God VS Air
As an atheist, I have encountered many arguments offered by believers for the existence of their version of god. These arguments are, of course, completely without merit, as you would expect from people arguing without any sort of supporting evidence. It’s difficult to say which argument is the dumbest, because there’s no reasonable way to argue for the unreasonable.
One of these especially poorly thought out arguments goes something like this:
“So what if you can’t see god? You can’t see air either, but you believe that it’s real.”
I’ve been offered this argument from Christians and Muslims. I imagine adherents to other religions would likewise offer this sort of argument; it just happens that I haven’t personally run across any such people. In the US, most theists are Christian, so they’re the ones most likely to offer me this argument. I was only offered this argument in person by a Muslim because I was in Qatar at the time, which is an Islamic nation. What I’m saying is, this argument is not nearly as clever or unique as the people who offer it seem to think it is.
In the past, I’ve countered the argument in a number of was:
1. By pointing out that the statement is a logical fallacy called a non sequitor argument. Non sequitor comes from Latin, meaning “it does not follow.” Basically, a person is saying that this one non-visible thing (air) exists, therefore so does this other non-visible thing (god.) To illustrate the flaw in this, suppose I said “You can’t see unicorns, but you can’t see air either!” No one will be convinced by that because we understand that just because one thing exists does NOT mean that some other unrelated thing exists.
2. I would again mention that adherents to other religions could well make the same argument. To a proselytizing Christian, I could recount the story of when a proselytizing Muslim gave me that very same “air” argument, only he was arguing for Allah (which is actually the same god of Abraham, just a different version.) I would then point out that, at this revelation, the Christian is not convinced to convert to Islam. Nor is he convinced to convert to Unicornism.
3. The most obvious and frequently-used way to counter the “air” argument is by pointing out that we can prove the existence of air in a number of ways. Even first graders can prove that air exists with simple experiments. More than that, we actually can see air. Then, when I’m done listing every single evidence I can think of to demonstrate the existence of air, I point out that there is no evidence for god, therefore making the two incomparable.
Having given the argument much thought though, I’ve decided that, while all of these responses are correct and are more than sufficient to keep an atheist from being convinced to convert, none of them really do much about the theist. Allow me to explain.
Responses 1 and 2 deal with logic. Religious belief is, by nature, illogical. On some level, the theist probably realizes this, at least to some degree. So they won’t hear any argument that other religions say the same thing. They’re conditioned to think that even if other religions make the same arguments, only their own religion is correct about it. As for the non-sequitor, well, that’s all the theist has to resort to using as he has no evidence, which is the point.
Response 3, proving air, is trivial. The theist already accept the existence of air and, in making this argument, is confident that you accept air as well. He can be reasonably sure of this because he is well aware of the evidence of air. Since he has no evidence for god, and he has no evidenced for god, else he would provide that, he tries to put god on the same level of reality as air by making the false comparison.
So, I’ve decided that the best course of action is to surprise the hell out of a theist. Since we realize his expectation and reasoning, he can turn it against him and maybe even demonstrate that he is not actually as confident in god himself as he is in air.
What we do is simple, we deny air. In my head, the scenario goes something like this. Your own mileage may vary.
Theist: “You can’t see air either, but you know that it’s real.”
Athiest: “Of course I believe in air. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a moment that I really don’t believe in the existence of air. How might you go about convincing me?”
Assuming the theist actually plays along instead of, perhaps realizing his flaw already, and/or responding with insults, he might answer by listing off evidences for the existence for air. The theist might not mention the fact that yes, we can see air, however. When viewing air underwater, you observe bubbles. One might argue that you’re not really seeing air, but the space where water isn’t.
However, you can easily see air by looking up. Air is made of matter, it just happens that it’s not very dense. If you look through enough of it, you’ll be able to see that there is something there. Look up at the daytime sky. From Earth, the daytime sky is blue. However, when viewed from the moon, the daytime sky only shows the sun and stars against the blackness of space. Why is that? It’s because we live under an atmosphere. If you understand how vision works, you understand that when you see an object, what you’re really seeing is light bouncing off of that object and into your eye. When you see a blue sky, you are seeing the light being bounced off of and scattered by the air. You observe blue because that particular wavelength happens to be scattered the furthest.
However, there are plenty of other evidences of air which your theist would easily be able to provide. They would probably mention that we can physically feel moving air, we can even be thrown by it. We can observe other objects being affected by air currents as well. We can objectively measure the speed and direction of that air movement. We can use our understanding of air movement in a number of ways, including predicting weather patterns, moving sail boats, and powering wind turbines. We can even create our own air movement by use of fans, propellers, and impellers. Manipulating and creating air movement has allowed us to use aircraft and hovercraft.
We can also feel air in another way, by sensing its temperature. We can also observe air temperature causing objects to change physical states (objects freezing, melting, or steaming.) We can even objectively measure air temperature through the use of thermometers, and have different measurement standards for doing so. We’re able to use our knowledge of temperature to predict air pressure and movement. We can also manipulate air temperature and predict the effects of doing so, allowing us to use this ability to cook in ovens, have air-conditioned homes, preserve food, and fly hot air balloons.
We also feel air pressure. We’re so used to feeling a particular range of air pressures within our atmosphere that we might not be aware that we feel air pressure, however, if we were suddenly placed in a vacuum, the effects on the human body would be very noticeable. We can measure barometric pressure, and we use this to predict weather and to adjust the altimeters on aircraft. Additionally, we can measure and manipulate air pressure in containers. Doing so has allowed us to properly inflate vehicle tires and the skirts of hovercraft, operate air-powered machines, bring breathable air with us as we explore the depths of our oceans, and has allowed us to travel safely in space.
The fact that we can contain air is further proof that it’s a physical thing. As I said, we contain air in balloons, paper bags, bubbles, as well as tires, aircraft compartments, machines, and SCUBA tanks that I’ve already mentioned. And I already mentioned that we can manipulate the pressure in these containers, allowing for passenger comfort in aircraft, portable breathable air, efficient transportation, moving parts, air guns, air bombs, and popped balloons.
Once we have determined that air is composed of matter, we can figure out what that matter is, what gasses make up its composition, and we can measure what quantities we find different gasses. We’ve been able to determine that the air around us here is about 78% Nitrogen, and 20% Oxygen. We’ve discovered how important oxygen is in our respiration as well as in the operation of combustion engines, and we have noticed the difference in available oxygen as we move higher and lower in altitude. We’ve also been able to weigh different gasses, discovering that Hydrogen and Helium are much lighter than Oxygen and Nitrogen, a knowledge that has allowed us to make blips, zeppelins, and balloons float. Understanding the composition of air has uses in chemistry. We can, for example, create gasses through chemical reactions. We create CO2 simply by mixing vinegar and baking soda.
Yes, these are examples of what our theist friend would probably provide. You’ll notice that, the theist resorted immediately to using evidence to prove air, just as anyone would. I think that’s a reasonable thing to expect from anyone, even a theist.
You’ll notice, however, it’s not likely that a theist will respond by arguing “Well, you can’t see air, but you can’t see atoms either!” And they won’t further go on saying “You can’t see this thing X, but you can’t see thing Y either,” going down the list of non-visible things until they find something that you will accept. Such a response would be silly. When people can back their arguments up with solid evidence, they do. There is no need to rely on non sequitior arguments or word games for things that actually do exist.
As the theist’s “air” argument is used instead of providing evidence, it’s an admission on the theist’s part that they don’t really have any convincing evidence, especially not on the same level as we have for the existence of air. In doing this, the theist is, without even realizing it, admitting that even they do not believe in god as much as they believe in air. They realize that I, like they, believe in air based on science and reason, things that their belief in god lacks.