A little reflection will show that many religious beliefs and practices have absurd implications. In this paper Ryan Stringer provides several examples of such absurdities and defends them against potential objections. Some of the moral absurdities considered include: the belief that an innocent person like Jesus could pay for the sins of wrongdoers; that God could be simultaneously tyrannical and loving; that a morally perfect God could create a maximally miserable place like Hell; that God wants to form loving relationships with us while simultaneously hiding from us; and that a loving heavenly father also wants us to genuinely fear him. In addition, it is absurd to believe that an all-knowing and all-powerful God needs people to do his work for him instead of doing it himself; that, despite knowing what is best for us, God nevertheless alter his plans in response to prayer; that a maximally good God would create a maximally evil being like Satan knowing Satan’s evil nature ahead of time; or that there could be a genuine struggle between good and evil even though God has predetermined everything to happen exactly as he intends. Stringer wraps up his discussion with an appendix on the absurdities generated by a divine command metaethics that maintains that there is nothing morally wrong with anything that God might do so long as God approves of his own actions, for God’s approval (and his approval alone) automatically renders any action morally right.
Published on the Secular Web
If any of a number of the universe’s physical constants had been even slightly different, then life as we know it could not exist. According to the fine-tuning argument, the extreme improbability of the actual constants having, by chance, their uniquely life-permitting values suggests that they were “fine-tuned” by God to allow life to exist. But there are at least two fatal problems with the fine-tuning argument. First, if the fine-tuning argument’s premises hold, then its conclusion does not, since a parallel “divine-pruning” argument yields the opposite conclusion using the exact same line of reasoning. Second, the fine-tuning argument wrongly assumes that the extreme improbability of a unique outcome’s occurrence by chance in this lottery-like context implies that that outcome did not occur by chance. Both problems show that the fine-tuning argument does not justify theism or even supernaturalism more generally.
Is God needed for life to be meaningful? Is it even conceivable that the meaning of life could be found in God? Would the existence of God, one way or the other, have any implications for the meaning of life at all? And what exactly do we mean by the meaning of life, anyway? Ryan Stringer touches on these and related questions in order to elucidate the relationship between the existence of God and the meaning of life.
Many people hold on to supernatural beliefs because they feel that certain psychological needs could not be met without them—in particular, they feel that they would not be able to have any hope without such beliefs. However, nonbelief need not be the “recipe for despair” that it is often assumed to be; in fact, not only can it leave ample room for hope, but it can help people hope in a realistic, psychologically healthy way when it comes to important things in life. Because nonbelievers can hope for most of the things that people generally hope for, dispelling the myth that nonbelief is a recipe for despair can go a long way toward making nonbelief psychologically acceptable to those who might otherwise resist it.
In this paper Ryan Stringer makes the case for a logical inconsistency between the existence of evil or suffering and the existence of an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, completely free, perfectly rational, and maximally good God. In essence, Stringer argues that because God is maximally good, the reality existing before the creation of the natural world, consisting as it does only of God and perhaps morally neutral necessary things or necessarily coexisting things, will be maximally good. Furthermore, as a maximally good being, God would never introduce any evil or anything that could produce evil into existence, for that would only serve to make reality worse. But there is in fact evil in the world; therefore God does not exist. Stringer considers several objections to the argument, but finds that none of them succeed.
In “Religion and the Queerness of Morality,” philosopher George Mavrodes contends that morality provides good grounds for adopting religious belief because in a world where religion fails, morality is odd or absurd. Since morality is not in fact odd or absurd in the actual world, Mavrodes argues, we do not live in a world where religion fails. In this paper Ryan Stringer examines the claim that in a world where religion fails, morality is odd or absurd, and finds it to be unsubstantiated. Moreover, Mavrodes provides no grounds for thinking that morality is not in fact odd or absurd in the actual world, and it is plausible to think that it actually is.
In addition to evidential and logical arguments for atheism, there is a lesser-known third kind of argument. Modal arguments for atheism conclude that atheism is necessarily true on the basis of a mere possibility claim. In this paper Ryan Stringer considers how modal arguments for atheism contribute to the philosophical defense of atheism, concluding that modal arguments for atheism either (a) positively support atheism or (b) at least undermine modal arguments for theism.
In this paper Ryan Stringer critiques a response to atheistic arguments from evil that has been called “skeptical theism.” He starts by formulating a simple atheistic argument from evil and briefly justifying its two premises. Then he defends the argument against a skeptical theist’s potential response. First, he indirectly defends his argument by arguing that skeptical theism is both intrinsically implausible and has problematic consequences, which makes it an unreasonable response. Second, he directly defends his argument by presenting arguments supporting its second premise. Stringer concludes that skeptical theism does not undermine his argument.
In this paper Ryan Stringer discusses arguments from perfection, both for and against the existence of God. He begins with a simple argument from perfection for the existence of God and argues that it is unsuccessful. Then he defends two kinds of arguments from perfection against the existence of God. The first ones are inductive and thus present atheism as a tentative conclusion, while the second one is deductive and thus purports to conclusively demonstrate atheism based on the logical inconsistency between God’s existence and the imperfect world in which we live.
In this paper Ryan Stringer assesses a modal version of the cosmological argument that is motivated by the so-called “questions of existence.” He begins by formulating the argument before offering a critical assessment of it. Specifically, he argues that it not only fails as a proof of the existence of God, but that it is not even rationally acceptable. He concludes that it does not provide rational justification for belief in God.
If God is omniscient, it seems that he would have to know what it is like to learn. However, in order to know what it is like to learn, one must have learned something. This entails that at one time we were in a state of not-knowing a thing that was learned, then experienced what it is like to learn. But if God is essentially omniscient, he always is and has been omniscient, so was never in a state of not-knowing. Because being in a state of not-knowing is necessary to know what it is like to learn, we would seem to have to say that God does not know what it is like to learn. But this contradicts the original claim that he does know this based on his omniscience. Thus, it seems that God’s omniscience generates a contradiction. Consequently an omniscient God cannot exist.
Supposing that atheism is true, is it important to defend its truth? Ryan Stringer emphatically answers in the affirmative. Stringer argues that if atheism is rationally held to be true, that alone is sufficient reason to defend it, for truth and rational belief are intrinsic goods, and it is generally noble to try to change others’ minds when they seem to hold false beliefs. In addition, Stringer considers a number of secondary, supplementary reasons for defending atheism. These range from fighting religiously motivated mistreatment, developing beneficial public policies, redirecting resources going to religious institutions to benefit those in need, understanding our place in the world, and fostering thinking freely as rational and autonomous beings, among other things. Stringer wraps up by considering whether anything indispensable to the good life is lost when we abandon traditional theistic belief for atheism, concluding that the purported benefits of theistic belief over atheism typically evaporate on closer inspection.