A common pair of questions asked in apologetics and counter-apologetics circles are “what is the best argument for god from the perspective of an atheist?” and “what is the best argument against god from the perspective of a theist?”
I don’t want to consider this particular couplet, but another related one, namely “what is the best argument for god?” and “what is the worst argument for god?”
Of course, I need to be able to provide an answer myself, so here goes:
Best argument for god
From my perspective, that would have to be personal experience. I wrote a series of responses to WLC’s various logical arguments, but I didn’t respond to his occasional appeals to personal experience. If a theist truly believes that he has interacted with the divine, then no amount of logical wrangling or rhetoric is likely to shift him.
Worst argument for god
From my perspective again, that would have to be the threat of death. By this I don’t mean “if you don’t believe in god then you will not be rewarded with eternal life”. I mean something like “if you don’t believe in my god, particularly if you previously believed or claimed to have believed, then I will kill you”. If you threaten me with death if I don’t believe in flying monkeys (and I believe that your threat is credible), then I am likely to assure you that I do in fact believe in flying monkeys. I won’t actually believe, of course, but if you are so obsessed with flying monkeys that you want me to believe in them and are willing to kill me, you possibly won’t notice my deception. If I am an external observer, and I notice that your supposedly faithful disciples are actually just in fear for their lives, then I am going to be rather dismissive (albeit quietly) about the likelihood that flying monkeys exist.
What does this say about me?
I think that this is possibly the most interesting aspect of the exercise. What I consider to be the best argument can be characterised as “coming from within” while what I consider to be the worst argument is imposed from without.
Despite my love of dismantling the so-called “logical” arguments of theists, logic doesn’t seem to play a part in what I consider to be the best and the worst arguments. Equally, effectiveness of the arguments doesn’t seem to matter, since I don’t think that “best” argument would be effective for me – even if I experienced what could be considered a brush with the divine, since I’d be likely to consider it an aberration rather than anything veridical. No-one who is not crazy, so far as I can tell, has a constant impression of being in contact with a god. The “worst” argument could be highly effective, as far as I know – through a form of “fake it until you make it” or Stockholm syndrome (note that it seems that proselytising acts to lock people in to a belief-set, so “Recruit or die” might be more effective than “Believe or die”).
It’d be interesting to see what the axis of best and worst is for other people.