arguments address the general god-concept adequately. They should only be used in specifically Christian debates. They also give the theist a lot of leeway because of their complexity. The best argument is simple and cuts deep.

    Occam’s Razor, Teleological Arguments: Inductive arguments may seem less powerful, but they also tend to be very simple. If you don’t feel at ease with other arguments, use these, and the Problem of Evil. Although they do not prove your case airtight, they are simple and powerful.
    There is no article on the teleological arguments yet, but you can find them in Michael Martin’s book.

    Problem of Evil: Remember that you are showing a contradiction in the Christian/theistic concept of “good”, not your own moral postiion. Use Bible verses if necessary to establish your point (“Nonbelief and Evil”, by Drange, is a good resource for that). If you are arguing against theism in general, pitting evil against omnibenevolence and the trust we can put in such a god seems to be the best avenue.
    Remember NOT to concede to the theist the argument that “there may be a higher reason for evil to exist” – a god could have not created at all, making the existence of ANY evil a contradiction.
    Choosing the right variant of the Problem of Evil is a big part of the problem. The future article on those variants will probably be helpful.

    In closing, Here is a table of some theological tactics and what I think is the best response to them. This should be especially useful for beginners.

    Claim Response
    ”Without a god, life has no meaning.” Materialist Apologetics (“with a god, life and reality have no meaning”).
    ”Without a god, you cannot have morality.” Impossibility of Theistic and Christian Moral Principles + Objective Principles.
    Pascal’s Wager Reverse Pascal’s Wager.
    Argument from Fine-Tuning Anthropic Principle
    ”The Bible/Quran/Torah is the Word of God,” Scriptural prophecies, argument from miracles Impossibility of Divine Intervention (+ scriptural contradictions).
    ”God is necessary for ultimate justice” ”Why do you think there’s ultimate justice?”.
    First Cause arguments Argument from Evolution, Cosmological Argument/Transcendence vs Personhood, Apathetic God Paradox, Big Bang Cosmological Argument.
    Ontological arguments ”What does ‘perfect god’ mean?” followed by the theory of meaning from noncognitivism.
    Design arguments Problem of Evil, Argument from Scale, Occam’s Razor, Teleological Arguments, Ignorance Argument.
    Arguments from the intellect Depending on the entity invoked: Argument from Correct Choice, Impossibility of Theistic and Christian Moral Principles, Argument from Moral Autonomy, Argument from Evolution, Argument from the Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure, etc.
    Presuppositionalism All Materialist Arguments + Opposing Worldviews approach + many more arguments, depending on what your opponent is trying to use as evidence.

    If anyone wants to add to this article, they are free to email me (see above). I would like this page to grow, especialy as people debate strong-atheism and encounter successes or problems. If you are going to debate, I also highly recommend that you read the Debates page.

    Last updated: July 10, 2004