What About the Alternatives?
There are many arguments for the existence of God. Many of the best philosophers in the marketplace today will use various cosmological arguments, teleological arguments (arguments from design) and moral arguments among others. A common tactic from non-believers is to post some alternative explanation and claim that this eliminates the necessity of belief in God.
These alternatives can often seem like very powerful arguments against the Christian faith. It is not without certain problems, however. Before I get to that, though, let us take a short look at why this argument seems to be so powerful.
Part of the reason that this type of thing seems to work so well is because most people do not enjoy looking as if they are ignorant or did not think of something that someone else did. This is particularly true when the one offering objections makes it seem as though their point should be obvious. When this happens, people get nervous and they often reflexively go on the defensive, which usually causes them to start giving very bad counter-arguments.
While someone continues to ask questions that they had not thought to ask, they will allow these questions to cast doubt on their own conclusions about what they believe. J. P. Moreland discusses this very well in a lecture he did for Biola University’s Certificate of Apologetics program. He also offers a very good suggestion for how to handle yourself when something like this happens.
Dr. Moreland suggests that rather than shoulder the burden of such unanswered questions and become anxious about the fact that we had not thought to ask them, we simply need to turn the tables. What he recommends is that we respond by asking what reasons our objector might have for believing the alternative explanation that they have to offer.
Let’s take a look at an example.
As I mentioned, one of the more popular arguments in favor of the existence of God is the argument from design. I won’t get into a great deal of detail here, but the basic gist of the design argument is that the universe appears to be exquisitely designed to function in a certain way so that it can sustain life. If any of several physical attributes of the universe were even infinitesimally changed, the universe would not be able to sustain life. One very simple observation when faced with what appears to be design is that it requires a designer. This designer, according to most theists, would be God.
In order to argue against this somewhat common-sense conclusion, some have offered an alternative hypothesis. It is sometimes called the “Many Worlds” or the “Multiverse” theory. According to this theory, there are an infinite number of universes in which these various constants (e.g. gravitational force, the weight of a proton, the charge of an electron, the strong force, the weak force, etc.) are randomly ordered. In this event, with an infinite number of universes, this removes the insurmountable odds of having just a single universe in which all of these cosmological constants are fine tuned just-so in order to be life permitting.
The problem is, there is no way to see, visit, test or otherwise compare or even verify that these other universes exist. It is simply a theory posited to get around the design argument. So, if someone brings up this multiverse theory as a way of arguing against the necessity of God to design our own universe, Dr. Moreland’s advice would be to ask what evidence they have to show the existence of these alternative universes. Best of luck to them.
What it comes down to is this…Just because someone has an alternative explanation for something, that does not have any effect on the truth value of the original claim unless the alternative explanation can be shown to be true. Not only that, but it has to be shown that being true necessarily renders the original claim false. In some cases, an alternative explanation may be true and the original claim may also be true.
So, do not feel as if you have been caught flat-footed when someone tries to debunk your faith. Let them show that their alternate explanation is true and that it proves your belief false. You will likely find that this is a great deal more difficult than most people (or any, if the Christian faith is objectively true) are able to do.
Another thing is to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Even if a claim someone makes is true, and even if it shows your belief about a particular thing to be false, be sure to identify what follows from that. As Moreland states in his lecture, if it was proven that Jesus had not risen from the dead, this would do nothing to his faith in the existence of God. It would merely nullify his faith in Christianity.
What are some alternative explanations that you have heard that attempt to refute Christian claims?
Grace, love and peace.