Study: Most convincing arguments for & against God?

A recent study (loose use of the word) surveyed philosophers of religion, other kinds of philosophers and average people to find out what the most convincing arguments for and against the existence of God are.

The study also attempted to see what factors influence how people view an argument (e.g. atheists view arguments more negatively than believers do, gender, education, etc).

For God

Against God

Arguments

[From the paper]
Respondents were asked to rate how strong they found a series of natural theological arguments ,on a likert scale of 1 (very weak) to 5 (very strong). Arguments were organized in two groups(arguments for and arguments against the existence of God) of 8 items each. The results are summarized in figures 1,2,and 3 grouped in arguments for and arguments against. Overall, the strongest rated natural theological argument was the argument from evil (meanscore: 3.55). The second strongest rated argument was the argument from parsimony (mean score: 3.01), followed by the cosmological argument (mean score: 2.98). The argument from miracles and the argument from beauty were rated as weakest. The mean scores of the arguments are summarized in the bar chart on the existence of God.

 

Breaking it down

Believers (Theists), Atheists and Agnostics were asked to evaluate arguments both for and against God. It’s one of the reasons this study is interesting, no one really cares how strong you think the arguments on your own side, which you obviously support, are.

Lets break down one of the bars in the graph, say, the moral argument:

3.4 is the average score believers assigned to it.

1.41 is the average score atheists assigned to it.

1.93 is the average score agnostics assigned to it.

Arguments were asked to be rated on a five point scale, with one being “very weak” and five being “very strong”.

This graph shows the mean score for each category of arguments (So, say, the average score atheists gave for arguments for God OR the average score agnostics gave to arguments against God).

It’s no real surprise that believers rate arguments for God higher than non-believers. Likewise, non-believers rate arguments against God higher than believers do. Agnostics (as somewhat expected) occupy the middle of these two positions.

What makes the strong arguments strong?

This could probably warrant a study within itself.

The strongest argument for God, according to the survey, is the cosmological argument; it is not something that you can outright disprove either.

In the case of the cosmological argument by Aquinas:

  • [1] There exists things that are caused (created) by other things.
  • [2] Nothing can be the cause of itself (nothing can create itself.)
  • [3] There cannot be an endless string of objects causing other objects to exist.
  • [4] Therefore, there must be an uncaused first cause called God [From 1-3].

1 – 3 are almost uncontroversial to most people. I’m not a believer and yet i accept 1 – 3 as true.

For an argument to be good, first, the premises must be true. If you accept the premises but reject the conclusion that comes from them, you are simply being illogical (aka stupid).

However, if the argument is not valid, that is, you cannot actually draw your conclusion from the premises, you can reject the conclusion.

In this case, i do not think it is obvious from the premises that the first cause just has to be God because we say it is so. It could be anything, multiple Gods, an unthinking atom, some prior always-existing state of the universe, etc. God could very well be the first cause but he very well could not be either.

The strongest argument against God is the problem of evil. It is relatively hard to deny that bad things happen, especially when they happen to people who don’t at all deserve them. If God is all-loving, why does this occur?

Both these arguments go to the very root of what it means to be human and how we view our existence. Where did all this come from? and Why do bad things happen?

That’s why i think they are both strong.

Differing opinions

While it is interesting to see the strongest and the weakest, I am more interested in the level of agreement or disagreement. Even if the problem of evil is the strongest, this just could arise from atheists rating it very highly and distorting the average. It only really works if the person you are trying to use it against also thinks it is strong.

Whilst this is not included in the study, i quickly worked out the degree people disagree over particular arguments.

The largest disagreement over ratings was over the Moral argument, followed by the argument from miracles. So, one side found it much more or less convincing or strong than the other.

In the case of miracles, we can see why atheists might disagree with this, most of the miracles, their proof is by the Bible or the Quran, but they do not believe in those books. Seems automatic. They might not even believe it is possible for God to work miracles.

The most agreement (aka smallest disagreement) was found in the Problem of Evil, followed by an almost double as large gap, by the Argument from Divine Hiddenness.

Why do both sides believe these? I am not really sure.

Religious people are people just like atheists. They care about all the suffering in the world, they are compassionate, and they are charitable.

Christians are also always told God is the God of love and kindness.

If this is true, why does he let bad things happen? I think this speaks to everyone.

Hiddenness also ties into that, why does God seem to do nothing? Why are miracles so abundant, seems like an almost daily occurrence in in the bible but now the supply of those types of miracles seems to have suddenly dried up?

If God wanted us to believe or be good, why doesn’t he come down and do it constantly?

That sort of thing i guess. That also might be the reason why people disagree over the argument for miracles, miracles constitute anything BUT hiddenness.

Here is one last graph, it shows the two most agreed (green) and two most disagreed arguments (red) in each category.

What does everyone think about why the results are the way they are?

[Original survey: http://www.academia.edu/1438058/Results_of_my_survey_on_natural_theological_arguments

http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2012/02/results-of-the-.html ]

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6 comments

  1. This is an interesting study.

    I don’t find the argument by Aquinas strong. One we live in a cause and effect world, so unless one show there was a time when there was no cause/effect, this argument is invalid.
    Two it has been observed in the subatomic level that things just begin to occur without cause, so the claim in [1] is false
    I think argument [2] is in the category of cause and effect.
    What makes [3] impossible, that is, an infinite regress?
    The conclusion in [4] can apply to any god. So this argument if it is an argument for theism would be applicable to any of the 3000+ gods and wouldn’t necessarily make that god personal and still it doesn’t prove that the said is still alive. For all we care, the said god would have been caused by some effect and died or transformed into something else.

    1. Thanks for the comment Makagutu.

      I used the Aquinas argument for illustration since it’s the one i was most familiar with at the time and it seemed more intuitive for my readers. The study didn’t specify which of the various cosmological arguments it was referring to, the survey seems to have had the words “cosmological argument” rather than any specifics.

      The Kalam cosmological argument adopted by William Lane Craig addresses some of the problems you seem to have with the Aquinas version.

      (1) Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
      (2) The universe has a beginning of its existence;
      Therefore (3) The universe has a cause of its existence.

      The objections you make to [4] of Aquinas are the same objections I’ve raised myself. I learned philosophy under one of the leading critics of Kalam, so, i’m well aware there are problems here too. It does seem the better version though.

      Obviously, an argument isn’t just a neat paraphrase summed up in four bullet points. Craig attempts to make a case why it could or indeed, must be God. I think he does a good job showing whatever caused the universe must be outside space and time (and thus timeless itself). It’s certainly reasonable that whatever caused the universe must be somewhat powerful as well. It’s a fairly big leap to an all loving, caring God though.

      I think this has a lot to do with what i believe the function of most religious arguments are (which is in post to come). I believe most arguments, on either side, are more to provide a case and justification for those who do believe x, rather than convert people to x. You may disagree but i will elaborate on this in a future post.

      1. There is an abstract I read some time ago on why the Kalam Cosmological Argument does not hold very well for theism and this is the real issue that if there is a divine creator, there ought to be a divine destroyer but of the models scientists have been looking at, we are likely to have stellar collapse.
        I agree WLC tries to do a good job in strengthening the Cosmological Argument first conceived by Aquinas but he still has a problem, he is basing the argument on the Big Bang Theory which is agreed to be the beginning of our universe but doesn’t take of the probability of multi-verses. So in as much as the argument is long and complex, it does still suffer from all the other problems the others suffer but in this case, one has to be familiar with this argument to refute it.
        Thanks for your kind response.

  2. doctoroctagon · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Philosophy of Religion and TOK and commented:
    Interesting survey on the persuasiveness of arguments for and against God

  3. On the cosmological argument, I don’t accept the third premise and I don’t consider the conclusion to be a valid one based on the premises. For the conclusion to be valid, the second premise must be changed to some variation of “everything has a cause” rather than “nothing can cause itself” since “nothing can cause itself” doesn’t preclude something having no cause. However, if the second premise were to be changed so that the conclusion is valid, I’d reject the second premise as well.

    Personally, I find the argument from lack of evidence to be, by far, the most convincing followed by the argument from incoherence and the pragmatic argument (it it’s Pascal’s Wager or some variation as I think it is) to be least convincing followed by the argument from beauty (which I just find silly).

    On the moral argument, aka the one with the most disagreement on, I reject it because I don’t consider morality objective. I find it likely that it has the most disagreement because more (though not all or even necessarily a majority) or atheists don’t consider morality objective while the vast majority, if not all, of theists probably do consider morality objective.

    1. Rather late (apologies for that been too busy to blog), i think you are on to something. The problem with the paper (i suppose it was just a preliminary one) was that it did not state the specific formulation of the argument used.
      I think no matter what we believe, we can all agree that in type of arguments we call cosmological arguments, some are better than others, as you rightly point out. I used the Aquinas one for the illustration but i think it’s relatively uncontroversial that the Kalam cosmological argument is indeed better in comparison (even if you think it is still wrong).

      As for lack of evidence, I think that really depends on what kind of God or belief we’re talking about. If it’s an impersonal force like the Dao, we might be a bit more lenient since it doesn’t really make sense for …it… to give us evidence. At the same time though, I can see some potential problems. If the evidence was so strong, we would really have no choice but to believe. If I lift a ball and drop it, I hardly have a choice to believe in gravity, it would be extremely difficult to wilfully disbelieve. Many monotheists seem to hold the idea we believe of our own free will in high esteem, so, this might create a potential problem. At the same time it would solve a lot as well (wars, people going to hell, etc).

      Once again, I’m not sure what counted as the pragmatic argument. I think it judged its truth or usefulness on “how well” a particular hypothesis works for a believers life. So, putting aside how true Christianity really is, what difference does it make to the life of someone who believes it? Even if it isn’t true, are they much happier and fulfilled for it? Afterall, if God doesn’t’ exist, they’re just believing in a story that makes them happy (obviously it goes further than this but just to simplify).

      I don’t know how ones like beauty ended up in there, I assume it was to serve as somewhat as a control or contrast point than anything.

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