Four Atheist Responses to a Theist’s “Three Easy Questions”

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by Neil Godfrey

Since we’ve entered James Bishop’s territory with So far, but no farther… or maybe the journey has just begun let’s respond to one more of his blog posts before moving on. This time James relays a post that originally appeared on Shadow to Light: How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions. (James points out that he does not agree with all of the views expressed so I will focus entirely on the core argument itself and ignore the character slurs.)

No doubt some readers are more practised at this sort of discussion and can provide better responses than mine.

Question 1: What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?” If the atheist refuses to answer, he/she will be exposed as Hiding the Goalpost, demonstrating the inherent intellectual dishonesty in such a demand. If the atheist finally answers, there is a very, very high likelihood he/she will cite some dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power. And that leads to the second question.

Response 1: First define what you mean by “God”. Without a clear definition we can hardly proceed with a meaningful investigation.

Response 2: What I would count as evidence for X (whether a particular God or law or event or person or anything) is the setting up of tests or predictions of what we would expect to find in the evidence given that X is true. That is, I would accept any evidence that was derived from the scientific method.

So if our God is one who is defined as the source of all ethical or moral awareness or consciences, then what would we expect to find in the universe that is evidence of this particular type of God?

We would then look for those sorts of things we expect to find if God was the creator of the universe. The scientific method also requires us to test our findings against alternative explanations so we would need to see in each case if there are simpler explanations for the sorts of evidence we find. The same method requires us to look for evidence that contradicts our thesis, too.

Whatever passes these tests would be evidence that God as a source of morality exists.

Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God? At this point, the atheist will likely try to change the topic. But persist with the question. What you will find is that the reason why the atheist would count such an event as evidence for God is because it could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science. In other words, because it was a Gap. Modern day atheism is built on God of the Gaps logic.

Response 3: A hypothesis becomes acceptable when it accounts for the observed data more simply or more comprehensively than any other hypothesis. If our hypothesis of a particular defined God explains data that no other hypothesis can explain, then yes, that God hypothesis is a great advance in our knowledge. But if other hypotheses can explain the data, and a greater range of the data, than the God hypothesis, then other hypotheses “fill the gaps”.

Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God? If the atheist has not bailed on you yet, he/she will likely run now. For if he/she answers NO, then it will become clear that nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. Why? Because if the only “evidence” the atheist “Judge/Jury” will allow in his/her kangaroo court is a Gap (something that cannot be explained by science/natural law), and God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is also not allowed by the atheist, then it is clear the atheist demand for evidence is a sneaky, dishonest game of “heads I win, tails you lose.

Response 4: All scientific is provisional and subject to revision in the light of new findings. That’s the nature of human knowledge. Evolution and gravity are laws that are arrived at by “gaps logic” insofar as they derive from the hypotheses that best explain the evidence to date. In other words, those hypotheses can be said to have filled the “gap” left by the failure of other hypotheses to explain the observed data.

I am reminded of Arthur Koestler’s biography of Johannes Kepler’s search to explain the orbits of the planets. Kepler was bugged by some minute discrepancy in the observations and struggled for a very long time trying to make all sorts of geometric shapes explain the movement of the planets in a way that removed this discrepancy. He worked with orbs, circles, cubes, — all kinds of mixings and matchings of “perfect shapes” that surely had to define the heavenly spheres. Eventually, exhaustingly eventually, he conceded that no “perfect” shape or movement would work. The gap could only be explained by positing an elliptical orbit! And it worked. The gap was filled by the hypothesis of elliptical orbits of the planets and by no other hypothesis.

Now if that elliptical orbit can best be explained by angels who like to move the planets in less than a perfectly circular motion…..



  • Mike Sommers
    2018-01-20 14:44:58 UTC - 14:44 | Permalink

    I notice how the first question asks, ‘What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?”’, which most people, I think, would interpret as a request for an example of the kind of evidence required, while the third question transforms the answer to question one to, ‘… the only “evidence” the atheist “Judge/Jury” will allow …’. (My emphasis.)

  • Pofarmer
    2018-01-20 18:55:57 UTC - 18:55 | Permalink

    You don’t need a specific piece of evidence. You need a specific type of evidence. It needs to be demonstrable and reproducible and not better explained by another phenomena. Ie, Occams razor applies to it. If the theist supplies this, then we can talk. I’ve never seen them get past it, though.

  • Pofarmer
    2018-01-20 19:01:26 UTC - 19:01 | Permalink

    This is the type of apologetic that I really, really dislike. It’s petty, dishonest, and too smart by half. They are trying to use terms coined by atheists pr scientists against them, but it just doesn’t work, so they have to get as nasty as they perceive the evil atheists to be.

    • A A Wilson
      2018-01-20 21:50:47 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

      Indeed. His whole copied argument is nothing more than shifting the burden of proof; and comprised of straw manning, poisoning the well, false dichotomies and non sequiturs, all designed to make the atheists look dishonest and inept.

      Either James Bishop is too stupid to realize this, too dishonest to point out the failures of logic, or both. Having seen his arguments before, the first is a given. The fact that he doesn’t know what the god of the gaps arguments argument is is also telling.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2018-01-21 07:08:48 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

        James reminds me very much of how I used to be. It’s not stupidity or dishonesty so much as faith and belief that the Bible is God’s word. The Bible teaches that the atheist is a fool and opposed to all that is good who wants only to do evil. Any good is a sheepskin draped over the demonic wolf.

        The logic of faith (if one can call it that) is circular and impossible to escape unless something pretty heavy shatters the illusion. Unfortunately the “man of faith” fortifies himself to not succumb to such temptations from Satan and to hold on till the very end. It takes a lot to shake one out of it, as a rule, I think.

        • Tim Widowfield
          2018-01-21 22:44:19 UTC - 22:44 | Permalink

          Yes, and they won’t be shaken out of it by sparring with people on the Internet. They think they’re doing “God’s work.” Every moment serves to reinforce their faith. Rain or shine, it’s all good.

          • 2018-01-21 23:04:18 UTC - 23:04 | Permalink

            I just posted my reply on his blog, so if it gets past moderation, I’ll see what arguments James Bishop comes back with.

  • koseighty
    2018-01-20 19:34:58 UTC - 19:34 | Permalink

    In science when you come up with your hypothesis it is up to you to describe the tests necessary to confirm it. And to do those tests. And when you write your paper you are expected to include a section on what would disprove your findings.

    Basically, it’s up to the hypothesizer to come up with both the proofs and the counter-proofs for his/her hypothesis. Here we have someone trying to dodge their responsibilities.

  • 2018-01-20 20:52:04 UTC - 20:52 | Permalink

    “The God of the Gaps fallacy” is one committed by theists, not atheists. For instance, some theists reason that because there is no scientific consensus about what happened before the Big Bang, that they are justified in inserting God into that “gap in knowledge” as an explanation. It is no different than the ancient Greeks speculating that the God Helios dragged the sun across they sky because they didn’t know why this event occurred every day.

    • Mac McCain
      2018-01-20 21:52:14 UTC - 21:52 | Permalink

      Exactly right, John. James turns logic on its head. As an atheist I want evidence that is testable, measurable, repeatable, falsifiable, and explanatory. If he has it, where is it? If that leaves a gap, then the investigation is not complete. We don’t fill it with god-putty. And I don’t want a miracle.

    • Gene
      2018-01-21 15:49:34 UTC - 15:49 | Permalink

      How did life begin? What is consciousness? How did the universe begin? I call these the holy trinity of the God of the gaps. Theists latch on to areas of scientific ignorance and claim that ignorance as evidence for a god. “You don’t know therefore I am right.”

      • 2018-01-21 16:11:25 UTC - 16:11 | Permalink

        Concluding “God must have done it” to fill in a current gap in scientific knowledge is grossly intellectually irresponsible. It’s like concluding from the fact there is a missing corpse that God must have resurrected it 🙂

  • sheamcduff
    2018-01-20 23:17:22 UTC - 23:17 | Permalink

    A rendition of a famous cartoon.

  • Greg Shelley
    2018-01-21 01:10:12 UTC - 01:10 | Permalink

    I would have thought that the most sensible answer would be “I don’t know. I know no current evidence exists which suggests a god, but there may be some set of events that happens, or scientific discoveries made for which “God” is a far more plausible explanation than “delusion”, “aliens” or anything else.

  • Clarke Owens
    2018-01-21 15:39:42 UTC - 15:39 | Permalink

    Perhaps I will sound naive here, and I don’t know whether I qualify as an atheist (I’m more of an agnostic), but in answer to the question, “What would you count as actual evidence of God,” I would count any of the evidence described in the Bible, i.e., a voice from the heavens with a dove descending; a voice from a burning bush accompanied by tablets of stone with ethical directives; a man whom I saw crucified and dead, who later appeared to me, showed me his wounds, and ascended to heaven, etc. That is, I would consider that prima facie evidence of God, absent some other explanation. However, I have never seen anything like this in almost seven decades of life, nor am I aware of any credible account of someone having seen it, whereas I have seen ample evidence of the fact that human beings routinely make stories like this up, and then use the belief of other people in their stories to gain power and influence over them. Humans are very inventive animals.

    • Beige Aromas
      2018-01-22 16:37:36 UTC - 16:37 | Permalink

      I like to picture the dove descending as a squawking parrot or a very large half-plucked turkey falling out of the sky. I try to picture such stories from the bible as possible rejected scenes from the Life of Brian.

  • Tim Widowfield
    2018-01-21 21:16:03 UTC - 21:16 | Permalink

    Did you read the bonus question?

    Bonus question: I’ll provide evidence for God’s existence, but can you first provide evidence that you are capable of considering my evidence in an open- and fair-minded manner?

    Given that so many New Atheists are pompous, closed-minded verbal bullies, expect such a question to be ignored. And then you can simply point out that the atheist is simply not qualified to pass meaningful judgment on your beliefs. For prejudgment is not meaningful judgment.

    This entire exercise reminds me of the Chick cartoon with the nice, caucasian boy “disproving” evolution to his dirty, bearded science professor.

    • 2018-01-21 21:33:01 UTC - 21:33 | Permalink

      I’m secular, but there are any number of things, if they happened, that would persuade me that the supernatural exists. For instance, my family buried my grandfather 10 years ago. If tomorrow my family and I were visiting the grave site, and suddenly my grandfather emerged from the grave and came over to me and took a selfie with me to prove my family and I weren’t hallucinating, I would definitely be receptive to the idea that something supernatural occurred, even though there are other “possible explanations (like a scientifically advanced alien species in an invisible ship brought my grandfather back to life).”

      • Tim Widowfield
        2018-01-21 22:07:27 UTC - 22:07 | Permalink

        We would need to exhaust all possible natural explanations, but even then we’ve only begun. How do we rule out supernatural causes that aren’t gods? Why not many gods?

        • 2018-01-21 22:29:16 UTC - 22:29 | Permalink

          Establishing that something has a supernatural cause (assuming it is possible to execute such an investigation) doesn’t mean this supernatural cause has attributes of a particular type (like being the Judeo-Christian God). Arguing “that” something exists and arguing “what” that thing is like are two different questions. In Philosophy, this is the difference between the “Existential” and the “Essential” aspects of describing something’s Being (in Latin: the “Existentia” and the “Essentia”). I would never try to argue that my raised, zombie grandfather was evidence of the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, just that I was receptive to the idea that something supernatural occurred.

    • Clarke Owens
      2018-01-21 21:42:28 UTC - 21:42 | Permalink

      Yeah, I read the whole thing. A reader above pointed out all the logical flaws (straw man, etc.). It’s always ad hominem with people like that. Atheists are dishonest, bad people, and so on. Ho hum.

      • Tim Widowfield
        2018-01-21 22:17:14 UTC - 22:17 | Permalink

        In these situations, it’s difficult to know where to start. They’re clearly not serious about it, but we feel compelled somehow to respond. Even now I have the urge to post something.

  • Marty
    2018-01-21 23:47:15 UTC - 23:47 | Permalink

    You guys think your so smart! You are looking in the wrong direction and asking all the wrong questions. Your spinning your wheels trying to prove that God exist. What you need to do, and then you will really be counted as the smartest of all men…….. is to prove that God does exist! In case you need me to break this down for you, your wasting your time and energy, you will never prove either. But I bet a few minutes after you die, and you will….. you will know the answer!

    • Tim Widowfield
      2018-01-22 16:35:04 UTC - 16:35 | Permalink

      I will never know if this is satire or not.

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