I am currently a college student with a strong interest in apologetics. I’ve seen that, by and large, the arguments that apologists use seem to have shown themselves logically sound and hard to disprove despite decades or centuries of them being around. So the theist’s arguments seem to have many strong points. What would be considered the “weak spots” of the apologetic arguments? What arguments might the skeptic use that have the most potential to show that theism is false and that God does not exist?
Thank you. (Shawn)
This is a very interesting question since it seems to me that I’d have to be showing those at the table what my hand is. There are few weak spots in apologetic arguments and I think the two I see most concerning are 1) poor methodology and 2) theoretical implications for parts of the arguments/defense.
Let’s first look at some poor methodology. Most arguments you’ll find in the deductive, inductive, or abductive form. I’m a staunch proponent of abductive arguments. Here’s an example of William Lane Craig’s fine-tuning argument.
In a correct deductive argument if the premises are true the conclusion is true regardless of whether or no further evidence is considered. There must be a reasonable connection or relationship between the conditions in a deductive argument (in the instance of implication). Consider the argument, as modus ponens, that if the moon’s core is made of cheese then my desk is made out of mahogany. What relationship do these two conditions have? The truth-value is valid (F-T-T). However, I recognize that this is merely a preference, which is, at times, convenient. When making a novel explanans and prediction the relationship between the conditions may not be epistemically evident.
There are generally three options, which are often considered as an explanation for the fine-tuning data: chance, necessity, a combination of chance and necessity, or a fine-tuner. One immediate problem in implementing explanatory options in a deductive manner is that the first premise may be false wherein it may be lacking in options and the argument still is valid. When these options are used in a [strict] deductive argument it may appear as:
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
- It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
- Therefore, it is due to design.
From the very onset of the argument it may be unsound. Perhaps there are more options to be considered in premise 1. It would still be valid but how strong of an argument, or how convincing, would it be if the options given were restricted? An objector could merely appeal to an option not given, whatever that may be, perhaps 1 is not exhaustive or nuanced enough, and the argument rests stillborn from the very beginning.
In regards to this specific argument, if the hypothesis of mindless chance processes entailed that it is impossible that cosmic environments are brought about to allow for biological evolution to occur and for organisms exhibit delicate adaptations, then a quick application of modus Tollens would sweep that hypothesis from consideration by merely positing not-mindless chance. However, it is not impossible that mindless chance processes should produce cosmic environments suitable for cosmic evolution and biological evolution to occur. It is merely improbable that such conditions should be brought about. The manner in which Craig presents this argument has a hidden premise of induction or abduction. The problem is that it is not clear. This hidden premise could be taken as induction or abduction and with no explication it weakens the case more than it already was by setting it up in a deductive manner.
Another brief weak point is not using the cumulative case approach for the argument. Each argument alone cannot arrive at the conclusion that God exists. The cosmological argument gets you an uncaused cause. The fine-tuning argument gets you a fine-tuner, an extremely intelligent being. The moral argument gets you a morally perfect person. These by themselves do not arrive at God but when used in a cumulative case together they present a sufficient argument for God. The resurrection of Jesus is what gets us from theism to Christian theism. I think it’s important to use the cumulative case approach even with the resurrection argument so that the possibility of a God being responsible for Jesus’ resurrection is a viable option for the best explanation. We can’t always expect them to think the best explanation for the resurrection is God when they don’t think it’s possible for God to exist.
Is this a major defeater for the whole of Christian apologetics? I don’t think so. However, it does require attention and nuancing so we can build stronger arguments. In my previous Q&A on Scientism and Inference to the Best Explanation I also discuss methodological concerns relating to the philosophy of science.
Concerning the best argument for atheism, I think they can take a couple approaches. The first would be the problem of evil. That’s really the atheist’s only positive argument. A weak spot here for the Christian is to not take the problem of evil seriously and just play some cheap-Christian punt card. The Christian should be invested into the issue since the problem of evil should be an even bigger issue for the Christian than for the unbeliever, in my opinion. I know it’s a major problem for me but that’s not to say that I don’t know how to respond to it.
Secondly, I have to bring up the issue of defining atheism. If the atheist wants to say that atheism is simply a lack of belief then I’m not really interest in having such a dialogue since that refers to one’s psychological disposition. If we take atheism to be what it’s traditionally defined as, “the belief that God does not exist,” then there’s only one methodological approach for the atheist to take. To say that God does not exist is to make a universal negative claim. It’s often said that such claims cannot be proven. However, I beg to differ. What the atheist needs to do is demonstrate that God is logically impossible–that’s the only way to demonstrate the truth of a universal negative claim. Whether this is done through the problem of evil or some other means is totally up to him and his arguments.
I hope I answered your questions. I hope that you’re able to use these weak points in the apologetic dialogue and buffer them with strong argument and rigorous research and methodology.
 An abductive argument may appear in a deductive manner (i.e. disjunctive) but that does not necessitate that it is a deductive argument. I am using the word ‘strict’ to indicate the difference between forming the abductive argument in a similar structure and an actual deductive argument.
 Design could be exchanged for fine-tuning. William Lane Craig uses this form of the argument in Reasonable Faith ed. 3 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 161.
 Elliott Sober, “The Design Argument,” in God and Design ed. Neil A. Manson (New York: Routledge, 2003), 33.