http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/atheisticproofs.html

 

Arguments for Atheism

Though the history of the philosophy of religion has been dominated by attempts to prove the existence of God, there also exist a number of arguments that seek to disprove theism. These range from a priori arguments that the concept of God is logically incoherent, to a posteriori arguments that the world is not the way that it would be if God existed. The atheistic proofs section surveys these arguments for atheism.

 

Arguments for Atheism

Within the Arguments for Atheism section, the arguments are arranged under the following headings: “The Presumption of Atheism”, “The Problem of Evil”, “Problems with Omnipotence” (including the paradox of the stone), “Problems with Omniscience”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Immortality”, “Petitionary Prayer”, “The Argument from Autonomy”, and “The Psychogenesis of Religion”.

 

The Presumption of Atheism

Atheists often suggest that theirs is the default position, that there is a presumption of atheism. This places the burden of proof on the theist; if the theist is unable to make a persuasive case for the existence of God, then the atheist is justified in his atheism. The case for the presumption of atheism may be made in two ways, one resulting in a presumption of weak atheism, and the other in a presumption of strong atheism.

 

The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is the problem of reconciling the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God with the existence of a world full of evil and suffering. If God is omniscient then he knows how to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering. If God is omnipotent then he is able to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering. If God is benevolent then he wants to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering. But if God knows how to, is able to and wants to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering, then why does he not do so? The simplest answer is that God does not do so because he does not exist. This is by far the most popular argument for atheism.

 

Problems With Divine Omnipotence

The doctrine of divine omnipotence is the doctrine that God is all-powerful. It is sometimes argued, however, that the concept of omnipotence is paradoxical, logically incoherent, and so that it is logically impossible that there be any being that is omnipotent. This position, if it can be sustained, precludes the existence of God.

 

Problems with Divine Omniscience

The doctrine of divine omniscience is the doctrine that God is all-knowing. The doctrine of divine omniscience, though, faces several philosophical objections; there are a number of arguments in the philosophy of religion that purport to demonstrate that God cannot possibly know everything. These include arguments that the doctrine of divine omniscience is logically incoherent, that it is inconsistent with the further Christian doctrine of divine impeccability (i.e. the doctrine that God cannot sin), and that it is refuted by the fact of human freedom. If any of these arguments is successful, then there can be no omniscient God.

 

Problems with Divine Justice

The doctrine of divine justice is also subject to criticism. First of all, it appears to conflict with the idea that God is forgiving. A just God sees that each person gets what he or she deserves; a forgiving God sees that some people’s sins go unpunished. Second, the Christian view of heaven and hell appear in many ways to be unjust. Hell, for instance, appears to inflict an infinitely great punishment upon those who are sent there. How, though, can any finite sin deserve infinite punishment? Just punishments and rewards are proportionate to the badness or goodness of the person that deserves them. Heaven and hell though, are all or nothing. They therefore cannot be just.

 

Problems with Immortality

Even if we can make sense of the justice of heaven and hell, there remains a further problem: immortality. Death, by definition, involves the destruction of a person; if a person is not destroyed by death then they did not die. Once destroyed, though, it is unclear whether a person can be recreated. It is possible, no doubt, for there to be a subsequent person, like to them in every respect, but there is no reason to think that that will be the very same person that died, rather than merely a replica of them.

 

Petitionary Prayer

A further doctrinal problem with Christianity concerns petitionary prayer, prayer in which we request that God do something for us. God’s omniscience implies that he will already have taken all of the information about our needs and desires into account when deciding what to do. His benevolence implies that he will act in our best interests unless there is a good reason not to (and if there is such a reason, our prayers will not remove it). Prayer, then, should never change God’s mind; petitionary prayer shouldn’t ever work.

 

The Argument from Autonomy

The argument from autonomy is the argument that the existence of morally autonomous agents is inconsistent with the existence of God, and so that the fact that morally autonomous agents do exist disproves the existence of God. God, if he exists, is worthy of worship. If a being is truly worthy of worship, though, then he is entitled to our unconditional obedience. Moral agents, however, cannot be required to give unconditional obedience to any agent. Moral agency requires autonomy, and so the idea of a moral duty to give up one's autonomy is incoherent; in giving up one's autonomy one would cease to be a moral agent so would cease to have moral duties at all. We cannot, therefore, have a duty of unconditional obedience to any agent, and there therefore cannot be any agent that worthy of worship. There can therefore be no God.

 

The Psychogenesis of Religion

The psychology of religion seeks to explain how patterns of thought in the human mind give rise to religious belief, to give a naturalistic account of religion based on human psychology. Psychology is thus used to explain away religious belief. The most influential critics of religion to have used this approach are Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud.

 

Religion and Memetics

A final critique of religion comes from the field of memetics, and the suggestion that there is a God meme. Memetics seeks to apply the theory of evolution not to biological organisms but to ideas. Ideas, like animals, replicate themselves and compete for survival. The same process of natural selection that ensures that only the fittest animals survive will therefore also ensure that only the fittest ideas survive. Fitness of ideas, though, need not be a guide to truth; fitness is simply the ability to survive and reproduce. If the memetic critique of religion is right, then the success of religion can be fully explained by its preference of faith to reason, and its emphasis on evangelism.

 

http://www.update.uu.se/~fbendz/library/cd_impossible.html

Why the Christian God is Impossible

By Chad Docterman


Taken from:

The Atheist Soapbox (a web-page that has now been taken down)

Published by permission from the author


Note by Fredrik Bendz, Thursday, November 21, 2002:

I get a lot of comments about this essay (mostly rebuttals from christians). Unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to them all, but I read them with great interest. I used to have Chad's email address, but unfortunately, he's changed it without letting me know his new address, so I have no possibility to forward your comments to him. In the future, I intend to create a discussion board where you will be able to discuss this essay online. Until then, please continue to send emails, but don't be disappointed if you don't get a response.


1.                   Introduction

2.                   Perfection seeks even more perfection

3.                   Perfection begets imperfection

4.                   God knowingly creates suffering

5.                   Infinite punishment for finite sins

6.                   Belief more important than actions

7.                   Perfection's imperfect revelation

8.                   The Omniscient changes the future

9.                   The Omniscient is surprised

10.                The conclusion of the matter


Introduction

Christians consider the existence of their God to be an obvious truth. This assumption is false, not only because evidence for the existence of this presumably ubiquitous yet invisible God is lacking, but because the very nature Christians attribute to this God is self-contradictory.

 

Proving a universal negative

Many Christians, as well as atheists, claim that it is impossible to prove a universal negative. For example, while we may not have evidence that unicorns or dragons exist, we cannot prove that they do not exist. Unless we have a complete knowledge of the universe, we must admit the possibility that somewhere in the universe, there might be such creatures.

 

But the claim that omniscience is needed to prove a universal negative presumes that the concept which we are discussing is logically coherent. If the attributes which we assign to a hypothetical object or being are self-contradictory, then we can conclude that it cannot exist, and therefore does not exist. I do not need a complete knowledge of the universe to prove that cubic spheres do not exist. Such objects have mutually-exclusive attributes which make their existence impossible. A cube, by definition, has 8 corners, while a sphere has none. These properties are completely incompatible -- they cannot be held simultaneously by the same object.

I intend to show that the supposed properties of the Christian God Yahweh, like those of a cubic sphere, are incompatible, and by so doing, to demonstrate that Yahweh's existence is an impossibility.

 

Defining YHWH

Christians have endowed their God with all of the following attributes: He is eternal, all-powerful, and created everything. He created all the laws of nature and can change anything by an act of will. He is all-good, all-loving, and perfectly just. He is a personal God who experiences all of the emotions a human does. He is all-knowing. He sees everything past and future.

 

God's creation was originally perfect, but humans, by disobeying him, brought imperfection into the world. Humans are evil and sinful, and must suffer in this world because of their sinfulness. God gives humans the opportunity to accept forgiveness for their sin, and all who do will be rewarded with eternal bliss in heaven, but while they are on earth, they must suffer for his sake. All humans who choose not to accept this forgiveness must go to hell and be tormented for eternity.

 

These attributes of God are related by the Bible, which Christians believe to be the perfect and true Word of God.

 

One verse which many Christians are fond of quoting says that atheists are fools. I intend to show that the above concepts of God are completely incompatible, and reveal the impossibility of all of them being held simultaneously by the same being. There is no foolishness in denying the impossible. Foolishness is worshipping an impossible God.


Perfection seeks even more perfection

What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely?

 

God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete -- it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing the elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.


Perfection begets imperfection

But, for the sake of argument, let's continue. Let us suppose that this perfect God did create the universe. Humans were the crown of his creation, since they were created in God's image and had the ability to make decisions. However, these humans spoiled the original perfection by choosing to disobey God.

 

What!? If something is perfect, nothing imperfect can come from it. Someone once said that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, yet this "perfect" God created a "perfect" universe which was rendered imperfect by the "perfect" humans.

 

The ultimate source of imperfection is God. What is perfect cannot make itself imperfect, so humans must have been created imperfect. What is perfect cannot create anything imperfect, so God must be imperfect to have created these imperfect humans. A perfect God who creates imperfect humans is impossible.

 

The Freewill Argument

The Christians' objection to this argument involves freewill. They say that a being must have freewill to be happy. The omnibenevolent God did not wish to create robots, so he gave humans freewill to enable them to experience love and happiness. But the humans used this freewill to choose evil, and introduced imperfection into God's originally perfect universe. God had no control over this decision, so the blame for our imperfect universe is on the humans, not God.

 

Here is why the argument is weak. First, if God is omnipotent, then the assumption that freewill is necessary for happiness is false. If God could make it a rule that only beings with freewill may experience happiness, then he could just as easily have made it a rule that only robots may experience happiness. The latter option is clearly superior, since perfect robots will never make decisions which could render them or their creator unhappy, whereas beings with freewill could. A perfect and omnipotent God who creates beings capable of ruining their own happiness is impossible.

 

Second, even if we were to allow the necessity of freewill for happiness, God could have created humans with freewill who did not have the ability to choose evil, but to choose between several good options.

 

Third, God supposedly has freewill, and yet he does not make imperfect decisions. If humans are miniature images of God, our decisions should likewise be perfect. Also, the occupants of heaven, who presumably must have freewill to be happy, will never use that freewill to make imperfect decisions. Why would the originally perfect humans do differently?

 

The point remains: the presence of imperfections in the universe disproves the supposed perfection of its creator.


All-good God knowingly creates future suffering

God is omniscient. When he created the universe, he saw the sufferings which humans would endure as a result of the sin of those original humans. He heard the screams of the damned. Surely he would have known that it would have been better for those humans to never have been born (in fact, the Bible says this very thing), and surely this all-compassionate deity would have foregone the creation of a universe destined to imperfection in which many of the humans were doomed to eternal suffering. A perfectly compassionate being who creates beings which he knows are doomed to suffer is impossible.


Infinite punishment for finite sins

God is perfectly just, and yet he sentences the imperfect humans he created to infinite suffering in hell for finite sins. Clearly, a limited offense does not warrant unlimited punishment. God's sentencing of the imperfect humans to an eternity in hell for a mere mortal lifetime of sin is infinitely injust. The absurdity of this infinite punishment appears even greater when we consider that the ultimate source of the human's imperfection is the God who created them. A perfectly just God who sentences his imperfect creation to infinite punishment for finite sins is impossible.


Belief more important than action

Consider all of the people who live in the remote regions of the world who have never even heard the "gospel" of Jesus Christ. Consider the people who have naturally adhered to the religion of their parents and nation as they had been taught to do since birth. If we are to believe the Christians, all of these people will perish in the eternal fire for not believing in Jesus. It does not matter how just, kind, and generous they have been with their fellow humans during their lifetime: if they do not accept the gospel of Jesus, they are condemned. No just God would ever judge a man by his beliefs rather than his actions.


Perfection's imperfect revelation

The Bible is supposedly God's perfect Word. It contains instructions to humankind for avoiding the eternal fires of hell. How wonderful and kind of this God to provide us with this means for overcoming the problems for which he is ultimately responsible! The all-powerful God could have, by a mere act of will, eliminated all of the problems we humans must endure, but instead, in his infinite wisdom, he has opted to offer this indecipherable amalgam of books called the Bible as a means for avoiding the hell which he has prepared for us. The perfect God has decided to reveal his wishes in this imperfect work, written in the imperfect language of imperfect man, translated, copied, interpreted, voted on, and related by imperfect man. No two men will ever agree what this perfect word of God is supposed to mean, since much of it is either self- contradictory, or obscured by enigma. And yet the perfect God expects the imperfect humans to understand this paradoxical riddle using the imperfect minds with which he has equipped us. Surely the all-wise and all-powerful God would have known that it would have been better to reveal his perfect will directly to each of us, rather than to allow it to be debased and perverted by the imperfect language and botched interpretations of man.

 

Contradictory justice

One need look to no source other than the Bible to discover its imperfections, for it contradicts itself and thus exposes its own imperfection. It contradicts itself on matters of justice, for the same just God who assures his people that sons shall not be punished for the sins of their fathers turns around and destroys an entire household for the sin of one man (he had stolen some of Yahweh's war loot). It was this same Yahweh who afflicted thousands of his innocent people with plague and death to punish their evil king David for taking a census (?!). It was this same Yahweh who allowed the humans to slaughter his son because the perfect Yahweh had botched his own creation. Consider how many have been stoned, burned, slaughtered, raped, and enslaved because of Yahweh's skewed sense of justice. The blood of innocent babies is on the perfect, just, compassionate hands of Yahweh.

 

Contradictory history

The Bible contradicts itself on matters of history. A person who reads and compares the contents of the Bible will be confused about exactly who Esau's wives were, whether Timnah was a concubine or a son, and whether Jesus' earthly lineage is through Solomon or his brother Nathan. These are but a few of hundreds of documented historical contradictions. If the Bible cannot confirm itself in mundane earthly matters, how are we to trust it on moral and spiritual matters?

 

Unfulfilled prophecy

The Bible misinterprets its own prophecies. Read Isaiah 7 and compare it with Matthew 1 to find but one of many misinterpreted prophecies of which Christians are either passively or willfully ignorant. The sign given by Isaiah to King Ahaz was meant to assure him that his enemies King Rezin and King Remaliah would be defeated. The prophecy was fulfilled in the very next chapter. Yet Matthew 1 not only misinterprets the word for "maiden" as "virgin," but claims that this already-fulfilled prophecy is fulfilled by the virgin birth of Jesus!

 

The fulfillment of prophecy in the Bible is cited as proof of its divine inspiration, and yet here is but one major example of a prophecy whose intended meaning has been and continues to be twisted to support subsequent absurd and false doctrines. There are no ends to which the credulous will not go to support their feeble beliefs in the face of compelling evidence against them.

 

The Bible is imperfect. It only takes one imperfection to destroy the supposed perfection of this alleged Word of God. Many have been found. A perfect God who reveals his perfect will in an imperfect book is impossible.


The Omniscient changes the future

A God who knows the future is powerless to change it. An omniscient God who is all-powerful and freewilled is impossible.


The Omniscient is surprised

A God who knows everything cannot have emotions. The Bible says that God experiences all of the emotions of humans, including anger, sadness, and happiness. We humans experience emotions as a result of new knowledge. A man who had formerly been ignorant of his wife's infidelity will experience the emotions of anger and sadness only after he has learned what had previously been hidden. In contrast, the omniscient God is ignorant of nothing. Nothing is hidden from him, nothing new may be revealed to him, so there is no gained knowledge to which he may react emotionally.

 

We humans experience anger and frustration when something is wrong which we cannot fix. The perfect, omnipotent God, however, can fix anything. Humans experience longing for things we lack. The perfect God lacks nothing. An omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect God who experiences emotion is impossible.


The conclusion of the matter

I have offered arguments for the impossibility, and thus the non- existence, of the Christian God Yahweh. No reasonable and free thinking individual can accept the existence of a being whose nature is as contradictory as that of Yahweh, the "perfect" creator of our imperfect universe. The existence of Yahweh is as impossible as the existence of cubic spheres or invisible pink unicorns.

 

While believers may find comfort in being faithful to impossibilities, there is no greater satisfaction than a clear mind. You may choose to serve an impossible God. I will choose reality.


© Chad Docterman, 1996


© Fredrik BendzS-mail :  hereE-mail :

 

 

 

http://www.infidelguy.com/article314.html

TEN ATHEISTIC ARGUMENTS:

Submitted by Ted Drange

 

Definitions of "God"

Before getting to the arguments, it is important to present the various definitions of "God" that they employ:

 

D1: God is the eternal, all-powerful, personal being who created and rules the universe. (Being eternal, God cannot come into or go out of existence. Being all-powerful, he can perform any action that is logically possible to perform. Being personal, he has some characteristics in common with humans, such as thinking, feeling emotions, and performing actions. The universe is understood to consist of all the space, time, matter, and energy that has ever existed.)

D2: God is the eternal, very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and gave humanity its moral conscience.

D3: God is the eternal, very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and strongly desires that that love be reciprocated.

D4: God is that being which is self-existent, that is, which contains the explanation for its own existence within itself.

D5: God is that being which is (objectively) perfect in every way. (The term "perfect" is here understood in an objective sense, as opposed to a subjective sense relative to individual values, so the term may be used in public reasoning.)

D6: God is the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity.

It will be indicated for each argument which of the above definitions of "God" it employs.

 

Arguments Against God's Existence

1. The Anti-creation Argument (D1, D6):

(a) If X creates Y, then X must exist temporally prior to Y.

(b) But nothing could possibly exist temporally prior to time itself (for that would involve existing at a time when there was no time, which is a contradiction)

(c) Thus, it is impossible for time to have been created.

(d) Time is an essential component of the universe.

(e) Therefore, it is impossible for the universe to have been created.

(f) It follows that God, as defined by D1 and D6, cannot exist.

 

Discussion: A similar argument might possibly be constructed with regard to the other components of the universe as well: space, matter, and energy. It is very hard to comprehend how a being could have created the universe without existing within space and without any involvement with matter or energy.

* The God of evangelical Christianity (defined by D6) is included here (and for argument #2, below) because of the first sentence in the Bible, which evangelicals take to refer to the entire universe.

 

2. The Transcendent-Personal Argument (D1, D6):

(a) In order for God to have created the universe, he must have been transcendent, that is, he must have existed outside space and time.

(b) But to be personal implies (among other things) being within space and time.

(c) Therefore, it is logically impossible for God, as defined by D1 or D6, to exist.

 

Discussion:It might be suggested that God has a part that is outside space and time and another part that is inside space and time and that it is the latter part, not the former part, which is personal in nature. But the idea of a being which is partly personal and partly transcendent is incomprehensible. Furthermore, definition D1 implies that God, as a personal being, existed prior to the universe, and it is incomprehensible how a personal being could do so.

 

* Aside from conceptual considerations that have to do with the very concept of "being personal," there are empirical considerations relevant to premise (b). It might be argued that to be personal requires having thoughts and that science has very strongly confirmed that having thoughts is dependent on having a physical brain. For example, since brain damage has always been found to delete, or at least disrupt, thoughts, it can be extrapolated that there can be no thoughts at all in the total absence of a brain. Although the empirical support for premise (b) is very strong, that may not be a factor that would impress people who are not "scientifically oriented" to begin with.

 

3. The Incoherence-of-Omnipotence Argument (D1, D6):

(a) If God as defined by D1 or D6 were to exist, then he would be omnipotent (i.e., able to do anything that is logically possible)

(b) But the idea of such a being is incoherent

(c) Hence, such a being cannot possibly exist.

 

Discussion: Definition D6 is included here because evangelical Christians maintain that the biblical description of God as "Almighty" is accurate. The issue of whether or not premise (b) is true is complicated. Some writers claim that the idea of omnipotence in itself is inconsistent. Also, some writers claim that being omnipotent is incompatible with possessing certain other properties. (For example, an omnipotent being could commit suicide, since to do so is logically possible, but an eternal being, by definition, could not. Hence, the idea of the deity defined by D1 or D6 is incoherent.) Whether or not the given claim is true is here left open. See comments on the concept of "incoherence" made in connection with argument #7, below. (For further material on arguments similar to #3, see Everitt, 2004, Martin, 1990, and Martin and Monnier, 2003, in the bibliography below.)

 

* The divine attribute of omniscience gives rise to similar considerations, and there is an Incoherence-of-Omniscience Argument that could be raised. (For material on it, see the references above.) That argument, which is omitted here to save space, also has a premise (b) (worded as in argument #3), which introduces issues that are exceedingly complicated and controversial.

 

4. The Lack-of-evidence Argument (D1, D2, D3, D6):

(a) If God as defined by any of the four definitions in question were to exist, then he would have to be deeply involved in the affairs of humanity and there would be good objective evidence of his existence.

(b) But there is no good objective evidence for the existence of a deity thus defined.

(c) Therefore, God, as defined by D1, D2, D3, or D6, does not exist.

 

Discussion: The rationale behind premise (a) is that the sort of deity in question, a personal being who rules the universe or who loves humanity (and perhaps wants that love reciprocated), would need to become involved in the affairs of humans and thereby reveal his existence overtly. It might be claimed that God has achieved such involvement just by means of subjective religious experiences, without providing humanity with any good objective evidence of his existence. This assertion could be attacked on the ground that people who claim to have had such experiences are mistaken about the nature and cause of them. It might also be reasonably argued that religious experiences would be insufficient for the given divine purposes, and only good objective (publicly testable) evidence of some sort would do. Argument #4 is a versatile argument that can be widely used by atheists to attack God's existence, given many different definitions of "God."

 

* Another argument similar to #4, sometimes put forward by scientifically oriented atheists, is the Argument from Metaphysical Naturalism, according to which all phenomena ever observed are best explained by appeal to natural causes (Carrier, 2005). Since that premise is a reason to accept naturalism, it provides an evidential argument against God's existence. However, the given premise is an extremely sweeping one and for that reason alone argument #4 would be preferable.

 

5. The Argument from Evil (D2, D3, D6):

(a) If there were to exist a very powerful, personal being who rules the universe and loves humanity, then there would not occur as much evil (i.e., suffering and premature death) as there does.

(b) But there does occur that much evil.

(c) Therefore, there does not exist such a being.

(d) Hence, God, as defined by D2, D3 or D6, does not exist.

 

Discussion: This formulation of the argument is a version of what is called "The Logical Argument from Evil." If the word "probably" were to be inserted into steps (a), (c), and (d), then it would be a version of what is called "The Evidential Argument from Evil." Similar considerations arise in connection with the different versions. According to the Free-will Defense, premise (a) is false because God wants people to have free will and that requires that they be able to create evil. The evil that actually occurs in our world is mankind's fault, not God's. Thus, God can still love humanity and be perfectly good despite all the evil that occurs. There are many objections to this defense. One of them is that much of the suffering and premature death that occurs in our world is due to natural causes rather than human choices, and the Free-will Defense would be totally irrelevant to that form of evil. (Drange, 1998.)

 

6. The Argument from Nonbelief (D3, D6):

(a) If there were to exist a very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and who strongly desires that his love for humanity be reciprocated, then there would not exist as much nonbelief in the existence of such a being as there does.

(b) But there does exist that much nonbelief.

(c) Therefore, there does not exist such a being.

(d) Hence, God, as defined by D3 or D6, does not exist.

 

Discussion: As with the Argument from Evil, an "evidential" version of this argument could be constructed by inserting the word "probably" into steps (a), (c), and (d). Similar considerations arise for all the various versions. The argument is directed against the deity defined by D6, as well as the one defined by D3, because evangelical Christians take God to have all the properties mentioned in D3. (For a discussion of the Argument from Nonbelief framed on the basis of definition D6, see Drange, 1993.) Possibly the argument might also be directed against the deity defined by D2, and something like that is attempted in Schellenberg, 1993, though there it would not be quite so forceful.

The rationale behind premise (a) is that nonbelief in God is an impediment to loving him, so a deity as described by definition D3 or D6 would remove that impediment if he were to exist. Defenses similar to those in the case of the Argument from Evil could be raised, and similar objections to them could be presented. (Drange, 1998.)

 

7. Arguments from Incoherence (D4, D5, D6):

(a) In order for X to explain Y, not only must Y be derivable from X, but the derivation needs to be in some way illuminating.

(b) If X is derived from itself, then the derivation is in no way illuminating.

(c) Thus, it is impossible for anything to explain itself.

(d) God as defined by D4 is supposed to explain itself.

(e) It follows that the idea of "God" as defined by D4 is incoherent.

(f) Furthermore, perfection is relative, and so, the concept of "objectively perfect," as a concept employed in public reasoning, makes no sense.

(g) Hence, the idea of "God" as defined by D5 is also incoherent.

(h) In addition, the Bible contains descriptions of God that are incoherent (e.g., implying both that Jesus is God and that Jesus is God's son, that God is spirit or a spirit and that God is love)

(i) Evangelical Christians interpret those descriptions literally.

(j) Therefore, it might be argued that the idea of "God" as defined by D6 is also incoherent.

 

Discussion: Unlike the other arguments in this section, these arguments do not aim to prove God's nonexistence, but rather, the incoherence of God-talk when "God" is defined in certain ways. The point is not that theists who employ such God-talk are mistaken about the world, but that they are confused in their language.

The idea of "incoherence" is also sometimes applied to contradictions or other sorts of conceptual incompatibility. For example, arguments #2 & #3, above, could each be regarded as a kind of "argument from incoherence," for they appeal to conceptual incompatibilities between pairs of divine attributes. [This point might also be applicable to definition D5 if theists were to try to combine it with other definitions. For example, if a theist were to claim that God is both perfect (as given in D5) and the creator of the universe (as given in D1), then it might be argued that such a notion is incoherent, since a perfect being can have no wants, whereas a creator must have some wants. Or if a theist were to claim that God is perfect and also loves humanity (as given in D2 & D3), then it might be argued that such a notion is incoherent, since a perfect being can feel no disappointment, whereas a being who loves humanity must feel some disappointment.] However, this notion of "incoherence" is different from that appealed to in the Arguments from Incoherence, for if incompatible properties are ascribed, at least there is a conjunction of propositions there, even if it is a contradictory pair. In that case, it would still make sense to say that the sentence "God exists" expresses a (necessarily) false proposition. But with the sort of "incoherence" appealed to in the Arguments from Incoherence there is no proposition expressed at all, whether true or false. (For more on incompatible-properties arguments against God's existence, see Martin and Monnier, 2003.)

 

8. The Argument from Confusion (D6):

(a) If the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity were to exist, then there would not exist as much confusion and conflictedness among Christians as there does, particularly with regard to important doctrinal issues such as God's laws and the requirements for salvation.

(b) But there does exist that much. (Christians disagree widely among themselves on such issues, as shown, among other things, by the great number of different Christian denominations and sects that exist.)

(c) Therefore, that deity does not exist.

(d) Hence God as defined by D6 does not exist.

 

Discussion: The rationale behind premise (a) is that the God of evangelical Christianity is a deity who places great emphasis upon awareness of the truth, especially with regard to important doctrinal issues. It is expected, then, that if such a deity were to exist, he would place a high priority upon the elimination of confusion and conflictedness among his own followers with regard to important doctrinal issues. Because of the great abundance of Christian confusion of the relevant sort, this argument is a very forceful one.

 

9. The Argument from Biblical Defects (D6):

(a) If the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity were to exist, then the Bible itself would not have the defects that it has. That is, it would not contain textual errors, interpolations, contradictions, factual errors (including false prophecies), and ethical defects. Also, the canon would have been assembled with less political involvement and would not have original manuscripts or parts missing.

(b) But the Bible does contain those defects.

(c) Therefore, that deity, which is God as defined by D6, does not exist.

 

Discussion: Premise (a) is based on the point that evangelical Christians regard the Bible to be God's main form of revelation to humanity. So, given that their God exists, it would be expected that the Bible would possess features implied by the motivations which they ascribe to him. Premise (a) follows quite naturally. (For examples of the Bible's defects, see appendix D of Drange, 1998, and Mattill, 1995. For more on arguments #8 & #9, see Drange, "The Arguments from Confusion and Biblical Defects" in the forthcoming Martin and Monnier, 2006.)

 

10. The Argument from Human Insignificance (D6):

(a) If the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity were to exist, then it would be expected that humans occupy some significant place in the universe

(b) But, both from the standpoint of space (the size of the universe in relation to the size of the earth) and from the standpoint of time (the length of time in which the universe has existed in relation to the length of time in which humans have existed), humans do not occupy any significant place in the universe.

(c) Hence, God, as defined by D6, probably does not exist.

 

Discussion: The idea behind the first premise here is that the Bible describes God as having a very special interest in humans. Since humans are so important, they should naturally occupy some significant place in space and time. To reject that idea is to reject the evangelical Christian outlook on the nature of reality. (A slightly different version of this argument is referred to as "The Argument from Scale" in Everitt, 2004.)

 

There are many other arguments against God's existence. Some are inductive in form (Martin, 1990). Some make appeal to cosmological assumptions (Craig and Smith, 1993). I have here picked just those that I regard to be the main ones.

 

Summary

The various arguments can be matched up with the six definitions of "God" as follows:

DEFINITION

ARGUMENTS AGAINST GOD

D1

#1-4

D2

#4, #5 (+ possibly #6)

D3

#4-6

D4

#7

D5

#7

D6

#1-10

 

All theistic arguments for God's existence can be refuted by at least one objection, and all of the definitions of "God" considered here permit God's nonexistence to be established (or else God-talk to be shown incoherent) by at least one argument. Other definitions of "God" are used in ordinary language, but all of them permit God's nonexistence to be established by appeal to similar or analogous considerations. There is much more to be said about the various arguments. The bibliography below supplies some of that and also supplies further references.

 

Bibliography

Carrier, Richard. Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2005.

Craig, William Lane and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Craig, William Lane and Quentin Smith. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Drange, Theodore. "The Argument from Non-belief." Religious Studies 29, 1993.

Drange, Theodore. Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998.

Drange, Theodore. "The Fine-tuning Argument Revisited." Philo vol. 3, no. 2, 2000.

Everitt, Nicholas. The Non-existence of God. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

Le Poidevin, Robin. Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Martin, Michael. Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier, eds. The Impossibility of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003.

Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier, eds. The Improbability of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005.

Mattill, A. J., Jr. The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs. Gordo, AL: The Flatwoods Free Press, 1995.

Schellenberg, J.L. Divine Hiddeness and Human Reason. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Sobel, Jordan Howard. Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Stenger, Victor J. Has Science Found God? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003.

Ted Drange

 

http://www.strongatheism.net/library/atheology/

 

Strong Atheistic Arguments

 

·                     My Assessment of the Various ArgumentsMy little analysis on the usefulness of the various arguments on this page.

·                     The Consistency of Strong Atheistic ArgumentsAnswering the perceived contradiction between noncognitivism and other strong atheistic arguments, which appear to be based on attributing a meaning to the word “god”.

·                     Some Ideas for Debating

·                     Strong and weak, positive and negative – my change of position

 

Semantic Apologetics:Arguments based on the meaninglessness of religious language.

 

·                     Introduction to Semantic Apologetics—A short introduction to the problem of meaning of religious language in contrast to daily experience.

·                     The Argument From Noncognitivism—Discussion of the most fundamental strong-atheistic argument, and core argument of semantic apologetics, noncognitivism. Noncognitivism is the argument that the word “god” is meaningless, and thus strong-atheism is justified by default. (article revised)

·         Conifer’s Refutation of Noncognitivism Examined—Examining Steven J. Conifer’s refutation of noncognitivism, which is little more than arguing from the imagination.

·                     Process-Based Noncognitivism—Complement to the article “The Argument From Non-Cognitivism”, examining the other line of proof for noncognitivism, and why there cannot be any god-hypothesis. (article revised)

·                     Argument from the Necessity of Naturalism—A short argument for strong-atheism proceeding from the impossibility of supernatural explanations.

·                     The Noncognitive Nature of InfinityThe meaninglessness of actual infinities provides an argument against an infinite god.

 

Materialist Apologetics:Arguments based on divine causation making all facts of the universe contingent.

 

·                     Introduction to Materialist Apologetics—A short introduction to the self-refuting nature of the theistic universe.

·                     The Cartoon Universe of TheismThe alternative to a materialist universe is the belief in a cartoon-like world where everything goes.

·                     Materialist ApologeticsDefining the materialist strategy, which consists of using divine causation to prove that the theist has no grounds for absolutes or principles. Since many absolutes and principles, such as logic, are necessary, the idea that a god exists is self-refuting.

o                                            The Divine Non-Contradiction Principle and Why it Fails—The deconstruction of an objection to Materialist Apologetics, and its destructive consequences for the theistic conception of omniscience and god.

·                     Argument from Correct Choice—Presentation of a new argument, starting from the existence of a conscious choice to adopt the theological worldview, showing that such choice is self-contradictory. (article revised)

·                     Why Christians cannot account for morality—Using moral autonomy, basic moral assumptions and moral development to show that Christianity cannot account for morality, and thus does not even get off the ground.

·                     The Impossibility of Theistic and Christian Moral PrinciplesProving that theism and Christianity are imcompatible with moral principles, using two materialist arguments and four other arguments.

·                     Argument From the Fact of Existence—An Objectivist argument that uses the primacy of existence, and the subjectivity of reality to God’s will, to disprove the possiblity of such a will.

·                     Apathetic/Amoral God ParadoxThe extreme power and lack of limits inherent in a god’s existence makes it, paradoxically, completely amoral and apathetic. This relationship with metaphysical power and apathy is what I call the Apathetic God Paradox. It can also be used as an argument against Creation.

·                     The Euthyphro DilemmaAn ancient and famous dilemma: is Good decided by God’s will, or is Good a property that God conforms to? (article revised)

 

Incoherency Apologetics (External):Arguments based on a contradiction between a divine attribute and a fact of reality.

 

·                     Special section on the Problem of Evil

·                     Atheistic Teleological Arguments—Taken from chapter 13 of Michael Martin’s “Atheism: A Philosophical Justification”, the five teleological arguments discussed in this article provide a powerful inductive case against the notion of a god Creator.

·                     Ontological Argument for the Non-Existence of GodA powerful modal argument formulated by John L. Pollock, using a premise from the theistic ontological argument to prove strong atheism logically.

·                     Argument from Scale—The Argument from Scale uses facts about the universe’s scale to show that materialism is the most reasonable position. Formalized using the words of its author Nicholas Everitt.

·                     The Incoherency of ‘Divine Creation’—An extensive discussion of the atheistic Cosmological Argument, which states that divine creation is impossible due to the necessary absence of time.

·                     Argument from Moral AutonomyAn argument by James Rachels, proceeding from a god’s property of being object of worship, proving that such an object cannot exist due to the nature of moral autonomy.

 

Incoherency Apologetics (Internal):Arguments based on contradictions between divine attributes.

 

·                     ‘Incompatible-Properties Arguments: A Survey’—A list of Theodore Drange’s ten incompatibility arguments, from an article in Philo.

·                     ‘The Self-Contradiction of Jesus’—Dawson Bethrick argues that the belief in both an immaterial God and a material Jesus entails a fatal contradiction.

Incoherency Apologetics (Scientific):Arguments based on a contradiction between a divine attribute and a scientific law or laws, trapping the theist between noncognitivism and disproof by scientific fact.

 

·                     The Argument From Mind-Brain Dependence—An argument from neuroscience and evolution, showing that the dependence of minds on material substrates contradicts the notion of a personal Creator being.

·                     Argument from EvolutionAn argument by Kyle J. Gerkin, which argues that evolution was not possible before the universe existed, and that no other mechanism could explain a god’s intelligence.

·                     Argument From the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics—Edward Greve proposes a contradiction between the laws of thermodynamics and God’s entropy as deduced from his property of Creator.

·                     Argument from Quantum PhysicsAn argument that demonstrates why the laws of quantum mechanics are incompatible with an omniscient God.

·                     Big Bang Cosmological Argument—Quentin Smith’s argument from the fundamental unpredictability of the Big Bang singularity.

·                     Argument from the Hartle-Hawking Model

 

Evidential and Others:Arguments based on the immorality of theism and the efficacy of science, and others.

 

·                     Occam’s Razor—The accumulation of scientific explanations as a strong-atheistic argument. Also see God: The Failed Hypothesis : How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist

·                     Epistemic Arguments—Facts about the results of rational processes, and a comparison with theism and religion, gives us an inductive argument against theism and for strong atheism.

·                     Is Theistic Religion a Consolation?—A brief discussion of various evidential arguments against thestic belief and for a strong-atheistic view of the universe.

 

Other Arguments To Be Covered:

·                     Logical Problem of Evil (The Impossibility of God p118)

·                     Evidential Problem of Evil

·                     Inductive Argument from Evil

·                     Soteriological Problem of Evil

·                     Argument from Non-Belief/Divine Hiddenness, Problem of Ignorance (“God?” p101 and 129)

·                     Argument from Miracles (The Impossibility of God p150)

·                     Conflicts Between the Divine Attributes (Martin, The Impossibility of God p242)

·                     Existentialist Argument (from The Impossibility of God)

·                     Ignorance Argument (Drange p208)

·                     Argument from Personhood

·                     Argument from Insufficient Knowledge of the Bible for the Nonexistence of the God of Christianity

·                     Dimensional Argument

·                     Other Incoherency arguments, and pragmatic or methodological arguments

·                     Modal Argument Against the Necessity of the Biblical God

 

NOTE: We do not yet list single internal incoherency arguments, only groups of them, at this time. An individual list would be tedious and repetitive.

 

Problem of Evil

·                     The Moral Argument from EvilThis argument uses the premise that God justifies all instances of evil events, and the fact that believers attempt to stop evil events all the time, to show that the existence of God is self-contradictory.

·                     Notes on the Various Problems of Evil—Francois Tremblay presents his own take on the PoE and how to argue it, and lists variants for easy consultation.

·                     The Immorality of Theodicies—Volker Dittman provides an argument to show that, even if believers could give us a theodicy that made sense, it would still be wholly unacceptable because it would nullify all possibility of morality and moral judgment.

·                     Moral Argument for Atheism—A short overview of an argument by Raymond Bradley, showing that the Bible contradicts accepted moral principles, and thus makes the existence of a good god impossible.

 

Weak Atheistic Arguments:

 

Memetic Apologetics:Arguments based on memetics (especially the adoption and propagation of ideas).

·                     Process-Based Epistemic Arguments—Inductive arguments show us that theism does not fulfill conditions that we should expect in rational disciplines and true claims.

·                     Reverse Pascal’s Wager—A short mathematical analysis of Pascal’s Wager, revealing it to be an atheistic argument.

 

Evidential Apologetics:Arguments based on the immorality of theism and the efficacy of science.

·                     Christianity, Suicide, and the Meaning of LifeHoria Plugaru argues that Christians, if they were morally consistent, should commit suicide, and also addresses a great number of objection.

 

Anti-Christian Apologetics:

·                     The Jesus Myth—There is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of the Biblical character of Jesus, thus making Christianity impotent.

 

Biblical Analysis Department:

·                     The Biblical Assertion of Divine Attributes—A list of verses proving that omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence is explicitly attributed to God by the Bible.

·                     Some Points for Bible Debates

·                     Rameus on the Testimonium Flavianum

 

EBON MUSINGS: THE ATHEISM PAGES

FOUNDATIONAL ESSAY


The Necessity of Atheism Why not to believe

Although there are many other excellent sites on the Internet that supply reasons to be an atheist, there are none, so far as I know, that attempt to gather all these reasons into one place. This essay seeks to remedy that oversight. It represents an attempt at providing a general defense and justification of atheism, listing the valid reasons both major and minor to be a nonbeliever. Although each individual item on the list will not attempt to comprehensively expound on the specific reason or argument it outlines, it should at least give an overview of that reason, and greater detail will be provided by links to other articles where applicable.

 

This essay will make the case for atheism in three sections. The first section consists of evidential reasons: factual statements about the world that under any reasonable interpretation make atheism more likely to be true than theism. Some of these facts strengthen the case against theism in general, while others are relevant to particular belief systems. However, even the facts that only constitute evidence against some religions make atheism more likely to be true, because when one alternative is removed from consideration, it must increase the likelihood of all the remaining possibilities, of which atheism is one.

 

For purposes of deciding what constitutes evidence, this essay will employ a "surprisingness" criterion: a given observation is evidence for a hypothesis if that observation is unsurprising - i.e., expected - assuming that hypothesis is true; and an observation is evidence against a hypothesis if that observation would be surprising and unexpected assuming that hypothesis is true. For example, if I leave a bowl of milk out in the kitchen at night and return in the morning to find the milk gone and the kitchen swept and scrubbed, this observation is not surprising under the hypothesis that my house is inhabited by fairies who do housework in exchange for food. On the other hand, such an observation would be surprising under the hypothesis that there are no such fairies, and so constitutes evidence for the former over the latter.

 

The second section of this essay consists of moral reasons for atheism: cases where the requirement to do what is right favors being an atheist, or at the very least, not supporting certain sects or practices of theism. If one believes (as I do) that morality is objective and that certain acts are right or wrong and will be right or wrong regardless of what anyone says, it therefore follows that we are morally obligated to reject any religious belief system that advocates or practices such wrong acts. Granted, rejecting a particular religion as immoral does not establish the truth of atheism. However, even if a religion's claims about the world were factually true, if it commanded evil actions we would still be obligated to reject it; and those who cannot accept the notion of an evil god must conclude that any immoral religion is necessarily false. In any case, this essay will attempt to show that there are some moral shortcomings common to all religions.

 

The final section of this essay consists of practical reasons for atheism: reasons why accepting atheism over theism produces positive overall effects on a person's life. While these do not in themselves provide reasons to think that atheism is true, if one is already convinced by the evidential and moral arguments in favor of atheism, they provide additional incentive to adopt it and make it one's chosen worldview.

 

Evidential Reasons

·                     Religions demand faith and discourage attempts to verify their claims through test and experiment, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism. Rarely, if ever, do religious evangelists win converts by presenting the evidence for their faith in a rational manner. Instead, they largely appeal to emotion and the bandwagon, encouraging others to join their belief system because it feels good to do so, regardless of whether it is supported by the facts. New members are then taught to maintain their belief not through continual testing, but through faith, which can be defined as belief in a proposition without sufficient justifying evidence. Indeed, not only are believers not encouraged to test their faith, but they are generally taught that it is outright wrong to do so - that it is a sin to carry out an experiment whose results would enable them to distinguish whether their belief was true or untrue. Such activities are generally grouped under the label "putting God to the test", and most holy books carry stern warnings against attempting it. Some religions go even further by commanding their followers not to read arguments critical of the faith or have any contact with people who were once members but have since left the church. (For more on these and similar tactics, see "Thoughts in Captivity").

 

If a particular religion was true, this is not what we would expect. On the contrary, a belief that was true would obviously pass any test it was subjected to, and therefore would have every reason to welcome people to test it so that they could see this for themselves. A belief that was true could be defended purely by recourse to the facts, without demanding its adherents believe in something of which they have no experience. A belief that was true would not need to fear its followers investigating opposing viewpoints for themselves. On the other hand, a belief system that was false, in order to protect itself, would most likely want to discourage its followers from doing things that would lead to them finding that out. Therefore, the anti-empirical attitude of most religions is less surprising under atheism than theism, and thus gives us reason to believe that atheism is more likely to be correct.

 

·                     Science is a very effective means of gaining knowledge whereas revelation and scriptural study is not, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Throughout human history, people have believed a great many ideas that in retrospect turned out to be wrong. However, what is most striking is the source of many of these incorrect ideas: with few exceptions, they ultimately emanated from religious scripture. The geocentric theory of the solar system; the Noachian deluge as an explanation for the geological record; the age of the Earth estimated as 6000 years old; the separate ancestry and simultaneous appearance of all species; the belief in epidemic diseases as caused by human sin rather than poor hygiene; the intellectual inferiority of non-European races; all these and many more mistaken ideas trace their origins to religious beliefs arrived at through faith without testing (see the previous item). There is not one single fact about the world that has been proven true in the long run and that is both non-trivial and non-obvious for which we ultimately owe credit to religious scripture rather than painstaking empirical examination.

 

Of course, this is not to say that people following the scientific method have not made mistakes as well. Science is primarily a way of studying the world, not an infallible oracle for gaining knowledge. However, science's self-correcting nature enables us to discover these mistakes and fix them, whereas the nature of religious dogma offers no comparable way to correct errors. The result is that all the major advances in our knowledge over the past few hundred years are owed primarily to scientific study of the world; on the other hand, beliefs which were first arrived at through mysticism or faith almost always turn out to be wrong.

 

If any particular religion were true, this is not what we would expect. The effectiveness of science can be explained regardless of whether there is a god or not. However, if there was a being that had a role in creating the natural laws of the universe, and if some religious belief system was an effective way to contact and communicate with that being, it is reasonable to expect that revelation, either through written texts or personal experience, might occasionally provide genuinely new knowledge. But this does not happen. This fact is far less surprising under the assumption of atheism than under the assumption of theism.

 

·                     Many religions attempt to suppress outside examination and criticism, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Not only do most religions command their own followers not to put their beliefs to the test, many have gone further in taking action even against outsiders who attempt to critically investigate or speak out against them. The medieval European inquisitions that attempted to crush other faiths and silence scientists whose findings ran contrary to church dogma are the most obvious example, but there are many others as well: for example, many Muslim countries today are repressive theocracies where censorship is pervasive and sentences of exile and death are routinely issued against authors whose works are deemed to be blasphemous against Islam. Even in the United States of America, the deluge of threats of impeachment, boycott and even physical harm that instantly and predictably springs up in response to any opinion that is perceived to differ from the prevailing dogma has resulted in few if any nonbelievers being given a platform by major public institutions. Evidently, there are a vast number of religious believers who see nothing wrong with silencing speech whose content they disagree with.

 

As in the first example from this essay, this is to be expected if atheism is true. The church establishments that have accumulated vast amounts of money, power and influence have a vested interest in protecting those assets, and if their beliefs are not in fact true and cannot withstand criticism and investigation, it is to be expected that they would attempt to stifle such criticism if they feel it may be a serious threat. On the other hand, any belief system that is true should have nothing to fear from even the most searching outside examination, and should welcome scrutiny accordingly. This would be doubly true if there did in fact exist a god who would ensure his chosen people triumphed over all adversity. If God is truly on their side, what are so many faiths so afraid of?

 

·                     Many religions have histories of intolerance and violence, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Throughout history, religion has been used as a justification for countless crimes against humanity. Some of the most readily recalled examples include the medieval Crusades that pitted Christians against Muslims in bloody combat; the witch hunts that led to the torture and unjust execution of thousands of innocents; the Holocaust (Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said "God With Us"); the ongoing acts of terrorism waged by Muslim fundamentalists; the creation of tyrannical divine-right monarchies and theocratic regimes throughout Europe, Asia and Africa; the long-enduring oppression and unequal treatment of women; and the trans-Atlantic slave trade that persisted for centuries, whose painful legacy of racism and bigotry persists to some extent even today. Although religions usually plead for tolerance and freedom of conscience when in the minority, given the chance those same religions often attempt to gain civil power, force the public to support them and oppress or wage war on other faiths.

 

This pattern is far less surprising under atheism than theism. Religious apologists will usually claim that the actions of sinful humans are not evidence against the existence of God, but an atheist can reply that if there was such a being, we would have every right to expect him to prevent such things, or at least clearly show that they were in contradiction to his will. But neither has happened. Nor does belief in any particular religion seem to improve human beings' sense of morality enough to keep them from committing such atrocities. If religions are composed solely of human beings, lacking divine moral guidance, this is to be expected.

 

·                     Many religions have cruel or morally unacceptable doctrines, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.The vast majority of religions postulate that the power that created the universe is benevolent and good, morally worthy of humans' worship and devotion. In light of this, it is surprising that almost all of these religions also claim that this power has on various occasions commanded, condoned, or directly caused acts of terrible cruelty, violence, and evil. Foremost among these is the doctrine of Hell, which states that those who fail to worship the creator as he commands will, upon their death, be cast into a realm of agonizing, never-ending suffering. This idea is a vicious and evil absurdity, particularly because it is so often claimed that a merciful and loving god created such a place and desires to send some people there. (See "Infinite Punishment for Finite Sins" for more on the idea of Hell.) However, this is not by any means the only morally unacceptable doctrine put forth by some religions. As another example, many holy books contain approving records of past genocidal wars waged by the self-proclaimed chosen people against their enemies. Many others set cruel and disproportionate punishments for the most trifling crimes, or acts that are not crimes at all. For several examples of this pattern from the Bible, see "A Book of Blood".

 

If these religions truly were inspired by a morally good deity, it is bizarre that they contain so many stories approving of bloodshed, violence and torture. Such an outcome is too implausible to believe. On the other hand, if these books were written by human beings alone, in an era where humanity's understanding of morality was still primitive and poorly developed, it is not surprising at all that they contain verses that we today understand to be completely unacceptable.

 

·                     Religious societies reflect the prejudices of their time, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.If a religion was inspired by a consistent and unchanging god not limited by what human beings believed at any particular time, it is reasonable to expect that that religion would not merely mirror the changing beliefs of the cultures it passed down through, but would stay essentially the same through time. However, this is not what we find.

 

For example, take slavery. Today, this practice is widely recognized as immoral and universally condemned by Western nations of the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, the Jewish and Christian scriptures, which were written in a milieu where slavery was common, do not condemn it, but rather accept it and even work it into their teachings as though it were the most normal thing in the world; and for many centuries the societies that relied on these scriptures accepted it without question. However, with the rise of the abolition movement, these religions' beliefs on the morality of slavery underwent a huge and dramatic shift. Similar reversals have occurred throughout history in many religions regarding many different issues.

 

This is not to say that no churches or religious individuals have ever been at the forefront of movements for social change. But rather than being a unanimous voice for moral progress, religious groups often sustain immoral practices for decades or centuries until the push for reform begins, and even then tend to be deeply split by such disputes. This is what we should expect assuming atheism is true.

 

·                     There is a vast amount of religious confusion and disagreement between many different belief systems, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Among human cultures both past and present, there is an enormous number of different and incompatible religions. Virtually every society from every era and every region of the planet has had its own pantheons of deities, its own mythologies about the origin of the world and humanity, its own set of rules for how the gods expect us to behave, and its own views about the nature of the afterlife and the fate of the universe. While some of these belief systems bear some resemblance to each other, in general their similarities are far outweighed by their profound differences; and the further separated by time and space they are, the more different they tend to be. Apologists for these various belief systems have been arguing over which is the correct one for millennia, and yet the dispute is not nearing resolution; there is no end in sight. If anything, many of these belief systems are drawing further and further away from each other rather than nearing a point of unification.

 

If atheism is correct, this is to be expected - if religions spring from human creativity and imagination rather than a common wellspring of revelation, it is hardly surprising that people from a diverse variety of different cultures, times and places have created many different ones. It would be extraordinarily unlikely for many different people who had no contact with each other to independently invent the exact same belief set. On the other hand, if there is a god, it is strange and unexpected that there would be so much religious confusion among humanity. Why would God, if such a being exists, not dispense his message to all people equally? For more on this argument, see "The Cosmic Shell Game".

 

·                     Religions are fragmented into sects that cannot agree on key issues of doctrine or ethics, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Continuing the previous point, even within any particular belief system where all the members agree on the same basic theological principles and teachings, there is a vast diversity of opinion on how to interpret those teachings. The spectrum of interpretations within any given religion runs from extreme liberal to extreme conservative, from figurative to literal, from wide-open ecumenicalism to ardent fundamentalism. As above, the debates between the various points of view within a given religion have in most cases been going on since that religion existed, with the same arguments repeated endlessly by both sides, and with no resolution in sight. Though all participants in such a debate usually agree that they want to follow God's will and are continually asking him to reveal to them what that will is, they are rarely if ever able to reach agreement.

 

This is expected under atheism. If there is no supernatural deity that reliably informs seekers of what was actually meant by a given teaching, it is no surprise that different people cannot agree on what those meanings are, nor is it surprising that these unresolvable arguments continue to lead to the fragmentation of existing religions and the formation of new sects. On the other hand, if there is a god that guides his followers, it is unexpected that this process would be allowed to continue. Why would God not clearly inform all believers what a disputed verse was intended to mean, particularly if holding a correct interpretation of that verse was a requirement for salvation?

 

·                     Religions emerge in isolated areas and only then spread in space and time, rather than appearing in every society at once, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Given that all human beings are fundamentally the same at the genetic and cognitive levels, it follows as a consequence that any god that desired to communicate with us would probably desire to communicate with all of us. Likewise, given the inherent unfairness of God's directly speaking to only some people and leaving others nothing but indirect and second-hand evidence, especially if there is a penalty for nonbelief, it is to be expected that a religion truly founded by divine revelation would appear in every culture at once. There is no reason to expect God to play favorites.

 

But of course, this is not what we find, and that is to be expected if atheism is true. Instead, we find religions that emerge in specific places at specific times, often with specific "chosen" nations or ethnicities, and that only gradually spread via human evangelism. To postulate that any particular religion is true means that millions of people throughout thousands of years of Earth's history lived and died without ever hearing of it. For more on this topic, see "The Argument from Locality".

 

·                     The mind has a physical basis, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.A central part of the doctrine of many religions is that there is an immaterial component to the human mind, called the soul, that provides us with our identity, personality and sense of self and that survives the physical death of our bodies. This claim can now be conclusively disproven by the science of neurology, whose findings have revealed that the fundamental aspects of our consciousness all arise from and are unified with the physical structure of our brain. Damage to specific regions of the brain can fragment our sense of identity, splitting the mind up into distinct spheres of awareness, or erase it entirely by destroying the ability to form new memories, leaving a person caught in an endless mental loop. It can alter one's personality and beliefs - including religious beliefs - in dramatic ways, or exert an uncontrollable influence over behavior, to a point where a person's closest friends and relatives believe they are no longer the same person they once were. Such changes are very strange and surprising under a theistic hypothesis of the soul, but not at all surprising if we assume the atheistic position that the mind arises purely from the functioning of the brain. See "A Ghost in the Machine" for more information.

 

·                     Gratuitous evil and unnecessary suffering are abundant, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.It has long been recognized, even by theists, that the one fact about the world that is most unexpected and difficult to explain under the assumption of a benevolent creator is the existence of evil. But it is not just the mere fact of suffering that should give theists pause, but rather its magnitude and its distribution. There is not just a small amount of suffering in the world, but a vast, horrendous amount, stemming not just from acts of evil committed by human beings against each other, but also from natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and epidemics. And evil is not distributed fairly, afflicting only those who deserve it, but rather seemingly by chance, striking the bad and the good alike. In fact, often suffering seems to avoid the truly evil while concentrating on the undeserving innocent.

 

If there is a powerful being overseeing the world whose attributes include goodness and justice, it should be surprising in the extreme that evil occurs as it does. On the other hand, if there is no higher power other than the impersonal natural laws that do not take human needs into account, it is not surprising at all that suffering exists. Therefore, when it comes to explaining evil, atheism has by far the superior explanation, and this gives us strong reason to think that atheism is true. For more on the argument from evil, see "All Possible Worlds".

 

·                     Naturalism is the norm, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.This point can best be summarized as "miracles don't happen". Obvious supernatural events are nonexistent, although the holy books of most religions assure us they were common in the distant past. Claims of miraculous occurrences invariably turn out to be either trivial, anecdotal, spurious, or based on arguments from ignorance (i.e., "We don't understand the cause of this, so it must be a miracle"). Science, the human enterprise which seeks to explain the universe by the operation of natural laws without invocation of the supernatural, has been resoundingly successful at this goal; so far a huge variety of phenomena have come into the sphere of our understanding, and none have been found that resist natural explanation.

 

These facts are, of course, to be expected under atheism. If the supernatural does not exist, then everything that happens must have a natural explanation, and it is no surprise that we do not observe any unambiguous miracles. Conversely, it is most unexpected under theism that God does not perform them more often, especially since a significant number of positive effects would probably result. See "One More Burning Bush".

 

·                     There is no clear evidence of the existence of any gods, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Not only are there no obvious miracles, human beings do not possess any clear communication from God even in ways that are not obviously supernatural, such as the simple, basic ways we relate to each other. Nor does God perform any activities in our daily lives, not even simple, ordinary activities, in a way that can be reliably attributed to him. Although most religions assure us it is well within God's power to disclose his existence and speak to us and interact with us in such a way that we could be sure that the message was genuine, this does not happen. Instead, believers claim to be assured of God's existence based on mere inward conviction, which is not a reliable guide to the nature of reality regardless of how strong it is, and on documents written, interpreted and approved by human beings.

 

Any clear communication or activity from God would obviously be a death blow for atheism, but no such thing has happened. On the other hand, if atheism is true, we would fully expect that this would be the case. We would fully expect that believers would rely solely on subjectively acquired feelings inaccessible to outside verification, and that apologists and evangelists would go around telling each other that they have discovered the truth about God, although every single source the various factions cite would, ultimately, be a human source. We would fully expect that, although theists claim that "God is love", he would never appear and show that love to us in the way a parent shows love to their children. We would expect that careful and painstaking examination of every aspect of the world would uncover a grand web of cause and effect, but not the slightest trace of influence of a power that stands above it all.

 

·                     Religious texts contain many contradictions and historical inaccuracies, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.If a particular book was dictated to humans by a perfect and self-consistent deity, it is to be expected that that book would likewise be free of internal error and contradiction. Similarly, if a book was the product of a being that was present when the events narrated in that book took place, we would expect it to contain an accurate account of those events. However, when examining religious texts, this is not what we actually find. Instead, we find books that contain many mutually contradictory or incompatible verses. In addition, when it is possible to independently verify these books' historical accuracy through archaeological or other scientific investigation, we often find that they contain many passages which are implausible or false. For examples of such contradictions in the holy texts of two major religious traditions, see "Foundation of Sand" and "Much Incongruity". For examples of historical inaccuracies in these traditions, see "Let the Stones Speak".

 

This observation is less surprising under atheism than theism. Contradictions or errors in a given religious text, of course, do not prove that that text was not divinely inspired, but it is much more surprising that a text inspired by a god would contain errors than that a purely human-written one would. Similarly, the errors in any one text do not mean that all religions are false, but the more we examine and find to contain such errors, the more confidence we can have in an inductive generalization that all of them are probably the same way.

 

·                     Arguments for God's existence suffer from irreparable logical flaws, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Throughout the ages, theologians and philosophers have been attempting to devise rational proofs of God's existence; and without exception, all such efforts have fallen short. Not only do these arguments ultimately fail, many of them are actually premised on fundamental logical fallacies. For example, the classic pro-theistic argument known as the ontological argument suffers from circularity, while the cosmological argument is built on special pleading, and the argument from design is really just a disguised argument from ignorance. The moral argument for God's existence has been dogged for centuries by the insoluble Euthyphro rebuttal, while the more recent presuppositional arguments rely on the fallacy of the false dilemma. For more detailed refutations of these and other pro-theistic arguments, see "Unmoved Mover".

 

Granted, it is possible for God to exist and for there also to be no irrefutable arguments proving that fact. However, this outcome is still less surprising under atheism than theism. If theism is true, it is not at all unreasonable to expect that God might have structured the universe so that reason would enable us to detect that fact. On the other hand, if atheism is true, then the ultimate failure of all pro-theistic arguments is the only possible outcome (assuming, of course, that logic does bear some correspondence to reality). Certainly the failure of many intelligent people throughout the ages to conclusively prove the existence of God should tell us something.

 

·                     There are moral, fulfilled, happy people from all religious backgrounds and also among nonbelievers, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.Many religions claim that genuine satisfaction in life can only be found by belonging to that religion and worshipping its deity, and that all attempts to acquire happiness any other way will ultimately end in misery and frustration. Were any particular religion true, we might well expect to find that this was indeed the case. But this is not what we find. Instead, even a cursory search will reveal that there are a vast number of wise, virtuous, spiritual and happy people from every religious background and from atheism as well. No religious belief system's adherents are substantially better at dealing with life's ups and downs, on the average, than members of any other belief system. This is exactly as we would expect if no one religion had a monopoly on the truth, giving further support to atheism.

 

Moral Reasons

 

·                     Many religions have cruel, dangerous or repressive doctrines which it is morally incumbent upon us not to support.The first and most obvious moral reason to dissociate oneself from religion is the existence of cruel or otherwise unacceptable doctrines commonly associated with it. Though the specific nature of these doctrines varies from one belief system to another, virtually every form of theism so far conceived has at least a few. One that is very common is the belief that women are in some way inferior or subordinate to men. Such a belief shows up, for example, in the Old Testament's valuation of women as worth half as much as men; in the Christian Bible's command that women keep silent in church and submissively obey men; or in Islam's permitting men to marry multiple wives but never wives to marry multiple husbands, or forcing women to wear stifling black garb in public. Another immoral religious doctrine is the belief that God will one day soon destroy the world and save only his own, and that it is desirable that this happen. This belief has led in many instances to believers taking no action to remedy evils such as terrorism or environmental destruction, on the grounds that it will all soon come to an end anyway - or worse, causing violence themselves in an effort to bring about the hoped-for apocalypse.

 

In addition to these pernicious beliefs, there are others, including the advocacy of death and torture as a punishment for even minor transgressions; the support of racism, caste systems and slavery; the opposition to the use of birth control even in already desperately overcrowded regions of the planet; the belief that God has granted us a divine mandate to ravage the planet in any way we wish; the belief that absolution is free and there is therefore no incentive to refrain from committing evil acts; the support of monarchies and theocracies; the belief that medicine should be withheld from the sick in favor of prayer; prejudice against homosexuals and other minority groups; and many, many more. In fact, any crime, injustice or evil deed can be excused by claiming "God is on my side", and such justifications have been offered for countless wrongs committed throughout history.

 

Morality demands that we refrain from supporting such beliefs, and so the only moral course of action upon encountering a religion that teaches one or more of them is to refuse to be a member of it. Even if a religion was true and the god it described actually existed, if it advocated immoral or evil doctrines the only ethical thing to do would be to refuse to follow it. If there are such beings as gods, they are bound by morality's principles as surely as humans are; neither the certain existence nor the great power wielded by Adolf Hitler, for example, made obeying him the moral thing to do. Fortunately, we do not seem to be in any comparable dilemma, as there are strong evidential reasons, apart from any moral considerations, to believe that no form of theism is true. However, this and other moral arguments against religion give additional reason to be an atheist.

 

·                     Many religions have histories of violence and hatred which it is morally incumbent upon us to dissociate from.The history of religion on this planet is a history written in blood. As far back as records exist, people have been fighting, torturing and killing each other in the name of the gods. Essentially the only religions that have never engaged in warfare and bloodshed are those that have been so consistently oppressed throughout their history that they have never had the power to do so. The only ethical response for people of conscience, when presented with these facts, is to dissociate themselves from the religions that have been responsible for them. As Jesus is reported to have said, "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.... by their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:17-20, NIV translation).

 

There are examples of this from every major religious tradition. In Judaism, the Old Testament contains many instances of the Israelites waging warfare and carrying out programs of genocide purportedly under divine sanction, and today there are still far-right Israeli nationalists who believe it is the Jewish people's God-given right to own the entire Fertile Crescent, driving out the other inhabitants by violence if necessary. The crusades, inquisitions and witch hunts carried out by the various medieval Christian churches linger in memory, and today Christianity still has its share of racists and fundamentalists who murder gays, bomb abortion clinics, and picket the funerals of AIDS victims while gleefully proclaiming the departed's eternal damnation. The terrorists and tyrants of Islam are too obvious to need enumeration. Even members of Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have been known to form murderous mobs that go on the rampage against people of other belief systems. The Buddhist kingdom of Tibet prior to the Chinese conquest, presenting a sharp contrast with the current Dalai Lama's rhetoric about democracy and human rights, was a brutal theocracy where the lay population was forced through torture and imprisonment to support the monasteries (see this article).

 

Although the more liberal and moderate members of such faiths may be repulsed by such actions and may categorically disavow them, this cannot change the fact that the extremists still use the same holy book, believe in the same god, and worship in the same way as their less conservative brethren, the only difference being that they have different interpretations of a few verses of their sacred texts. Nor does it change the fact that this violence and hatred is not confined to a few isolated events, but permeates the history of virtually every belief system ever invented by humans. The only moral response to this is a full and complete dissociation from these hatemongers, and the best way to do that is by not belonging to the same belief system as them at all.

 

Some theists will no doubt protest that the ethical believers should not be condemned for the crimes of the misguided ones. And I agree that the morally good believers do not bear blame for the actions of the evil ones, so long as they have not defended or supported such actions. Nevertheless, when the entire structure of a belief system is marred by violence and unacceptable doctrine, the moral thing to do is to dissociate oneself from it, in order to make it clear that such practices will not be tolerated or supported.

 

·                     Many religions accumulate unnecessary amounts of wealth and material possessions, a practice which it is morally incumbent upon us not to support.Since time immemorial, religions worldwide have sought out the most effective tools from extracting the maximum possible amount of money from their followers. A common practice in Western religions is tithing - the church's calling on its members to hand over a stunning ten percent of their income each year. In churches with millions of followers, even if only a small percentage choose to tithe, the amount of wealth that is thereby accumulated is enormous. Similarly, in many Eastern countries past and present, all of society is expected to labor to support the religious upper classes of monks and priests. The practices that churches use to keep the money flowing in are endless - the collection plates passed around at each sermon, the sale of indulgences and prayers, the promise of worldly benefits in return, the unceasing cries of persecution that inspire believers who feel their faith is threatened to give generously in support of it.

 

Were the riches gained in this way used to do genuine good, there would be little reason to object. But very often they are not. Instead, many religions simply accumulate countless millions of dollars in assets, including vast amounts of property, huge and lavish church buildings, and unceasing luxury for their leaders - this although virtually all religions teach that excessive wealth is a barrier to salvation. Religious groups' control over society enables them to pass laws exempting themselves from outside scrutiny, so that they need not account to anyone how they spend the money they make. While most religions engage in at least some charity, the amount of good they actually strive to accomplish is small compared to what could be achieved if they put their full resources into the effort, and in any case religious charity often comes at a price.

 

Morality demands that we not support this. The amount of suffering and injustice in this world is so great that it is a pressing moral obligation for us to use our resources to combat it in the most effective way possible, rather than simply handing them over to further enrich already wealthy and powerful church hierarchies. Being an atheist, and giving the money thereby saved to genuine charitable groups, is an effective way to achieve this goal.

 

·                     Many religions display institutional corruption and hypocrisy which it is morally incumbent upon us not to support.In addition to the evil actions discussed in the last point, it is sadly the case that many organized religions do not follow even the good teachings their canons contain. Many religions whose texts preach the virtues of poverty and generosity have leaders who enjoy extravagant riches and luxuriant lifestyles made possible by donations from their followers, many of whom are desperately poor themselves; others whose texts extol peace, compassion and nonviolence have repeatedly engaged in war and terrorism with the excuse that it is justified by God's will. Others that preach about the necessity of fidelity and monogamy have leaders that have engaged in extramarital affairs or divorced and remarried numerous times. Still others have corrupt hierarchies that have tried to cover up sex abuse and other crimes committed by members of the clergy. (The Roman Catholic church is the most visible, though not the only, recent example.) Morality demands that we refrain from supporting such corrupt and hypocritical institutions until and unless they put an end to these transgressions and provide solid proof of their having done so.

 

·                     Many religions have psychologically unhealthy or harmful doctrines which it is morally incumbent upon us not to support.Most religions have at least one or a few doctrines which, if believed in, are likely to cause mental suffering and anguish both to the believers and to those around them. Among these harmful beliefs are that life is a constant source of pain and sorrow and this cannot be changed; that suffering and persecution are desirable and bring people closer to God; that all people are worthless sinners fully deserving of damnation; that it is forbidden to associate with or speak to those who believe differently; that there are vast conspiracies aligned against the true believers; and that human beings are constantly under siege by malignant demons or other evil supernatural powers. The first two of these beliefs are likely to cause believers to accept and even seek out suffering and rejection, rather than making an effort to ease human suffering and get along with others; in the worst case it may lead them to actively inflict pain on others. The third belief leads to feelings of guilt, worthlessness and self-hatred, as well as disdain for the efforts of others to improve the general welfare, while the fourth breaks up relationships and drives apart people who could otherwise be happy together. There have even been cases where the last two beliefs cause the mentally ill to forego the medical treatment they need in favor of ineffective measures like prayer and exorcism, which not only will not cure their condition but may even drive them deeper into it. In all cases, the harm caused by these beliefs should be unacceptable to people of conscience, and should lead these people to reject any belief system that teaches them.

 

·                     In general, theistic belief is a force for stagnation and against progress, and it is morally incumbent upon us not to support this.Throughout history, religion has been used to promote stagnation and the status quo, acting as a barrier to human advancement both intellectually and morally. It has had this effect for several reasons. First, and not least important, is the amount of resources that have been spent on religion. Even besides the money most churches accumulate, theism has encouraged many intelligent people to spend their lives debating pointless and irresolvable theological disputes or evangelizing other cultures, when their minds and their ability could much more usefully be spent doing something of benefit to humanity. Second is the frequent religious opposition to new knowledge. There was a time when men of science were persecuted, tortured and imprisoned by inquisitions, and even today, religious opposition to science is still widespread and strong. Creationists seek to prevent scientific theories that offend them from being taught in school, and theist apologists try to prevent natural phenomena from being studied by labeling them miracles, in an example of God of the Gaps reasoning. Third is the use of religion to justify the current state of society and denounce efforts for change. History is filled with examples of churches that have denounced societal progress and worked hand-in-hand with the ruling elite to oppress the poor and the disenfranchised, usually by teaching them that they will be rewarded in the next life for unquestioning obedience and passivity in this one. Finally, religion encourages fatalism, the belief that whatever happens is God's will and we should not seek to change it.

 

It is the fearless willingness to investigate the world and follow wherever the evidence leads that has brought about every improvement in the human condition that we have ever achieved. Religion, although not always or in every case, very frequently works against this, and on balance it has been a force for stagnation and even regression, rather than progress. People of conscience should therefore reject it on these grounds.

 

·                     In general, theistic belief serves as an excuse for the few to impose their will upon the many, and it is morally incumbent upon us not to support this.Although a very few religions teach - and, more importantly, put into practice - the belief that all people are equal in the sight of God and that all people have equal access to God, the opposite condition is by far more common. The absolutist theocracies, repressive caste systems and divine-right monarchies that have been so common throughout history and persist even today show how readily religion can be used as a tool of oppression and control, how easily it can justify inequality and unfair systems of rule. There is no major world religion that has not at some point been used to excuse such unjust institutions; even purportedly peaceful Eastern faiths such as Buddhism have given rise to tyrannical theocracies.

 

By contrast, history has shown us that democratic governments that abide by the principle of separation of church and state are far more efficient, more advanced, and more respectful of human rights. There is therefore strong moral reason to support this type of government, and the best basis for doing so is to be an atheist, since atheists have solid reason to reject the claim that some people are more favored by God than others.

 

Practical Reasons

 

·                     Atheism offers the freedom to live your life as you see fit.  Most religions offer a strict, tightly conscribed view of what constitutes acceptable behavior. They set restrictions on what sorts of activities their followers are supposed to prefer or reject, what their purpose and goals in life should be, whom they should obey, and what they should derive meaning and satisfaction from. There are long lists of things that their followers, in order to fit in, must do or refrain from doing; sometimes there are restrictions on how they dress, eat, speak and even vote. This effect is especially pronounced in conservative and fundamentalist religious communities where the lives of each person are planned out in advance with little if any regard for what those people themselves may want, and taken to an extreme in cults that attempt to control literally every moment of their members' lives.

 

An atheist, by contrast, is free of this confinement. Atheism has no hierarchy of authority or immutable scripture that forces its followers to live a certain way; the essence of atheism is the free choice of the individual. This does not mean that an atheist can behave as they want without regard for others - no one is exempt from the principles of morality. But it does mean that an atheist has the freedom to choose their own purpose, select their own path, and decide for themselves what makes their life meaningful and worthwhile to them. The feeling of deep inner satisfaction that comes from living a fearlessly self-directed life can only be imagined by those forced into the narrow and shallow paths of conventional religion.

 

·                     Atheism offers the freedom to make up your own mind.In line with the last point, most religions put limitations not on just how their believers may act, but what and how they may think. Ancient texts and their modern interpreters in the church hierarchies strictly prescribe how their followers are allowed to view the world, what topics they must approve or disapprove of, and often, what questions they are not allowed to ask. Some religions go as far as to command their followers not to expose themselves to certain knowledge deemed "dangerous". To name an especially egregious example, the one-billion-member Roman Catholic church only several decades ago abolished its Index of Forbidden Books, which for centuries threatened with excommunication any Catholic who read any titles on the list without special permission.

 

In contrast to this barrage of prohibition, atheism offers the freedom to think, believe, question and form opinions as one sees fit. To an atheist, there is no forbidden knowledge, there are no prohibited books, and there are no questions that may not be asked. Where the religious mind sees a mental landscape bristling with bars and locks, the atheist sees a wide-open horizon, where nothing is off-limits and the inquiring mind may travel wherever it pleases. Atheists are entirely free to study all perspectives on any topic and decide for themselves what they believe.

 

·                     Atheism offers the freedom to tolerate others.Many major religious traditions, in addition to dictating their followers' actions and beliefs, further instruct them not to associate with those whose beliefs are different. The Christian Bible, for example, commands believers to live apart from non-Christians, "for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14). The Islamic Qur'an is similar, with verses admonishing Muslims not to befriend those who believe differently (9:23).

 

By contrast, atheism has no such prohibitions. Rather than being limited to a restricted subset of humanity, an atheist can freely associate with anyone they choose, and can find friends and loved ones from any background. Nor is an atheist required to look down on others' actions as "sinful", but can accept them for who they are. Members of such xenophobic religious traditions will never know the many friendly, intelligent, loving, and generous people who come from belief systems other than their own, but an atheist labors under no such restrictions.

 

·                     Atheism saves time and money.A minor point, though not too minor to overlook, is that being an atheist saves one the resources that would otherwise be spent on attending church and other religious services. More conservative denominations often expect members to attend services multiple times a week, sometimes for hours each time; but even just one hour a week gained back by not attending church can be a valuable resource, whether for accomplishing something productive or simply spent in quiet contemplation. Likewise, virtually all denominations expect constant donations, and many expect members to tithe as much as 10% of their income. Being an atheist allows one to use this money for more worthwhile ends than propping up an already wealthy church hierarchy.

 

·                     Atheism is an education in critical thinking.For obvious reasons, most religions do not place a high emphasis on teaching their followers the principles of skepticism and critical thinking, preferring instead to convey the message that unquestioning faith is a virtue. But this way of viewing the world cannot help but have repercussions in other areas. Namely, theists who are taught that evidence is irrelevant and that truth is decided by the strength of one's belief are more likely to be deceived by all manner of false or fraudulent claims. By contrast, an atheist accustomed to being skeptical of extraordinary claims and experienced in detecting common errors of reasoning already has a mental toolkit that will help them see through such impostures.

 

·                     Atheism relieves the need to defend the indefensible.To be an atheist is to be released from the perpetual need to prop up tired, false beliefs with equally threadbare apologetics. Atheists no longer have to make excuses for why they are allowing the millennia-old writings of primitive and superstitious people to direct every aspect of their lives today. Atheists do not have to justify why they are following the moral advice of books that approve of slavery, the inequality of women, and war and genocide in the name of God. Atheists do not have to make excuses for why an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving entity never takes any clear action to help human beings who need it. Atheists no longer have to devote the mental effort to believing in absurd myths of talking snakes, people walking on water, or men being swallowed by giant fish and surviving, when everyone knows such things do not happen in the real world. Atheists, in short, do not have to believe in anything but what is real, verifiable, and provable, and can focus their energies on dealing with the world in which they live, rather than bending their minds to believing in another world of fantasy and miracle.

 

·                     Atheism offers respite from feelings of worthlessness and guilt.Many religions teach that human beings are all sinners, stained and worthless in God's eyes and fully deserving of his punishment and wrath. Others teach that there is a huge number of elaborate and arbitrary rules which people must strictly follow at all times, and that if they transgress they are "dirty" until they subject themselves to rituals of cleansing and absolution. Still others teach that a person's worth is entirely dependent on whether they believe certain things. All such teachings are likely to produce in their adherents feelings of perpetual guilt, shame and self-loathing. Atheism, by contrast, does not teach any of these things. Combined with a humanist philosophy that respects the inherent dignity and worth of each person, it offers a powerful antidote to feelings of worthlessness.

 

·                     Atheism offers respite from fear.For many theists, following their religion is a life of constant fear: fear that the world is conspiring against them, fear that they are constantly under attack by evil spirits, fear that a wrathful God is watching them and will condemn them to Hell if they sin, fear that the world may end at any moment, fear that they will be excommunicated or ostracized by their church community if they put a foot wrong, fear that their friends and loved ones who believe differently will be damned. Atheism, by contrast, offers release from these superstitious and unfounded fears, and in their place offers a credo of hope: there are no supernatural powers arrayed against us, nor must we live in constant fear of judgment. We are human beings, alive and free, and our destiny is in our own hands.

 

·                     Atheism offers the ability to view yourself and others as equals.As already noted, many religions contain morally unacceptable teachings about the inequality of women, homosexuals, minorities, and other societal groups and classes. Many others also contain teachings about how some people are closer to or more favored by God than others, while the rest are lesser in some way. Atheism offers freedom from these pervasive prejudices, granting instead the realization that we are all human beings, alike in dignity. But even beyond this, many religions offer a dire view of the world where many of the people you meet and interact with every day are destined for an eternity of unimaginable suffering in Hell, and where it is every believer's duty to convert these people if possible, where the primary purpose of every relationship with a nonbeliever must ultimately be an attempt to "save" them. But it is impossible to have a deep and meaningful relationship with someone whom you view as a mere target for conversion rather than a human being, and so this belief will in many cases ultimately lead to frustration, loneliness, and unhappiness. Atheism lifts this psychological burden by allowing you to accept other people for who they are without feeling that you need to change them.

 

·                     Atheism offers happiness.The last, and best, practical reason to be an atheist is that it can make possible a life of happiness and contentment. Despite the never-ending barrage of stereotypes from religious apologists who claim atheism offers nothing but darkness and misery, the truth is that this is not so. The process of deconversion is often difficult and emotionally wrenching for people who have had a strong religious upbringing, but on the other side of this transition there is clear air and freedom, and the promise of a peaceful life where all the strife, the confusion, and the wrestling with the insoluble questions of faith have finally ceased. Atheists understand the basis for morality, that simple compassion is a better reason to do what is right than ten thousand commands from on high. Atheists understand their relationship to the rest of the universe and the awe-inspiring cosmic processes that brought us into being here. Atheists appreciate the beauty of the world and the reasons why it is something worth fighting to preserve. Atheists possess the exhilarating freedom to determine their own destinies, chart their own heading in life, and make up their minds for themselves. Atheists know the thrill of a mind free to travel and explore wherever it wishes. And atheists can live lives of purpose, meaning and deep, genuine fulfillment and inner happiness just as well as any theist can.

 

There is nothing to fear about atheism, and much that it has to offer. The sooner we all realize this, the better off we will all be. Sadly, despite all the reasons to do otherwise, the human race seems poised to continue on its religious path into the foreseeable future, and the associated prejudices, injustices, and futile strivings after the unseen will almost certainly continue as well. However, a day may come when humankind finally grasps the necessity of atheism. On that day, we will wake from our religious dream and at last see the world as it truly is. On that day, perhaps, we can finally leave all the old fears and struggles behind and step into the light of the morning for all time. On that day, we will at last be free.

 

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http://www.update.uu.se/~fbendz/nogod/no_god.htm

 

Proof that there is no god

"I had no need for that hypothesis" (Laplace to Napoleon about god)


Contents

Introduction

Definition of the word "god"

The qualities of an omnipotent god

Reasons not to believe in god

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle

The ontological evidence

Nothing can be self-containing

Occam's razor

Some things are impossible to do

Omnipotence is impossible due to paradoxes

The void creator

We would never notice god

Nobody really believes in god

Theodicé

Epilogue

References

Additional reading

Similar pages


Introduction

Some people falsely believe that it is impossible to prove the unexistence of anything, but they are wrong. It can, for example, be proved that there is no even prime number greater than two. Other people use to say that there is no way to prove if there is a god or not, or even that we cannot get any knowledge of god (agnosticism). My opinion as a strong atheist, is that we can in fact prove that god does not exist in the physical world. This document is my attempt to do so.

 

Definition of the word "god"

To prove the non-existence of god we first need to define the word "god". When christians talk about god they mean an almighty being. This, I think, is the only god that holds, since it is the only god that can be logically justified.

 

I think it makes most sense if god is female, because only women can give life. Something that even people in the Stone Age understood. Later when wars affected the cultural evolution, and men took control of society, god became male, but the female god still lives on in the expression "Mother earth". It should also be pointed out that an omnipotent god must be either androgyne or sexless. However, in most religions god is male so I will refer to god as 'he', 'him' etc.

 

Some people (Einstein for instance) believe in a god who is not a personal god, but a Spinozan kind of god. I claim that this god is not a god! To say that god is universe - by getting knowledge of the universe we get knowledge of god - is to redefine the meaning of the word god. This has nothing to do with the word god as it was defined by the "primitive" cultures which preceded our present civilization. He can be excluded with Occam's razor, and most important: Such a god does not hear prayers.

 

If god is not omnipotent there is nothing that prevents him from being a product of the universe. If that is the case, what makes god divine? Then god would only be an alien, a being of matter; probably containing flesh, blood and DNA like all life we know of. Everything god is able to do would be things that human beings also will be able to do, all his knowledge would be knowledge we will also achieve. In fact humans would be gods, which should lead to some strange kind of humanism!

 

Many people justify their faith with god as an explanation. What is the meaning of life? Where does time and space come from? Who created the physical constants? et cetera. Because we lack knowledge of these things - and maybe never will, since they are questions like "what is the color of a second?" or "how does sound taste?" - god is there as an explanation.

 

Let's say that god is the meaning of life, what then is the meaning of god? If god has a nature, who created that nature? If god created time and space, how can god exist without it? Since creation is an event in time, how could god create time? and who created god? To answer these questions god must be almighty, or else you can't explain them. In fact you can if you say god stands above time and space and so on (which he indeed does if he is almighty), but to be able to prevent god from being tied to future phenomena, you must give him the quality of omnipotence so he can stand above everything.

 

The qualities of an omnipotent god

 

If god is almighty there are several qualities he must have. They are as follows:

·                     He must know everything. Everything that is, everything that has been and everything that will be. To be able to know everything that will be he must know every position and every momentum of every particle in cosmos (Laplace's "World Spirit").

·                     He must be worth our worship. A being that is not worth worshipping is no god.

·                     He must be able to do anything. If there are things that god can't do, he certainly is not omnipotent.

·                     He must be above time. Something that even St. Augustine deduced. But not only that, god must stand above all possible dimensions.

·                     He cannot be 'good' or 'evil' or, indeed, have any subjective characteristica. If god is all good, he cannot do evil things and cannot be almighty. Most people would object and say that good can do evil but chooses not to do it. Well, if god is all good he can't choose to do evil things, can he?

 

The theodicé problem

 

We also have the theodice problem, stated by David Hume:If the evil in the world is intended by god he is not good. If it violates his intentions he is not almighty. God can't be both almighty and good. There are many objections to this, but none that holds since god is ultimately responsible for the existence of evil. Besides, if only god can create he must have created evil. If somebody else (the devil) created evil, how can one know that god, and not Satan created the universe?

For a good look at the Theodicé problem try The problem of natural evil

 

Reasons not to believe in god

 

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle

I have refuted this argument myself. See Refuted proofs for an explanation

 

The ontological evidence against gods

 

Neccesary a god is a being that is worth worshipping, so if there is no being worth worshipping there cannot be a god.

Not any of the existing religions can provide such a god. How do we know if there are no undiscovered beings worthy our submission? Well if there is a being that has either failed or not tried to communicate with us that being is not worth worshipping either, so the ontological evidence against god holds, even without complete knowledge of the world.

 

There is a test, based on the ontological evidence against god, that you can do to try the existence of god. Pray, and ask god to provide you with a clear proof for his existence within a week. After that week, if you have got a proof that god exists, send me the evidence. If not, there are only three reasons I can think of that are plausible: (1) God does not exist, (2) God does not want to or (3) God can't give you this evidence. Because of the ontological evidence, alternative (2) and (3) are not worth your worship and thus they equal alternative (1). So if you get no response there is no god.

 

The meaning of the word existence

 

What do we mean by existence? The very definition for existence is that a thing is said to exist if it relates in some way to some other thing. That is, things exist in relation to each other. For us, that means that something is part of our system ('The known world'). God is defined to be infinite, in which case it is not possible for there to be anything other than god because "infinite" is all-inclusive. But if there is nothing other than god then either god cannot be said to exist for the reason just explained, or god is the known world, in which case, by definition, god is not a god.

 

Occam's razor

Occam's razor was formulated by William of Occam (1285-1349) and says: "Non est ponenda pluralites sive necessitate" or in english: "Do not multiply entities unless necessarily". It is a principle for scientific labour which means that one should use a simple explanation with a few explanatory premises before a more complex one.

Let's say that everything must be created, and that was done by an omnipotent god. A god which stands above time, space, moral and existence, which is self containing and in it self has it's own cause. This entity can surely be replaced by the known world. The world stands above time, space, moral, existence, is self containing and in it has it's own meaning. Most theists agree that god has a nature. Then we must raise the question, who created god's nature? If we just accept that god has a nature and exists without a cause, why not say that the known world just is and that the laws of physics are what they are, without a cause?

 

God is not really an explanation, only a non-explanation. It is impossible to gain information from non-information so God as an explanation is a dead end. When we have said that the reason for something is that 'god did it that way' there is no way to understand it any further. We just shrug our shoulders and accept things as they are. To explain the unknown by god is only to explain how it happened, not why. If we are to investigate the world and build our views of life from the world, we cannot assume a god. Because adding god as an explanation leaves as many, if not more questions than it explains, god has to be removed with Occam's razor if we are serious in investigating the world.

 

Some things are impossible to do

There are things that are impossible to do. For example nobody can cover a two-dimensional surface with two-dimensional circles, without making them overlap. It is impossible to add the numbers two and two and get 666. You can not go back in time (without passing an infinite entropy barrier). The number of things that are impossible to do are almost infinite. If god were to be almighty he would be able to do them, but it's impossible to do so.

 

Some people say that he can only do things that are logically possible to do, but what is? Is it logically possible to walk on water? Is it logically possible to rise from the dead? Is it logically possible to stand above time, space and all other dimensions - and still exist? I'd say that everything which violates the laws of physics are logically impossible and thus omnipotence is logically impossible. Besides if omnipotence is a relative quality there is no way to tell omnipotence from non-omnipotence. For omnipotence to be a valid expression it must be absolute, but we have no objective criteria to measure omnipotence so the word itself is useless.

 

Omnipotence is impossible due to paradoxes

 

Another way to disprove the almighty god is that omnipotence leads to paradoxes. Can god make a rock that is too heavy for him to carry? Can god build a wall that even he can't tear down?

 

Also, if god knows everything, he knows what he will do in the "future" (in any dimension, not necessary the time dimension). He must have known that from the very start of his own existence. Thus god's actions are predestined. God is tied by faith, he has no free will. If god has no free will god is not omnipotent. Another way to put it is that to be able to make plans and decisions one must act over time. If god stands above time he can not do that and has no free will. Indeed, if god stands above all dimensions god is dimensionless - a singularity, nothing, void!

 

Besides there can exist no free wills at all if god is almighty. If you had a free will, god wouldn't know what you would do tomorrow and wouldn't be omnipotent.

 

The void creator

 

If everything must have been created, then god must have been created as well. If god is not created, then everything mustn't have a creator, so why should life or cosmos have one?

 

Besides this argument has another leap. If everything has a source and god is that source, then god must have existed without it before he created it. So if god created time and space, he must live outside of time and space. Thus he is non-existent. If all life must come from something and that is god, god is not alive and hence non-existent. If moral must come from god, god lacks moral. If logic comes from god, god is illogic. If nature comes from god, god is unnatural. If existence comes from god, god is non-existent. If god is the cause of everything, god is void

 

We would never notice god

 

This is not an evidence against god, but rather describes the lack of sense in praying to a god who stands above time.

 

If god stands above time and created time and space he can not be the first link in a time dependent chain of events. Rather he would affect every step in all chains, and we would only see god in the laws of physics (Davies, 1983, chapter 4). This god is an unnecessary entity to describe the world and should be removed with Occam's razor

If somebody would pray to god and god would listen, the laws would change to achieve the desired result. Thus the world would be different and the prayer would never have been said. Besides god would already (in an "above time" sense of view) know that you would pray, and already have changed the world. Prayers would be totally meaningless. We would already live in the best world possible, and any prayer would be to doubt the wisdom of god.

 

Even worse: For every prayer said, god has not acted, or else the prayer had been undone. This means that the more people have prayed, the more bad things in the world have persisted. Therefore, the more you pray, the more evil persist (provided god exists and stands above time).

 

A much better way to change the world is to do it yourself. Then you would know that it was you who made the world better. The effect of prayers are not scientific provable, whilst the effect of actions are. Instead of praying you should set to work at improving your situation. This is what humanism is about.

 

Nobody really believes in god

 

Schopenhauer once said something like:

"Man can do anything he wants, but he can not want whatever he wants."

 

My thesis is that people who claim to believe in god do not really do so. They just wish to believe in god. They somehow feel that their lives are meaningless without god, so they choose to close their eyes to evidence against the existence of god. The christian view is well expressed by Cardinal Ratzinger:

 

"Religious liberty can not justify freedom for divergence. This freedom does not aim at any freedom relative truth, but concerns the free descicion for a person to, according to his moral inclinations accept the truth." (The times, June 27 1990, p9) [Translated to Swedish in the Swedish version of (Baigenth, Leigh, 1991) and then translated back to english by me]

 

It's as clear as it can be! For a christian you accept the "truth" according to your moral, and then have to be strong in your faith to keep your believes. You decide a priori what to believe and then try to convince yourself and others that it is true. But theists don't really believe, because to believe something is to take it for true, and just like in Nazareth's song Sold my soul there is no sign of god in the world. When you have the evidence for and against something your sub-conscious works on it and makes a conclusion. The process can't be affected by your will, only delayed or suppressed, which will lead to psychoses, and those are far more common among (catholic) priests than any other group..

 

I have personal experience of this believing what you want to believe. When I was a child I believed in a lot of crazy things. I thought my stuffed animals were intelligent. I believed in Santa Claus. I thought there were monsters under my bed at night. I even believed in god after I heard some of the tales from the old testament. Then I became older and realized that these things weren't true. When I look back I don't understand how I could believe in them, it must have been that I wanted to do so. (Except for the monsters, which had to do with fear of the dark)

 

When many religious people are confronted with criticism of their religion they convert to atheism or agnosticism. Examples of people who became critical to the dogmas of christianity are Charles Darwin (Darwin, 1958), Dan Barker (Barker, 19??), Ernest Renan plus many former "Catholic modernists" in the 19th century such as Alfred Loisy and Antonio Fogazzaro (Baigenth, Leigh, 1991). The Catholic modernism evolved in the late 19th century and was banned in 1907 by the Vatican (Baigenth, Leigh, 1991). These people are to me clear evidence that an enlightened person will after considering the facts, reject christianity and other religions that contain deities.

Note: This is not the "Plead to authority" fallacy. I'm talking people here, who were trying to prove the existence of god and turned atheists. They did not want to do this, but had to after reading a lot of books and doing a lot of thinking on the subject.

 

Epilogue

 

I have tried to define the only god that can be philosophically justified and show some examples why this god cannot exist. After reading this document you may object and say that god is beyond human understanding and can't be defined in scientific terms. This is the view of agnosticism.

 

If god is so mysterious, how can we know anything about him? Through the Bible? How do we know that the Bible and not the Koran or the Vedha books, for example, are the words of god? (or the bible if you believe in any of the other two books). Considering the cruelties that have been made in the name of god, how do we know that not all religions are made by Satan?

 

If there is no way to know this but to trust people who claim they have had "divine experiences" there is no way to tell true from false prophets. One has to give up his free mind and follow the authority of a dictator. Remember also that it is the person making a positive claim who has to prove it.

 

"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true." -- Bertrand Russell

"We shall not believe anything unless there is reasonable cause to believe that it is true" -- Ingemar Hedenius


References

1.                   Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception (1991)

2.                   Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith - From preacher to atheist (19??)

3.                   Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow. The only complete edition. (1958)

4.                   Paul Davies, God and the new physics (1983)

Additional reading

1.                   The Atheism web

2.                   Bible contradictions #1

3.                   Joseph C. Sommer, Some reasons why Humanists reject the bible

4.                   Does God exist? a debate between John P. Koster and Frank Zindler

5.                   The Internet Infidels

6.                   Julian Huxley, Religion without revelation (New York, NY: Mentor Books, l957)

7.                   Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1984)

8.                   John Stuart Mill, The Religion of Humanity (1874)

9.                   George Smith, The Case Against God

Similar pages

1.                   Why the Christian God is Impossible, by Chad Docterman A superb rejection of the christian god - a must read!

2.                   Brett Lemoine's Atheism information

3.                   Why Rich Daniel believes there are no gods


Last update: Saturday, December 12, 1998

 

 

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/

Nontheism

Atheism
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Naturalism
Secular Humanism
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Skeptic's Dictionary (Off Site)

 

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/

 

About Atheism [ Index ]

 

Various introductions to atheism, including its definition; its relationship to agnosticism, theism, and noncognitivism; and its value.

 

Arguments for Atheism [ Index ]

In this section, "arguments for atheism" means "arguments for the nonexistence of God." In the jargon of the philosophy of religion, such arguments are known as "atheological arguments." The argument from evil (sometimes referred to as 'the problem of evil') is by far the most famous of such arguments, but it is by no means the only such argument. Indeed, in the 1990s atheist philosophers developed a flurry of atheological arguments; arguably the most famous of such arguments is the argument from divine hiddenness (and the related argument from nonbelief).

 

Atheism, Theism, and the Burden of Proof [ Index ]

 

Debates [ Index ]

Links to transcripts or reviews of debates specifically about atheism (as opposed to debates about Christianity, Islam, creation/evolution, etc.).

 

Media & Reviews [ Index ]

Books, magazines, movies, and book reviews having to do with atheism.

 

Morality and Atheism [ Index ]

This page addresses the relationship between morality and atheism, especially in the following four areas: (1) on average, are atheists as moral as theists? (2) why should atheists be moral? (3) can life without God have meaning? and (4) does atheism entail a certain view on specific moral questions? (NOTE: this page does not address moral arguments for God's existence, or whether morality is subjective.)

 

Outreach [ Index ]

Links to various articles which discuss whether atheists should engage in outreach and, if so, how they may do so effectively.

 

Recommended Sites [ Index ]

This page is NOT intended to be a list of all personal home pages maintained by atheists. Rather, this page is only intended to list some exceptionally good home pages on the Internet.

 

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/evidential.html

 

Evidential arguments for atheism attempt to show that certain known facts that are (at least so far as we can tell) consistent with theism nevertheless provide evidence against it. Typically, such arguments start with a known fact, such as the amount of suffering in the world. The arguments then attempt to show that the fact in question supports the hypothesis of atheism over the hypothesis of theism because we have more reason to expect the fact to obtain on the assumption that God does not exist than on the assumption that God does exist. Accordingly, the fact in question is more probable on the assumption that atheism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, and hence provides some evidence for atheism and against theism. By combining such facts, one can begin to construct a cumulative case for atheism.

What, then, are the evidential arguments? The following is a partial list; it summarizes the facts to which the evidential arguments appeal:

 

·                     Big Bang cosmology (the Atheistic Cosmological Argument)

·                     Mind-brain dependence (the Argument from Physical Minds)

·                     Biological evolution

·                     Evil

o                                            Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure

·                     (Reasonable) Nonbelief or Divine Hiddenness

·                     Religious and Ethical Confusion

 

There are additional facts which form the basis of other evidential arguments, arguments not yet discussed on the Secular Web. These additional facts include facts about the scale of the universe, the flourishing and languishing of sentient beings, and the distribution of religious experiences. (See our call for papers if you are interested in contributing a paper on one of these arguments.) To see how these and other arguments can be used to build a cumulative case for naturalism (the view that there are no supernatural beings, including God), see The Lowder-Fernandes Debate.

 

Note: the definition of an evidential argument for atheism was taken from Paul Draper, "Evolution and the Problem of Evil," in Philosophy of Religion (3rd ed., ed. Louis P. Pojman, Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998), p. 220.

 

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/logical.html

 

Logical arguments for atheism attempt to show that the concept of God is self-contradictory or logically inconsistent with some known fact. In the jargon of the philosophy of religion, the former type of logical arguments are sometimes called incompatible-properties arguments. These arguments attempt to demonstrate a contradiction in the concept of God. If an argument of this type were successful, it would mean that the existence of God is impossible; there is a 0% probability that God exists.

 

Logic and Fallacies: Constructing a Logical Argument (1997) by mathew

If you want to be able put across a rigorous and convincing argument, you should read this document. Recommended for anyone who is going to be involved in debate or discussion. Included is a list of common fallacies to beware of.

 

Causation and the Logical Impossibility of a Divine Cause (1996) by Quentin Smith

Smith presents a logical argument for atheism based upon the incompatibility of "God is the originating cause of the universe" with all possible valid definitions or theories of causality.

 

A Disproof of God's Existence (1970) by Michael Martin

'God' in one sense that is widely accepted in non-academic circles is self contradictory and thus that God in this sense cannot exist. Martin first gives a rather informal exposition of the disproof, followed by a more formal version. Finally, Martin defends the disproof against possible objections.

 

The Freewill Argument For the Nonexistence of God (1997) by Dan Barker

Dan Barker argues that two of the traditional divine attributes are incompatible with one another: divine freedom and divine foreknowledge.

 

God and Moral Autonomy (1997) by James Rachels

Rachels defends an argument for the nonexistence of God based on the impossibility of a being worthy of worship.

 

Incompatible-Properties Arguments: a Survey (1998) by Theodore M. Drange

Ten atheological arguments are presented (and briefly discussed) in each of which there is an apparently incompatible pair of divine attributes.

 

The Case for a Coherent God (n.d.) by Joseph A. Sabella

Sabella critiques each of the arguments sketched by Drange.

 

The Coherence of God: A Response to Theodore M. Drange (2003) by Ralph C. Wagenet

Wagenet argues that the arguments sketched by Drange do not prove the incoherence of the Christian god.

 

Is God Good By Definition? (1992) by Graham Oppy

Oppy presents a logical argument based upon an alleged fact of metaethics: the falsity of moral realism. If moral realism is false, then that is a fact that is incompatible with God's existence.

 

Logical Arguments from Evil [ Index ]

An index of all articles in the Modern Library related to logical arguments from evil.

 

A Moral Argument for Atheism (1999) by Raymond D. Bradley

Bradley argues that the God of the Jewish and Christian scriptures are incompatible with a known fact. What is the known fact? (a) That it is morally impermissible for anyone to commit, cause, command, or condone acts that violate our moral principles. Why is the God of the Jewish and Christian scriptures incompatible with that fact? Because (b) according to Judaism and Christianity, any act that God commits, causes, commands, or condones is morally permissible. Furthermore, (c) the Bible tells us that God does in fact commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles. According to Bradley, (a) is incompatible with (b) & (c).

 

Moral Realism and Infinite Spacetime Imply Moral Nihilism (2003) (Off Site) by Quentin Smith

Smith argues that if the future is infinite, as contemporary astronomers believe it is, then moral nihilism is true if both moral realism and aggregative value theory is true. He then argues that this conclusion implies that God does not exist. Thus, Smith's argument may be reasonably classified as a logical argument from moral nihilism to atheism.

 

Review of Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism (2006) by Theodore M. Drange

Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism is long, abstruse, and technical, but valuable for those who have an interest in its topics. Those looking for arguments based on empirical phenomena said to be best explained by the God hypothesis should look elsewhere. Sobel's focus is, rather, issues of definition and logical structure. He addresses everything from the ontological argument to the fine-tuning argument, demolishing all of the main arguments for God's existence. Moreover, he argues that the kind of omnipotence and omniscience that theists ascribe to God is incoherent, and defends both evidential and logical arguments from evil against the existence of God. Finally, he turns to a discussion of practical reasons for belief in God, such as those invoked by Pascal's wager. No cutting-edge research on these topics should omit Sobel's work.

 

Note: the definition of a logical argument for atheism was taken from Paul Draper, "Evolution and the Problem of Evil," in Philosophy of Religion (3rd ed., ed. Louis P. Pojman, Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998), p. 220.

 

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/evidentialism.html

 

Do Atheists Bear a Burden of Proof? A Reply to Prof. Ralph McInerny (1997) by Keith M. Parsons

Parsons rebuts Prof Ralph McInerny's claim that the burden of proof should fall on the unbeliever.

 

Is Atheism Presumptuous? A Reply to Paul Copan (2000) by Jeffery Jay Lowder

Lowder refutes Paul Copan's claim that Antony Flew's 'presumption of atheism' is itself presumptuous.

 

 

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/ipnegep.html

 

Is a Sound Argument for the Nonexistence of a God Even Possible?* (1998)

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

If I were asked to prove that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments.

-- Bertrand Russell, "What Is an Agnostic?" 1953 [1]

 

A common objection to atheism -- one stated by many scholars and laymen, theists and nontheists -- is that it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of God. Yet the atheist response to this objection has been virtually non-existent.[2] This response is the purpose of this paper. Whether the atheist has a burden of proof[3], and whether any arguments for the nonexistence of a god have been successful, are issues beyond the scope of this paper.[4] Rather, I want to examine the mere possibility of a sound argument for the nonexistence of a god, by considering several objections to such an argument. Along the way, I shall argue that such an argument is indeed possible and does not require omniscience.

 

Objections from the Right

 

The Unprovability Objection: is it possible to prove a universal negative?

 

In his book Truth in Religion, Mortimer Adler distinguishes "logical disproof of religious belief" from universal negatives (or what he calls "negative existential propositions").[5] The former focuses on some proposition that is an "article of faith," a proposition that cannot be proved but can be "disproved by the proof of propositions that are their logical contraries or contradictories." For example, the Islamic belief that the prophet Muhammad received the Koran directly from Allah is classified by Adler as an "article of faith," because it cannot be proven. Yet, according to Adler, a disproof of an article of faith is possible. If a contradictory of an article of faith could be proven, then by the law of noncontradiction the article of faith would be disproven. Adler offers the following example of how an article of faith might be disproven by a contradictory:

It may be useful here to offer an example, in the case of Christianity, of scientific and technological advances that may call an article of faith into question. If the prediction of computer technologists and researchers into artificial intelligence is ever realized -- that machines can be constructed in the future, the behavior of which will be indistinguishable from the behavior of human beings -- then the Christian belief in the immortality of the human soul will be challenged. That belief depends for its rational support on the immateriality of the human intellect.

 

If purely material machines can do everything the human intellect can do, in a manner that is indistinguishable from the performance of the intellect, then there is no philosophical ground for affirming the immateriality of the intellect.[6]

 

Yet Adler believes that this sort of disproof can only go so far. According to Adler, a "negative existential proposition," a proposition which "denies the existence of some thing," "cannot be proved." Just exactly why Adler believes this to be so is unclear, for he does not directly defend his claim. Perhaps Adler believes that negative existential propositions are not or cannot be disproven by proving contradictory, positive existential claims (which he admits can be supported "beyond a reasonable doubt"). Yet even William Lane Craig, an outspoken critic of atheism, recognizes that this position is false. According to Craig, the claim that "you can't prove a universal negative" is

false. In the first place, of course you can. For example, you could disprove the statement that "there are polka-dotted geese." That would be a universal negative and you can disprove that. But more importantly, the claim that 'God does not exist' is not a universal negative. It's a singular negative. And certainly you can prove negative singular statements, such as, 'There is no planet between Venus and the Earth.' You can provide arguments to show that a singular negative statement is true.[7]

 

Indeed, there are actually two ways to prove the nonexistence of something. One way is to prove that it cannot exist because it leads to contradictions (e.g., square circles[8], married bachelors, etc.). I shall refer to arguments that rely on this method as "incompatible-properties arguments."[9] Because incompatible-properties arguments attempt to demonstrate a logical contradiction in the very concept of the thing in question, incompatible-properties arguments are deductive arguments.

 

Incompatible-properties arguments can also be applied to states of affairs involving several objects. In other words, it may be logically impossible for two objects to exist simultaneously. For example, some gods cannot coexist with other gods. The god of Islam (Allah) and the god of Christianity (Jehovah), despite their common origin in the god of Judaism (Yahweh), are mutually exclusive. Jehovah and Allah, at least as traditionally understood, cannot both exist at the same time. Both claim to be the Creator of the universe, but they have contradictory attributes (e.g., Christianity claims that there are three "persons" known as God but Islam claims that there is only one). Therefore, Allah and Jehovah cannot both be "God"; at least one cannot exist.

 

Thus, the Christian theist who makes the positive existential claim that the Christian god exists, is implicitly making the negative existential claim that all gods contradictory to the Christian god do not exist. Similarly, the Islamic theist who makes the positive existential claim that the Islamic god exists is implicitly claiming that all gods contradictory to Allah do not exist. And both the Christian and the Islamic theist presuppose the nonexistence of the god of Deism, an impersonal Creator of the universe.

 

The other way to prove the nonexistence of something is, in the words of Keith Parsons, "by carefully looking and seeing."[10] The basic idea is that some objects are said to be detectable in some way. Either their existence is directly observable or their existence is not directly observable but the object causes effects which are directly observable. For example, consider the existence of an ordinary rattlesnake. Suppose someone standing next to you claims that a rattlesnake is directly in front of you. You look down and see nothing. In such an instance, it would follow that there is no rattlesnake in front of you. This same method allows us to know that such things as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, etc. do not exist. In the context of arguments for the nonexistence of God, I will adopt Theodore Drange's terminology and refer to arguments which rely on this "looking and seeing method" as "God-vs.-world arguments."[11]

 

But the most decisive refutation of Adler's claim that "negative existential propositions cannot be proven" is the fact that the claim that "negative existential propositions cannot be proven" is itself a negative existential proposition. If negative existential propositions cannot be proven, then that implies there are no proofs for negative existential propositions. But the claim that "there are no proofs for negative existential propositions" is itself a negative existential proposition. Therefore, Adler could never claim to have any proof for his claim that negative existential propositions cannot be proven.

 

The Omniscience Objection: is it possible to know a universal negative?

 

Hank Hanegraaff, Ron Rhodes, and Kenneth R. Samples take a slightly different approach.[12] They argue that atheism is unknowable. This is because, in the words of Hanegraaff,

 

Simply stated, a person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be able to say "there is no God" from his own pool of knowledge. Only someone capable of being in all places at the same time -- with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe -- can make such a statement based on the facts. In other words, a person would have to be God to say there is no God. Hence, the assertion is logically indefensible.[13]

 

Yet it is not clear why the person who asserts that a particular god does not exist must be "capable of being in all places at the same time -- with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe." To be sure, theists who make the claim that "a specific god exists" do not feel that they must be omniscient and omnipresent. So why must the atheist be omniscient and omnipresent in order to affirm the opposite conclusion? Ron Rhodes has an answer to this question. He writes:

 

This point can be forcefully emphasized by asking the atheist if he has ever visited the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Mention that the library presently contains over 70 million items (books, magazines, journals, etc.). Also point out that hundreds of thousands of these were written by scholars and specialists in the various academic fields.

 

Then ask the following question: "What percentage of the collective knowledge recorded in the volumes in this library would you say are within your own pool of knowledge and experience?" The atheist will likely respond, "I don't know. I guess a fraction of one percent." You can then ask: "Do you think it is logically possible that God may exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?" Even if the atheist refuses to admit the possibility, you have made your point and he knows it.[14]

 

Of course, in response, the atheist could simply ask the theist, "Do you think it is logically possible that a knock-down, deductive disproof of your god may exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?" If the theist replies, "Yes, it is possible that there is such a disproof", then on Rhodes' reasoning the theist should not claim to know that God exists. If, however, the theist answers, "No, it is not possible that there is such a disproof," then the theist apparently thinks she can know a negative existential proposition to be true without being omniscient.

 

Even in Rhodes' scenario, all that is necessary is that a particular god's existence logically imply something that we know is false within the .1% of knowledge that Rhodes says we have. It then logically follows -- we have a deductive proof -- that that particular god does not exist. If Rhodes is going to claim that all propositions having any kind of deductive relationship to "god exists" are outside of what we know, then Rhodes has the burden of proof to show that.[15]

Indeed, many theological statements entail negative existential propositions, yet I doubt that many theists would claim they are omniscient:

 

·                     The claim that, "God is all-knowing", is just another way of saying that, "There is no knowledge which an omniscient being lacks".

·                     Theists often say that God is "omnipotent", meaning that God can do anything which is logically possible. In other words, there is no logically possible act which an omnipotent being is incapable of.

·                     If a theist says that, "God is wholly good", that entails there is no evil act for which an omnibenevolent being is responsible.

Similarly, all of the theistic arguments for the existence of God assume negative existential propositions. For example:

·                     The ontological argument assumes, "There is no being greater than the greatest being."

·                     The cosmological argument assumes, "There is no thing that came from nothing."

·                     The teleological argument assumes, "There is no naturalistic origin for the design and order of the universe."

·                     The (metaphysical) moral argument assumes, "There are no objective moral values in a godless universe."

·                     The transcendental argument assumes, "There is no atheist in the world."[16]

Finally, certain theological doctrines entail negative existential propositions. For example:

·                     The doctrine of creation ex nihilo entails the negative existential proposition, "There is no infinite regress of causes in the universe's history."

·                     The doctrine of biblical inerrancy entails the proposition, "There were no errors in the original autographs of the biblical manuscripts."

·                     The doctrine of the Virgin Birth entails the proposition, "There was no material cause of Mary's conception."

 

The General Considerations Objection: what would we have to know about an object to prove its existence or nonexistence?

 

A final objection from the right to the possibility of an atheological proof perhaps may be found in Dallas Willard's commentary on the debate between J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen. I emphasize the word "perhaps" because it is unclear whether Willard is arguing that atheistic arguments are inherently more difficult to prove than theistic arguments in light of their negative existential status; Willard may believe that atheistic and theistic arguments are on equal footing in terms of what they must accomplish in order to be successful. Here is what Willard writes:

 

["There is no God"] is a negative existential, and looking for God here or there, finding or proving this not to be God and that not to be God, does nothing to budge it one bit toward or away from the status of knowledge or even of justified belief. To make any headway at all with the atheist's project, we will have to settle on some general considerations that will provide a structure within which particular facts may evidentially count for something. For example, take the general consideration that if God exists, suffering will not be allowed. Given this, the particular fact of this child being sexually abused by a drunken relative gains evidential significance for the existence or nonexistence of God. But then, of course, we have the task of securing the truth of this particular general consideration. A notoriously difficult undertaking![17]

 

This, of course, is perfectly compatible with my earlier observation that there are two ways to prove something does not exist: one way is to demonstrate a logical contradiction and the other way is to simply look and see. Willard's "general considerations" are simply an analysis of the attributes of the object in question, and that is a prerequisite for both negative and positive existentials. We must have an adequate understanding of what an object's existence entails before we can argue for or against its existence. Positive existentials do not have an advantage over negative existentials in this sense. In other words, we must have an understanding of the nature of a god before we can determine whether that god exists.

 

Willard suggests that "securing the truth" of his particular example of a general consideration, "that if God exists, suffering will not be allowed," will be "notoriously difficult." Now I would certainly join Willard in rejecting that particular consideration, for even theism is compatible with some suffering. But I would also suggest that there is some suffering -- namely, pointless suffering -- which is incompatible with theism. So let us consider a slightly modified version of Willard's example, "the general consideration that if God exists, no pointless suffering will be allowed." I think this consideration is fairly uncontroversial. I therefore conclude that there is at least one such consideration -- agreed upon by both theists and atheists -- which demonstrates the possibility of an atheological argument.

 

Moreover, with respect to the existence of a particular god, there is a sense in which negative existentials have an advantage over positive existentials. According to the principle of indifference, when we don't have any evidence favoring any of a set of alternatives over the others, we should count each alternative equally likely. Since there is literally an infinite number of logically possible gods, the prior probability of any individual god existing is very small. I shall have more to say about the significance of this fact later on in this essay.

 

Objections from the Left

 

The Noncognitivity Objection: is the concept of "God" factually meaningless?

 

Some writers have suggested that religious language (including God-talk) is factually meaningless. If their claim is correct, then by definition the statement, "God does not exist", would be neither true nor false. Therefore, if God-talk is factually meaningless, a sound argument for the nonexistence of God would be impossible. Following Theodore Drange's terminology, I shall refer to this objection as the "Noncognitivity Objection".[18]

In order to understand this objection, consider the following proposition:

 

(1) God exists.

According to the noncognitivist, (1) is neither true nor false because there is no evidence that would count for or against it.[19]

Now, without a clarification of the concept of "God" being used in (1), I am willing to grant that it might initially be unclear what sort of evidence would count for or against (1). I agree that certain types of God-talk are difficult to understand, if not just pure gibberish. And I might even be willing to go along with the claim that the concept of theism in general is vague, slippery, and possibly meaningless. But other statements that contain the word "God" seem quite meaningful to me. Consider, for example, the following claim:

 

(1') There exists a being called God whose properties include:      

(a) It exists immaterially      

(b) It created physical space and time      

(c) It determined the values of the physical constants of our universe     

 (d) It desires a personal relationship with every human being      

(e) The Bible is Its word; It ensures that the Bible is free from errors of any kind

 

I have absolutely no problem whatsoever imagining evidence that would count for or against (1'), and therefore conclude that (1') is a factually meaningful statement. But what about other conceptions of "God" than the one considered in (1')? The factual meaningfulness of a God-concept must be evaluated on a case by case basis. While I think the majority of God-concepts (including those embraced by the major world religions) are factually meaningful, I allow for the possibility that some God-concepts may be factually meaningless. Yet even if some God-concepts turn out to be factually meaningless, that fact would have no bearing on the other God-concepts which are factually meaningful.

 

The Deductive Argument Objection: Must an atheological argument be deductive?

 

Yet another objection to the possibility of a sound argument for the nonexistence of a god can be found in the writings of Bertrand Russell. In order to understand the basis for Russell's objection, we must first understand how Russell defined the terms 'atheist' and 'agnostic':

 

An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism.[20]

 

On Russell's view, while the agnostic is a person who holds that the existence of a god "is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice" is "not far removed" from the atheist who holds that we can know that god does not exist, apparently they are removed far enough for Russell to insist upon the distinction. Yet what is the distinction in question here? If the agnostic who holds that the existence of a god "is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice" is not an atheist, then, on Russell's view, the atheist who holds that that same god does not exist must have a deductive proof for the nonexistence of that god.

 

But why must the person who claims that a specific god does not exist be able to prove so deductively? Russell never says. And there is good reason to reject Russell's view. Inductive arguments form the basis for many of our beliefs, such as the belief, "The sun will rise tomorrow." Moreover, there is nothing inherent in the concept of a god that somehow makes it inappropriate to form probabilistic conclusions about the existence of that god, in the light of all the available evidence.[21] Moreover, what Russell wrote elsewhere seems to contradict his position:

 

None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of Homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.[22]

 

Yet Russell does not state that he is "agnostic" concerning the existence of such a deductive proof; rather, he knows "you could not get such proof" even though he does not prove so deductively.[23] Granted, there may be no way to *deductively) disprove certain interpretations of the Greek gods, if they are defined so that there are no contradictions either internally or with the observable world. But other possible gods are falsifiable. They have self-contradictory properties or logically entail empirical data other than what we in fact see, and Russell never demonstrates the impossibility of disproving those gods. The possibility of a logical disproof of one particular god does not depend upon the success of a logical disproof of another god.

 

The Prior Probability Objection: if the existence of an object has a low prior probability, can that fact alone be used to prove the nonexistence of the objection in question?

 

My friend and colleague Rich Daniel has objected to my position on entirely different grounds. Daniel agrees with me that negative existential propositions can be proved using one of the two methods I mentioned at the beginning of my paper. Yet, Daniel argues, I have missed a third method of proving a negative existential proposition:

For example, consider the hypothetical god X: Most of the time the universe (which X created) runs according to physical laws that X invented, but X gets to interfere exactly 3,141,592,654 times. Cosmic forces beyond X's control limit the number of miracles.

 

Now clearly there is nothing about the number 3,141,592,654 that makes it more probable than 0, or 1, or 2, or a very large number of other numbers. So even though X is unfalsifiable by Jeff's definition, the probability of X's existence is very low. At least one valid kind of argument is missing from his list.[24]

 

What are we to make of hypothetical god X? Before considering Daniel's proposed atheological argument, let's first run through the two types of arguments for the nonexistence of a god I described earlier. The concept seems coherent; I don't see how the idea of god X leads to self-contradictions. What about a God-vs.-world argument? If the existence of X entails that human beings should be able to observe at least one of the 3,141,592,654 miracles in their lifetime and no human so far has observed a miracle, then that fact would constitute evidence against X. But if the existence of X does not entail such public miracles, then the "looking and seeing" method cannot be used to prove the nonexistence of X. In that situation, I claim that there is no way to prove the nonexistence of X.

 

Let "Y" refer to the number of times god X gets to interfere with physical laws. According to Daniel, the probability that Y equal 3,141,592,654 is low. After all, what's so special about the number 3,141,592,654? The value of Y could have been any number. Whatever the value of Y, we have no reason to expect that value over any other possible value. Thus, if we assume that all possible values of Y are equally likely, the likelihood that Y would be equal to any particular value is extremely low indeed. Call this likelihood the "prior probability of Y".

 

But does the nonexistence of X follow from the low prior probability of Y? I can't think of any reason why it would. On the hypothesis that god X actually exists, we would expect exactly the state of affairs which Daniel describes. If god X actually existed, we would expect there to be nothing special about the number 3,141,592,654 -- the value of Y would be unlikely -- even though god X existed. The fact that an object has a low prior probability, by itself, neither entails nor makes probable the non-existence of that object.

 

Nonetheless, I do think Daniel is onto something. If a claim has a low prior probability, the standard of evidence we would normally require before accepting that claim is increased. For example, consider the following two claims:

(2) I drove to work today.

(3) I flew to work today by flapping my arms quickly.

 

I suspect that most people would not even think twice before believing (2). The notion of someone driving to work is an everyday occurrence; the idea that I might be such a person is not should not be in any way surprising (assuming I am employed, can afford my own vehicle, etc.). Therefore, most people would probably accept (2) at face value; they would not demand proof of (2) beyond my claim that (2) is true.

 

But what about (3)? As far as I can tell, (3) is a coherent statement. Yet there is nothing in human experience to suggest that I, much less any other human being, is capable of self-sustained flight through the air. Therefore, on the basis of prior probability alone, rational people would rightfully demand evidence (beyond my word) for the truth of (3) before they believed me. The initial improbability of a claim does not constitute evidence against the claim; rather, it increases the standard of evidence by which the claim could be shown to be true.

 

The Presumption of Nonexistence Objection: is there a presumption of nonexistence?

 

Some writers have suggested a methodological principle which works as follows: the burden of proof is always on the one who claims the existence of something and if that burden is not fulfilled then it is reasonable to claim that the thing in question does not exist. Is this methodology an additional "method" for proving the nonexistence of something?

 

I don't think so. In the first place, proponents of this methodology argue that despite the lack of evidence for the nonexistence of the thing in question, we should just assume the thing does not exist. This is not an argument for the nonexistence of the thing in question. One might even argue that this methodology violates the principle, "Proportion your beliefs to the evidence."

 

Second, those who argue for a presumption of nonexistence do so on the basis that negative existential claims cannot be proven. If, as I have argued in this essay, that assumption turns out to be false, then there is no reason to adopt such a methodology.

 

Third, I agree with Theodore M. Drange who points out that this sort of methodology is not employed in science:

 

The main drawback to such a line of thought is that there is no good support for the methodological principle in question. It is not a principle observed in scientific research. For example, scientists do not deny the existence of, say, tachyons (faster-than-light particles) simply because no good evidence has been produced that they exist. And the same is true for other entities postulated in other hypotheses. Scientists do not reason to the nonexistence of the postulated entity merely from the current absence of positive evidence for its existence. The burden-of-proof principle is therefore not one employed in the sciences.[25]

 

As Drange writes, "Certainly things may exist even if there is currently no good evidence for their existence. In order for it to be reasonable to deny a thing's existence [on the basis of lack of evidence], there needs to be some reason to think that if it were to exist, then by now we would have found good evidence of that fact."[26] But that is my second method for proving the nonexistence of something. I therefore conclude there is no reason for a presumption of nonexistence to govern debates on whether a thing exists. In the absence of evidence for and against the existence of something, we should suspend judgment.

 

Conclusion

 

A sound argument for the nonexistence of a god is possible, if the concept of "God" in question is factually meaningful. I think this conclusion is one which even many theists should be willing to accept. After all, the mere possibility of a sound argument for the nonexistence of a god is logically compatible with theism; what theism requires is that there actually are no sound arguments for the nonexistence of God.

* This is the third edition of this essay.

 

Acknowledgments

 

I am grateful to Jim Lippard, Mark Vuletic, Michael Martin, Theodore Drange, David McFadzean, Bill Schultz, and Rich Daniel for suggestions which improved this essay.

 

Notes

 

[1] Bertrand Russell, "What Is an Agnostic?" The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (ed. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Denonn, New York: Touchstone, 1961), p. 577.

[2] Only a couple of atheists have directly responded to this objection. See Mark Vuletic, "Is Atheism Logical?" (<http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_vuletic/logical.html>, 1996) and Douglas M. Krueger, What Is Atheism? (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1998).

I suppose that it might be objected that anyone who has published an argument for the nonexistence of a god has implicitly refuted the objection that such an argument is impossible. This is true, to the extent that such arguments are sound arguments. But the atheist response to the objection that "it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of God" need not depend on the soundness of such arguments. Even if all arguments for the nonexistence of gods failed, that would still not prove the impossibility of a sound argument for the nonexistence of a god.

[3] Methodological atheists, in contrast to metaphysical atheists, do not necessarily hold the positive belief that a particular god does not exist. A methodological atheist is simply a person who acts as if a god does not exist.

[4] On the former, see "Does the Atheist Bear a Burden of Proof? A Reply to Prof. Ralph McInerny" (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/mcinerny.html>, 1997), and God and the Burden of Proof (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1989), both by Keith M. Parsons. As for the latter, atheist philosophers are contributing a growing number of books and articles on atheological arguments. See Jeffery Jay Lowder (ed.), "Arguments for Atheism", The Secular Web, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/arguments.html.

[5] Mortimer Adler, Truth in Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1990), p. 36.

[6] Adler 1990, pp. 31-32.

[7] William Lane Craig in William Lane Craig and Frank Zindler, Atheism vs. Christianity: Where Does the Evidence Point?, cassette recording of a debate held on June 27, 1993 at Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL.

[8] To be precise, it is quite easy to prove that two-dimensional "square circles" cannot exist. In contrast, as Richard Swinburne points out, proving the coherence of any proposition is very difficult because there always remains the possibility that an actual contradiction has not yet been discovered. See Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism (revised ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 38-49.

[9] Drange 1998, p. 22.

[10] Parsons 1989, p. 25.

[11] Drange 1988.

[12] Hank Hanegraaff, "The Folly of Denying God" Christian Research Newsletter (<URL:http://iclnet93.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-nwsl/crn0028a.txt>, 1990); Ron Rhodes, "Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists" (<URL:http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Atheism.html>, 1989); and Kenneth R. Samples, "Putting The Atheist on The Defensive" Christian Research Journal (<URL:http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/crj0131a.txt>, 1992).

[13] Hanegraaff. Michael Martin, following the lead of Roland Puccetti, has developed an incoherence argument called "the argument from unrestricted existential statements" which attempts to demonstrate the incoherence of gods which purportedly have all factual knowledge. Martin argues that negative existential propositions are unknowable if they are completely unrestricted. See Martin, pp. 294-295.

[14] Rhodes 1989.

[15] I am grateful to Jim Lippard for this argument.

[16] According to the late Greg Bahnsen, "The claim of the presuppositionalist is there is no atheist in the world. There are people who profess atheism." See Bahnsen, Michael Martin Under the Microscope tape 1, (Nash, TX: Covenant Tape Ministry, n.d.), audiocassette. For a refutation of this argument, see Michael Martin, "Are There Really No Atheists?" (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/no_atheists.html>, 1996).

[17] Dallas Willard, "Language, Being, God, & the Three Stages of Theistic Evidence" in J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, Does God Exist? (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1991), p. 198. Boldface mine.

[18] Theodore Drange 1998, p. 74.

[19] Martin 1990, p. 47.

[20] Russell 1961, p. 577.

[21] See Michael Martin, The Big Domino in the Sky and Other Atheistic Tales (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1996), pp. 48-49.

[22] Bertrand Russell, "Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?" Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (ed. Al Seckel, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986), p. 85. Italics are mine.

[23] If Russell feels that he can know such a thing without deductive proof, then he cannot consistently insist that the atheist must have a deductive proof in order to know that a specific god does not exist.

[24] Rich Daniel, "Other Ways to Disprove Specific Gods" (<URL:http://www.dnaco.net/~rwdaniel/other_disproofs.html>, 1998).

[25] Theodore M. Drange, "Nonbelief vs. Lack of Evidence: Two Atheological Arguments" (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/anbvslea.html>, 1998).

[26] Drange 1998

"Is a Sound Argument for the Nonexistence of a God Even Possible?" is copyright © 1998 by Jeffery Jay Lowder.The electronic version is copyright © 1998 Internet Infidels with the written permission of Jeffery Jay Lowder.

http://positiveatheism.org/faq/faq1110i.htm

 

Introduction To Activistic Atheism

(Table of Contents)by Cliff WalkerOriginal: August 13, 1999Revision: October 6, 2000

 

 

(1) Begging the Question.

(2) False Dichotomy.

(3) Straw Man.

(4) Reductio ad Absurdum (Slippery Slope).

(5) Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (False Cause).

(6) Non Sequitur (It Does Not Follow).

(7) Faulty Analogy.

(8) Equivocation.

(9) Hasty Generalization.

(10) Suppressed Evidence (Half-Truths).

ii. Irrelevant Premises.

(1) Ad Verecundiam (Appeal to Respect; Overreliance on Authorities).

(2) Appeal To Tradition.

(3) Ad Populum (Appeal to Popularity; Appeal to the Masses).

(4) Ad Hominem (Appeal To the Person).

(5) Genetic Fallacy.

(6) Appeal To Ignorance (Ad Ignorantiam).

(7) Argument from Adverse Consequences (Appeal to Fear).

(8) Special Pleading.(9) Weasel Words; Oxymoronic Language.

(10) Strange Loops and Meaningless Questions.

iii. Misuse of Statistics.

(1) Observational Selection (Representativeness).

(2) Statistics of Small Numbers.

(3) Composition and Division.

(4) Misunderstanding of the Nature of Statistics.

iv. Problems in Pseudoscientific Thinking.

(1) Anecdotes Do Not Make a Science.

(2) Scientific Language Does Not Make a Science.

(3) Bold Statements Do Not Make Claims True.

(4) Heresy Does Not Equal Correctness.

(5) Rumors Do Not Equal Reality.