William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Hilarious “Proofs” Of God’s Non-Existence & Existence

Just don’t ask me to define entelecheia.

Via Nate Winchester, Julian Ahlquist’s collection of Proofs of God’s Non-Existence, which were in “response to a similar list Hundreds of Proofs of God’s Existence by ‘Godless Geeks'”

There’s no quoting all of these—there are nearly 1,400 in total—but it’s tempting. Each is meant to contain a fallacy, (I haven’t read all 1,400), some blatant and others subtle. If you’re still an atheist, chances are pretty good you’ve embraced at least one of these from Ahlquist’s list. Just as if you’re a theist you’ve probably embraced one of the fallacies put out by the Godless Geeks.

This is our great weakness: to hold tight to any bit of evidence which confirms that which we wish or hope is true. Doesn’t make the thing false, but it weakens us.

Both efforts are magnificent resources for teaching logic. Some of these arguments are difficult, like this one from the Godless Geeks:

85. META-PROOF
(1) This is a proof of God’s existence.
(2) If the reader finishes reading this proof, the existence of God will be proven to him/her.
(3) If the existence of God is proven, then God exists.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

This argument is unsound because it is self-referential, but you can see how it can fool by including premise (3), which is a tautology and therefore adds no information. This is a principle—that tautologous premises are information-free—which is a struggle for many to remember, particularly in probability where it is often misapplied (e.g., “It will rain tomorrow or it won’t” which is a tautology is used to fallaciously infer the probability of rain tomorrow is 1/2).

Here’s a common one from Alquist (ellipsis original).

689.ARGUMENT FROM SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION
(1) Religion can’t explain everything.
(2) Science can … or will, someday.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

Science cannot even explain itself, let alone “everything”, therefore this argument is unsound—but cherished, usually in longer forms where the fallacy creeps in subtly. For example, swap “evolution” for “science” and “behavior” for “everything”.

Another Godless Geek, which fails in its satiric intent:

498. ARGUMENT FROM INTUITION AND CONSCIENCE
(1) We feel certain things to be right or wrong.
(2) The reason we feel wrong about certain things is because of our intuition, a.k.a. our conscience.
(3) I’ll just ignore the resemblance of intuition with our thoughts, emotions, and animal instinct, or our childhood indoctrination by our culture.
(4) Intuition and conscience are so special! They must be given by God!
(5) Therefore, God exists.

(1) is obviously true, as is (2), except for equating in all instances intuition and conscience. But the implication of (3) is empty or false: because intuition or emotion is sometimes wrong does not prove they always wrong, and because your childhood taught a belief does not make the belief false. (4), taken as shorthand for a classic theistic argument, is true: our most fundamental beliefs are special and seen to be true without proof. The argument still fails, however, depending on how (4) is read. If (4) is used as a separate proof, then the #498 becomes circular.

Here’s another popular one from Ahlquist:

89. PASTAFARIAN ARGUMENT (I)
(1) God is like a flying spaghetti monster.
(2) Honestly, a flying spaghetti monster.
(3) Isn’t that ridiculous?
(4) Therefore, God does not exist.

This reminds me of that great play Dinner With Atheists.

As goofy as this argument is, it’s awfully convincing to many. Just saying “flying spaghetti monster” will get you a wink or a nod from the easily impressed atheist. The we-reject-the-same-gods-as-you-plus-one-more is actually a good effort by atheists, but this argument adds a god to the list of gods for the express purpose of rejecting that god, which is silly.

Another Ahlquist:

90. CARL SAGAN’S DRAGON IN MY GARAGE ARGUMENT (I)
(1) God is like an invisible, incoporeal [sic], floating dragon who spits heatless fire in my garage.
(2) You can’t disprove that such a creature exists.
(3) However, claims that cannot be tested and are immune to disproof are “veridically worthless.”
(4) That’s just a convoluted way of me trying to tell you not believe in God for absolutely no reason because we can’t come up with any reasons to justify our position in any way.
(5) Therefore, God does not exist.

Here, a sort of rogue empiricism, which also rejects all of mathematics, since no mathematical truth can be tested.

Anyway, fun lists. Assign chunks of them to your students.

Update Link fixed.

22 Comments

  1. Stephen Hawking said we don’t need God to explain the universe.
    God said we don’t need Stephen Hawking to explain the universe. (In the style of the Nietzsche/God quote)

    I would also note that Ancient Alien theorists say we confuse ancient aliens with “God”. God is an alien, obviously, so that argument against God doesn’t fly either. 🙂 (pun intended)

    #85 looks like the argument climate scientists make concerning CO2 and warming. Interesting.

  2. The proofs of God are hilarious.

    I wouldn’t know about the other list because the link gives me an error.

  3. If you could prove that God existed faith would be meaningless. God wants us to have faith in him. Therefore he deliberately constructed the universe in such a way that his existence can not be proven.

  4. What would be an interesting exercise would be to cross-reference the applicable false/flawed argument [from the referenced references of proofs] to actual philosophical arguments made by modern apologists & activist atheists. Because such matches are readily made…and watch how it will make no difference whatsoever in the beliefs, or un-belief, of those espousing those arguments.

    Believers who seek proof are in denial of their doubts (why else act like “Doubting Thomas” on a matter of faith?).

    Un-believers (agnostics, atheists, etc. … and including those that don’t believe a particular faith or version of God) generally observe the ample absence of proof AND the hypocritical behavior of those espousing faith…and conclude that even they [outspoken believers] don’t actually believe what they say…so why should they [the atheists]; really, IF you really believed in God you wouldn’t dare do & say the things you do…

  5. Old joke.
    Q. How do we know God is real?
    A. By default God is real unless explicitly declared complex or integer.

  6. Ye Olde Statisician

    January 16, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    There are plenty of things that cannot be proven. That an objective universe exists cannot be shown by empirical proofs, since that would be begging the question. Likewise, you cannot prove that other people are conscious. Basically, no science [broadly defined] can prove its own axioms.

  7. YOS,

    Came across an enumeration of Fundamental Axioms of Science:
    http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/Philosophy/axioms/axioms/node39.html

    Care to expand the list?

  8. In any case, is a belief or disbelief in a God necessary ? Outside of basing one’s actions on the belief, in what way does it matter?

  9. Briggs

    January 17, 2014 at 7:29 am

    DAV,

    Now that’s a list students can appreciate at exam time!

    Update And you have to admire his consistency. As for me, I’ll accept his own self-assessment that his philosophy is BS.

  10. Briggs,

    Is that surprising? It’s from the Physics and not the Philosophy department.

  11. Briggs

    January 17, 2014 at 7:50 am

    DAV,

    Seems to me we met this gentleman before. Something about his misunderstanding ensemble forecasting? Can’t recall.

  12. Briggs,

    Well there is that, I admit.But isn’t assuming being wrong there means being wrong here a fallacy in Philosophy?

  13. Briggs

    January 17, 2014 at 7:59 am

    DAV,

    It is surely a fallacy to hold the truth of “I could be wrong about everything.”

  14. Briggs,

    It would seem so but isn’t “I could be wrong about everything” the guiding principle behind science?

  15. This is the (in)famous Robert Brown @ Duke who is occasionally featured at WUWT and regularly comments there. His physics seems sound, if you trust my judgment. Home page at:

    http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/index.php

  16. If you postulate a Prime Mover and don’t question the cause of the Prime Mover then you have eliminated the need for a Prime Mover.

    QED

  17. Ye Olde Statisician

    January 17, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Is a belief or disbelief in a God necessary? Outside of basing one’s actions on the belief, in what way does it matter?

    Likely no more than a belief in evolution, quantum mechanics, cordon bleu, of the sonnets of Shakespeare, except to those actually working with them.

  18. Hmm, evolution again. Yes, there is something visceral.

  19. belief in evolution, quantum mechanics, cordon bleu, of the sonnets of Shakespeare, except to those actually working with them.

    All of those things have predictive power — even the cordon bleu — but maybe not evolution. When I ask for cordon bleu in a restaurant I pretty much get a dish with similar characteristics every time.

    In electronics, a belief in electrons is assumed as the fundamental principles are expressed in terms of electron spacing and rate of travel (with DC, anyway). The result is useful for building things.

    But none of this seems true for belief/disbelief in God. Many things have been done by people supposedly because of their beliefs but does the truth of the belief itself have any value?

    Why should there be so much vehement argument about this for a very long period of time when it doesn’t seem to matter at all? Is it just that people are compelled to justify their beliefs?

  20. Ye Olde Statisician

    January 17, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Why should there be so much vehement argument about this for a very long period of time

    Doesn’t seem to have been except for small noisy groups. But also because the degree of belief varies: Not everyone, said Origen, has the time, skills, or inclination to give the matter deep thought, and so contents himself with simple beliefs. Much as, we suppose, an ordinary cook following a recipe for cordon bleu or an internetizen repeating formulaic Darwinism. The point is that unless you are yourself a practitioner, much of this has no immediate import. Most people are more interested in their own immediate lives. That Western legal and moral codes originated in a Christian belief in God is no more important than Darwinism to an auto mechanic or the recipe for cordon bleu to a clarinetist.

  21. It saves a lot of time and agita to bear in mind that proof is possible only in a mathematical context. Mathematical systems are closed, completely specified systems, in which implication and inference are possible with neither uncertainty nor ambiguity. Proof cannot be applied to any scheme of knowledge or thought that is open or at all unspecified.

    Interestingly, disproof is applicable to open and partially specified systems. However, one can only disprove statements about causation within adequately well-defined contexts: statements about cause and effect that make verifiable predictions about the behavior of adequately specified contexts within an agreed-upon margin of error.

    Neither proof nor disproof applies to propositions or systems in which Aristotelian definition is impossible. That lets God off the hook, for which I’m sure He’s profoundly grateful!

  22. “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
    “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
    “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

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