I have been engaged in a long and convoluted discussion with a Roman Catholic correspondent, and I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with the clearest, most lucid response to his illogical and irrational arguments. I've written a final reply, which is the best argument I can think of, so figured I'd post it here for comments, suggestions, and generally contributing to the dialogue.
I agree , saying " GOD exists" is not asserting "no GOD exists". But saying "GOD does NOT exist" asserts there is no GOD. Disbelief in the assertion has absolutely no relevence to it.Either He does exist or does not is the question, not the belief or disbelief. Please, for both our sakes, re- read your last e-mail dated xx/xx/xxxx.
The referenced email:
Don't know what's so difficult to understand.Disbelief in the assertion, 'God exists' is NOT asserting, 'no gods exist.'Disbelief in the assertion, 'The defendant is guilty' is NOT asserting, 'the defendant is innocent.'More recently, I read the Bible, from cover to cover . . . there's an app for that!The Bible is quite a story. Not a moral code I'd opt to live under, what with its genocide and racism and slavery and misogyny, but there are those who hold it up to be the ultimate truth.
I think you are both on the ganja weed. That being said, so you have established that neither of you can say anything definitive. So what?
The real question is evidence, where you hold the upper hand, having all of the cards. Scrutiny of any semblance of his "evidence" can be shown as smoke and mirrors in virtually all of the cases. In the ones that are not so cut and dried, logical processes will always lead away from a deity and require mental gymnastics to create one.
Ask him if he was born in a Hindu country, to Hindu parents, (or pick any of your favorites) if he would be Hindu himself, and be arguing to you from the Hindu perspective. Your arguments are universal and consistent, his are geographically based and biased.
Sometimes Catholics cite 2000 years of history. Atheism is as far back as you want to go, 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, billions if you want, etc.
"Disbelief in the claim "God exists" is NOT . . . read carefully, now . . . NOT an assertion that "no gods exist", nor is it an assertion "God does NOT exist.""
Why? I think you're just playing around with words. You do not believe that God exists. You don't know it for certain. That's it.
So he's trying to debate with you the existence of a deity and you are, rightly, objecting to his argument based on epistemological grounds. He is conflating his belief with knowledge.
There are no useful definitions of gods that are testable, demonstrable or falsifiable. Until a useful definition for any deity can be presented, it is impossible to determine whether said entity objectively exists. As a result, we can only have opinions, beliefs and desires about the actuality of that alleged existence.
You have clearly acknowledged his belief and obviously the reasons he has for that belief are good enough for him. He should be able to accept that his reasons to believe (for that is all he can present you with for lack of proof in the objective existence of gods) are not good enough for you. It would be intellectually dishonest of him to try to debate the actual existence of gods without first providing you with a useful definition as described above.
This is about as far as you can go if he is simply arguing for the existence of deities in general. However, since he's Catholic, he is surely claiming the existence of the Abrahamic god. This is where things can get interesting. If he is using as his case the god of the Bible, I think there is a strong enough case to prove that the deity he believes in definitely does not exist. If the god of the Bible is defined of as an idea, there is nothing left unexplained and demanding the actual existence of that deity. The belief of that deity is enough to explain all the history and effect of that deity. Furthermore, I believe it is very obvious the stories in the Bible describing god we not describing a Creator, but a justifier. Genesis, for example, isn't about creation but about justifying a tribe's behaviour with regard to their relationship with the natural environment.
If the point of Genesis 1 was to describe creation, it would have been described in far greater depth as well as have been, well, correct. The point of Genesis 1 is to describe the most powerful and authoritative entity imaginable and the Bible doesn't leave us waiting long to find out why. Genesis 1:26-29 demands of us (on "God's" authority) the most destructive attitude imaginable to the natural environment... an attitude completely absent from any indigenous culture I've ever studied... an attitude solely present in agricultural civilization and particularly those cultures with histories related to the Abrahamic religions. Those stories were invented to justify the agricultural revolution and there are many more references to agriculture in the first couple books of the Bible... the tree of knowledge, Adam's punishment, Cain the city builder and many more.
With this interpretation, there is literally nothing of consequence left unexplained about the Abrahamic religions. Certainly nothing that would require the stories to be true.
Part of it is going to depend on which god you are talking about. A pure deistic god is, as you said, not falsifiable. Gods with more empirically testable claims could be demonstrated to not exist. As a silly example, if someone is referring to a deity that, without fail, appears at the corner of 5th and Main every Tuesday at noon and creates pizza out of nothing for people to share, it's very easy to test. Likewise, know that the sun is not, in fact, a fiery chariot driven by Apollo across the sky.
Since you're talking to a Catholic, his deity is the Catholic version, with the specific claims and attributes given to that god.
Wouldn't one think that if proof existed it would have been discovered sometime in the last ten thousand years?
I don't believe that there is enough evidence or support for any of the 'god' proposals/definitions. To make it clearer, I don't think that any of the current 'god' proposal definitions originated in their current state, but rather that they evolved from earlier proposals and speculations. Unlike science I don't see rigorous testing of hypotheses in that evolution of the god concept in the religious world....I don't see much questioning of basic doctrine or tenets at all not to speak of the central idea of deity. Because of this, I have no problem saying that I'm atheist for I see no good reason for the god proposal/definitions in the first place.
This doesn't mean that there isn't 'something' at the core or center of the universes existence, it just means that I don't think anyone has a clue if that is even on the table for discussion yet. The 'god' proposal is jumping the gun in a big way. Even if there were 'something' responsible for the existence of this universe there is NO reason to think that it bears any inkling or resemblance or similarity to any of the god proposals. (sentient, thinking, has a plan, knows about us, cares, etc..etc..etc.)
I don't know absolutely that one or more of these proposals couldn't be true or at least in a vague ballpark kind of way 'similar' to what's what....so in that way I COULD say that I was agnostic towards them but don't really feel the need to do so. I think if we someday find that one or more of the proposals were similar to reality it will be because of accident rather than any evidence. There's not enough evidence or reason NOW to believe that they have any merit. Maybe in the future there will be evidence for one or more of the proposals OR there will be some kind of evidence for a NEW proposal that's entirely different than the current crop of god concepts but still bears some kind of resemblance to the idea of 'god'.
Until such a time I see no reason to say that I'm agnostic toward the current crop. I don't see any evidence for the proposals in the first place.