Best Atheist Objections to Theism

What atheist objection to theism do you think has the most strength (if any do at all)?

For me, the strongest atheist argument would have to be the logical necessity of the universe, that the universe, like mathematical truths, could not fail to exist. When I heard of this argument, it made me reconsider some of the arguments from contingency I had made before.

However, the necessity of the universe, and indeed of all abstract truths can be avoided if one argues for theistic realism, like Augustine did.

I’ve not heard much recently that impressed me much , but I suppose the most effective ones I’ve seen have been directly in response to YEC claims .
It appears , from my perspective , that their most effective “shaking of faith” is in challenging the rigid interpretations of the Young earth Creationists camp

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There is a confusion as to how a layman and an academic, like Howard Sobel, uses it. What exactly is the necessary aspect? The universe is no substance on its own, its “merely” the collection of the matter in reality. However, because they are changeable and thus hardly a constant simple, the matter as we would understand it, fails to be the necessary ground. Are you familiar with Aviciennas argument from contingency? What do you think about it?
What I learned from my reading in the philosophy of religion, is that if atheism were to be correct, reality would be a lot different than it appears to us. Rules would have to be mere statistical regularities, since neither intrinsic teleology (not in the Paleyian-design sense, but in the Aristotelian and Augustinian sense of recurring patterns) exists nor the Principle of sufficient reason applies (an atheistic worldview necessarily has to terminate with an unintelligible brute fact at the ground of existence). Intentionality with regards to mental states (thinking about something) also seems to be incompatible with such a worldview, citing Rosenberg, Dennett and Davidson.

So I think there are good objections, but not in a refuting sense. What are even positive arguments for naturalism? The problem of evil comes to mind. But this can be answered and is at most a puzzle for the theist, but doesn´t work as a positive argument for naturalism in my opinion, since the premises to support the problem of evil have no foundation in an atheistic worldview. I don´t see how a successful distinction between good and evil would be possible without refering to an ontological status, teleological models or other objective standards.
And on the other side we have arguments where I judge some to be conclusive, like the Teleological argument, the Leibnizian cosmological argument (especially in their newer form formulated by Pruss) or a scholastic argument like the third way from Thomas Aquinas or from Duns Scotus.

This doesn´t mean that there aren´t good treatments from an atheistic site, e.g. by the afromentioned Sobel, but also from Graham Oppy and J.L. Mackie. But I think that, in order to get the naturalistic model to run, you are forced to bite so many bullets that they ultimately shatter your teeth.

Good afternoon!

Not fond of the Augustinian approach, myself since, to fallen human reason, the evidence of God in nature can be too easily misconstruced. Likewise, I am not convinced that atheist arguments from creation. But, I though logical necessity was usually used as a theistic argument?

I find atheists causing the most Christians to stumble over theodicy issues. These are, in my experience, the greatest impetus for people to cast aside belief in God as a person. Christians stumble, apologetically, when they try to give God a pass, make an excuse, try to blame the devil, or fall away from any response other than the salvation aspect of each challenging instance. There are also people who take the bait on Christianity being solely a moral guide, making better people.

Confessionally, I don’t belive there are any atheists: " What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god." (Martin Luther, Large Catechism)

In any given matter, everyone places faith in something above everything else. Most peple, including Christians, are guilty of keeping a closet full of gods.

My mistake, theistic realism refers to something else entirely, I meant Augustine’s Argument for Eternal Truths, the argument that all abstractions have to exist in necessarily existent mind.

I have heard the argument, but am I right in thinking that it assumes the universe is logically contingent, so needs a necessary grounding (which for Avicenna would not be a creator, of course)?

Reading Feser’s book, I wasn’t exactly convinced by his arguments for immutability. I agree that at one point the necessary grounding had to be simple, but I failed to see why it cannot gain parts at a later stage. (this may admittedly be hard for a non-sentient entity such as the universe, but whilst this certainly disproves atheism, it doesn’t necessarily prove classical theism as opposed to pantheism)

That is, always was, and always will be the problem of evil.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Epicurus 300 BC

It is not just an argument either but an experience of life which routinely destroys faith.

That is the problem with arguments for the existence of God, people tend to replace their faith in God with a faith in these arguments – all of which are objectively flawed. Not only that but these arguments typically alter the God believed in order to make the argument work.

The truth is that neither argument has objective validity either the one for the existence of God or the one against.

My position is one between theistic realism and fideism. God is as knowable as anything else, because all knowledge ultimately requires faith. The objective knowledge of science is epistemologically superior but it this hardly absolute and does ultimately require some things taken on faith. So while it is unreasonable to discard the objective knowledge of science, there can be no absolute line drawn there to claim that only the objective knowledge of science is real knowledge. On the contrary it is demonstrable that things can be known where no objective evidence is available. So while knowledge of God is not obtainable objectively and faith is required, so also is faith required ultimately for science too.

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Like I said, I meant something different by ‘theistic realism’. But I digress.

I fail to see how that isn’t fideism, since it is taking a leap of faith. I am actually fine with fideism however, for as long as it is pragmatic. As I said before in my post on mysticism, we should contemplate the divine even if it isn’t real, because it is conceptually infinite, whilst everything else is finite.

I thank you for your position however, especially since I am going through somewhat of a crisis of faith.

I see no issue with arguing for the existence of God through philosophy (I am somewhat less keen on arguing through whatever scientific paradigms are currently held to) however, since not everyone will be convinced by our position.

Not even sure Augustine’s ideas of eternal truth survive some principles of quantum mechanics like particles occupying to places far apart at the same time while remaining the same particle.:slight_smile:

There are eternal truths and we can touch aspects of them. But solid understanding in, in my opinion, is not available to fallen reason. We can have faith and that faith can rationally hold on to the notion of eternal truths as well as someone can have faith that there are infinite possibilities for universes without a creator. Neither notion is provable by experimentation simply because “eternal” and “infinite” are unprovable concepts that we reasonably accept.

The problem of evil is a hard one, my personal response, (which many may understandably find repulsive), is that God, a being with an infinite grasp of moral truths, does not need to capitulate to our moral sensibilities. It’s the best I can think of without assuming libertarian free will, which I need more evidence for.

Surely we can’t imagine a situation where mathematical truths don’t exist?

When your faith is contingent on certain scientific assumptions, you’re doing it wrong.


I don´t quite understand the point you are trying to make here. If we take an emergent property like consciousness, which seems to be irreducible to the neurons, which are necessary in order to make the conscious self possible/expressable, it would be a categorical mistake to conclude therefor that the neurons are conscious. If emergence is introduced we have a property with a different ontological status than the properties the single neurons have. It doesn´t follow however that there is something added to the neurons, the same way the property of wetness isn´t added to the single H-Molecule when in a group of six H2Os. It is an extrinsic, rather than intrinsic property. Therefor there is nothing added to the divine essence when the contingent world is added to reality.
As you know the extrinsic properties are, according to the scholastics, rooted within the divine mind.

Hmm? The Augustinian argument is an argument from universals. How are they possibly affected by quantum mechanics?

Besides the problem of evil, one of my (many) concerns about theism (note I am still a Christian, but without all the answers) is why, if God thinks it’s really so important to know about Him, he doesn’t show everyone the way to Him. Either he doesn’t care, and the wars, both figurative and real, we’ve fought for and against freedom of belief in nuances don’t matter; or he cares only for a few, and rejects the others based on original sin.

It seems that like all gut instincts, our desire for God (which often fills our fears and the void of what is not known) can become an evil fundamentalism. That is one reason why we can learn from atheists, too.

Neither seems like a great answer! But I think this is a great thread–to Steelman one’s “opponents” or “opposite philosophy.”


In regard to Objections to Theism, my rather shallow mind quickly goes to “overload” when trying to carefully follow the arguments of classical theologian/philosophers. One exception is Epicurus. After being convinced of the reality of human evolution and the way Teilhard dealt with it, I was pleased that it allowed me to formulate a worldview which I find is consistent with Epicurus and still (reasonably) compatible with Christian Faith. I’m pretty sure you will not find it ‘your cup of tea’, however.

After trying very hard on my own (to make it palatable to the Adult Confirmation class I was teaching) and giving careful consideration to the positions voiced by contributors to BioLogos (which I respect), I still cannot accept any useful concept of Original Sin as deduced from Genesis (its not written there, as ar as I can see). Since God’s method of creation has produced a mind boggling Cosmosphere and Biosphere, I am comfortable in the judgment that it is “Good”, even though I cannot help wincing when I see on Nature TV an infant antelope bleating piteously as a cheetah’s jaws clamp down on its throat.

That is SO EVIL!!! SO IMMORAL!! If we sinful humans cringe at the sight, should it not upset God, if He is good?

In my worldview, until Homo sapiens was endowed with a Mind and Conscience, the Biosphere was amoral. Evolution, as God had originally designed it, had produced glimmerings of some of the benevolent attributes He desired, such as empathy and love (amongst close kin at first), but for one of His creatures to freely accept the sacrifices to truly become the Image of its Creator, He had the patience to wait.

Like anything powerful, the human Mind, if given freedom, can be effectively used to promote the kind of creativity God envisioned (our role as co-creators), or it can just as effectively be used selfishly to acquire power and/or unbridled pleasure. Sin may be simply be described as taking the most precious kind of gift and throwing it back in God’s face. Even when we’ve done this, His love is so great that He took on our humanity to lead us to the Truth.

Al Leo

What exactly are you asking for here? Epistemological evidence? The problem is that the narrative about the will is only scientific on the surface, it draws from the underlying metaphysical assumptions. I agree that free will or intentionality are impossible within a mechanistic worldview. However such a worldview requires the world to be ultimately reducible to physics, biology and chemistry would become mere useful fictions and we´d have to take on an eliminative materialism when it comes to the mind. Or a form of radical cartesian dualism. I find everyone of that possibilities unlikely or even impossible, therefor mechanism is absurd. So the epistemological datas are dependent on the metaphysical worldview in order to be interpreted the right way. What those metaphysics are however, is ultimately not a scientific, but philosophical issue.
Peter Hacker explained it here, very much worth listening to the interview:

I´d deny that it makes any positive case for atheism at all.

  1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

While 1 is the supposedly controversial statement to be debated about, it is actually 2 which prevents the argument from working, although we are probably all in agreement that it 2 is true. Suppose that the argument is sound and it shows that God doesn´t exist. The moment we agree on that, the argument stops working, for the sole reason that 2 becomes unintelligible due to the missing framework to define “evil”. What is evil? Is pain evil? I deny that, pain is a signal from the body that there is something wrong, so the pain itself can´t be the evil, since it at most points at the wrong state of the body. That is the problem the argument faces. The way I see it, Naturalism entails Nihilism, since an objective standard of what can be considered good is missing. And in order to run a successful argument, it doesn´t suffice to appael to subjective arbitrary moral standards.
Still though, maybe there is, for the time bein a way to reconcile an atheistic with a theistic moral realism, the role model could be found within the works of Alasdair MacIntyre, Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot. Take again the pain example. Can it be that the wrong state can be considered evil? Maybe. But on what ground could we possibly assert that? If we link goodness to being. Good is what has the properties which the object requires in order to function according to its nature. This is the solution natural law theorists or virtue ethicists offer. Thomas Nagel, as an atheistic moral realist, seems to agree. However this admission, comes at a high cost (or not so high, I have argued above why I don´t think the argument works pro atheism), since the argument from evil would be thrown out the window, since evil wouldn´t be a positive state of affairs, but merely a privation, the absence of good. As contingent beings we can and will reach a point at which an ability natural to our being (e.g. running) will be failed to get actualized due to the absence of the tools (strong muscles). This however is not positively evil, since it is merely the absence of the proper tools to fullfil our final cause. The linking of ontology and morality provides us with a possible universal objective morality. But it also makes the argument from evil meaningless.
In my view it is an interesting puzzle for the theist. But its also mostly an emotional issue.

That is a bold statement. Especially when adding

If Fideism ever was the correct answer, I don´t know the question.

Generally your statements are strange, especially when remembering that you are familiar with Aristotle. Surely you are aware of the argument he gave for Gods existence. But what you are seemingly unaware of is that the concept presented by him very much resembles what underlies all of monotheism. Judaism, most of Christianity, Islam have many differences, but the one thing every tradition agrees upon is divine simplicity, the dispute is among the schools at how exactly that looks like. And even though the disputes exist, the typical divine attributes, omnipotence, omniscience, all goodness, intellect, are found in every school and they are not merely asserted, but follow from the arguments presented when the concept worked out. So your statement

doesn´t work at all. The Scotist and I can disagree about how exactly Gods essence is to be understood, but still attend the same mass on Sunday and pray to the same God, without dissonance. Just to be said and maybe I misread your post, but that is how I understand you, if your views align to those of, say Plantinga or Swinburne, you would have left the traditional conceptions by miles and you´d oppose most of modern Christianity. The more anthropomorphized version of God found in some traditions of evangelical Christianity is a recent development from the 18th century and represents a, compared to worldwide Christianity, small but loud portion. Our ancestors had a very different concept. That is also why I´d file that remark, that the God believed in is altered to make the argument work, away as an expression of modern arrogance.
That is all especially strange, since in your last section you make the exact points I´d make, but apparently you don´t realize that at your point of objective knowledge in science the scholastic would raise his hand and argue that this exact point is what is the basis of the Rationalist argument developed by Leibniz and reformulated in a stronger sophisticated way by Alexander Pruss. Science has to make some metaphysical assumptions which it has to make before it can get off the ground. The law on non-contradiction, the law of the excluded middle, that there is objective knowledge to be gained about reality and that we have the rational capacities to abstract those objective facts. And those presuppositions are what make up the Principle of Sufficient Reason, according to which there is an explanation for every contingent state of reality (strong version) or for the existence of contingent objects (weaker version by Pruss). That the PSR leads to theism is one of the very few statements pretty much every philosopher in that area, regardless of the theological background can agree upon. Now it may be still the case that the argument is unsound because the PSR is wrong, although, with regards to the scientific success and the fact that the knowledge gained through seemingly shows regularities and the absence of brute, unintelligible facts, I doubt it. But at least it suffices for now to show that the premature dismissal of such arguments as “objectively flawed” is unwarranted or that more is required to dismiss it than simple handwaving.

The third alternative is that the doctrine found in all monotheistic traditons and supported by thinkers of those traditions like Mamoinedes, al-Ghazali or Augustine, that the existence of a necessary being with the divine attributes we´d ascribe to what we call God, can be shown through the intellect, is indeed correct, which makes revelation of his mere existence unnecessary. I don´t think that it is false and I also don´t see any reason to do so. Admittedly, some protestant denominations, particularly charismatics, reject that doctrine and rely on a kind of fideism. In my opinion though, if that were the answer, the whole project doesn´t make sense.

Flawed premise… God doesn’t think any such thing! If God exists then it is abundantly clear that belief in His existence is NOT His greatest priority. This is obvious because God could achieve that goal rather easily. Therefore other priorities must stand in the way.

But why would this be? It goes right back to the fall and the separation between man and God. There is one thing and one thing only which can separate a parent from his children and that is if the parent’s presence in the child’s life does more harm than good. And that is what I think is going on here. I think it is a scientific fact that a belief in God is not of universal benefit to all people, for the simple reason that a belief in God plays a key role in some people’s psychopathology.

Yes, it is also true that a relationship with God is the essence of eternal life and thus you can say the fall created something of a no-win scenario. Though… I think this relationship with God stuff is more complicated that it might first appear. From Romans 2:12-16 we learn that we cannot equate a knowledge of God with what is written on ones heart. There is a pathology in religion where the believer almost unavoidably seeks to appease and make deals with God, trying to buy their way into His favor. This is such a pernicious habit, even when we know it is wrong, that there may even be some merit with regards to that problem from simply not believing God exists. I think there is an iffy delicate balance there and that whole Christ on the cross thing CAN enable enable believers to get past it, but I think it is difficult to know for sure if you have.

So the bottom line for me… is… I believe Christianity simply because it is my judgment that this is correct much in the same way that I judge that evolution is correct. It is just an opinion and has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether I am saved. I don’t think that belief in either the existence of God or a Christian theology confers any merit whatsoever. Pascal’s wager is a losing proposition.

This divine simplicity nonsense is an excellent example of the distortions of God which these arguments for the existence of God create. The division of things into parts is an artifact of intellectual analysis which can be used on any subject, God included. To be sure, God does not derive its existence from any parts, but the same is true of the physical universe which does not exist because of particles. It is particles which exist because of part they have in the physical universe. So I refute divine simplicity utterly to say that God has all the same things we have and more. God has an intellect and intelligence is a part of God. God has love and love is a part of God. etc… etc… this is no less true of God than it is true of us and I do not buy into the empty semantics which just chooses to use a different language in the case of God in order to gloss over this. God has these things AND He can set them aside to become a helpless human infant. Power over oneself is the most important power of all, and thus I refute the effort of theologians to strip God of such power in order make a god into a tool of their own rhetoric and power.

I wasn’t going to respond to this thread because while I am an atheist at least in regard to the Christian god (as that has been explained to me), I don’t have any objection to theism. I object to obviously poor theology but God belief as such is reasonable. Given the hiddenness of whatever it is which gives rise to God belief, surely a range of interpretations should be respected.

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