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Theism and Atheism Explained

Updated on April 15, 2015

To begin...

Ahh this again :) The theist/atheist debate seems to have been going on forever with no resolution in sight. Members of both sides fiercely defend their beliefs (or lack thereof) from scrutiny and yet they also continue to present their arguments, despite the inherent defensive attitude of their counterparts. It seems to me that our desire to be understood, to be heard and perhaps to articulate to ourselves aloud what we are thinking and feeling is more central to the debate than the rehashed material itself. One of the more redeeming outcomes of the debate is that it tends to be more beneficial in bringing like-minded people together in healthy discussion than it is detrimental in driving opponents apart in bitterness. Some may argue me on that point but I think it’s had a net positive effect. There are of course extreme cases where this controversial topic has done harm but most people look forward to meeting others with whom they can discuss theism/atheism because they want to learn and share. I actually find it really interesting when I come across someone who’s changed teams and who had really strong conviction of their belief during both periods of their life. I always wonder what made them change their minds…

When I decided to write this article I wanted to present a balanced view representing both sides. However, being poorly versed in theology, I feel ill equipped to do the theists justice. Furthermore my own background is one of the natural sciences so I feel more qualified to speak to the atheistic arguments so I would invite theists to offer a more complete argument to supplement this article. Still, my purpose here is not to make a case for either side. What I will try to do instead is focus on articulating and clarifying, as well as I can, what the atheist is trying to bring to the table in response to the most popular arguments made by the theist.

I wanted to properly prepare by doing some research into the theist point of view by reading several hubs written by theists and also by listening to a few debates online. The best way to begin is to make a proper case for the theist without distorting anything or introducing bias. I came across a few recurring arguments, which I feel are the highest ranking reasons for a belief in God. I will be paraphrasing since I’ve read variations of each argument so I do hope I represent most theists with my choice of wording here. Let’s begin by presenting these in a list (in no particular order).

The Case for God

Causality

Every effect has a cause. The universe came to be (effect), thus it had a cause. The cause is God. God transcends all things (time, energy, awareness) and therefore does not require a cause Himself.

Fine Tuning

The universe, Earth and the human body are marvels of sophistication and design. They are all finely tuned in such a way as to support not only human life but all the life around us. Such beauty of design does not occur by accident and implies a designer. That designer is God.

Absolute Morality

Absolute moral law exists. Since a law demands a law giver, there must be a law giver to have established moral law. That law giver is God.

Personal Conviction

I feel and/or speak to God. He is present in my mind and heart. Such feelings are founded in science as a manifestation of sentience. We rely on sentience to establish other scientific truth. Therefore God exists.

Immaterial Existence

Thought and feeling are immaterial yet we accept their existence. God is also immaterial and ought to exist in the same vein.

Majority

Most people on Earth believe in a supreme being or god. It is not likely that such an overwhelming majority are wrong.

Miracles

There are reports of incredible healings that have not been explained by science. Such work could only have been achieved through divine intervention.

Scientific Enlightenment and Atheism

Famous scientists such as Isaac Newton, Max Planck and Albert Einstein, 2 of whom established the pillars of science known today as “classical mechanics” and “relativity” believed in God. Therefore God exists.

Historical Records

Events foretold in the Bible (which is the word of God) have occurred, just as predicted. Supernatural events have also been witnessed by people whose testimonies have been recorded in the Bible. This is evidence of the existence of God.


There are other arguments that are either related in some way to the above or they are less commonly employed in debate but these are the ones I see most often and the ones I feel carry the most weight. I’m now going to provide each argument with an atheistic counter-argument and clarify as best I can, the core logic in each case. I thought about taking a philosophical approach using syllogisms and such but in my personal opinion this doesn’t necessarily make the arguments clearer or more accessible so I’m opting instead to use a discussion style of approach.

The Reasonable Case Against

Causality

Every effect has a cause. The universe came to be (effect), thus it had a cause. The cause is God. God transcends all things (time, energy, awareness) and therefore does not require a cause Himself.

Counter

Causality is a notion used both in physics and in common day experiences to express the relationship between “temporal events”. That is to say, causality describes events separated in time. All change requires a cause and effect with an event of duration in between. To speak of the universe as an effect is invalid as it does not obey causality. The reason is not that there was nothing [before] the big bang. The reason is that, according to most recently accepted theory, time itself distilled out of the big bang and causality with it. To speak of what came before is actually impossible (at present) and any speculation as to what the kernel of the big bang was or what properties it had is inadmissible as evidence. If you believe in a cyclic, repeating universe, useful speculation would have to go back to the end of time in the previous universe but such a belief would invalidate God since a repeating universe, by definition, has no beginning.

Having abandoned causality, what we are left with is a complete absence of information at the moment of the big bang. The big bang therefore is inadmissible as evidence. The implication is that the atheist has no idea how the universe began, if it began at all but does not accept God as a plausible beginning, given that a complete lack of evidence allows for innumerable possibilities, of which God is only 1.


Fine Tuning

The universe, Earth and the human body are marvels of sophistication and design. They are all finely tuned in such a way as to support not only human life but all the life around us. Such beauty of design does not occur by accident and implies a designer. That designer is God.

Counter

The atheist acknowledges the sophistication of the universe, of the Earth and of the human body but claims that these systems are the way they are because most other systems would not support life so we wouldn’t be around to have this discussion. In other words, the environment in which we live happened to be capable of sustaining life, which is a feat in itself so it stands to reason that we would make such an observation and describe it as being finely tuned. Other environments are not capable of supporting life, which is why these places are barren. It is difficult to comprehend the scope of how large the universe actually is but if you do the math, there are “on the order of” 400 million planets in our galaxy and 10s of billions of galaxies. This constitutes a “physics simulator” of epic proportions, inside of which matter is interacting in every way imaginable. Why it does this is irrelevant because “why” implies a reason. Quantum uncertainty is so far sufficient to demonstrate the random behaviour of the universe. From a mathematical standpoint, it is highly probably that at least 1 particular planet in the universe would end up with the characteristics favourable to support life and have the time required for life to occur. The Earth has existed for about 4.5 billion years, which again, is difficult to conceptualize but with the raw ingredients in place, life is one outcome of many whose likelihood of occurring increases with the passage of time, without the need for intelligent design.

A design, in the context of this discussion, can be thought of as an organized system that operates within constraints and accomplishes goals. A designer is not strictly necessary for a design because the spontaneous interaction of matter can produce systems like this. The sun is a fairly basic system (although the science of how it works are complicated) that consists of matter (mostly hydrogen), constrained by gravity, possessing rotation. With these 3 ingredients, you have the design for a powerful magnet, a fusion reactor, a heater, etc. The design is simpler than the human body but where do you draw the line between what is of natural origin and what is manufactured with intent? Over time, simple systems can evolve into more complex ones. Evolution gives us a timestamp of every morphology life has gone through since inanimate matter formed the simplest LIVING cell system billions of years ago. In fact, when defining life, we end up making reference to inanimate matter at some point. For example, are nucleotides alive? When a system shows certain organized behaviour we begin to ascribe life to that system. Human beings are merely the culmination of a system that perpetuates itself and evolves because its simplest forms exhibited behaviour we call life.


Absolute Morality

Absolute Morality

Absolute moral law exists. Since a law demands a law giver, there must be a law giver to have established moral law. That law giver is God.

Counter

The atheist asserts that morality is relative and that God is not required for a human being to know the difference between right and wrong. Modern people understand right and wrong but those are man-made constructs and do not exist outside the scope of our own existence. Stealing goods from someone else is wrong because we say it is. However it is our interpretation of witnessing such an event and our subsequent empathy for the victim which precipitates moral law. The atheist does not discard morality because it is a man-made construct. Rather, he acknowledges it as such and rejects the notion that it is absolute. Under a certain set of conditions, stealing could be “right” in the sense that it results in the greatest good. If the majority agree that the act resulted in the greatest good, then the law cannot be absolute. The atheist is content in ascribing moral standards to each situation he encounters in life as if that situation is independent of all others and such a person who has the intent to do good to himself and those around him can do so without a rigid framework handed down by God.


Personal Conviction

I feel and/or speak to God. He is present in my mind and heart. Such feelings are founded in science as a manifestation of sentience. We rely on sentience to establish other scientific truth. Therefore God exists.

Counter

Humans do rely on their own sentience in order to take measurements and establish truth. This is necessary because our sentience is the only means we have of perceiving our environment. However, because our sentience is sometimes unreliable, we increase the level of confidence in our measurements by having others reproduce them. When measurements are reproducible, we can assume beyond a reasonable doubt that they are reliable. Otherwise we would question the very existence of our bodies, as Descartes did. When it comes to personal conviction, the presence of God within a person is not a measurement that can be reproduced by anyone else. That is to say, person B cannot measure the presence of God in person A. Therefore, good intentions aside, the testimony of person A is inherently unreliable. The accuracy of such a testimony warrants further scrutiny because a person is a flawed biological system and is vulnerable to cognitive impairment, among other things. That does not mean the person IS impaired but this remains a possibility and without being able to verify the presence of God, it cannot be assumed true.


Immaterial Existence

Thought and feeling are immaterial yet we accept their existence. God is also immaterial and ought to exist in the same vein.

Counter

The atheist agrees that thought and feeling, as concepts, are immaterial but they arise from and require physical systems. From a medical perspective, thought and feeling are the end result of a series of coordinated electro-chemical events in the central nervous system. The neurons and chemicals involved are in fact the infrastructure that supports the manifestation of what we call thoughts and feelings. Without that infrastructure, they cease to exist. Aside from the words themselves, everything about our perception of love or wellbeing is physical and can be localized in the body. Since we really have no analogue for an immaterial object that can be proven to exist, the existence of God does not follow from anything we are familiar with in our everyday lives.


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Majority

Most people on Earth believe in a supreme being or god. It is not likely that such an overwhelming majority are wrong.

Counter

Atheists point out that majority alone is insufficient to establish truth. In mathematics this can be said another way. If you come up with 100 or even 1 billion examples of a theorem that works, it does not prove the theorem if one of its axioms can fail to hold in even a single case. As a really bad example, if I tell you that n + (n+1) = (n+2) for all integers, this works for n=1 but that’s it. With any other integer it fails. Therefore a finite set of examples for something (a finite set of people who believe in God) does not constitute a proof.


Miracles

There are reports of incredible healings that have not been explained by science. Such work could only have been achieved through divine intervention.

Counter

Similar to other phenomena that have eluded the sharpest minds of the time, miracles are simply unexplained events. The atheist points out that lack of physical evidence or lack of understanding on the part of the observers should be treated as an event we currently cannot explain and nothing more. As with the origins of the universe, when there is a lack of information, it is best to search for some and suspend judgement until information becomes available. The lack of information is not proof of God.


Scientific Enlightenment and Atheism

Famous scientists such as Isaac Newton, Max Planck and Albert Einstein, 2 of whom established the pillars of science known today as “classical mechanics” and “relativity” believed in God. Therefore God exists.

Counter

The rebuttal to this argument is the same as that for the “Majority” argument. The only difference is that these people were revered for their amazing achievements in science and there is an assumption that people with scientific backgrounds should be atheistic unless they have special insight as to the existence of God. There may be a pattern that science breeds atheists but if there is, it’s not a rule. Despite the admiration and respect these scientists have earned, they do not have special insight. They are all equally fallible and can no further prove the existence or non-existence of God than anyone else.


Historical Records

Events foretold in the Bible (which is the word of God) have occurred, just as predicted. Supernatural events have also been witnessed by people whose testimonies have been recorded in the Bible. This is evidence of the existence of God.

Counter

An atheist would point out that, as in the counter for the “Majority” argument, one example of a prophecy that came true is not proof of the Bible having predictive power. This could be attributed to coincidence and a distinction needs to be made to discern events that happened by coincidence and those that did not. There are also trivial predictions such as "there will be rocks in the future". These sorts of predictions are fairly worthless as evidence of anything.


With regards to witnesses of Biblical events suggesting the existence of God, much of the Bible describes events that predate recorded history, which makes it an unreliable source of information. People mentioned in the Bible who lived more recently should be scrutinized for the accuracy of their accounts based on physical evidence linking them to their claim. Since I lack a familiarity with the Bible myself I will differ to others to elaborate on this point since I feel I haven’t properly developed it.

Carl Sagan helps us find our place in the universe

In Closing...

In our quest of discovery and pursuit of truth, theists and atheists alike should remind themselves that science and faith have a place in our lives. You need not abandon your faith to appreciate science and you need not feel betrayal for believing in something. The laws of nature do not have to be cold and empty. You have to look with better eyes than that. There is plenty of beauty around us, waiting to be found.

I hope I’ve helped illuminate some of the big hitters when it comes to atheistic point of view. I look forward to your comments and encourage further discussion because I could use some insight myself when it comes to the theistic perspective! I don’t think this topic will die anytime soon but that’s ok because for me at least, it’s enough to talk about it and hear what others have to say. That where the pursuit of truth begins :)

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    • chriscamaro profile image
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      chriscamaro 21 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      As I started to read your post, I WAS going to comment on how profoundly misinformed and insulting you were about the correlation between belief and white/black people. Then I read the rest of your nonsense and realized there isn't a single coherent argument anywhere. The whole mess is a bunch of disjoint statements stitched together with the supposed intent of forming an argument. I don't think this is the right topic for you to engage in because you are apparently unable to do so. You should be able to make a case for god without making reference to visions of Africa, Disney Land or Whites being atheists.

    • profile image

      Angele Parris 21 months ago

      The reason I found this hubpage, is because I am writing a series of articles on the Christian Sabbath. In my search I came across the topic of theism and atheism.

      It is obvious that black and white people see the world from two different perspectives. When viewed from a white perspective, it is hard to see the existence of a God. Members of both sides of any religious issue argue their point fiercely to defend their beliefs. The desire to be understood, to be heard and perhaps to articulate to ourselves aloud what we are thinking and feeling is more central to the debate than the rehashed material itself.

      So back to the Sabbath. It is often argued that God does not need rest. The fact of the matter still remains that God rested on the Sabbath day. With Adam and Eve, it is often asked, why didn't the all-knowing God know that they would sin. Maybe because, He is not all-knowing. He told Adam and Eve he will be resting on Saturday. He also told the children of Israel that He will not send food on a Saturday because will be resting, hence there will be no activity on a Saturday like they are used to in Egypt.

      What does this have to do with the existence of God? Nothing! When one visits heaven, there is obviously a white ruled section. When one is punished in this region of heaven, what is the logic behind getting punished, that God is a bad God, or that man has misinterpreted his intentions?

      Your background is one of natural science, so you feel more qualified to speak to the atheist argument, than to the theist argument. First I must tell you I was given a tour of Africa in a vision (or dream), and God told me that He was going to translate the events happening in Africa to Asia. He said that He has always sent prophets to take His people out slavery. Let me not go any further with this, but to say that when I was taken to the white kingdom, I was truly amazed.

      Revelation gives a description of God. Africans do not need snow, or technology for that matter. So the advancement in technology is largely left to the whites and Chinese. So it is up to the whites to believe if there is a God or not, and if it will be necessary for God to take people out of slavery again.

      As a fan of Disney world, I was taken to Disney world in my heavenly vision, and they surely made it feel like heaven. If during my experience, I was told to chose to learn the production of 3-D movie, and I can construct a cinema, where different Disney characters star in 3-D movies; making more that one shows in one building.

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      Plutodog 22 months ago

      Theists wrongly claim Einstein as a theist. They also make too much of scientists from long ago who had no knowledge of much of the advancements in knowledge through science and thus were only able to base their theism on a much more limited body of knowledge and argument. This is a weakness in the argument beyond it appealing to a majority and I suppose is a faulty appeal to authority (given that the authority was a) not all theist (Einstein), b) not up to date on the science.

    • profile image

      David 2 years ago

      Thanks Jane,this clarifies a lot for me.I have spkeon to my son and he has now decided to continue with classes in religion and to opt out of homework and any study.As a sixteen year old boy he is very sure of what he believes and does not believe but hates any focus on him and feels that because everyone else in his school has to do religion he has to too.For me that is the sorriest part of all this is that he wasn't asked, as a person with rights he should have been asked if he would like to do religious studies or not.I would love to send a letter to the Headmaster as I feel we are really getting somewhere on lots of issues pertaining to catholicism and the more parents who opt out the more normal it will become and before we know it everyone will understand their rights and more importantly the rights of others.My two boys 16 and 18 have just finished reading Dawkins the god delusion',they are streets ahead of my husband and I and therein lies our future , with tongue firmly in cheek 'Praise the Lord',great to be having this discussion,THANKS.

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      Stormy 2 years ago

      Just the type of inihgst we need to fire up the debate.

    • chriscamaro profile image
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      chriscamaro 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      A valid point. Looks like I could have worded that a bit differently to get the right point across. Having said that, I think you probably get what I meant though in that I'm happy without a supernatural belief system but to your credit, belief in love or other human values (for example) can coexist with atheism and doesn't default a person to embracing science.

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      timmyelliot 3 years ago

      " I believe in nothing and am perfectly happy relying on natural law" doesn't feel quite fair, in that you're just talking about belief in god... not belief in nothing. (I don't believe in god, but I also don't believe in nothing, and am not perfectly happy relying on natural law.)

    • chriscamaro profile image
      Author

      chriscamaro 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks. Indeed Carl, despite being an atheist, manages to validate many theistic values by putting the grandness of the universe in proper perspective. The biggest take-away I get from his videos is that we are incredibly fortunate to exist in such an immense ocean of inhospitable environments and our sophistication grants us the power to look into our past and uncover some of the secret truths that have been hidden for billions of years.

    • Kukata Kali profile image

      Kukata Kali 3 years ago

      Great expression! Well thought out and I love Carl Sagan so that was a nice touch. I was thinking of a good opposing video...

      Voted up~

    • chriscamaro profile image
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      chriscamaro 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks I'll have a look at it. I agree with you that it shouldn't be worded that way also. When I discussed the argument that famous scientists believe in God I think I touched on this as well. Science is not to atheism necessarily, even if it tends to be so something more appropriate would be "belief in God or belief in nothing"... or something like that. Science doesn't fall into the category of a belief.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      Having had a look into that Website, Y-Jesus I think it's called, we are again confronted by the expression "belief in God or science?"

      A "belief" in science is a misnomer. An ignorant point of view.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      Keep up this standard of debate and I would hope you get plenty of followers.

    • chriscamaro profile image
      Author

      chriscamaro 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Haha... no it's only been up for maybe 2 days or so. I'm a new hubber with 4 hubs at the moment, looking to expand.

      I tend to have issues with being concise so congratulations for being able to tolerate reams of text :P

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      Thank you chriscamaro, this is a very good and useful Hub. Thought-provoking, wise and knowledgeable.

      Has it been "up" for some time? How long? Am I the first and only person that is willing to read it all and consider everything that has been said?

      Would that others will do so and provide you with some feedback as you so hope.