It occurred to me recently, that whilst I often write articles explaining my displeasure at religion as a political and social force, as well as questioning key figures and documents in the history of such religions; I have never explained why I don’t accept the premise that a God exists. It is the most fundamental of questions for an Atheist to answer. Why don’t I believe that a God exists? I will try my best to argue my points in this article.
Firstly, it is important to note what Atheism is. There are many misinterpretations of the word. Atheism, is the rejection of Theism. Theism asserts that a God exists. Atheism simply looks at the evidence for the position held by Theists, and rejects it as unsubstantial. We do not make an assertion ourselves. There is a vast gulf between the phrase “I don’t believe in a God” and “I believe there isn’t a God”. One is a positively held belief, the other is a rejection of a positively held belief. As an Atheist, I simply hear “I believe in God” and reject it due to lack of evidence. I don’t claim to believe a God exists or doesn’t exist. I simply say there is no reason to believe a God does exist. It is the rejection of belief in a God, rather than a belief in no God.
Secondly, The burden of proof is not on me to disprove the existence of a God, because it is logically impossible to do so, if the assertion being made, does not bring with it falsifiable evidence. It would be equally as impossible to ask a person to prove that there isn’t a monkey sitting on my head, that turns invisible whenever someone else looks at me. They would not logically be able to disprove it, because it is an extraordinary assertion that I have made without the use of falsifiable evidence. The burden of proof is lodged firmly with me in respect of the invisible monkey. If I am to make an extraordinary claim that defies the laws of nature, then I should provide tangible evidence that can be tested and falsified. If I don’t, then the claim requires no inquiry and can be rejected straight out. It certainly should have no authority over the World (hence, the superiority of Secularism).
And thirdly, we could get into a deep discussion about what is meant by ‘God’ and that without a thorough definition to start with, the whole inquiry is meaningless. So I’ll simply say that I will approach two arguments that are usually put forward for the existence of a ‘creator’; the Deistic Kalam/Cosmological argument, the Theistic objective morality argument, and also my own opinion on steps a Deist is required to take in order to move the argument forward to Theism.
William Lane Craig and Hamza Tzortzis among others, often cite the old Cosmological Kalam argument to try to prove the existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
You will note several problems with this argument immediately. The phrase “the begins to exist” is newly added to the argument. It used to be simply “Everything has a cause”. Well, then, if everything includes itself, then we must say that a creator must also have a cause. And so the phrase “that begins to exist” was added. This is intense circular reasoning when examined closely. It presumes two states of being. Things that begin to exist, suggests there are also things that don’t “begin” to exist, which suggest they’ve also existed, which exempts them from the entire argument, but just assuming something can exist, without beginning to exist… i.e… a creator. The argument already presumes a God, whilst trying to prove a God. To put it simply, Point 1 can thus be rewritten as:
1. Everything, except God, has a cause.
Which means point 2. can be rewritten as:
2. The Universe (but not God) began to exist.
Causality is linked necessarily to time. So the Kalam Cosmological argument, by including the phrase “that begins to exist” suggests that something can exist outside of time and so have no cause, without actually providing evidence for it. This is not a respectable argument for the existence of God, and yet some of the key Theistic public speakers use it constantly. They fail to convince me.
Deism to Theism is quite a leap. If you are to claim the existence of a God personal to your religion; let’s say Christianity, and you are to use it in the public sphere to help define sexual health policy, or marriage policy, or any other sort of power over the lives of others….. then it seems to me that you have three steps to take before such authority can be taken as legitimate. You must prove…. absolutely prove….. the Universe has a creator. Step One is the most vital. Everything else follows from step one. So:
You must prove that something can exist outside of the confines of time. If you use the Cosmological/Kalaam argument, as William Lane Craig and Hamza Tzortzis tend to do a lot, as noted above, to apply human understanding of causality in order to prove the universe had a moment of creation…. then you must be consistent. According to human understanding, nothing can defy or exist outside of the confines of time. Space time is everything to us. It binds everything. We cannot jump in and out of time, and therefore we cannot say there is an ‘out of time’ in any meaningful way. We’d just be speculating.
To claim a creator that existed prior to the creation of everything – including time – you are suggesting that the creator exists outside of time, to have created time. This is quite the assertion, as we know of nothing that can defy or exist outside of time and this is because the idea is not falsifiable.
Stephen Hawking, writing in “The Grand Design” notes that time started at the moment of the Big Bang, alongside matter/energy. There was nothing before the Big Bang. No room for a creator of any sort. Whether I accept that there was ‘nothing’ before the big bang (could well have been an endless series of Big Bangs), or not, is irrelevant. Hawking may be wrong on that point, but he cannot be wrong that time existed at the point of matter/energy. Hawking proposes a model, consistent with the laws of quantum mechanics, that doesn’t require a Creator. M-Theory is making great strides in this direction. We need not fill a gap in our understanding with an absolute God, this is important to note. But to even begin to suggest the Theistic God of the Bible exists, you must prove that something can exist outside of time, in order to have created time. And then, you have to explain how something existing outside of time, can conceive of creating time, if it itself has no time in order to ‘conceive’ anything. Since we are ourselves limited to the confines of time, this is impossible to prove, it is not falsifiable, and so the first step in proving your God to be true, is always going to be incomplete. It is irrelevant whether you have a definition of the word ‘God’ or not, if you do not have proof that ‘existence’ does not require time. Everything else follows from Step One; ‘finely tuned for our existence’ follows from Step One. ‘Objectively Morality’ follows from Step One. Without fulfilling Step One, a Theist has nothing to go on.
Once you’ve proven that something can exist outside of time, you must prove that the being that created time, and the universe is all good, all loving, all seeing, all powerful. You must consider every other possible creator, and adequately reject it. Why not an all evil creator? Why not two, three, four, five creators? Or a creator that created the universe and then backed away? Why not a creator that created billions of universes, and doesn’t care too much for ours? Why not a creator whose last act before vanishing forever was to create everything? Given that humanity has endured 200,000 years of violent deaths, preventable poverty, coming close to joining the other 99% of species that have become so flippantly rejected by evolution and made extinct, where most of the Earth is uninhabitable yet populations still live within the regions….. how do you not reject or at least question an all loving, all good God? It seems to me, if we are to insist on a Creator, all loving and all good, are not attributes we can so easily assign. It seems that the horrors that natural selection has produced, are not indicative of an all loving and all good God. If we are to assume this was all done by design, and that now we have set rules, it would seem that we are simply a pawn in a rather violent game.
Let’s examine the story of Eden. It would seem that two humans were put on Earth and told not to question. Questioning leads us away from God. This immediately sets off alarm bells. Why shouldn’t we question? We would an all-loving, all-good God put a punishable restriction on knowledge? Suddenly the snake tempts man to eat from the tree of knowledge, and as a show of horrendously disproportionate punishment, God inflicts terrible suffering on all of mankind, for generations. Those generations did nothing wrong. Punishing the child for the mistake of the great, great, great, great grandfather seems to me to be radically immoral system of justice. And what sort of authority, other than a dictator, would punish for simply wishing to learn? To absolve this original sin – learning, God decides to brutally murder his son. I have no reason to believe that any ‘crime’ can be absolved, with a human sacrifice. It also seems odd to me that a God would give us a curious mind, a rational mind, a mind that thrives of knowledge and learning; and then punish us for using it, with such a vicious punishment. What a spiteful thing to do.
The faithful are going to have a very difficult time proving Step Two.
Once you have successfully proven that something can exist outside of the confines of time (impossible to do, given that humanity itself is confined to time) and you have proven that the creator is all loving, all good, cares about his creation and you’ve managed to disprove every other attribute that a creator could possibly have….. you then have to make the leap, and explain the leap between a creator – an Artistotelian prime mover – and the laws and rules that are enshrined in your particular book. I wish you all the luck in trying to prove that link. As argued before, I don’t accept the divinity, and even question the existence of the Biblical Jesus, and I am pretty certain that whilst Muhammad most certainly existed, he invented the entire Qur’an because there seems to be a suspiciously high number of verses pertaining to his life, and in particular, his sex life. Neither the Bible, nor the Qur’an are reliable at all. The Bible, for its vast historical inaccuracies and lack of evidence (we know there was no Exodus, for example) and the Qur’an for its hugely ambiguous and just out-right mistaken ‘scientific’ claims as well as the very dubious life of Muhammad and supposed ‘revelations’.
Only once you have proven beyond any doubt that something can exist outside of the confines of time and space in its own realm, and only once you have proven that that being in its own realm is all good, all loving, all seeing, and all powerful, and only once you’ve proven the direct link between that creator and your Holy Book…. can you reasonably say that God exists, or claim a system of ‘objective morality’. As it stands, the idea that a God exists has no basis in reality, or the laws of nature, and so the notion of ‘objective morality’ can only reasonably said to be a figment of the imagination of the faithful.
Objective Morality argument:
The Objective Morality argument is one cited often as a reason to believe in a God. I reject it.
Objective morality can only exist, if you have successfully proven (not Philosophically rationalised in your own mind) the existence of the God of your religion. And even then, objective morality has its problems. I would agree that based on Hamza Tzortzis’ understanding of objective morality, we Atheists don’t have it. I would go one further, and say, neither does Hamza. We must be clear what Theists mean by objective morality. They are moral truths, that are unquestionable and true regardless of the social group, or time period that humanity inhabits at that moment. They have not evolved alongside humanity as a survival tool linked to our ability to rationalise, they are innate, handed to us divinely and can never be changed, they preceded humanity. So, I am almost certain most Atheists and Theists would agree with my moral statement: It is morally wrong to slaughter innocent people… men, women and children, who have not done any wrong. However, If you are Christian, you would have to argue that that is not necessarily true (objective). According to 2 Samuel 15, in response to David’s census ordered by God (later we learn that it was Satan who ordered the Census, in First Chronicles, chapter 21), and that after David realised it was on Satan’s ordered, he apologises to God, but God isn’t pleased:
“So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.”
– 70,000 innocent people killed because David thought he’d sinned by taking a census. Must we therefore conclude that if God commits violent genocide for absolutely no reason, it is ‘good’? Not to mention the needless punishments all non-Christians face after the day of Judgement simply for not believing. This is genocide. It cannot reasonably be assumed as a book of objective good. It would seem to me that the God of the Bible violates rules that we would consider to be morally unacceptable, and abhorrent. If we are to accept that the God of the Bible is the perfect being, all good, then we must accept that our belief that it is immoral to kill innocent people unnecessarily, is wrong and we are in fact immoral for thinking so. This seems inconsistent to me.
But on a more fundamental level, it is illogical to claim objective morality based on ‘revealed’ texts. The very essence of revelation, is to one specific individual, and passed on to others, to every major religion. Mohammad was apparently given moral revelation, in a cave outside of Mecca, and then sporadically throughout his life – but only him. Therefore, the objective truth pertaining to morality, is objective to him only. To everyone else, it is secondary hear-say. It is taken on faith alone. No one is compelled to accept it, and therefore, it is subjective morality.
It is absolutely irrational to claim an objective anchor for your morality, when it is second, third, fourth hand ‘revelation’. So it is of course, ludicrous for anyone to suggest morality is anchored to religious texts. Not just for the limitations of revelation, and lack of anything even close to ‘proof’ on any of the above points, but also what those ‘revealed’ moral statements enforce at their core and that the majority of religious people, today wouldn’t dream of following or endorsing, because we know those “morals” to be wrong. If we are to accept that ‘God’ is timeless, then it logically follows that his system of right and wrong also be timeless. So let’s examine what that would mean for Islam.
I have argued previously that people who believe, cannot reasonably use the “place Muhammad in the context of his time” to defend his sexual relationship with a child. It is also damaging for their interpretation of ‘objective morality’.
If you are Muslim, then you believe that Muhammad was capable of receiving ‘revelation’ that changes the ‘context’ of the time period quite significantly, because it comes from a divine source that transcends ‘context’ of time. His life is dedicated to changing the ‘context of the time’, and yet the timeless God of Islam doesn’t see fit to reveal to Muhammad that having sex with a 9 year old girl is wrong, or that it might lead to Islamic Patriarchal societies in the future using this to justify lowering the age of consent? The ‘place it in the context’ of the time period argument, is a failure. If Muhammad can receive divine command that changes the context of the time, then Allah has no problem with 50 year old men having sex with 9 year old girls. It just isn’t on his list of cares. He seems more concerned with acquiescing to Muhammad’s request to pray facing Mecca. Allah dedicates an extraordinary amount of time to Muhammad’s sex life. If however, Muhammad isn’t divine. Then yes, he can be placed within the context of the time period, and we cannot judge him by today’s standards in that respect. The moment you accept that he is a Prophet who can receive divine revelation, that negates the ‘context of the time’ argument and seriously damages the ‘objective morality’ argument, because to most of us it would seem the God and the Prophet of the 7th Century, were pretty immoral.
The objective morality argument, along with the cosmological argument make up two key features of the often used arguments to attempt to provide proof for the existence of God. They both fail quite substantially at every hurdle. They don’t convince me.
It is the mark of modesty to accept that which we simply don’t know. Theists claim to know. Atheists claim that we do not know everything, and that we mustn’t fill gaps prematurely. History tells us that where ever ‘God’ has been placed in gaps within the natural World, He doesn’t last long.
Belief in a God, I do not claim to be irrational. I think it has its practical uses and I think when it is used privately, providing hope and comfort at difficult times, it was and remains an essential part of our emotional development as a species. I don’t believe it has any place in public political debate and the shaping of policy, nor should it be taught as fact in school, and nor should a religion claim any piece of land as their own via divine right.
If you cannot prove that something can exist outside of time (Step One), then nothing else matters. Arguments predicated on objective morality are irrational without Step One. The Cosmological/Kalam arguments are irrelevant without Step One. And Step One, is not falsifiable, because human experience cannot transcend time. Therefore, for me, any argument for the existence of God cannot logically be made.
Humanity is naturally curious and inquisitive, as well as introspective (spiritual) and so it is no surprise that during our infancy as a species, at a time when we could not understand the natural World in any great detail, at a time when a rainbow seemed divinely inspired, when a sense of hierarchy aided our survival alongside our natural state of curiosity, that we would assume a higher power when we simply didn’t understand and to help establish rules by which to govern. Imagine not understanding plate tectonics, or even that a World outside of your tribal area exists, or that people elsewhere exist, whilst trying to explain thunder, lightening, floods, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes without any scientific understanding. A higher power seems to be an almost inevitable social construct. Today is no different. We strive to understand, but we also prefer simple answers, and we all require guidance regardless of the form it takes. We want to feel acceptance, and a sense of hope. The promise of heavenly reward, or divine justice for wrongdoing is also a key factor in belief. We do not like the idea that humanity has no purpose. That we are just a brief blip on the fabric of time, with no direction, no design, no purpose. We are a species that searches for meaning in a meaningless universe. And yet we are brilliant. We are star dust that has existed for billions of years, and has developed the ability to rationalise our own existence. We are the universe experiencing itself. This is beautiful, without requiring a creator. In fact, the lack of design, the lack of creator makes it all the more awe-inspiring.