What’s In A Name?

whatsinanameI recently hosted an interaction on Twitter between myself and about a dozen people who claimed to be atheists, in which I asked the following question, “What do you think are the strongest and the weakest arguments for the existence of God?”  Many of the comments that I got back were pretty mean-spirited and insulting, and I could tell that some people just wanted to argue with me. Here are some of the more mild responses that I received from those who were gracious enough to offer one. Most of the comments were along the same line:

  • “There is no argument for the existence for god other than a knee jerk reaction to the unknown. Weakest argument is, any.”
  • “At best, the strongest argument for God’s existence is weak, but I can give you tens of thousands of pages proving he doesn’t.”
  • “There are no good arguments for the existence of gods…zero objective evidence and no logical proof.”
  • “Strongest=weakest: the claims made in the Bible.”

I then got a little more specific and asked about their reactions to the philosophical arguments for the existence of God – the cosmological, ontological, teleological, and moral arguments – and I got the following responses:

  • “I don’t see any argument whether it be cosmological, moral etc to be any stronger or convincing than blind faith. All fail equally.”
  • “Ahh ok well in that case my reaction to any person trying to argue that God exists would be pity.”
  • “I do not feel as such: I have concluded that such arguments display a lack of critical thinking skills by the proponents.”

All-in-all, it was a rather frustrating exchange for me. Other than the gentleman that stated that the claims made in the Bible were both the strongest and weakest arguments (a logical contradiction), I could not get anyone to give an actual example of a claim for Gods existence that they felt either had or lacked merit. All I was offered were sweeping generalizations.

I really expected more. Responses were coming back from people who had the words “atheist” and “agnostic” and “secular” right in their profiles. These were people who not only didn’t believe in God, but they were proud of the fact! Their identities (on Twitter at least) were wrapped up in the fact of their unbelief. One would expect that they would have given a lot of thought to the question that I had posed, and were better equipped to give a more precise answer to my inquiry.

This makes me wonder if people who claim to be atheists and agnostics have any familiarity at all with the classical arguments for Gods existence. I suspect that most of them do not. I suspect that most of them have made their decision to be an atheist based not on any sincere and thoughtful examination of the evidence, but simply because they do not want God to exist because they do not want to be accountable to him. It is not so much that they are “a-theist” (without God), but that they are “anti-theist” (against God).

The following chart illustrates the four positions possible with regard to our personal theology. I believe that everyone falls into one of these four groups. Future articles will take a closer look at each of these groups to see what the Bible has to say about them, as well as looking at the classical arguments for Gods existence.

     
Four Types of Personal Theology

Four Types of Personal Theology

 

   

So, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but no disrespect to William Shakespeare, an atheist is not an agnostic is not an anti-theist is not a theist! Being able to recognize the difference when we are talking to people will better enable us to communicate to them the truths about God.

Soli Deo Gloria

About Mike Ritt

I am a 53 year old writer trapped in the body of a Consumer Safety Inspector for the USDA. I love to spend my free time (ha-ha) reading and writing, and I write everything – stories, poems, essays, and shopping lists – it doesn't matter. I have been married to my redhead (Tami) for over twenty-three years now. Although we live out on the eastern plains of Colorado, we are still die-hard Packer fans! I have been a Christian for over thirty years now, and each day seems like a brand new day, with more to learn about God and his word. What a wonderful journey this has become! Click the “Contact” button on the menu bar if you want to write me for any reason, whether it’s to know more about me or the glorious gospel of grace.
This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What’s In A Name?

  1. “I could not get anyone to give an actual example of a claim for Gods existence that they felt either had or lacked merit.”

    First of all, maybe you shouldn’t be trying to have that conversation on Twitter.

    But regardless, as an atheist, I don’t find any of the arguments for god to have merit. If I did, I wouldn’t be an atheist.

    “I suspect that most of them have made their decision to be an atheist based not on any sincere and thoughtful examination of the evidence, but simply because they do not want God to exist because they do not want to be accountable to him.”

    And I suspect that most theists have made their decision simply because they want a god to exist because they’re afraid of death.

    • Mike Ritt says:

      NotAScientist – I really appreciate that you took the time to read my article and post a comment. I think that it is entirely possible, regardless of your beliefs, to recognize both the strengths and the weaknesses of your position. I believe that there are certain arguments for the existence of God that are weaker than other arguments. But when I weigh the totality of the arguments, I find the evidence for Gods existence to be compelling, so I am a theist.

      You said something in your comment that I find very interesting. You said that you did not find any of the arguments for God to have merit, and that if you did, you wouldn’t be an atheist. You make it sound as if being an atheist is the default position. I believe that the default position is some form of theism. This is borne out by the fact that sociologists have discovered that every culture across the globe from the beginning of recorded history has had some kind of religious expression. We are, in fact, what R.C. Sproul calls “homo religiosus” – religious man. My contention is that you have chosen to be an atheist, and that you must have both strong and weak arguments to support your position. I would love to hear what they are.

      As far as your other comment about people choosing theism because they fear death – I am sure that is the case in some instances. But how does that invalidate any of the arguments for Gods existence? Simply because many people fear death and want God to exist, does not mean that God doesn’t exist. Many people also believe in gravity. Does that invalidate gravity?

      • “This is borne out by the fact that sociologists have discovered that every culture across the globe from the beginning of recorded history has had some kind of religious expression. ”

        It seems to me this happens because religious parents teach their children their religions.

        I don’t believe that children would, generally, believe in religion unless specifically taught.

        And as far as I can tell, not believing a claim until there is sufficient good evidence is the default position. It’s why I’m a skeptic in addition to being an atheist.

        “But how does that invalidate any of the arguments for Gods existence?”

        It doesn’t. But saying that some atheists are non-believers due to not wanting to follow god also doesn’t validate any of the arguments for gods existence. So why bring it up at all?

      • Mike Ritt says:

        When you refer to yourself as a skeptic, what do you mean? Do you remain skeptical until you are convinced by a preponderance of the evidence which you are sincerely investigating? Or are you one of those professional skeptics who only call themselves skeptics in order to avoid the issue? I hope it is the former, which is nothing more than exercising good judgment. The latter is just being intellectually lazy.

  2. If you’re looking for in-depth arguments about why people don’t believe in god, blog sites are full of them and so is youtube. I’ve written on this myself. It’s almost a rite of passage for an atheist to write the “why I don’t believe” post. One of the best and most thorough I’ve seen is by Evid3nc3 on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSy1-Q_BEtQ&list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A&index=1

    As for the classical arguments, many of us are quite familiar. During the time I was turning away from Christianity, Pascal’s wager kept me there a little longer. That is, until I realized if that is your justification for belief, then your belief is already gone and you’re just unwilling to say so.

    As to your four types of theology, I’d say these are over-simplistic. Only some atheists positively state there is no god. And I’ve met few agnostics for whom the answer of “is there a god” is as simple as a shrug. A more correct statement might be “I can’t know and neither can you,” and an agnostic can also be theist or atheist: “I can’t know but I (do/don’t) think so.”

    • Mike Ritt says:

      Stan… Thank you for the link. I will check it out.

      Pascal’s wager is not so much an argument for God as it is an argument for believing in God. It doesn’t present any arguments for his existence. It only argues for the logic of believing that God exists. It is not an apologetic that I ever use, and I agree with you that it does not offer any real justification for believing.

      The graphic that I presented of the four types of personal theology is simplistic. I know that there are variations, and my goal is to flesh out the variations in future articles. I hope you will check back later and let me know what you think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s