Is Christianity based on an argument from ignorance?

By Ryan Pauly

I received a lot of responses after last week’s blog, “Is atheism a ‘lack of belief’ in God?” Most of the responses came from atheists which I expected. I also expected an immediate request for proof of the Christian God which is what happened. Over the last year I have had to reduce the amount that I interact with followers on Twitter, but when I do respond to this type of request I always ask the same question. If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian? I learned this from Dr. Frank Turek, and the reason this question is important is that it lets you know whether the person you are talking with really wants the evidence. They may ask you for it, or demand that you show it, but they might not really be looking for it. So, if they respond with a long explanation or flat out say “NO!” to your question, then it isn’t evidence they are looking for because evidence wouldn’t change their mind. However, if they say “Yes!” then you might present some evidence.

When it comes to presenting evidence, there are a lot of different topics that could be discussed. You could discuss the cosmological, teleological, or moral arguments. You could also bring up the complexity of biochemical systems. Or, you could go with my response this last week and talk about the existence of the mind. Each of these topics clearly points to a creator, but we need to be careful how we present the information. There are two ways that we can go, and if we aren’t careful, our point may be mistaken for an argument from ignorance or a god of the gaps argument.

Is Christianity based on an argument from ignorance?

Probability Argument

The first way to present evidence for God is by using the probability argument. It is absolutely remarkable seeing the discoveries that scientists have made over the years when it comes to complexity of life, origin of the universe, and origin of life. We can talk about the probability of these things coming into existence without God and how it is practically impossible. However, simply pointing out the probability can be insufficient because someone can always appeal to chance. The quote from Dumb and Dumber comes to mind. When Lloyd talks to Mary about the chances of them dating, she says he has a 1 in a million chance. Lloyd quickly responds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Some may always say that if given enough time it is possible with natural processes, and students are quick to point this out.

It is also common to hear a response like this, “Just because you don’t know how it happened doesn’t mean it was God.” Skeptics claim that this is an argument from ignorance. God must have done it because there is no scientific explanation. They might also say that this is a god of the gaps argument. Christians simply have a gap in their knowledge and so they plug it up with God. This was done in ancient times to give a reason for the rain or thunder. The gods were sad or angry.

The reason for these responses is that the probability argument is a negative argument. It states that the probability of this complex system is very low and so it must be designed. I think that the probabilities can be very useful, but we need to use them along with our main argument.

Argument from Analogies

We can more effectively making a case for design using the complexity of life’s chemistry and universe by using analogies. Instead of an argument from ignorance or appealing to probabilities, we are able to make a positive case for design based on specific features of the object. We can look at the complexity of the bacterial flagellum and show that it functions better than any motor that has been intelligently designed by humans. DNA is similar to a message written in a book except it would fill millions of books. We only see motors and books coming into existence from intelligent minds because they contain information, so therefore it is reasonable to conclude that a mind created the complexity of life and DNA.

We can also make a positive argument by looking at characteristics of the thing we are discussing. The beginning of the universe points to an immaterial, uncaused, purposeful, intelligent, powerful cause that is outside the universe. Christians are not ignorant of how it happened so it must be God, but there are certain characteristics that point to a creator outside the universe.

I chose to discuss the existence of consciousness and the mind this week. I was quickly met with a response like, “No one knows how consciousness came to exist, so saying God did it is an argument from ignorance.” But, I am not arguing from probabilities or a lack of knowledge. Instead, I am making a positive argument based on characteristics of consciousness. It is undeniable that we are conscious beings, and consciousness is not physical. It cannot be produced through physical processes. This information makes a positive case that it is created by a non-physical mind.

In conclusion, is Christianity an argument from ignorance? No, it is not. Christians are able to make a positive case for Christianity based on scientific and philosophical data. It isn’t filling a gap in our knowledge with God, but God is the best explanation given the evidence.

Check out these additional resources if you are looking for more evidence for God. I hope these help.

Who created God?

Do objective moral laws point to God?

Is free will an illusion?

Is our mind the same as the brain?

Has our universe been designed?

What best explains the origin of life?

Has our universe been fine-tuned for life?

What best explains the beginning of our universe?

Is belief in God a rational position?

 

Visit Ryan’s website at CoffeeHouseQuestions.com


Resources for Greater Impact:

Free CrossExamined.org Resource

Get the first chapter of "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" in PDF.

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4 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    “We can look at the complexity of the bacterial flagellum and show that it functions better than any motor that has been intelligently designed by humans”

    Why is this an argument for design? If I said that we can design a computer than can play chess better than any human, would that be an argument AGAINST us being designed or FOR it? Example X in nature performs function Y better than humans can design. Humans can design something that does function A better than example B in nature can perform it. Why is either of those things an argument for or against that example in nature being designed?

    Further, humans can design motors that are far more hard-wearing than any bacterial flagellum. Is that an argument against it being designed?

    Another point – you ask if the atheist would become a Christian if the evidence proved God existed. Now, is accepting evidence for God’s existence the same as being a Christian? Most people would throw some extra baggage in with the term, such as worshipping God. That someone might say they would accept the evidence without going on to worship God doesn’t mean they are not interested in evidence. I know lots of Christians who point at other Christians and say they aren’t REAL Christians because they reject certain dogma, or hold views they don’t agree with on social issues. They don’t think these people are rejecting the evidence for God, but they still say they’re not proper Christians.

    Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    “It is undeniable that we are conscious beings, and consciousness is not physical. It cannot be produced through physical processes”

    How do you know? All evidence seems to be that the mind is produced by physical processes in the brain. We can view the electrical activity, we can say which physical parts of the brain produce pain, pleasure, emotions, etc. Further, damage to the brain corresponds directly with how we experience consciousness.

    Reply
    • Kyle says:

      “It is undeniable that we are conscious beings, and consciousness is not physical. It cannot be produced through physical processes”

      This is also a pretty hefty claim. How are we defining consciousness, the mind, and every physical process? How can this be tested?

      Reply
    • Ryan Pauly says:

      Andy, I made that statement based on research that I have done. When a leading atheist neuroscientist, Sam Harris, says that consciousness isn’t physical and that it doesn’t come from natural process, it makes sense to believe him. Why would he lie or not know if it was that simple? He said, “an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness.” Harris then went on to conclude, “Nothing about a brain, studied at any scale (spatial or temporal), even suggests that it might harbor consciousness.” You can read his two articles on the mystery of consciousness at his website.

      Reply

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