There are certain arguments for God that cannot work. And if we inspect the basic arsenal of the average apologist—the cosmological arguments, the teleological arguments, arguments from objective purpose, arguments from objective morality—certain ones stand out as not being able to work, regardless of what the evidence is.
Despite my persistence is arguing that most forms of the cosmological argument are misleading tripe of the highest order, that is not the argument I want to look at. In fact, I dedicate time to the argument because its form works and the issue is solely what the evidence says. Unfortunately (for the apologist) the evidence does not say what it needs to say for an argument for God.
There are arguments—the arguments from objective purpose and morality—which can simply never work. The argument form is basically this: objective morality and purpose are founded in a God; without God you have to throw out objective morality and purpose; you don’t want to throw out objective morality and purpose; therefore God. No matter how much linguistic perspicacity fleshes out those trite bones, that is the argument: “without God there is not right and no wrong”; “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” (to shamelessly quote mine, look what he actually says); “if there is no God everything is permissible”.
I contend, right off the bat, that not everything is permissible if God is absent. Even evolution keeps us in check on this one; we need to be a successfully propagating society to… propagate. The environmental and societal niche we occupy demands a level of social cohesion and not all things are permissible. I also believe that objective morality can be described and justified in a secular world. So I don’t accept either the premise that morality is founded in God or that without God we have to throw morality away.
But none of that is important. If, somehow, those premises could be demonstrated to us then the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. If you can convince an atheist that without God there is no objective morality or purpose you haven’t provided a rational reason to accept God; you have provided a reason to throw out objective morality. “Oh, you’re absolutely right, beating children is merely something that we condemn because we empathise with the suffering of the child and cannot abide the idea of living in a society that allows that”.
The same problems arise with purpose, so I’m going to use it to elucidate another issue. If I doubt objective purpose, which I do, then you are going to be hard pushed to tell me that true purpose is founded in God, somehow. I had this conversation with a student of mine. Don’t mock me for citing a student as a source, she is one of the most astute Russian speaking 15 year-old girls I have ever met… perhaps even the most astute. I spend my breaks discussing freewill* with her (we disagree). On the issue of purpose she asked ‘why are we here, then?’ and then she took a moment to consider my mechanical answer—evolution—and my point that we can value intelligence all we like, but by most other measures we aren’t atop the league table: for size it’s wales, for number it’s bacteria, for long-term survival it’s probably crocodiles, for closeness to immortality it is the jellyfish; to think we alone have a reason to be here is absurd or arrogant or mislead or some combination of these. But she then had to deal with my pre-emptive rebuttal: what purpose, exactly, does God grant us? The imperative to love a good live? Why? Heaven? Why is Heaven good? I mean, I hear it’s pleasant there, but what about that makes it objective purpose? The argument is backwards
* we got into this conversation because I was teaching population and the Malthusian Crisis. I decided I wanted them to discuss the big red button question: if there was a big red button that, when pressed, would painlessly kill everyone, would you press it? That conversation got us to morality, God and then freewill. By this point break time had come and most of the students left. So Ekaterina and I were left pondering the big questions. We also had a lesson that went from UK politics to dolphins are evil to are they aware enough to call “evil”? to is there evil? She’s a good student.
I was then called to account on what, precisely, I thought the purpose of life was—objective or otherwise. And although “purpose” was the wrong word (and Ekaterina recognised this, but most English people would struggle to find the right word) I spotted the content of the question and I answered: This is it; this is our opportunity; there is only one chance to be nice to each other, and to bask in the warm sun, and know what it is like to be excited, and to love, and to lose, and to connect with other people, and see and to feel beauty, and try to break into a castle in a thunderstorm, and get completely lost of a scooter in the mountain; we have one opportunity to live this life of ours, and make our friends, and be lost in the wonder of the universe of the elegance of literature. It is chaotic and nihilistic to assume we are floating through the theatre of time; but it is liberating and it is beautiful.