The classic god arguments
Arguments for and against the god idea pre-date the Ancient Greeks. Winnie the Pooh will be our guide through them.
If you accept these arguments (which we don't) they can be used to "prove" the existence of any god, including The Pink Hippo who created the Universe 6,047 years ago, in October, on a Tuesday, just before tea time.
With so many gods, so many religions, so many holy books, so many sects, so many holy men, so many interpretations, so many rules, so many rituals, so many shades of meaning - who can say which god, if any, is the "true" one?
Winnie makes the point that "he who postulates must prove". If you propose something as spectacular as the god idea, you must back it up with some pretty spectacular proof.
It is never necessary to prove a negative - or we would spend all our time trying to disprove millions of silly ideas. Atheists don't have to disprove the god idea, we simply examine the arguments of those who propose it.
The classic arguments for the god idea are:
- Ontological argument
- Cosmological argument: part 1
- Cosmological argument: part 2
- Teleological argument
- Utility argument
- Religious experience argument
- Miracles argument
- The problem of evil
Essentially this boils down to: "if we can conceive of something as great as god, and nothing greater, then god must exist" - god becomes a logical necesssity
No matter how it is dressed up, this is nonsense.
We can conceive that the Universe was created by The Pink Hippo, 6,047 year ago, in October, on a Tuesday, just before tea time - but this doesn't prove it's true - even though Hippoism is the fastest growing religion in England.
Cosmological argument: part 1
"Everything must have a beginning, everything must have a cause."
Also phrased as a loaded question: "how did everything begin?" which assumes there must be a beginning! A little education in the art of logic would be of help to some people. If you really want to pose it as a question it would be better to ask: "how did we get to where we are now?"
Our real world, day-to-day, experience, shows us that nothing pops into existence out of nothing, everything is a rearrangement of things that existed before. A table is made of wood, the wood came from a tree, the tree grew from a seed, the seed came for a tree .... life emerged on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago, the Earth was formed during the formation of the Solar system, the Solar system was formed from the remnants of earlier stars, those stars were formed from ....
Of course, the argument begs itself: "if god is the beginning and cause of everything, what created and caused god?"
The god idea, based on the assumption that everything has a beginning, has led to thousands of years of arguments, sectarian splits, oppression, conflicts, violence, wars and deaths - all of which continue to this day. Rather than assuming a beginning and an everlasting god, wouldn't it be healthier for we human beings to keep it simple and believe the evidence of our eyes in an everlasting Universe that is contantly changing over time?
... and please don't start on about "even scientists believe in a beginning - look at the Big Bang!!" No, some scientists are rather poor in their use of words, they shouldn't be allowed out without a philosopher to hold their hands, and, even those who propose the Big Bang, are looking at what came before it.
Nothing pops into existence out of nothing - stuff just changes form over time. It ain't rocket science!
Cosmological argument: part 2
This is the argument of contingency: everything in the Universe is contingent (dependent) on something outside itself.
Since every contingent existence requires an explanation outside itself there must be something that is not contingent but is a reason for its own existence, and that something is god.
This is a convoluted version of the argument based on causality.
Why is everything contingent? Who says so? If everything is contingent, why stop at god - what is she contingent upon?
This argument begs more questions than it answers - and fails Occams Razor on all counts!
This argues that the Universe is so wonderful and perfect that it must have had a designer.
Wonderful, yes; perfect, no.
When we can't explain something we look for a reason to explain how it became as it is. Religion pops god in as the explanation, science keeps looking. The process of continuous change over time ("evolution") explains much that religion tried to explain before.
Why would an all powerful designer get so many things wrong? Why did she give us an appendix and give men nipples? Why did she create a small worm which burrows its way through children's skin, finds it ways to their eyes and eats them?
As atheists we accept the natural world around us, we are frequently amazed and awed by it, and we study it. However, we see no need to seek a supernatural cause for it.
This argues that human beings would not lead useful and moral lives without an external supernatural entity to lay down and enforce those laws.
This is ludicrous - and profoundly insulting to non-believers. Millions of people lead useful and moral lives without believing in a god.
Religious experience argument
This is the road to Damascus argument: "I have seen god!", "God spoke to me!", "I spoke to god!", "I have personal experience of god so she must exist."
It is often extended to "someone else claims to have seen/heard/spoken to god so god must exist."
"I have seen photos of the Loch Ness monster so it must exist." As we all know, the camera never lies!
"I have seen UFOs and spoken to aliens so extra-terrestrial life must exist." Certainly, extra-terrestrial life may exist, but your seeing UFOs and talking to aliens isn't a proof we can accept!
Someone claiming "I have seen fairies at the bottom of the garden" would not lead us all to believe in them! If they persisted in the argument it is more than likely they would require psychiatric help.
Paranoid schizophrenics hear voices in their heads telling them to do things - and they can be treated for it. We understand that chemical imbalances in the brain can create all sorts of strange effects particularly sounds, voices and hallucinations. DMT is a compound that can be generated naturally within the body, particularly in times of great physical or mental stress, and is thought to be the cause of near-death experiences such as "the shining light at the end of a tunnel."
Personal experience of god is primarily down to desire to have a personal experience of god - it is wish fulfilment. However, it can be explained without need of the god idea and is certainly not proof of the existence of god.
"Miracles occur therefore there must be a god."
A "miracle" must be an event for which there is no explanation other than the existence of a supernatural entity.
Most so-called miracles lend themselves to simple explanation, to mass-hallucination, or, in the case of tears or blood flowing from marble statues, to downright fraud!
Hearsay is not evidence. Many miracles rely on word of mouth: "I saw ....". They cannot be tested since they occurred in the past. They rely on the gullible willingness of the audience to accept the word of someone else that something miraculous occurred.
Religious people want unexplainable miracles to justify their own beliefs - therefore they grab at anything which, for a short period of time, has no obvious explanation.
Surviving cancer - a miracle!
"My Aunt/Uncle/Gran/Friend was given six months to live because of cancer and she/he is still alive five years later - it's a miracle!"
No it isn't!
It is either spontaneous remission (the body fights back and partially wins) or a fine example of the workings of the normal distribution.
A doctor gives someone six months to live based on statistics derived from what has happened to similar patients in the past. The same statistics follow the normal distribution - at one end an individual could die the same day the doctor gave the prognosis, at the other end an individual could live for years.
It's just statistics!
All miracles fade away under close scientific scrutiny.
The problem of evil
Religions have always had a problem with "evil" (their word, not ours) and have been trying to explain it ever since the god idea popped into someone's head thousands of years ago.
Over time they have created many excuses to get round it, ranging from devils (bad gods) to "free will" - each of us can choose to do good or bad things so, if something bad happens, it's our fault, not god's.
Somewhere in between they came up with "man is born sinful" and "we are being punished for our sins" - both psychologically depressing ideas and the cause of neuroses and personal guilt amongst religious people.
Thank goodness for satan!
There are also entangled arguments (playing with words and logic) such as:
"there can be no concept of 'good' unless there is one of 'evil', therefore evil is a necessary requirement for the existence of a good god."
Evil is a logical necessity - just like Winnie in the ontological argument!
This is then followed with stories about Satan (the devil) to explain how evil came about. The origin of satan isn't explained in the Abrahamic holy books so there have been endless interpretations, assumptions and assertions ("fallen angels") ever since.
Why does a benevolent god allow bad things to happen? Why does she allow:
- young women to be shot because they demand the right to education;
- women to be stoned to death in Nigeria;
- pregnant women to die in hospital because Christian Catholic law forbids abortion to save life;
- over 50,000 women to die, and over 2 million to be injured, each year in backstreet abortions where religion has made abortion illegal;
- women to be imprisoned following miscarriages (El Salvador - laws dictated by the Christian Catholic church);
- homosexuals to be hung in the streets of Iran;
- thousands to be killed by floods, land-slides, famine, earthquakes;
- great wars to kill millions of people;
- dictators to oppress their people;
- murderers to murder and rapists to rape;
- one group to oppress another;
- religious leaders to rape and abuse children;
- religious groups to discriminate on the grounds of gender or sexuality;
- religious people to murder in the name of their god;
- children in a Derby primary school to say openly that apostates should be killed.
"Free will" was invented as the great "get out of jail free" card for religion and the creator god.
The Abrahamic creation myth has Eve, on the advice of a talking snake (the devil?), choosing to take an apple from the tree of knowledge against the command of god. This wrong choice, conveniently made by a woman, condemned humans to endless suffering - with double suffering for women as punishment for their choice.
So, god has given us free will, we can choose between doing good and doing bad.
What about the victims of this free will? Whether faced with natural or man made disasters, what choices do they have?
- Those facing the tsunami in South Asia had no choice.
- Those entering the gas chambers had no choice.
- Those attending a wedding party and being bombed by American drones had no choice.
- The young girl in Vietnam running with her skin burning because of napalm had no choice.
- Your mother, father, brother, sister, friend, colleague dying an early or painful death had no choice.
Our conclusion is that if there is a god it is an evil and malevolent one who is happy to sacrifice the lives of millions of people on whim - and we want nothing to do with it.