Here's a mini-miracle that happened to me yesterday: I'm in a Barnes & Noble store and see a new hardcover book: "36 Arguments for the Existence of God -- a work of fiction."
I'm attracted to buy it. Handing it to the checkout clerk, I hear him say: "Hey, a friend of mind is reading this. He loves it." Cosmic! What are the chances...
Actually, quite good.
I suspect that people who work in book stores tend to read more books than the average person. And it figures that their friends would also. I'm buying a philosophical novel whose central character is a best-selling writer known as "the atheist with a soul," and the bookstore I'm in is located in one of the least religious areas in the country, Portland, Oregon.
So I don't think God impelled me to buy a book that questions God's existence (though it'd be cool if that were true, because I'd be attracted to a divine being with such an ironic sense of humor).
Nor do I think that God was behind another mini-miracle that occurred just before I sat down to write this post. Putting a salad bowl in the dishwasher, I dropped the fork that I was holding in the same hand.
Instead of dropping on the kitchen floor, or into the bottom of the dishwasher, the fork somehow flipped over perfectly and landed handle-side down in the utensil holder, which has narrow slots. Cosmic! What are the chances...
I have no idea. Fairly small, for one fork drop.
But the odds of winning a megabucks lottery are extremely miniscule, and regularly someone does just that: beat the odds. Having a fork randomly bounce handle first into a utensil slot is unusual. However, it isn't an act of God.
Thinking like this is what Rebecca Newberger Goldstein does in a marvelous appendix to her "36 Arguments for the Existence of God," which contains -- no big surprise -- those 36 arguments.
[You can read all of them, courtesy of Goldstein, on the Edge web site. Thanks, Rebecca -- who is married to noted cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. Much appreciated.]
Each argument is stated in a clear step by step fashion. Then the flaws in the argument are discussed. A comment ends the examination of the argument's validity.
The Barnes & Noble clerk said that his friend thought the 52-page appendix was worth the price of the whole 400-page book. I agree. I couldn't resist heading right to the final pages to read some of the arguments.
Many of them have been brought up by visitors to this blog who are still true believers in some faith, rather than godless heathen infidels like others who comment on my blog posts.
Here's a simplified and shortened summary of a few of the Goldstein arguments that come up frequently here on the Church of the Churchless.
(1) The Cosmological Argument. Everything that exists must have a cause. The universe cannot be the cause of itself. Something outside the universe must have caused it. God caused the universe. God exists.
Flaws: Who caused God? If God doesn't have a cause, or is self-caused, then the universe is able to exist without a cause, or be self-caused. Further, applying the concept of "cause" to everything in existence misuses the concept.
(2) The Argument from Personal Coincidences. People experience uncanny coincidences. These can't be explained by the laws of probability. Only a being who has the power to effect these coincidences could arrange for them to happen. God exists.
Flaws: A large number of experiences make "uncanny" coincidences probable, not improbable. And people are prone to an illusion called Confirmation Bias. When they have a hypothesis (daydreams predict the future), they notice the instances that confirm it (when they think of a friend and he calls), forgetting the times this doesn't happen.
(3) The Argument from the Hard Problem of Consciousness. Currently science can't explain why we have a subjective feeling of conscious awareness. Science will never solve this problem, because the explanation must lie beyond physical laws. Thus consciousness is immaterial. God also is immaterial. God inserted a conscious spark of the divine into us. God exists.
Flaws: Drawing theological conclusions from the currently incomplete state of scientific knowledge is to commit the Fallacy of Arguing from Ignorance. It may turn out that consciousness (or "proto-consciousness") is inherent in matter, which would make it materialistic. And the human brain simply may lack the capacity to understand human consciousness.
(4) The Argument from the Consensus of Mystics. Mystics go into a special state in which they seem to see aspects of reality that elude everyday experience. There is unanimity among mystics as to what they experience. They can't all be deluded in the same way. Their experiences testify to the transcendent experience of God. God exists.
Flaws: Mystics may indeed be deluded in similar ways. Human nature is universal, and thus prone to universal illusions and shortcomings of perception, memory, reasoning, and objectivity. The temporal lobes of non-mystics can be stimulated to induce "mystical" experiences, as can certain drugs.
There are quite a few more interesting arguments for the existence of God in Goldstein's appendix. But like the four I've shared, they all have serious flaws.
Thus to me one of the best arguments for the non-existence of God is how many arguments there are for God. This is the flip side of Argument #36 in the book: "The Argument from the Abundance of Arguments."
You'd think that the creator of the universe, the most important dude (or dudette) in the cosmos, the ultimate reality behind all other realities, would be just a bit more obvious and not need so many abstract conceptions to argue for his existence.