The Atheistic Argument from Apathy
June 10, 2014 — 22:30

Author: Jeremy Gwiazda  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: ,   Comments: 31

Roughly speaking, I’ve heard the following argument a few times recently:

1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.

2. After careful consideration, I don’t care whether or not God exists.

3. If it were remotely likely that God exists, I would care.

4. Therefore, God most likely does not exist.

Wondering what people think of this ‘argument’? In particular, does 1) add anything to the argument? Does it have any force whatsoever? Is 3) the place to press?

  • What reason is there to think (3) is true?

    June 11, 2014 — 13:34
    • AH

      I’m always puzzled by these “probablistic” arguments for atheism. What does it even mean to suggest that the existence of God is likely or unlikely? This seems particularly troubling consider God is proposed as a necessary entity, whose existence either obtains in all possible worlds or in none.

      I agree with Irish Thomist that the arguer conflates epistemology with ontology, suggesting that his emotive state has some ontological bearing on the “likelihood” (whatever that means) of God’s existence.

      I further agree with J J Lowder that the operative question regards what reasons exist for adherence to 3), which, as formulated, suggests the arguer’s possession of care is a necessary condition of God’s being likely to exist. It follows from transposition, that his/her lack of care is a sufficient condition for God’s being unlikely. These seem almost obviously false, since the arguer’s existence or lack thereof would not in any way impinge upon the likelihood of God’s existence. If God is not unlikely given the non-existence of the arguer, it would follow a fortiori that God is not unlikely given the arguer’s apathy.
      There seem to be a host of other ostensibly true states of affairs that would equally mitigate the force of this “argument.”

      It seems to me that the inference that the arguer is trying to express here is: If God exists, he probably would not create a world in which I lack concern for His existence. This is also highly anthropocentric and egocentric, assuming that God’s purpose for existence is in some way defined by humans and, even more audaciously, the arguer. A God who is defined in such a way, it seems cannot possibly possess aseity.

      July 6, 2014 — 22:44
  • (2) is the premise to press. It is contradictory on its face. If you have given the question of God’s existence ‘careful’ consideration than you obviously ‘care’ about the answer.

    June 11, 2014 — 15:00
    • I agree. I think it might also be good to add some specifics on what/who “God” is. It is easy, on the one hand, to be casual about the possibility of the existence of some remote tribal deity. I’m not particularly concerned, for example, over whether or not the Norse god Baldur exists. Whether there is a Being beyond being who is the ultimate source of existence, however, is a rather important question.

      July 13, 2014 — 18:51
    • Scott

      Yes, #2 seems contradictory. I wonder if we can change the argument so that it still works in the face of this objection. Something like…

      (1) As above,

      (2) (a) I carefully considered whether or not God exists, and after consideration found that I no longer cared that God exists, (or)
      (b) There has been a point in my life where I didn’t care if God existed or not.

      (3) If God exists, then (2) is impossible, or (2) would never have happened.

      (4) Therefore, God does not exist.

      This would then place all of the stress on arguments burden on (3), which while not persuasive to me, I think it gives the argument more weight.

      August 29, 2014 — 20:17
  • Rob

    I have the same question as Jeffrey above. I would also like to understand what work premise 1 is doing in the argument. I don’t see any inference being made from it. Perhaps it would be more natural to conjoin it with 2?

    As far as the substance of the argument goes, 3 seems to just be a disguised way of saying that after considering the relevant arguments/evidence, I don’t find God’s existence to be very likely. That just sounds like table-pounding and not any kind of interesting argument.

    June 11, 2014 — 22:24
  • It reminds me of Arthur Prior’s puzzle about the logic of imperatives (in “On Some Proofs of the Existence of God”):

    If God exists, go to Church;
    But don’t go to Church;
    Therefore God doesn’t exist.

    If God doesn’t exist, don’t go to Church;
    But go to Church;
    Therefore God exists.

    He comments: “I must confess that I am a little uneasy about these; though I must also confess that it is not at all clear to me why I should be uneasy about them. So I just put this up as a problem.”

    June 12, 2014 — 0:39
  • Jeremy Gwiazda

    Interesting idea that it may be impossible for 2) to be true. It seems to me though, that someone could care about a topic, and then at a later time, not care.

    With 3), I take the idea to be that it is important for the arguer to have correct beliefs about important features of the world. God’s existence would be such an important feature of the world. The not caring/worrying is therefore indicative of a low probability of existence. The following doesn’t strike me as totally off-the-wall (I’ve dropped premise 1 and modified 2):

    2. After careful consideration, I don’t worry at all about whether there is 10 tons of gold in my backyard.
    3. If it were remotely likely that there were 10 tons of gold in my backyard, I would care.
    4. Therefore, 10 tons of gold are very unlikely to exist in my backyard.

    Imagine a person who buys a property in the hopes that there may be gold in the backyard. But after thinking about it, considering arguments, and doing some experiments, they come to not care/worry. This does seem to tie in with Rob’s point – why then talk about the caring/worrying instead of the thinking/evidence? One reason could be that the thoughts, evidence, and arguments are too complex to summarize or grasp in their entirety. Therefore the not caring/worrying is standing in as a proxy for the total evidence.

    June 12, 2014 — 7:54
  • I guess I’d wonder how to interpret (2). Surely, one can care about answering the question, “does God exist?”, without caring about what the answer turns out to be. This happens all the time with other topics. For example, I am interested in understanding causation, but I don’t care one whit what the best account of causation will turn out to be. So, if regularity theory (or something like it) turns out to be correct, that’s fine. If not, also fine. I just want to know, whatever the answer—but I don’t care what the answer actually is.

    June 12, 2014 — 20:31
  • I like your gold example because I think it shows how one should interpret (3) and why it makes sense given that interpretation. The upshot, though, is that the argument is more about the person’s psychology than about whether God exists.

    Take the (3) from your gold example. It seems more natural to interpret it as “If I thought it remotely likely that there were 10 tons of gold in my backyard, I would care.” However, their not caring just turns out to reveal their own psychological state, whether they knew it or not. Namely, they don’t think it is remotely like that there is 10 tons of gold in their backyard (or, God exists).

    Maybe a different reading of (3) is actually meant, but then the calls for support seem to flow naturally.

    In the end, I think it’s arguments like these that are open to so many differing interpretations that makes analytic philosophy look so necessary.

    June 12, 2014 — 22:24
  • Jeremy Gwiazda

    Good points.
    Makes me think too that some sort of ‘broken sensus divinitatus’ reply could be made. Wonder if that tells more against 2) or 3) or both equally.

    June 13, 2014 — 15:13
  • A. Consider the low probability event type T that tomorrow aliens will come and torture me and all those close to me to death. I assign negligible probability to T, maybe even (irrationally?) zero. But there surely is a sense in which I care a lot about whether T occurs. After all, it’s very important to me whether T occurs. There is, however, another sense in which I don’t care. I don’t investigate whether T will occur, I don’t stay up wondering whether T will occur, and so on. While I have a strong motivation to make T not occur, as can be brought out by thought experiments, I have little feeling of wanting that T not happen.

    We might, thus, distinguish between motivating care and felt care. I have significant motivating care whether T. I have little felt care whether T.

    Now with this distinction, we can ask which kind of care is in the argument.

    B. In 3, the “remotely likely” seems to be a subjective probability. But then the only conclusion you can draw is that your subjective probability of God’s existence is very low. However, the interesting question isn’t whether your subjective probability of God’s existence is very low, but whether it should be very low.

    June 13, 2014 — 15:38
  • Jeremy Gwiazda

    Good points, and along the lines of some of the other comments. Definitely seems that some clarification would be needed, if the argument has any hopes of getting anywhere. In a social context, there does seem to be an asymmetry in that many people believing something may very well provide evidence for it, whereas many people being apathetic about something seems to provide no evidence against it.

    With A., I am having some trouble with the distinction. Does this have to be a mutually exclusive and exhaustive division of care that you made? Or, where do you think it fits? I am thinking of someone who would love to have eternal life and who would ‘work’ for it if some sort of Pascal’s Wager type reasoning seemed warranted, but ‘runs the numbers’ and doesn’t find it worth caring about, and thereby concludes that God does not exist. So with 3) and using hyperreals maybe something like, sure, belief brings N as the reward, an infinite number, but the probability of such a reward is 1/(N*N), and so the expected value just doesn’t pan out.

    June 16, 2014 — 9:45
  • Michael Almeida

    I don’t think (2) is impossible. I’m sure I’ve had that indifference. I do wonder about (3), but I might be misreading it.

    3. If it were remotely likely that God exists, I would care.

    Does (3) state (implicitly) that,

    3′. If it were remotely likely that God exists and I knew that, then I would care.

    If so, then your not caring whether God exists entails only that either it is not remotely likely that he does or that you don’t know that it is remotely likely. On the other hand, (3) seems incredible if it claims that the mere fact that it is remotely likely that God exists—whether or not you know about it—is sufficient for your caring that God exists. That’s surely not true.

    It’s an additional question whether even (3′) is true. It might be (at least) remotely likely that God exists and you might know that, and you still might not care. You might not care in the sense that you might not come to believe or hope or act as though God exists. You might, as Tom Nagel says, wish that God did not exist, even granted the evidence that he does (Nagel notes (maybe ‘laments’ is the word) how many of his reasonable friends are believers).

    June 16, 2014 — 11:17
  • John Alexander

    It seems to me that if 2 is true then 3 is false as part of thinking carefully about God should including considering the remote possibility that he exists as a reason for caring that He exists and that idea has already been rejected by 2. I do not think that 2 leads to atheism if that means thinking that God does not exist, but only to some form of rejectionism where one has already rejected caring whether or not God exists for reasons that seem relevant to that person. Dr. Rieux on Camus’ The Plague seems to take this position.

    June 16, 2014 — 15:45
  • Philip

    As has been insinuated, I suspect that this is the argument from hiddenness in disguise. Not caring after careful consideration seems to be wrapped up in an epistemic problem. Like giving up on your math homework because it’s just not going anywhere.

    I think you might make the argument unique by eliminating 1 and replacing 2 with its contrary ‘Without any careful consideration, I don’t care whether or not God exists.’ It would seem a strange fact if God existed for humans to have no initial impulse to look for him. Without any initial impulse, it would seem they would have no chance of finding him whatsoever. Initial care seems to be more likely in a theistic world than sustained care.

    ‘You have made us for yourself O God, and our hearts are pretty much fine until they find rest in you.’

    June 17, 2014 — 13:44
  • it is a valid modus tollens argument. the simplified way goes like this:
    I.if there is a God, i would care.
    II. but i don’t care.
    III. so, there is no God.
    but i think the 2nd premise is questionable. “After careful consideration, I don’t care whether or not God exists.”
    but the 1st premise is “I have thought a lot about religion and God.” this means I do care about God. the evidence is that i did give this argument!
    roughly, it is as Augustine said, we were created to seek the creator’s face, and our hears never rest until we seek Him. and in Calvin’s word, we have a kind of sensu divinitatus. even we denying God, it means we care about God.

    June 19, 2014 — 9:02
    • John Alexander

      There seems to be some ambiguity in how we understand ‘care.’ Does it not make sense to maintain that one can care enough to be interested in seriously investigating the question of God’s existence as a open question and as a result of that investigation not caring if God exists? Base on my investigation, I can maintain that (some type of) may well God exits (using some criteria of consistency) , but choose not to believe in that God (Plantinga makes this distinction if I remember correctly). Following an idea from Camus, I can believe that there may be a God, but choose not to believe (accept) Him because of the suffering of innocent children or His remoteness or hiddenness, etc. It seems to me that if we care for something that we are concerned with its well-being. In this sense of ‘care,’ choosing not to believe in Him indicates that I do not care about His well-being. I can maintain that I do not care if there is a God, there may well be one, and choose to not to believe in Him, the consequences be damned.

      June 20, 2014 — 11:25
      • Jeremy Gwiazda

        That sounds right to me.
        I also agree with a number of the comments. I think that the argument doesn’t succeed and that attention must be paid to the meaning of ‘care’. I don’t think that 2) is necessarily contradictory, problematic, self-defeating, etc.

        June 24, 2014 — 9:46
  • The Irish Thomist

    1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.
    2. After careful consideration, I don’t care whether or not God exists.
    3. If it were remotely likely that God exists, I would care.
    4. Therefore, God most likely does not exist.

    This argument conflates our subjective emotional ‘feelings’ with objective ‘exterior’ realities. It has no explanatory
    power whatsoever.

    Consider the following.
    1 is most likely prior to 2 (but may be considered to overlap with 2 in time). If 1 is true then 2 is false at least for a time but if it was true at all that they cared to consider the point it then follows that 2 is false prior to a conclusion of the question (or process of thinking). So when 1 then 2, 2 may in fact be false for a time. If 1 & 2 at the same time then why think about that which you do not care – why careful consideration and much thinking (i.e. at that this point quite clearly they DO care enough to think and consider the points). I do however concede that 2 may not be a self contradiction per se but it can be taken as such – really context plays a big role and taking in to account the complexities of how a person may think about this issue.

    Then however if they conclude prior to 3 that they care not if God exists then how do they not beg the question at 3? Again the argument doesn’t offer any reason to believe God does not exist so at 3 nothing really has been argued apart from someone ‘sharing their mind’.

    Note too the argument ends with a probability statement – the argument doesn’t conclude one way or the other (or really attempt to) but then why not conclude there MIGHT BE a God regardless of the ‘argument’?

    The problems only begin there. After all does this argument as a whole not embody several fallacies at once? Since when did ‘caring’ from a first person perspective make something real or not. If I don’t care if Hitler existed for example, that would not make Hitler vanish into a puff of non-historical smoke. It just says something about me and no more. It would be a projection of our a priori faith into the world. At no point should 1 ‘justify’ the ‘conclusion’ 2 because they merely declare they don’t care (not that they even have REASON not to care – that we assume is a hidden premise, which in fact we need not presume) – so in effect their argument is non-evidential which
    for the scientismist (or empiricist – whatever term they prefer themselves) poses a massive problem. If it is not
    evidence based then we can construct a new argument (a number of which are below). My point rests on the fact they haven’t concluded anything but instead decide they don’t care – not that they have considered the topic.
    In any case if apatheist’s really don’t care then why make the argument at all!? Self refuting in the act of arguing the point I think.

    Several Arguments could be made based on this logic;

    Argument A

    1. I have thought a lot about the
    non-existent Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    After careful consideration, I don’t care whether the
    Flying Spaghetti Monster is Non-existent.
    If it were remotely likely that the Flying Spaghetti Monster
    doesn’t exist, I would care.
    4. Therefore,
    the Flying Spaghetti Monster most likely does exist.

    Argument B

    The argument could be
    reduced to one line (not in its logic but in its spirit).

    1.I don’t care anymore, therefore there
    is no God.

    Argument C

    1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.

    2. After careful consideration, I greatly care whether or not God exists.

    3. If it were remotely likely that God doesn’t exist, I wouldn’t care.

    4. Therefore, God most likely does exist.

    Argument D & E

    There could be two or three other parallel arguments. I may (and may not) construct an ‘argument from Faith’ later. A value based argument could also be constructed from this line of reasoning.

    June 25, 2014 — 13:32
    • Jeremy Gwiazda

      A number of these points were made above, and replied to. It is true that care must be taken when presenting arguments — so too in refuting them. For example to the point:

      “Note too the argument ends with a probability statement – the argument doesn’t conclude one way or the other (or really attempt to) but then why not conclude there MIGHT BE a God regardless of the ‘argument’?”

      The simple reply is that people care about probabilities in many circumstances.

      June 26, 2014 — 8:28
      • The Irish Thomist

        True on all counts (I hadn’t read through everything by that point).

        My point was it was a probabilistic type argument like Intelligent Design type arguments – I hope that at least puts what I was saying in its proper context.

        I also feel it does the atheist argument a diservice to use such a weak foundation for an argument i.e. apathy. So when I say I dislike the argument (even in strong terms) it should be taken more as a reflection that I don’t think it adds much when there are much better (and older) arguments – and things on which to construct a new one.

        June 26, 2014 — 11:11
      • The Irish Thomist

        I also agree I overstated the point slightly. It is however a weakness in the argument, as it is also a weakness found in the intelligent design arguments that are often used. It matters that it is only a proposed probability which still leaves the objection “but then there might still be a chance God exists”.

        June 26, 2014 — 11:17
      • The Irish Thomist

        On second thoughts inductive and probabilistic arguments have a lot more going for them than my out of hand dismissal. Certain formulations and foundations of this argument (less so its structure and method) are what goes off the rails a little. It doesn’t quite provide a foundation to change ones mind or the conclusion it set out to argue for (in fact I find it very unconvincing – as I wouldsay for an argument from faith alone for God).

        June 30, 2014 — 11:14
  • The Irish Thomist

    I.if there is a God, i would care.
    II. but i don’t care.
    III. so, there is no God.

    Kingwen’s version and other variations of this argument should also be examined. Do you have any examples/variations of this argument Jeremy (or anyone else) that you think might change the way we might approach it?

    II. here the argument is taking for granted in a sense what needs to be proven. In other words the person has taken for granted the truth of their apatheism/atheism which they have to prove and inserting it as a premise. There caring should be based on God’s existing as per I. not God’s existing based on there caring as per II.

    June 25, 2014 — 13:48
  • Rus Bowden

    1. I have thought a lot about relationships and if there is a girl for me.

    2. After careful consideration, I don’t care whether or not the right girl exists.

    3. If it were remotely likely that she existed, I would care.

    4. Therefore, she most likely does not exist.

    July 4, 2014 — 12:00
    • The Irish Thomist

      So this argument you offer is value based as in ‘right’ or ‘meant for’ rather than saying something is ‘true’, ‘false’ or probable?

      Your argument brings out in the ‘AAA’ argument how its kind of like throwing ones hands up and giving up on the issue before ‘acting’ upon it (I will leave that open to your interpretation). To consider the point is important, but what if to consider the point and thinking about it isn’t done in a very evidential way (which could include experience), does the question not arise what stops cognitive bias and so on from guiding someone to 4 (the same can be argued both ways in a number of situations but I mean with this argument specifically). I suppose it isn’t the whole story which makes one think is there a connection between existing theistic arguments FOR God’s existence. I had been thinking that maybe some ontological argument could fall if formulated this way (if you happen to think any of them work). It reminds me (the argument from Apathy that is) somewhat of Pascal’s Wager at 3 & 4 (not I may add in a direct linguistic or structural way).

      July 4, 2014 — 13:35
  • The Irish Thomist

    Agnostic Argument from Apathy

    1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.
    2. After careful consideration, the evidence suggests it is unlikely God exists.*
    3. God likely does not exist, therefore I do not care.

    I have adapted and combined elements here.

    *I have changed this to frame the evidential more so than ‘considering’ etc.

    1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.

    2. If it were likely that God exists, I would care.*

    3. After careful consideration, I don’t care whether or not God exists.

    4. Therefore, God may or likely may not exist but I do not care.

    My point in changing the order is to see if the premises indeed provide a reason to believe a given conclusion. I have altered 2. as well since the word ‘remotely’ may not in fact add anything to the argument apart from rhetorical force (this I am mentioning only to discuss).

    July 4, 2014 — 13:57
    • The Irish Thomist

      The use of the word Agnostic here is very loose to also embrace an agnostic apatheism.

      July 4, 2014 — 13:59
    • Rus Bowden

      Hi I.T.,

      Your #1 supports #2, and indicates that the “care” given has included a lot of thought. However, it is not necessary because #3 includes “careful consideration” which I take to be synonymous with the lot of thought, plus the idea of caring. To be clear, and not have your reader hunt for untintended fine lines, I would rather see #3 say “After this careful consideration” or “After such careful consideration”.

      But there is your #3, which adds to the development of ideas “I don’t care whether or not God exists”. Again, the editor in me wants to delete “or not”, as “whether” does the full work of “whether or not”, sort of like saying that you had fries with your value meal, when every know that ther are no substitutions, and the value meal includes fries.

      Let me recast the way I read it before moving on:

      1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.

      2. If it were likely that God exists, I would care.

      3. After such careful consideration, I don’t care whether God exists.

      4. Therefore, God may or likely may not exist but I do not care.

      Okay, #4 is a wrong statement. It cannot be true. The conclusion to reach from #1, 2 & 3, is that it is unlikely that God exists. #2 is explicit in saying so, or as the Jeremy’s #4 says, “Therefore, God most likely does not exist.”

      I believe you want to say in your #4, “Therefore, even though God may exist, he more likely does not, but I do not care.” The last clause, “but I do not care,” becomes overly redundant, and makes this quite conversational, as if the speaker was asked by someone in passing, “Hey, bub, does God exist?” The speaker seems to care about answering the question, but not about the question itself. Either way, it can be deleted.

      So let me “edit” for these latter points:

      1. I have thought a lot about religion and God.

      2. If it were likely that God exists, I would care.

      3. After such careful consideration, I don’t care whether God exists.

      4. Therefore, even though God may exist, he more likely does not.

      The agnosticism is clear. What’s not clear from the argument itself, is whether apathy, an emotion, drove both the argument and the conclusion. The apathy may have been a result of years of the finest “careful consideration”. In other words, #2 would read, clearly and specifically “If it were likely that God exists, I would not be apathetic.” Instead of a #2a something like, “If the Holocaust had not occurred, I would not be apathetic about God.”

      We cannot, however, get around the personal nature of the argument, the crisis of faith. There is nothing except the emotional and cognitive state of the arguer that supports the conclusion. Even if this is stated by the one person considered most intelligent in the world, who sacrificed her entire life to find the conclusion, all the rest of us can ever say is that this Jane Genius said that God most likely does not exist.

      Here’s a poem I wrote some years ago that deals with such likelihoods from smart people:


      Blue Luge

      Two guys are on a park bench arguing about whether God exists.

      Harry says there’s no God, that when you die, you get zilched. Freddy says when you die, you go to God in Heaven.

      A lightning bolt strikes and takes them both, one at a time, in what can be described as an upwards luge in blue, snowlike only more fun. It’s a blast, in fact.

      They get to the landing laughing, and are ushered into a line, waiting to get to a desk, as if at a busy country airport.

      Harry admits he was wrong. Freddy gloats.

      They get to the desk, and sure enough, the guy’s name there is Peter. Peter’s sending Harry back with a message of peace and love for the world.

      Freddy asks Peter, “So, when do I meet God?”

      Peter explains that, there in Heaven, there are far more and better philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists than live on Earth, indeed the greatest ever. And they pretty much agree that the chance of there being a God is zero.

      July 4, 2014 — 21:26
      • The Irish Thomist

        I admit I hadn’t put as much thought into it (or time). What I was really trying to get at (and I think your reformulation tends to suggest more so) is that the original argument as a whole does not offer great explanatory power, nor do its premises on their own. It could argue (with very slight modification) for any number of things (including for God, unicorns riding rainbows and so forth). So something in it seemed amiss. I think I have looked at and said everything I’m going to about it now – while awaiting new blog posts.

        I thought about whether a parallel argument from faith would work but it doesn’t since the concepts are not similar enough nor are they opposites (it could be done but the concepts aren’t opposites so I didn’t see the point). I might add that an argument from faith would also be a poorly reasoned argument and a shaky foundation (‘Because I believe therefore God exists’ – kind of idea).

        July 6, 2014 — 15:32
  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *