There is an interesting phenomenon in apologetics debate: skeptics attempting to argue against the existence of God using evidence thought to discredit Christianity.
This tactic is fundamentally flawed. Whether or not Christianity is true is a different question than whether or not God exists. (Note that I am using the minimal definition that the skeptic usually has in mind for “God”: an immaterial, transcendent entity with agency. It’s key to clarify this in your discussions.) So, even a skeptic’s strongest arguments against the Christian faith are not automatically arguments against the existence of God. Now, it is possible to argue in the opposite direction; any good argument against the existence of God (an immaterial, transcendent entity with agency) would automatically apply against the truth claims of Christianity, since Christianity requires God’s existence.
There seems to be widespread confusion on this, so I hope I have helped to clarify things. Friends don’t let friends argue poorly. 🙂
This leads me to the question, what arguments could there be against the existence of God that do not begin with Christian assumptions ABOUT God? After all, science can only examine the natural world (space, time, energy, and matter). If God–as defined above–exists, He must transcend the natural world, not be part of it, otherwise, He couldn’t have created it. So the bottom line is, science, by definition, cannot rule out God, by this definition. If someone tries to come up with an alternative to God to explain why the universe (space, time, energy, and matter) began to exist, they cannot invoke anything whatsoever that involves space, time, energy, or matter. (And yes, I’m aware of all the speculative cosmologies out there. See my article over at Science, Reason & Faith, “Going to Fantastical Lengths to Avoid the God Hypothesis.”
You see, the denial of the minimal claim, “God exists,” is entirely philosophical. Skeptics will say things like, “Well, if God existed, then the world would be different in such-and-such a way.” They must not realize that this argument is THEOLOGICAL. They are claiming to know what God’s attributes would be if he existed, when in fact, they can have no such knowledge. (Now, there is a nuance here. If the skeptic is arguing against a more specific conception of God, the situation changes.) The differences they cite are usually rooted in emotion about the state of affairs we observe in the world. For instance, someone might say that innocent little babies getting cancer is evidence against the existence of God. “There is evil/suffering in the world, therefore God (as defined above) does not exist” is an unsound argument. From the fact that suffering exists in the world, it does not necessarily follow that God does not exist. The existence of God and the existence of suffering are not logically incompatible. (However, it should be noted, that if God does not exist, then all of the suffering in the world is senseless, and has no possibility of ever being redeemed.) Now, if one is specifically arguing for the Christian God and all attributes that involves, then the question becomes more complex. We can indeed explore whether or not the existence of evil and suffering has implications in that case. (See William Lane Craig’s book, On Guard.)
So, the next time someone makes this mistake, graciously point out to them that these two questions must be examined separately. The existence of God (as defined above) is a precursor to discussing the further, more specific truth claims of Christianity.
And while I’m on the subject of arguments for God’s existence, I want to pass along this fantastic new video that explains the Cosmological Argument: