God - the classic arguments
"God is an idea for which there is no need and no evidence. Everything explained by god can be explained easier without her."
This is a sufficient argument against the existence of god because:
- "no need" implies that "the big questions of life" can be answered without inventing a god,
- "no evidence" means that belief in god is based on faith, not evidence.
Some key points before outlining the classic arguments:
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- Those who propose an idea must prove it - it is not necessary to disprove it. If someone proposes that pigs can fly they must demonstrate a flying pig before others will believe it.
- Something is not true merely because someone asserts that it is true - it requires proof acceptable to all. "Truth" is an absolute - it is not relative nor a matter of opinion. "Truth" is not subject to a vote - if 50 million people believe a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing.
- There is no gene for religion - children are not born as Judaists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs etc.
- Gods and religions obviously meet intellectual, psychological and emotional needs for some people while others feel no such needs.
- All religions divide into sects which disagree with one another about the nature of their god or the interpretation of their holy books.
Please tell us why - we will be happy to add your comments (anonymously) here.
Note on gender
We refer to "god" as "she" since, as far as we are aware, "god" is asexual and should probably be referred to as "it". However, "she" makes up in a very small way for 2000+ years of oppression of women resulting from "god" being seen as male. Of course, all holy books were written by men so maintaining the status quo in favour of men has always been part of the agenda - and remains so in most religions today.
Pooh - our guide through the arguments
Of course, Mr Pooh really does exist. He is a real bear-person and is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-present and omnivorous.
You may not be able to see him but that is because you lack faith, you have failed to open your heart to him, you have no inner spiritual life and you have no concept of the transcendental.
- is with you in your heart;
- walks alongside you through life;
- helps to keep your head held high;
- puts a permanent smile on your face;
- makes life simple by answering all the hard questions;
- protects you and your loved ones from harm;
- provides jam and honey for tea.
Over simplifying things
We are sometimes accused of being facetious and over simplifying the philosophical arguments for/against the existence of a god.
Our view is that things are not complicated - as Professor Brian Cox says:
"Part of the intense wonder and beauty of the Universe
is its fundamental simplicity."
When people understood little they came up with a million and one reasons for why the world is as it is. This led to intense philosophical debate and to the development of the god idea and religions - which created more and more layers of complexity - in fact, so many layers that those believing in one layer felt obliged to kill those who believed in another even when they shared the same religion - heresy was, and is, frowned upon!
We need to strip away the millennia of unnecessary philosophical and religious complexity to see things as they really are - and they are pretty simple when you get down to it.
We have studied these arguments in great depth over many, many years, we have read small mountains of material and we have engaged in hour after hour of discussion and debate. We know what we are talking about.
In our mature years we conclude that the arguments are in fact extremely simple, as are the answers. Philosophers have to earn a living and, like lawyers, they have become experts at spinning things out and introducing more and more levels of complexity to justify their existence (and fees.) Rather than sitting in their armchairs they should get out in the real world and discuss these arguments in simple ways with real people.
Einstein said: "if you can't explain something simply it means you don't really understand it at all."
We have cut to the quick of each argument to give our (or Winnie's) interpretation. We are not being glib - like Winnie, we see no necessity to postulate the existence of god - we just love the world and everything in it.
The ontological argument
This states that god is a logical necessity - the very fact that we can even think of a perfect entity is sufficient to prove that it must exist.
This is, of course, transparently ludicrous. We can think of many imaginary things: fairies at the bottom of the garden or dancing Pink Hippos, but that does not make them exist.
"We atheists are also a-fairyists and a-hippoists, but we don't have to bother saying so."
In fact god is the exact opposite of a logical necessity since there is neither need nor evidence for god. If all the questions answered by god can be answered without god there is no need for the god idea at all.
Please see our beliefs page for god-free answers to the big questions of life.
The cosmological argument part 1: beginningism and causality
This argues that everything must have a beginning and a cause - an everlasting god.
The usual response is: "when did god begin and who caused her?"
Some scientists (who should know better) make this worse by stating that at the moment of The Big Bang all matter in the Universe was in a "singularity" which appeared out of nothing. No it didn't! We don't know what was around before The Big Bang - if there was one - the Big Bang simply represents the limit of our knowledge at present.
The real arguments against this are simple - and conform to the requirements of Occam's Razor:
- A definition first: "The Universe" = "everything".
That means "stuff": matter, anti-matter, particles, photons, energy, whatever - everything.
- Everything changes over time - we can see this with our own eyes.
- There is no need to postulate a "beginning" - to do so makes one a "beginningist" - one who thinks things pop in to existence out of nothing.
(Perhaps god popped into existence out of nothing?)
- The Universe had no beginning and it will have no end - it has always existed, in one form or another, and will continue to exist, in one form or another.
Nothing "begins" - even religious people recognise this - as this conversation between a theist and an atheist makes clear:
||"Everything has a beginning."|
||"How did the Universe begin?"|
||"God created it."|
||"How did god begin?"|
||"God had no beginning, she is everlasting."|
||"So, everything does not have a beginning."|
A chair does not "begin", nor does it just pop into existence, it is merely a rearrangement of the atoms that made up something else before they became a chair - trees in this case which are themselves merely rearrangements of atoms that previously existed in the form of something else before they became part of a tree.
To propose an everlasting creator god makes things complicated. To propose an everlasting Universe keeps things simple and makes god an unnecessary postulate.
We have been tricked with a meaningless question: "how did everything begin?" The question is based on an assumption which 99.9% of people fail to challenge: "who says that everything must have a beginning?"
Everything has always existed - it just looks different today than it did yesterday - and it will keep on changing. That we know - we see it and experience it every day.
"God is everlasting and created the Universe"? It is much simpler to drop the god bit and stick to "the Universe has always existed" - that puts the onus of proof firmly back on the god-postulators.
The cosmological argument part 2: contingency
This states that everything in the universe is dependent on (contingent 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 similar to causality but much more convoluted.
It is obvious that this argument rapidly disappears up its own profundity
Who says that everything is contingent? Why must there be something which is not contingent? If everything is contingent why stop at god - what is she contingent upon?
This argument begs more questions than it answers.
The teleological argument
This states that the universe is such a wonderful thing that it must have a designer.
"Look at the wonders of nature, look at a bee's wing, it is obvious that this complex and perfect universe was created by some great designer - god."
This has become "intelligent design" in an attempt to get it taught as science alongside evolution.
All human beings look for explanations for everything - that's what science is all about.
However, we don't have answers for everything - life would be boring if we did!
We have an excellent and well tested explanation, evolution, which is backed by mountains of evidence. This enables us to work back through life of the earth to see how things have evolved over enormous periods of geological time. Science is not about "beginnings", it is about "change" (which is part of what "evolution" means) so we can use the same ideas to look at how the Universe was yesterday and how it will be tomorrow.
As is normal with science, the more we understand, the more new questions we raise. This is the excitement of open-minded scientific research - there will never be an end to enquiry. This was the big leap away from religious faith in god-given stories towards a healthy state of scepticism, always questioning, always seeking explanations and always revising those explanations as new evidence is unearthed. "Change" applies as much to ideas as it does to the physical Universe.
Simply because there are things which we cannot yet explain, does not mean that we need to invent a supernatural entity to explain them. Religions has always been used as Polyfilla to fill on the gaps in our knowledge. As we fill one gap with a scientific explanation, religions moves on to fill the next because some people are frightened of things we cannot yet explain.
We wonder about an all powerful designer who created a small worm which, after entering the body of child, works it way up to the child's eyes and eats them. We look to science and medicine to help that child - not to god and prayer. Why do we have to use our human intelligence to overcome problems created by god? Was the child whose eyes have been eaten sinful? Is god playing a game like a child pulling the wings off a dragon fly? What sort of god would do that?
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.
The utility argument
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.
The religious experience argument
This is the road to Damascus argument: "I have seen god!", "God spoke to me!", "I spoke to god!".
It is often extended to "someone else claims to have seen/heard/spoken to god so god must exist."
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.
George Bush claimed that god spoke to him and told him to wage war against religious terrorism in Afghanistan and to invade Iraq. He should have been treated for his fantasies, or locked away for a very long time for the safety of us all. Hundreds of thousands of people would still be alive today, and millions of others would still be in their homes, if wars had not been started by the deeply religious Christians: George Bush and Tony Blair.
There is nothing to be gained by arguing with those who claim direct contact with god.
They become dangerous when they use their inner voices to oppress others - as Saudi Arabia has done by branding all atheists as terrorists.
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 experiences of god can be explained without need for the god idea itself.
The miracles argument
"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.
The religious want unexplainable miracles to happen to justify their own beliefs - therefore they grab at anything which, for a short period of time, has no obvious explanation.
An image of the face of Jesus in a baked potato becomes a miracle to bolster their confidence!
"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, stupid!
(Rant: don't they teach statistics in schools any more? Is that why people never challenge numbers in media reports about anything? Are people too dumb, too lazy or too poorly educated to understand what lies behind raw numbers and how the wool is being pulled over their eyes?)
All miracles fade away under close scientific scrutiny.
The problem of bad things, of evil
The religious maintain that:
- god is all-seeing and all-powerful;
- god is good;
- god is great;
- god loves you.
For the "god loves you" argument it is worth watching George Carlin's video or reading the text here. WARNING: adults only - George swears a lot!
We judge by what is done, not what is said, so how come this god allows:
- 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 groups to discriminate on the grounds of gender or sexuality;
- religious people to murder in the name of their god;
- homosexuals to be hung in the streets of Iran;
- 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;
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) over 21,600,000 women experience unsafe abortions each year. Over 47,000 die following unsafe abortions. Over 2,000,000 are seriously injured following unsafe abortions. These abortions take place primarily in countries where religions, mainly Christianity, have pressurised governments to make abortion illegal.
In El Salvador women have been imprisoned following miscarriages. El Salvador has signed a secret "concordat" with the Vatican to bring in laws defined by the Catholic Church and to enable the Catholic Church to control education. The Vatican has over 200 similar secret agreements.
The religious invented "free will" to overcome the problem of bad things happening.
God gives them the option of choosing between the right and wrong way, the good and the bad.
This becomes a charter for the dictator/murderer/criminal rather than for the victim.
The bad guy dictator exercises free will and chooses to slaughter thousands and to steal the wealth of nations. No doubt he will "burn in hell" but he will live it up on earth.
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 only conclusion can be 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.
Tired of this dry philosophical stuff?
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Some people are swayed by logical argument - others prefer to read a good story or to hear of personal experiences.
"Knowledge of Angels" is a bit of both - a fantasy set on a fantasy island covering an encounter between "the establishment" (those who have always assumed that god and religion are "god given") and an atheist washed ashore after an accident.
It's a good read - though you do need to keep your brain wide awake!
"Why I am not a Muslim" is an excellent book which covers one person's intellectual path from being a Muslim to giving up all religion. It covers Islam and the main beliefs leading up to it: Zoroastrianism, Arabic paganism, Judaism and Christianity.
Written before 9/11, and everything that has flowed from that, its arguments are particularly relevant today.
It is rich in references and argument - so, engage brain before reading!
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