The author acknowledges assistance and helpful advice from Russell Berg, Janis Entwisle, Arthur Haigh, Jane Hughes and Guy Otten. © Geoffrey H.L. Berg March 2011. Rights Reserved.
This short work is devoted to outlining and examining various common logical fallacies in the philosophy of religion which ought to be rooted out. At the end (in the eleventh fallacy) I also reveal a hidden corollary is necessary to any supposed religious belief in the existence of God (i.e. that God can legitimately self identify itself as God).
A traditional and still popular notion is that the world is so complex that it needed God to create it. Our origins fascinated even ancient societies and various myths described creation. Monotheists started from ancient times to claim God was necessary as the Creator. This has continued through Thomas Aquinas and William Paley even to Antony Flew who eventually converted to theism because he came to see a need for a creator God as designer of our world.
However the notion that a sophisticated world needs God as its Creator and designer is logically fallacious in two major ways.
Even the most famous design argument and analogy, that of William Paley (1743-1805) who wrote just as a sophisticated watch (unlike a rock) implies a watchmaker, a complex world implies a Creator who is God, has this fallacy. Suppose, as Paley did, that a watch implies a watchmaker, that watchmaker is not God and is not immortal. Likewise even supposing the world has a Creator, that Creator need be neither God nor even immortal. Furthermore, unlike in Paley’s day we are aware not just of evolutionary processes but also of robotic manufacture and artificial computer-like intelligences. Yes, there is a mystery concerning our ultimate genesis, but God is not needed as the solution.
The other fallacy is if one claims the world required a more sophisticated being, God, to create it, one is attempting to solve a problem by creating a yet greater problem. If we are in need of a creator God who is more powerful and greater than us to bring us into existence, that greater God being more wondrous than us would be even more in need than us of some Creator to create and explain it! Indeed as, unlike us, God would be immortally God, it could not develop nor evolve to its present glory over time but must be from the very beginning omnipotent and omniscient – an extraordinary phenomenon, far more inexplicable than even us. Far from solving or explaining the problem of our ultimate origin, the concept of God is actually massively enhancing the problem.
So the notion that God is needed to or even can satisfactorily explain existence as we see it is logically fallacious.
Many atheists nowadays claim that Science demonstrates the non-existence of God. Some cite scriptures that are contradicted by current scientific knowledge. Some (like Victor Stenger) claim Science provides no support for a God hypothesis while some (like Stephen Hawking) claim current scientific theories render the notion of God unnecessary.
The essential fallacy in the notion that Science disproves (or even can prove or disprove) God’s existence is that people may always claim that something (be it God or some other ‘force’) set in place the scientific laws or the Universe in the first place.
However some theists, including some scientists, claim Science shows God exists by supposedly confirming some scriptural or religious claim – yet even if that is (sometimes) true that cannot prove God exists and lies behind it all (see The Extraordinary Happenings Fallacy).
Certainly modern Science shows many notions of God are wrong or absurd – for instance the notions that God created the world around six thousand years ago and God killed all humanity except one family several thousand years ago in a flood. However it is a logical fallacy to suppose Science can now or ever disprove the existence of a more remote, deistic conception of God as a force that originally set the whole cosmos in operation. For instance theists may claim that God was somehow the cause of The Big Bang, or at any rate an ultimate cause that is beyond the scope of our Science or our knowledge. Scientists can never in logic be certain they have reached the ultimate cause of everything which is thought, at least speculatively, by deists to be God.
Many prominent atheists have argued that God is believed in by people for psychological reasons and that shows God does not really exist. Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Feuerbach all argued this. Today Daniel Dennett has argued something similar (i.e. belief in God is caused by a mental virus that human brains are particularly susceptible to).
It is true many people do believe in God for what ultimately are human psychological reasons. Clearly if God does not exist beyond human minds, belief in God must be based on human fallacy and have arisen within human brains – the most likely explanation is surely a human psychological disposition to believe in some God.
Yet even if people who believe in God do so as a result of human psychology, it is a logical fallacy to suppose God then cannot also exist independently outside or beyond human minds. Human belief cannot dictate things like the actual shape of the Earth. It is independent of us. Whether we believe the Earth is round or flat is quite irrelevant to the fact of the Earth being round or flat (or indeed pear shaped!). Likewise whatever human minds may believe, that cannot affect the actual existence or non-existence of God beyond us. Therefore whatever is human psychological belief or non-belief in God’s existence would not help God to exist nor prevent God from existing beyond us.
There is also a fallacious psychologically based theistic argument that neither the world nor humans would have meaning or significance if God did not exist – and humans could then behave badly without divine restraint! God cannot somehow exist just because his existence might help humanity – potential usefulness does not make natural objects occur. Oases are useful in deserts but that alone does not create them!
Both many theists and many atheists like to argue that as some great person such as Einstein, Gandhi, Darwin or Newton did or did not believe in God’s existence, therefore we ought to follow his views into belief or unbelief in God as the case may be.
The logical fallacy is to suppose that because the person concerned was brilliantly pioneering in some sphere of human activity or in setting a moral example, he is either necessarily correct or has some special access to the truth concerning the existence of God. The fact is these human paragons all had human limitations (e.g. mortality) just like the rest of us. They had no special means of knowing whether God exists that is not available to other people. They had no special guarantee of being correct.
The converse argument many atheists and theists use that because some great scoundrel (like Hitler or Stalin) did or did not believe in God is a good reason for us to take the opposite view is also logically wrong. Even great scoundrels are not necessarily wrong about everything.
Incidentally it used to be a theistic argument (used by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, 1583-1648, before the days of widespread religious pluralism – it is less common now!) that God must exist because there was universal belief in God’s existence. Likewise that was fallacious. Just as it does not affect the actual existence or non-existence of God that one person believes in his existence, likewise it does not affect the actual existence or non-existence of God if virtually all humans believe in his existence (or non-existence). That applies even if, as is likely, humans were not at least subconsciously influencing each other to come to the same conclusion about God’s existence!
Nor is it any use to say or even show most religious people (or priests or churches) are either good people or evil people because of what they claim to believe about God’s existence (or non-existence). Human behaviour does not logically determine whether God exists or not (any more than human psychological belief does – see Fallacy 3).
Religious people tend to claim that various extraordinary happenings from the supposed wonders of our Earth or the Universe or various ‘miracles’ that they cite count as either evidence or proof of God’s existence.
The logical fallacy is that even if such remarkable things could only be caused by something more powerful than us, they could possibly be done by some cosmic magician and certainly by a ‘powerful daemon’ that may be far more powerful than us but mortal rather than immortal and not even unlimited in power.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) in his ‘Meditations’ contemplated the possibility of us being deceived by some powerful daemon which puts us all into fundamental uncertainty (Cartesian doubt) about all things. Unlike Descartes I do not accept there is any legitimate logical way of escaping from such doubt about most things. (Descartes escaped such doubt concerning God’s existence by claiming a good God would not deceive us but if there was no God we could still be deceived by some daemon. Neither Descartes nor anybody else has any valid way of proving that God exists!)
No entity could do anything or cause any miracle so far as we limited (in scope) humans are concerned that a sufficiently powerful (yet mortal) daemon could not somehow do. We humans would not be able to tell whether any miracle (or creation) producing entity was truly God or merely a powerful and perhaps (mentally) deceiving daemon playing tricks on us. So no amount of miracles or remarkable happenings can logically indicate the existence of God any more than any number of magicians’ tricks and sleights of hand can prove the existence of God or even make the magicians immortal! So God can never be made manifest by any phenomena or any actions, however remarkable those phenomena or actions may seem to people.
Every person is mortal and limited in scope. Therefore no person can logically be sure anything he may come into contact with is genuinely immortal and unlimited in scope rather than just longer lived and the holder (at least temporarily) of greater power than him. It is therefore logically impossible for any mortal human to be sure of identifying any immortal entity or any God. No person can know any entity will definitely survive into the future, let alone for ever, long after all people are dead. So when any person, be he a Pope, a mystic or even Abraham, Moses, Christ, Mohammed or Guru Nanak claims to have communicated with God he had no way of knowing for sure that the entity he was supposedly communicating with is actually immortal and is actually God. When anybody says he encountered or had visions of God, he does not realise he can have no way (as a human) of being logically certain he was actually in communication with God rather than with some mental delusion in his own mind. Even if there was any reality to such an encounter, it may just have been an encounter with some powerful daemon, maybe a daemon who manipulated (or hypnotised!) his mind. So we should certainly not be taking anybody’s word for it that he had personal communication with God. All major monotheistic religions were founded on such logical fallacy.
It is also a logical fallacy to argue that God does not exist because God has not made his existence obvious to mankind, as many modern atheists like Richard Dawkins, following J.N. Findlay have done. The fallacy is this. As it is logically impossible for even a hypothetical immortal God to put his existence beyond doubt to mortal humans, he cannot logically be blamed for not doing this logically impossible thing.
God is often postulated, especially by modernist theologians to exist outside or beyond (or as the source of) the Universe.
I have a definitional problem with any God outside the Universe as I think the Universe should be defined as ‘the totality of existence’, so nothing can exist outside the Universe.
However though something may exist outside our cosmos or our region of the Universe, the theological fallacy here is a failure to comprehend that if things exist beyond our knowledge (or even allegedly outside of our Logic) they are necessarily unknown to us and unevidenced. This matters because if there is indeed an explanation for things or power beyond our Universe (or I should say our cosmos) there are multiple different possibilities. Even if God’s existence were not impossible on other logical grounds, God would be only one among multiple other possibilities and it is beyond human experience, knowledge or even data to be able to find out the truth as between the various possibilities. It is worse than asking who built a house when all the records have gone missing – it may have been one person or many people. In the case of our cosmos there may not only have been just one animate, conscious creator but several creators working together – and we would not know whether such creator(s) were mortal (like builders) or immortal. Or it may have been due to an artificial intelligence (or a combination of several artificial intelligences) like a computer or a robot that developed rather than God. Or – as I would guess – it may all have started somewhere and developed from infinite chance and just took off when some things somewhere reached a critical mass of intelligence. (I personally favour that scenario because I do not think any complex superintelligence just existed from the beginning or for ever without any developmental process.) As we can have no knowledge and no data of what may be happening beyond our Universe or cosmos (beyond our powers of observation and beyond even the applicability of our scientific principles) there can be no evidence, let alone knowledge of such things. So such speculations are completely unevidenced and unsubstantiable. As there are so many possibilities it is not merely unreasonable but illogical to believe fully in any such metaphysical speculation or jump to a belief in God, let alone any particular version of religion. Indeed even to suppose that any God at all exists beyond the Universe amounts to a logical fallacy, a comprehension paradox. How can one rationally know or reasonably believe or comprehend a thing exists when its supposed existence is outside both one’s Universe and outside one’s (indeed any human’s) scope, evidence or comprehension?
In previous ages philosophers and theologians generally accepted qualities such as immortality, omnipotence, omniscience, being our Creator and being supremely good are essential to God. However modernist theologians want to avoid the potential difficulties associated with such qualities and claim God is beyond understanding and is not an entity and therefore does not have ‘qualities’. This is primarily a novel, modernist approach. For instance during the Middle Ages there was controversy about ‘god’s omnipotence’. Could God do the logically impossible (such as make what has happened not have happened) as Martin Luther and some others thought or is God’s omnipotence constrained within the parameters of Logic as William of Occam and most theologians thought? During that whole long controversy nobody I am aware of argued as modern theologians would (as modernist theologians do when confronted by my Universal Uncertainty Argument concerning the logical impossibility of omniscience) that God is not omnipotent because he is not an entity.
There is a Comprehension Paradox in claiming, as modernist theologians in practice do, ‘I do not comprehend God: I comprehend that God exists’. It is nonsense to believe in a God that is allegedly something special but is completely unknowable.
Anyhow a phenomenon must logically be either mortal or immortal, omniscient or not omniscient. If it is not immortal it will not be around for ever and may already have died (or become extinguished) which is not possible for a monotheistic God. So God must be immortal. A potential God is either omniscient or not omniscient. If it is not omniscient unbeknown to it within the gaps in its knowledge there may be a yet greater entity than it – so God must logically be omniscient. So it would be paradoxical and incompatible with what God must be and therefore fallacious to claim that God exists but does not as a consequence of being God have at a minimum certain concomitant qualities such as immortality, omniscience etc. These qualities may cause problems for theists and may logically be God’s Achilles’ heel but they are necessary for a monotheistic God if such exists. So it is a logical fallacy to attempt to detach such qualities as immortality and omniscience from God and leave God with no distinct qualities nor meaningful description at all.
Though modernist theologians have generally stripped God of all of his meaningful qualities they have become fond of trying to define God into existence. For instance Bishop John Robinson in ‘Honest To God’ claimed ‘God is, by definition, ultimate reality. And one cannot argue whether ultimate reality exists. One can only ask what ultimate reality is like.’ Others have attempted to define God as ‘ultimate concern’ or ‘the source of the Universe’.
However a genuine religious monotheistic notion is more particular than any of that. The point is for God to have any religious (or existential) significance he must also (among other things) be controlling and have a moral dimension (conventionally be ‘supremely good’). God must be not just a phenomenon but a particular type of phenomenon with particular characteristics such as being immortal, the ultimate creator, omniscient and morally supremely good. That just cannot be defined into existence.
It is a logical fallacy, as is usually recognised (and Immanuel Kant showed with The Ontological Argument) to attempt to define any phenomenon into existence. It is a fallacy to define an entity with particular characteristics (each of which an entity generally may or may not have) into actual existence and believe it thereby definitionally must exist! This is because doing so is essentially playing tricks with words and failing to recognise the difference between the purely ‘imaginary’ and the ‘actual’ or between ‘fictional’ and ‘non-fictional’.
Another common theological fallacy is to attempt to launch God into a different mode of existence by defining ‘time’ out of existence. The logical fallacy here is that sequence denotes time and as nothing can die (end) before it is born (arises), sequence and therefore some element of time must logically exist.
Furthermore one cannot genuinely nor logically solve a problem by postulating by definition a thing that does not have that problem. For instance no person can fly like a bird. One cannot get people to fly by defining a human as something that can fly and then saying John Jones is a human and that definitionally must mean he can fly. Similarly you cannot just define a logically impossible ‘square circle’ into existence. Similarly it is contrary to Logic for any entity to be certain it is omniscient (as I show in The Universal Uncertainty Argument) and that cannot be solved by claiming some entity (e.g. God) would by definition have such logically impossible qualities. It is a logical fallacy to suppose one can eliminate a real problem by postulating an entity that does not by definition have that problem. Linguistic definition cannot circumscribe nor overcome actual reality.
Another logical fallacy arises from modernist theologians changing their doctrines from their predecessors in making out (perhaps under pressure from Science and Logic) that God is completely beyond our world and has no kind of manifestation in this world for which he may be accountable.
This skates over the essential monotheistic doctrine that God was ultimately the Creator of our world. Like manufacturers in most countries he should be accountable for the qualities of his products, including our world.
Second, there is no authentic monotheistic religion unless the supposed God somehow entered our world to convey his message (via his Scriptures, prophets or even human minds) to those people who became his religious adherents. So he must have manifested part of himself to at least part of our world in order to communicate his religious message. Consider when a person opens a door to a room to look inside that room, though most of him may remain hidden to those in the room some of him becomes potentially visible to them. Likewise when God (if it really was God) supposedly appeared to religious founders such as Christ or Mohammed if indeed those religions are authentic, then he must have manifested himself and some of his views to them so as to give religions their doctrines.
So it is not logically possible for anything to genuinely endow religious doctrines without revealing at least some part of itself (and maybe some imperfections) through that endowment. Nor is it possible to create our world without revealing some aspects of one’s nature, especially if one is ‘omnipotent’ through that personal creation – just as a painter reveals some aspects of himself and his ability through his paintings.
Many academic theists and indeed some agnostics think that some a priori proof of God’s existence may, at least in future, theoretically be discoverable. However it is a logical fallacy for several reasons to believe that God may be within the scope of any a priori proofs.
For a start God would be a distinct phenomenon within the totality of existence. God even in monotheism is not merely Nature (as Spinoza claimed but even modernist theologians now discount) complete with its bad as well as its good parts. God is not everything. It is hard if not impossible to prove a priori that any separate, distinct entity exists.
The next logical obstacle is to distinguish between a mortal entity (like a builder or a human creator of things) and an immortal entity (like God would necessarily be) in any logical a priori proof. How can anything prove a priori that our Creator (or God) will not have the equivalent to a daemonic heart attack or eventually die, as all human creators do? What logic can stop a heart (or system) attack or fatal malfunction, human or divine? None.
However there is also a hidden, so far unnoticed, logical implication of the assertion that God exists: it must logically in effect in order to be valid comprise not just one statement but two statements, one apparent and one hidden. If one claims God exists one is really claiming not only (as is generally supposed) ‘some God exists somewhere, somehow’ but also (as has gone unnoticed so far) an entity or phenomenon is capable of knowingly identifying itself as God and stating, ‘I am God’. It is no use for us to suppose God exists somehow or somewhere but also that no entity is knowingly capable of asserting ‘I am God’ – because if nothing has the genuine ability to identify and assert itself as God, the practical result is that God does not exist! That must take the notion of God from the a priori to the a posteriori realm. Nothing can know that it itself is immortal, omnipotent or omniscient by any logically deductive a priori means. In fact nothing can know for certain that it is genuinely immortal or omniscient (see The Universal Uncertainty Argument in The Six Ways Of Atheism). So it is actually a logical fallacy to believe God can exist.
Although there are numerous atheistic arguments (including many common ones) that are logically invalid as arguments, the position for theists is worse. There can be no way the existence of God (whatever monotheistic God is different to Nature, as God needs to be) can be proved or shown to exist by either a priori (see Fallacy 11) or by a posteriori (see Fallacies 5 and 6) means. Indeed as nothing can prove beyond even reasonable doubt (and possible changes in circumstance to its environment) that it itself is God, no God can exist.
I am an atheist. Unlike most contemporary atheists I am a ‘Disproof Atheist’, to use the term of the ‘Disproof Atheism Society’, an academic group centred around Boston, U.S.A. I believe it is possible through the proper use of Logic to disprove the existence of God. I endeavour to do this in my book, ‘The Six Ways Of Atheism’.
I mentioned in ‘The Six Ways Of Atheism’ some of the logical fallacies highlighted in this work. However this work does include some new thinking by me, much of which was developed to respond to various points and comments I have received concerning ‘The Six Ways Of Atheism’.
I am concerned that many of the atheistic arguments, including arguments (such as the psychological arguments) used by some of the most eminent atheists are simply logically unsound and their logical flaws are really quite simple. This is also true of multiple arguments used by theists to supposedly indicate the existence of God.
What is so astounding and irritating to me is that many clearly logically flawed arguments are still in common use today. Indeed the number of logical fallacies in common use has actually increased because modernist theologians have tried to protect the concept of God from probing questions by attempting to denude it of tangible characteristics while still proclaiming God is both meaningful and existent. This has led to some of the logical fallacies I examine here.
This short work is attempting to drive out of use logically invalid arguments, both theistic and atheistic. So I hope this work will be read and circulated and people will in future avoid falling into – and even worse propagating – theories entailing the logical fallacies I have outlined.
This work is too short to be viable for selling as a book and I am not willing to pad it out to book length. It is more forceful as a short paper. So apart from a modest number of complimentary paper copies being sent mainly to university philosophy departments, and philosophers of religion and journals, the best means of distribution for it is the internet. I am posting it on a special website, ‘www.godfallacies.com’ dedicated to it. Though I ask people to acknowledge my authorship, I am happy for anybody without charge to download and copy and circulate this work in part or in full. In this way I hope it will be of service to the wider world.
Geoffrey H.L. Berg – March 2011