God: The Failed Hypothesis

How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist

 

Victor J. Stenger

Summary of Arguments

Types of Impossibility Proofs

This set of arguments is basically taken from Reference 1.

q      Definitional disproofs based on an inconsistency in the definition of God;

q      Deductive evil disproofs based on the inconsistency between the existence of God who has certain attributes and the existence of evil;

q      Doctrinal disproofs based on an inconsistency between the attributes of God and a particular religious doctrine, story, or teaching about God;

q      Multiple attributes disproofs based on an inconsistency between two or more divine attributes;

q      Single attribute disproofs based on an inconsistency within just one attribute.[1]

Examples of Impossibility Proofs

An All-Virtuous Being Cannot Exist

1.      God is (by definition) a being than which no greater being can be thought.

1.      Greatness includes the greatness of virtue.

1.      Therefore, God is a being than which no being could be more virtuous.

1.      But virtue involves overcoming pains and danger.

1.      Indeed, a being, can only be properly said to be virtuous if it can suffer pain or be destroyed.

1.      A God that can suffer pain or is destructible is not one than which no greater being can be thought.

1.      For you can think of a greater being, one that is nonsuffering and indestructible.

1.      Therefore, God does not exist.[2]

Worship and Moral Agency

1.      If any being is God, he must be a fitting object of worship.

1.      No being could possibly be a fitting object of worship, since worship requires the abandonment of one's role as an autonomous moral agent.

1.      Therefore, there cannot be any being who is God.[3]

The Problem of Evil

1.      If God exists, then the attributes of God are consistent with the existence of evil.

1.      The attributes of God are not consistent with the existence of evil.

1.      Therefore, God does not and cannot exist.[4]

A Perfect Creator Cannot Exist

1.      If God exists, then he is perfect.

1.      If God exists, then he is the creator of the universe.

1.      If a being is perfect, then whatever he creates must be perfect.

1.      But the universe is not perfect.

1.      Therefore, it is impossible for a perfect being to be the creator of the universe.

1.      Hence, it is impossible for God to exist.[5]

A Transcendent Being Cannot Be Omnipresent

1.      If God exists, then he is transcendent (i.e., outside space and time).

1.      If God exists, he is omnipresent.

1.      To be transcendent, a being cannot exist anywhere in space.

1.      To be omnipresent, a being must exist everywhere in space.

1.      Hence it is impossible for a transcendent being to be omnipresence.

1.      Therefore it is impossible for God to exist.[6]

A Personal Being Cannot be Nonphysical

1.      If God exists, then he is nonphysical.

1.      If God exists, then he is a person (or a personal being).

1.      A person (or personal being) needs to be physical.

1.      Hence, it is impossible for God to exist.[7]

The Paradox of Omnipotence

1.      Either God can create a stone that he cannot lift, or he cannot create a stone that he cannot lift.

1.      If God can create a stone that he cannot lift, then he is not omnipotent.

1.      If God cannot create a stone that he cannot lift, then he is not omnipotent.

1.      Therefore god is not omnipotent. [8]

Summary of Arguments by Chapter

 

The following are the scientific arguments that from the main part of the book. Note that these are not meant to be formal, deductive arguments, but rather arguments "beyond a reasonable doubt."

1.  Method

The Scientific God Model

1.      God is the creator and preserver of the universe.

1.      God is the architect of the structure of universe and the author of the laws of nature.

3.      God steps in whenever he wishes to change the course of events, which may include violating his own laws as, for example, in response to human entreaties.

4.      God is the creator and preserver of life and humanity, where human beings are special in relation to other life forms.

5.      God has endowed humans with immaterial, eternal souls that exist independent of their bodies and carry the essence of a person's character and selfhood.

6.      God is the source of morality and other human values such as freedom, justice, and democracy.

7.      God has revealed truths in scriptures and by communicating directly to select individuals throughout history.

8.      God does not deliberately hide from any human being who is open to finding evidence for his presence.

 

Note that the "3O" attributesÑomniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipotenceÑare not in general assumed.

The Generic Argument

1.      Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.

2.      Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.

3.      Look for such evidence with an open mind.

4.      If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist

5.      If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist.

 

2.  A Higher Good

1.      Hypothesize a model God who is the author of moral principles and other societal values.

2.      Assume that model God has made knowledge of those principles available to us in scriptures and other revelations.

3.      It is an empirical fact that even the most devout believers in the three great monotheisms and other religions often make moral and ethical decisions that contradict what is in the scriptures and other teachings of their faiths.

4.      It is an empirical fact that religious leaders and other believers are selective of scriptural teachings and other religious teachings and interpret them by reference to the judgments of their own consciences.

5.      It is an empirical fact that most humansÑbelievers and nonbelievers alikeÑhave agreed to a common set of important universal moral principles and societal values that in some cases contradict what is in the scriptures and other teachings of the three great monotheisms and other religions.

6.      It is an empirical fact that many devout believers have acted throughout history in support of human rights based on the commonly agreed upon desirable societal values that in some cases contradict what is in the scriptures and other teachings of the three great monotheisms and other religions.

7.      Nonbelievers make similar decisions and their behavior is not noticeably less moral than believers, nor do they exhibit any less commitment to societal values.

8.      Observable human and societal behaviors look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God.

9.      Because of the contradictions between commonly accepted morals and values and the scriptures and other religious teachings, we conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a god who has defined good, evil, and human values accepted by most humans and made that knowledge available to us in scriptures and other religious teachings, does not exist.

3. The Argument from Evil

1.      It is empirical fact that unnecessary suffering exists in the world.

2.      An omniscient model God would be aware of this unnecessary suffering.

3.      An omnipotent model God would have the power to eliminate or alleviate at least some of the unnecessary suffering.

4.      An omnibenevolent model God would have the desire to eliminate or alleviate at least some of the unnecessary suffering.

5.      It follows that a God with the attributes of the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent model God does not exist.

 

Summary of attempts to reconcile a 3O God with the existence of evil,

The following summary is by Michael Huemer.[9] The responses in italics are mne.

1.      "Evil is a product of human free will. God gave us free will because free will is a very valuable thing. But he cannot both give us free will and prevent us from doing evil."

Not all evil is the product of human free will, for example, natural disasters. If you redefine evil to include only human-caused ills, you still have to deal with the unnecessary suffering of natural disasters that are under God's control.

2.      "Some amount of suffering is necessary for humans to develop important moral virtues. Some moral virtues can only exist in response to suffering or other bad things. Examples: courage, charity, strength of will."

This could be accomplished with a whole lot less suffering than exists in the world.

3.      "Good and evil exist only as contrasts to each other. Therefore, if evil were eliminated, good would automatically be eliminated as well."

Good can exist independent of evil. Winning a race is good, but losing it is not evil. Buying a toy for your granddaughter is good, but not doing so is not evil when she already has a playroom full of toys.

4.      "Slightly different from #3: If evil were eliminated, then we wouldn't know that everything was good, because we can only perceive things when there is contrast."

Even if we did not identify something as good, it still can be good. And it still can be good even if we have no experience of bad. My granddaughters know that having toys is good, although they have never had no toys and so have not had the opposing experience.

5.      "Perhaps God has a different conception of evil from ours. Maybe what we think of evil is good."

We trust our own judgment on the evil of gratuitous suffering. No one can conceive of a reason God could have for allowing so much suffering. Why should we worship a God who allows acts that we regard as unspeakable? If God has a different conception of evil from ours, then so much the worse for God. He is then nothing more than an evil potentate. He might have power, but he has no moral authority and no one should worship him. "Good" and "evil" are our words and they name our concepts. It is confused thinking to suppose that some God's opinion would make any difference in our concepts.

6.      "Perhaps there is some underlying purpose served by all the evil in the world, but we humans are not smart enough to comprehend it. Have faith."

What could that possibly be? Again, why should we blindly accept acts that go against our very nature? Why would God give us a nature that finds his actions so reprehensible?

7.      "God is not responsible for evil. The Devil is.

The Judeo-Christian-Islamic God is stronger than the Devil and so still ultimately responsible.

8.      "If we simply weaken the definition of God, then the existence of God may be compatible with the existence of evil. This, for example, he might be unable to instantly eliminate all the evil."

While the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God described in scriptures is hardly benevolent, the faithful of these religions are far more likely to ignore unpleasant scriptural passages than abandon belief in a benevolent God.

4. The Illusion of Design

1.      Hypothesize a model God who is the creator and preserver of the physical universe, including Earth and the living organisms that abide on that planet.

2.      Assume that model God plays an important, continuing role in guiding the development of life on Earth.

3.      We can reasonably expect that empirical evidence should exist for design, purpose, and continuous outside action in the structures of those organisms.

4.      No such empirical evidence can be found.

5.      Science provides a purely material explanation for the development of those structures by mindless natural processes.

6.      Earth and life do not distinguish between the model God and a model in which there is no God. That is, they do look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God such as the model God.

7.      We conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God like our model God, who is the all-perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing creator and preserver of the physical universe including Earth and the living organisms that abide on that planet, does not exist.

5.  Matter and Soul

1.      Hypothesize a model God who has endowed humans with immaterial, immortal souls.

2.      Assume that souls are independent of human bodies and carry the essence of a person's character and selfhood.

3.      Assume that immaterial or spiritual elements play an important role in human mental processes and they give humans powers beyond the capabilities of purely material bodies.

4.      We can reasonably expect that empirical evidence should exist for these special, spiritual powers in human mental processes, including the survival of human personalities beyond death.

5.      No such empirical evidence can be found.

6.      Science provides a purely material explanation for those activities that are traditionally associated with the soul.

7.      Human and animal mental processes look just as they can be expected to look if there is no soul or other immaterial component.

8.      We conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God like our model God, who has endowed humans with immaterial, immortal souls, does not exist.

6.  The Failures of Revelation

1.      Hypothesize a model God who has revealed truths about reality in scriptures and by communicating directly to select individuals throughout history.

2.      The scriptures and other recorded teachings of religious figures should contain information and other insights about the universe, life, and humanity that could not have been known to the authors by any material means.

3.      That information and insight should be of great importance and thus have observable consequences.

4.      We can reasonably expect that the information and insights contained in revelations should include at least a few risky predictions of future events that are empirically testable.

5.      No such empirical tests and other observable consequences have ever been confirmed.

6.      In fact, the scriptures and other claimed revelations contain many statements about the world that have now been shown to be false, including scientific errors, prophecies that did not take place, and events that did not happen.

7.      None of the miraculous events reported in scriptures and other revelations have been independently confirmed by history or archaeology.

8.      The information and insights contained in scriptures and other revelations just as they can be expected to look if there is no God.

9.      We conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God, who has revealed truths in scriptures and by communicating directly to select individuals throughout history, does not exist.

 

7.  Cosmic Evidence

1.      Hypothesize a model God who is the highly intelligent and powerful supernatural creator and preserver of the physical universe, including the solar system and all other planets and stars, in all the galaxies that we can see with our instruments and everything that might lie beyond.

2.      We can reasonably expect that empirical evidence should exist for a purposeful and supernatural creation of this cosmos, such as the observed violation of one or more laws of physics.

3.      We can also reasonably expect that empirical evidence should exist for supernatural actions in the operation of this cosmos, such as the observation of events somewhere in the cosmos that cannot be explained by any known natural process.

4.      No empirical evidence for a purposeful creation of the cosmos can be found. No universal laws of physics were violated at the origin of the universe in which we reside.

5.      No empirical evidence for supernatural actions in the operation of the cosmos can be found. No events have been observed anywhere in the cosmos that cannot be explained by known natural process.

6.      Modern cosmology indicates that the initial state of our universe was one of maximum chaos so that it contains no memory of a creator.

7.      Scientists can provide plausible, purely natural scenarios based in well-established cosmological theories that shown how our universe may have arisen out of an initial state of nothingness.

8.      Observations in cosmology look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God.

9.      We conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God such as the model God, who is the highly intelligent and powerful supernatural creator and preserver of the physical universe, including the solar system and all other planets and stars, in all the galaxies that we can see with our instruments and everything that might lie beyond does not exist.

8.  The Uncongenial Universe

1.      Hypothesize a model God who is the highly intelligent and powerful supernatural creator and preserver of the physical universe, including the laws and parameters of physics.

2.      This model God had as one of his primary purposes the presence of human life in that universe.

3.      We can reasonably expect that the universe as a whole and the laws and parameters of physics should be congenial to human life.

4.      The universe as a whole and the laws and parameters of physics are not congenial to human life.

5.      The universe as a whole and the laws and parameters of physics look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God like the model God who created a universe with a special place for humanity.

6.      We conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God such as the model God does not exist.

9.  The Origin Of Physical Law

1.      Hypothesize a God who is the creator of the universe, the architect of its structure, and the author of the laws of physics.

2.      The laws of physics are elements of theoretical models that physicists develop to describe observations.

3.      The global laws of physics can be seen to follow from the requirement that our theoretical models be independent of any particular point of view. They correspond to the symmetries of a structureless void.

4.      Complex structure in the universe can be understood to follow from spontaneous (random) broken symmetries.

5.      "Nothing" is unstable; we expect something rather than nothing.

6.      The laws of physics look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God.

7.      We conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God who is the creator of the universe, the architect of its structure, and the author of the laws of physics does not exist.

10. Possible and Impossible Gods

Summary of Gods that do not agree with the data:

1.      A god who is the source of humanity's commonly accepted notions of morals and values fails to agree with the empirical fact that most religious believers act on these morals and values in ways that contradict the traditional teachings of their faiths as found in scriptures and other sacred writings. It also disagrees with the empirical act that many of the morals and values of humanity are common to believer and nonbelievers alike and have a plausible natural explanation.

2.      A god who has given humans immortal and immaterial souls fails to agree with the empirical facts that human memories and thoughts are affected by physical processes, no nonphysical powers of the mind can be found, and no evidence exists for an afterlife.

3.      A god who is responsible for the complex structure of the world, especially living things, fails to agree with empirical fact that that structure can be understood to arise from natural processes and shows none of the expected signs of design. Indeed, the universe exhibits a clear lack of design.

4.      A god who reveals himself to humans by means of a nonphysical channel of communication called revelation fails to agree with the fact that no revelation has ever been confirmed empirically. No claimed revelation contains information that could not have been already in the head of the person reporting the revelation.

5.      A god whose interactions with humans, including miraculous interventions, have been reported in scriptures is contradicted by the lack of independent evidence that these miraculous events took place and the fact that physical evidence rules out some of the most important narratives.

6.      A god who miraculously and supernaturally created the universe fails to agree with the empirical fact that no violations of physical law were required to produce the universe. It also fails to agree with established theories, based on empirical facts, which indicate that the universe began with maximum entropy and so retains no memory of a creator.

7.      A god who fine-tuned the laws and constants of physics for life, in particular human life, fails to agree with the fact that universe is not congenial to human life, being tremendously wasteful of time, space, and matter. It also fails to agree with the fact that the universe is mostly composed of particles in random motion, with complex structures forming less than four percent of the mass and less than one particle out of a billion.

8.      The god who created the laws of physics fails to agree with the fact that these laws, and the corresponding mathematical models, are human contrivances that can be shown to arise from the very lack of the special point of view required by the god model.

What If?

Empirical facts that, had they been observed, could have proved the existence of God:

1.      If most religious believers were observed to act on the highest morals and values taught by their faiths (assuming those faiths renounced the literal reading of their scriptures). If believers were paragons of societyÑnonviolent, charitable, and tolerant. If nonbelievers were found to exhibit no such moral behaviorÑto start wars, to abuse their families, and fill the prisons.

2.      If human memories and thoughts were found to have some aspects that are not limited by physical processes. If science were to confirm exceptional powers of the mind that it could not explain physically and were to uncover evidence for an afterlife.

3.      If it were found that the complex structure of the world cannot possibly have resulted from purely natural processes and exhibited the expected signs of design.

4.      If a nonphysical channel of communication were empirically confirmed by revelations containing information that could not have been already in the head of the person reporting the revelation.

5.      If independent physical and historical evidence were found for the miraculous events and the important narratives of the scriptures.

6.      If science were to show that violations of physical law were required to produce the universe. If the universe were shown to have begun in a state of predetermined order. 

7.      If the universe were found to be so congenial to human life that its must have been created with human life in mind.

8.      If the laws of physics and the corresponding mathematical models were shown not to be human contrivances but necessarily the product of a divine lawgiver.

 

But none of this has happened. The hypothesis of God is not confirmed by the data. Indeed that hypothesis is falsified by the data.

 

The Hiddenness Argument

1.      If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such a relationship that is, able to do so just by trying to.

2.      No one can be in a position to participate in such relationship without believing that God exists.

3.      If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists (from 1 and 2).

4.      It is not the case that all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God believe that God exists: there is non-resistant nonbelief; ÒGod is hidden.Ó

5.      It is not the case that there is a perfectly loving God (from 3 and 4).

6.      If God exists, God is perfectly loving.

7.      It is not the case that God exists (from 5 and 6).[10]

The Argument from Nonbelief

1.      If God were to exist, then there would be no avoidable nontheism in the world.

2.      But there is avoidable nontheism in the world.

3.      Therefore, God does not exist.[11]

 

Notes



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

[2] Walton 1999, reprinted in Martin and Monnier 2003, pp. 35-44.

[3] "God and Moral Autonomy," from Rachels 1997, pp. 109-23, reprinted in Martin and Monnier 2003, pp. 45-58.

[4] Martin and Monnier 2003, p. 59.

[5] Drange "Incompatible-Properties" 1998, reprinted in Martin and Monnier 2003, pp. 185-97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Cowen 1974, reprinted in Martin and Monnier 2003, p. 337.

[9] Huemer, Michael, "Some Failed Responses to the Problem of Evil," talk at the University of Colorado Theology Forum, February 16, 2005, Boulder, Colorado.

[10] Schellenberg,  John L, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); "The Problem of Hiddenness and the Problem of Evil," presented to the Conference on "The Hiddenness of God," Theology Forum, University of Colorado at Boulder, October 21-23, 2004.

[11] Drange 1998, p. 23.