Refutations of Arguments for God’s Existence

by Micheal Martin


  1. The Kalam Cosmological Argument.

According to Dr. Fernandes the Kalam cosmological argument demonstrates the existence of God. This is the argument that (1) the universe began in time, that (2) this beginning was caused, and that (3) this cause was God. I am willing to grant (1) although I believe that this premise is much more controversial than Dr. Fernandes supposes.[5] The other two premises I do not grant. First of all, the universe could arise spontaneously, that is, “out of nothing.” Several well known cosmologists have embraced this view and it is not to be dismissed as impossible.[6] In particular, Dr. Fernandes misunderstands modern science very badly in supposing that embracing such a view would “destroy the pillars of modern science.” It is simply not the case that modern science assumes that everything has a cause. Second, the cause of the universe need not be God. It could be a malevolent being or an impersonal force or a plurality of gods or a finite God. Of course, Dr. Fernandes uses other considerations to support his theistic interpretation of the cause of the Big Bang. But these considerations are not well argued for. For example, he maintains that intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence; hence human intelligence cannot come from a mindless universe. However, no good reason is given for this claim and, in any case, a nonmindless universe is compatible with other hypotheses beside theism, for example, polytheism. Third, it is unclear how God could have caused the Big Bang since time is supposed to have been created in the Big Bang. God cannot have caused the universe in any sense one can understand since a cause is normally temporally prior to its effect. In particular, causation in terms of intentions and desires are temporally prior to their effects. God’s desires and intentions therefore cannot be the cause of the Big Bang.

  1. St. Thomas’ Five Ways

According to Fernandes, Aquinas’ Five Ways demonstrate God’s existence by showing that dependent beings are dependent on an Independent Being, namely, God. However, this is a misconstrual of Aquinas. Only in his Third Way–an argument from contingent beings to a Necessary Being–does Aquinas come close to Dr. Fernandes’ construction. However, Aquinas’ Third Way commits the fallacy of composition–it assumes that a necessary whole cannot be made of contingent parts. Furthermore, once explicated, this argument contains several other dubious premises.[7] Aquinas’s argument also assumes without warrant that a Necessary Being must have all of the attributes of God. In any case, Fernandes’ interpretation of Aquinas in terms of dependency has precisely the same problems as Aquinas’ argument.[8]

  1. The Design Argument

Dr. Fernandes argues that it is astonishingly unlikely that life could have arisen by chance and cites a number of seemingly impressive statistics to support his case. He then concludes that God must be the cause of life in the universe. However, there are at least three problems with his argument.

  1. Probability estimates are meaningful only given certain assumptions. The probability estimates to which he refers seem to be based on the classical theory of probability: the ratio of the possibilities favorable to life to all possibilities. However, this theory can only be applied if we have good reason to suppose that the possibilities are equally likely. But we have no reason to make this assumption in this case. On the other hand, the frequency theory of probability cannot apply either. On this theory, probability is the frequency in which a type of event occurs within a class of events. For example, in the case of life this might be the frequency of universes with life generated by big bangs that occur within the class of all universes generated by big bangs. However, there only is evidence of one universe generated by the Big Bang. Given these considerations Dr. Fernandes’ example of a Boeing 747 created from a junkyard by a tornado is misplaced. Here there is ample evidence that the frequency of Boeing 747s in class of events brought about by tornadoes is zero.
  2. However, let us grant one could make the probability estimates consider above. There are several hypotheses cosmologists have constructed to explain life that have nothing to with supernatural beings. For example, cosmologists have developed a model in terms of so called “world ensembles.” They have conjectured that our world–our galaxy and the other galaxies–may be one among many alternative worlds or universes existing at the same time. On this view THE UNIVERSE as a whole is composed of a vast number of such worlds or universes, the overwhelming majority of these are lifeless since the various demands that are required for life as we understand it are not met in them. However, given enough universes it is very likely that in some of the complex conditions that are necessary for life would be found. We happen to be in such a universe.
  3. Finally, even if naturalistic models are dismissed, Fernandes’ conclusion that God exists does not follow from his premises. Intelligent design in the universe is compatible with many different hypotheses including polytheism, deism and a finite and evil god.

Three Arguments for Atheism

With Dr. Fernandes’ misunderstandings out of the way and his major arguments refuted I will briefly consider three arguments for atheism.

The Argument from Incoherence (AFI)

One good reason to not believe that God exists is that the concept of God is incoherent. The concept of God is like a round square or the largest number. AFI can be formulated in two ways:

According to one formulation of AFI, some of the properties attributed to God in the Bible are inconsistent.[9] For example, God is said to be invisible (Col. 1:15, ITi 1:17, 6:16), a being that has never been seen (John 1:18, IJo 4:12). Yet several people in the Bible report seeing God, for instance Moses (Ex 33:11, 23), Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ge. 12:7, 26:2, Ex 6:3). God is supposed to have said “you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ge 32:30), However, Jacob saw God and lived. (Ge 32:30). In some places God is describe as a merciful[10] and in other places as lacking mercy,[11] in some places as a being who repents and changes His mind,[12] in other places as a being who never repents and changes His mind,[13] in some places as a being who deceives and causes evil,[14] and in other places as a being who never does,[15] in some places as a someone who punishes children for their parents wrong doing[16] and in other places as one who never does.[17]

On another formulation of AFI attributes specified in philosophical accounts of God are either in conflict with one another or are internally inconsistent. In Atheism I spend thirty pages analyzing in detail the incoherence connected with the concepts of omniscience, omnipotence, and divine freedom. Here I only have space to outline my arguments connected with omniscience.

  1. In one important sense, to say that God is omniscient is to say that God is all knowing. To say that God is all knowing entails that He has all of the knowledge that there is. Now philosophers have usually distinguished three different kinds of knowledge: propositional, procedural and knowledge by acquaintance. Briefly, propositional or factual knowledge is knowledge that something is the case and is analyzable as true belief of a certain kind. In contrast, procedural knowledge or knowledge how is a type of skill and is not reducible to propositional knowledge. Finally, knowledge by acquaintance is direct acquaintance with some object, person or phenomenon. For example, to say “I know Mr. Jones” implies that one has not just detailed propositional knowledge about Mr. Jones but direct acquaintance with Mr. Jones. Similarly, to say “I know poverty” implies that, besides detailed propositional knowledge of poverty, one has some direct experience of it.

To say that God is all knowing, then, is to say that God has all knowledge where this includes propositional, procedural and knowledge by acquaintance. However, theists have not noticed the implications of this account for the existence of God. God’s omniscience conflicts with His disembodiness. If God is omniscient, then on this definition God would have all knowledge including that of how to swim. Yet only a being with a body can have such knowledge in the procedural sense, that is actually have the skill, and by definition God does not have a body. Therefore, God’s being disembodied and God’s being omniscient are in conflict. Thus, if God is both omniscient and disembodied, God does not exist. Since God is both omniscient and disembodied He does not exist.

The property of being all knowing also conflicts with certain moral attributes usually attributed to God. If God is omniscience, He has knowledge by acquaintance of all aspects of lust and envy. But one aspect of lust and envy is the feelings of lust and envy. However, part of the concept of God is that He is morally perfect and being morally perfect excludes these feelings. Consequently, there is a contradiction in the concept of God. God, because He is omniscient, must experience the feeling of lust and envy. But God, because He is morally perfect, is excluded from doing so. Consequently, God does not exist.

In addition, God’s omniscience conflicts with His omnipotence. Since God is omnipotent He cannot experience fear, frustration, and despair. For in order to have these experiences one must believe that one is limited in power. But since God is all knowing and all powerful, He knows that He is not limited in power. Consequently, He cannot have complete knowledge by acquaintance of all aspects of fear, frustration and despair. On the other hand, since God is omniscient He must have this knowledge.

Of course, one can imagine various objections to these three arguments. However, these objections can be met and an extended refutation of them can be found in my book.[18] Perhaps the most commonly voiced criticism should be mentioned here. One might object that God’s knowledge should not include knowledge by acquaintance and all knowledge how since it is not logically possible for God to have all knowledge by acquaintance and all knowledge how. Thus, God’s knowledge should be limited to factual knowledge. The trouble with this reply, however, is that it committed to the view that it is logically impossible for God to have knowledge that it is logically possible for humans to have. The result is paradoxical to say the least.

One normally supposes that the following is true:

(1) If person P is omniscient, then P has knowledge that any nonomniscient being has.

Furthermore, one normally supposes that the following is true:

(2) If God exists, God has all knowledge that humans have.

But both (1) and (2) are false given the restriction of God’s knowledge to factual knowledge.

However, even if we restrict God’s knowledge to propositional knowledge, the concept of God is still incoherent.

I only have space here to consider one argument that can be adduced to show that it is logically impossible for God to be omniscient in this sense.[19]

Consider a neglected argument of Roland Puccetti[20] that I reconstruct as follows:

If P is omniscient, then P would have knowledge of all facts about the world. Let us call this totality of facts Y. So if P is omniscient, then P knows Y. One of the facts included in Y is that P is omniscient. But in order to know that P is omniscience P would have to know something besides Y. P would have to know:

(Z) There are no facts unknown to P

But how can Z be known? Puccetti argues that Z cannot be known since Z is an unrestricted negative existential statement. He admits that it is possible to know the truth about those negative existential statements that are restricted temporally and spatially. But Z is a negative existential that is completely uncircumscribed. Knowing Z, Puccetti says, would be like knowing it is true that no centaurs exist anywhere at any time.

But why could not God with his infinite power search all of space and time and conclude that there are no centaurs? Similarly, why could not God search all space and time and conclude that there is no more factual knowledge that He can acquire? Puccetti is not as clear as he might be but one can assume that he would answer this question by saying that God could not exhaustively search space and time because they are both infinite. No matter how long God searched there would be more space and time to search. Consequently, it is possible that there are facts He does not know. Thus, for God to know that He knows all the facts located in space and time is impossible, and since omniscience entails such knowledge, omniscience is impossible.

Now it may be objected that God will know that Z because He is the sole creator of the to­tality of facts (other than himself). But this reply begs the question. How could God know that He is the sole creator of the totality of facts unless He also knew Z? But since Z cannot be known, God cannot know He is the sole creator of the totality of facts.

This reconstruction of Puccetti’s argument turns on the factual assumptions that space and time are infinite but some scientists have claimed that space is finite but unbounded. The infinite nature of time is also controversial. At most, then, the argument prove that if space and time are infinite, then God is not omniscient. But since God is omniscient by definition, He cannot exist if space and time are infinite.

However, there is a realm of knowledge that is uncontroversially infinite. If God is omniscient, He will know all mathematical facts and know that there are no mathematical facts that He does not know. In order to know all mathematical facts however, it is necessary to investigate all mathematical entities and the relations between and among them. But the number of mathematical entitiesand relations is infinite. So even God cannot complete such an investigation.

We can conclude, then, that given the existence of an infinite number of mathematical entities, God is not omniscient; hence, if omniscience is an attribute of God, He does not exist. Since omniscience is an attribute of God, He does not exist.

The Argument From Evil (AE)

Another good reason to disbelieve in God is the existence of the large amount of evil in the world. How can a perfectly good and all powerful being allow this evil? The simplest and most plausible explanation of this evil is that God does not exist. In his opening statements Dr. Fernandes dismisses this argument, maintaining that atheists have “no basis to call anything evil.”[21] However, as already noted, this is based on the misunderstanding that atheists have no objective grounds to make moral judgments. In his unpublished manuscript, The God Who Sits Enthroned, Dr. Fernandes is less dismissive and proposes some solutions. With respect to moral evil–the evil brought about by human beings–Dr. Fernandes uses the Free Will Defense (FWD) to try to overcome the difficulty: moral evil is not to be blamed on God but is the result of human’s misuse of their free will. I have argued in detail in Atheism that this defense is severely flawed and can only briefly outline my main points here.

  1. The FWD presupposes contracausal freedom (CCF), in other words that human decisions are not caused by any events in our brains or nervous systems. However, there is no scientific reason to suppose that CCF is true.
  2. God could have created human beings with a tendency to do good. This would be compatible with CCF and would have produced less evil.
  3. God could have produced human beings with CCF who would be less vulnerable to physical attack, for example, human beings with bulletproof skin.
  4. God could have created natural laws that make it harder than it actually is for one human being to inflict harm on other human beings, for example, laws that prevent the making of explosives. This would have been compatible with CCF and would have prevented much evil.
  5. There is a distinction between the decision D to do an act A and the outcome O of A. God could have allowed people to exercise their CCF in D and yet have ameliorated the harmful outcomes O of A by divine intervention.
  6. The FWD assumes that the exercise of free will is worth the price of millions of deaths and untold suffering. This is a doubtful assumption.
  7. Although God is not directly responsible for evil on the FWD defense, He is indirectly responsible. Presumably He has foreknowledge and knows that His creatures will misuse their CCF. In this case, God is reckless and if He does not have foreknowledge, He knows at least that this misuse is possible and yet took no safeguards to prevent it. In this case, God is negligent.

In his unpublished manuscript Dr. Fernandes suggests a variety of strategies for solving the problem of natural evil, that is, evil not brought about by human action, for example, earth quakes, tidal waves, genetic deformities. For example, he suggests that natural evil is necessary for moral perfection, that demons cause natural evil, that natural evil is warning that greater evil would follow, that evils such as the suffering of animals are necessary in the present state of the world. I am afraid that none of these suggestions will do.[22]

  1. Natural evil may be necessary in the present state of the world. However, an all powerful God need not be limited to this world but is capable of actualizing a possible world with different laws.
  2. When Dr. Fernandes suggests that demons cause natural evil, he is simply assimilating the problem of natural evil to the problem of moral evil: natural evil is the result of the free will of demons. In this case, all of the problems of the FWD apply and there are additional problems as well.[23]
  3. The suggestion that evil is a warning has at least two problems. First, it is difficult to see why evils such as genetic birth defectsare a warning to the innocent children who have them or to those parents who may have lead morally upright lives. Second, an all powerful God could warn people in ways that were less destructive and ambiguous. For example, he could speak to directly to them or send heavenly messengers.
  4. The idea that evil is necessary for moral perfection also has great problems. First, a flood or tidal wave that kills thousands of children is hardly character building of those children. With respect to the people who survive, for example the parents of the children, instead of strenthening their character, the trauma may just as well crush them beyond recovery. Second, an all powerful God could have provided opportunities for moral development without causing so much pain and suffering, including the killing of the innocent.

The Argument from Nonbelief (ANB)

Still another reason for disbelieving in God is the large number of disbelievers in the world.[24] ANB is especially telling against evangelical Christianity although it has some force against other religions, for example, Orthodox Judaism.[25] Evangelical Christianity is the view that (1) God is merciful and all-loving God, compassionate and caring towards humanity, (2) the Bible and only the Bible is the source of God’s word, (3) God wants all humans to be saved, (4) a necessary condition for being saved is becoming aware of the word of God and accepting it.

Supposing evangelical Christianity to be true, it is difficult to understanding why there are nearly one billion nonbelievers in the world. Why would a merciful God, a God who wants all humans to be saved, not provide clear and unambiguous information about His word to humans when having this information is necessary for salvation? Yet, as we know, countless millions of people down through history have not been exposed to the teaching of the Bible and those that have been are often exposed in superficial and cursory ways, ones not conducive to acceptance. Even today there are millions of people who, through no fault of their own, either remain completely ignorant of the Christian message or because of a seriously lack in their Christian education reject it. One would expect that if God was rational, He would have arranged things in such a way that there would more believers.

Here are a few obvious ideas about how this could have been done:

  1. God could have made the Bible more plausible. He could have make it free from contradiction and factual errors. He could have seen to it that it contains clear and unambiguous and correct prophecies and no false and ambiguous ones.
  2. God could have provided people with exposure to the Bible’s message by having Bibles appear in every household in the world written in a language that the occupants could read.
  3. God could have spoken from the Heavens in all known languages so that no human could doubt His existence and His message.
  4. God could have sent angels disguised as human preachers to spread His word and given them the power to perform unambiguous miracles and works of wonder.
  5. God could have implanted a belief in God and His message in everyone’s mind.
  6. In recent times God could have communicated with millions of people by interrupting prime time TV programs and given His message.

Any and all of these ideas and countless others that I have not mentioned would have increased the number of believers and presumably the number of saved people. Yet, God has used none of these.

There are a number of defenses against ANB that I should briefly mention.

  1. The Free Will Defense: Theists might argue that God wants His creatures to believe in God without any coercion. The above suggestions, it might be said, involve forcing people to believe in God and this would interfere with their free will.

However, none of the above suggestions about how God could have increased peoples’ belief in God interferes with their free will. For example, if people are provided with clear and unambiguous evidence of His existence, this hardly interferes with their freewill since they can reject this evidence. In fact, in the Bible God is said to have performed spectacular miracles that influenced people to believe in Him. For example, in Ex 7:5 God performed a miracle to demonstrate to the Israelites that He was the true God. Even if God implanted a belief of God in people’s minds, they could reject the implanted idea. Moreover, it makes no sense to suppose that a rational God would create human beings in His own image and yet expect them to believe in Him without strong evidence, that is, to be irrational.

  1. The Testing Defense: One version of the testing defense that is used by evangelical Christians is that evidence for God is clear and unambiguous but humans have rejected it because of a spiritual defect such as false pride. Those who accept the evidence show that they do not have a spiritual defect and those who fail the test show that they do.

However, there is no reason to suppose that evidence for God is convincing or that people reject it because of a spiritual defect. Another more plausible hypothesis is that the evidence for God is utterly unconvincing. In addition, even if it is convincing, billions of people because of their background or circumstances have not been exposed to it. Moreover, if the Bible is convincing in principle and humans have been exposed to it, they may not see this because of their faulty reasoning. It is grossly unfair to punish people for not believing in God either because they have not been exposed to His teachings or because of errors of reasoning.

  1. The Unknown Purpose Defense: Theists might argue that God has some unknown reason for permitting so many nonbelievers.

In reply to this defense one could argue that theists have the burden of proof of showing there is an unknown purpose. First, God commanded all people to love Him and to believe in His son. Second, the Bible says that the love God commandment is the greatest of all commandments–not to be overridden by another. Third, Jesus said He came to the world to testify to the truth–the gospel message. Again His mission is presumably not to be overridden by other purposes. These reasons indicate that there is strong scriptural support for there being no unknown reason for the existence of so many nonbelievers.

In addition, God has further properties that make His having an unknown purpose for permitting so much nonbelief implausible. For example, according to evangelical Christianity, God wants humans to love Him. How can He want this and yet fail to make billions of humans aware of the gospel message since loving Him presupposes being aware of His message? The appeal to unknown purposes at worse makes God appear irrational and at best creates a mystery that detracts from the explanatory power of theism.


Dr. Fernandes claims that he cannot prove the existence of God with rational certainty but that the cumulative case for theism is far superior to the case for atheism. On the contrary, his case for theism is extremely weak: his three main arguments fail completely and his other points are based on misunderstandings of atheism. He may realize this for in the last paragraph of his opening statement he beseeches his readers to choose God by utilizing Pascal’s Wager–a pragmatic argument for God that is normally used when rational epistemic arguments fail. However, Dr. Fernandes seems to be unaware of the many problems with this argument–one of them being that God might reserve a special place in Hell for those people who choose God because of Pascal’s Wager![26]


[1] After all, God may have good reasons for not providing us with reliable knowledge. If God has unknown but good reasons for allowing evil, He could have good but unknown reasons for allowing such an epistemological gap.

[2] See Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1990), Introduction.

[3] See Richard Boyd, “How To Be a Moral Realist,” and Peter Railton, “Moral Realism,” in Moral Discourse and Practice, ed. S. Darwall, A. Gibbard, and P. Railton, (Oxford University Press, 1997)

[4] Atheism, pp. 13-23

[5] See the debate between Craig and Smith in William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (Clarendon Press, 1993).

[6] See Graham Oppy, “Professor William Craig’s Criticism of Critiques of Kalam Cosmological Arguments by Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking and Adolf Grunbaum,” Faith and Philosophy, 12. 1995, pp. 237 -250

[7] See Atheism, Chapter 4.

[8] The same thing is true of an Independent Being. A being that is independent simply means that it is not dependent for its existence on other beings. Nothing follows about its moral attributes, let alone its power or knowledge. Dr. Fernandes commits the fallacy of composition, that is arguing from a property of part to a property of a whole. Just because the men who make up an army are weak it does not follow that the army is weak. In a similar way it does not follow that if the parts of a whole are dependent, then the whole is.

[9] I am indebted here to Ted Drange’s unpublished manuscript Nonbelief and Evil (pp. 37-38)

[10] Ps 86:5, 100:5, 103:8, 106:1, 136:2. 148: 8-9; Joel 2:13; Mic 7:18; Jas 5:11

[11] De 7:2,16,20:16 -17; Jos 6:21, 10:11, 19, 40, 11:6-20; ISa 6;19. 15:3; Na 1:2; Jer 13:14; Mt 8:12, 13:42, 50, 25:30, 41, 46; Mk 3:29, 2Th 1:8-9; Re 14:9-11, 21: 8

[12] Ge 6:6; Ex 32:14;1Sa 2:30-31, 15:11,35; 2Sa 24:16:2Ki 20: 1-6;Ps 106:45; Jer 42:10; Am 7:3; Jon 3:10

[13] Nu 23:19; ISa 15:29, Eze 24:14; Mal 3:6: Jas1:17

[14] Ge 11:7; Jg 9:23; 1Sa 16:14; La 3:38; 1Ki 22:22-23; Isa 45:7, Am 3:6; Jer 18:11,20:7; Eze 20: 25, 2 Th 2:11

[15] De 32:4; Ps 25:8, 100:5, 145:9; ICo 14:33

[16] Ge 9:22-25;Ex 20:5, 34:7;Nu 14;18; De 5:9; 2Sa 12:14; Isa 14:21, 65:6-7

[17] De 24:16; 2Ch 25:4; Eze 18:20

[18] The reader is referred to Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990) Chapter 12.

[19] Another argument is adduced in Atheism, pp. 293-297

[20] Roland Puccetti, “Is Omniscience Possible?”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 41, 1963, pp. 92 – 93

[21] Dr. Fernandes also argues that atheism “offers no solution to the problem.” There must be a confusion here. The problem is how can there be so much evil if God exists. This is not a problem for atheists since they do not believe in God.

[22] Again the reader is referred to Atheism, Chapter 16.

[23] See my critique of Plantinga’s solution to natural evil that used a similar strategy in Atheism, Chapter 16

[24] See Theodore Drange, “The Argument From Nonbelief,” Religious Studies, 29, 1993, pp. 417-432. Drange is the first philosopher I know to develop and defend this argument in a systematic way. See also Theodore Drange, “The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief”, 1996 /library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html

[25] In Orthodox Judaism the question is why are there so many descendants of the Israelites who since the time of Moses have rejected one or more of the following: (1) There exists a being who rules the entire universe, (2) This Being has a chosen people, namely, the Israelites, (3) He gave them a set of laws, The Torah, He wants them to follow and which He wants their descendants to follow.

[26] See Atheism, Chapter 9.


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