Welcome to part 3 of my personal journey to atheism. In part one I investigated the burden of proof and explained my journey from certainty to doubt; in part two I investigated Christianity and explained why I felt the religion was on shaky ground. This time I’ll look at the concept of God in general and the Christian God specifically. I’ve repeatedly stated that I don’t want you to believe me or the people I quote, but to find out yourself. Rather than getting angry and posting snarky comments, investigate if what I’m saying is the truth and makes sense. If you spot a factual problem, highlight it and correct me, with references if you can, so that I can adjust my world view accordingly.
Holy illogical powers Batman!
As soon as I started asking honest questions about God as described in the Bible, I ran into logical problems. Bear in mind that space is limited and that the concepts here are simplified and shortened for that reason.
The God of the Bible is attributed certain qualities. It is said that God is omnipresent (everywhere and all times at once), omnipotent (all powerful) and omnibenevolent (all good and incapable of evil). My first point of departure predates Christ by about 300 years and was the work of ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. It’s quite a simple argument, involving the three attributes above. It has stood the test of time, and there are no real counter arguments to it that make rational sense and don’t require suspension of disbelief. It goes like this. Good is omnipotent and God is good, yet evil exists.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
To explain the evil in the world, in other words, God either has to be unable to stop evil, unwilling to stop evil, or downright evil himself. It is logically impossible to have all three qualities present in a single being and for reality then to resemble the one we inhabit.
Imagine the following scenario: I walk along a street with my cell phone, wearing a bullet proof vest, and carrying a gun. From a nearby house I hear horrible screams. I walk over to the house and peer through the window, seeing an old lady getting viciously raped and assaulted by a man. I happen to know the lady, she runs a local homeless shelter, and she’s exceptionally kind and loveable. The man only has a knife and is much smaller than me. I do not call the police. I do not pull my gun or interfere. I merely look on as he rapes her and later slits her throat, all the while she is begging for mercy, screaming for help. Afterwards I watch impassively as he empties her house and cuts her corpse into pieces. I continue on my walk undisturbed. I never mention it to anybody, and the following day, when a similar situation arises, I do the same thing. Would you consider me a good person? If not, why would I be any worse than God?
Here Christians sometimes appeal to the old free will chestnut. God allows it out of love because he gave us free will to do as we please. He’s still good because it makes him really, really sad, he just doesn’t dare lift a finger to help because that would destroy his grand plan. However, if you think about it, an all-knowing God would have known at the very creation of the universe how it would all pan out. He would know that if he puts this atom here, in 15 billion years Freddie would rape Wilma and did it anyway. He knew that if he put another atom somewhere else my brain would develop in such a way that I would be an atheist and would go to hell. He did that too. If God is really all-knowing and all-powerful then there is no free will. Free will is an illusion. Everything you do was pre-ordained at creation. Certain people were purposefully created with the sole purpose of being tortured in hell. Everything is playing out according to God’s plan, so the free will argument does not hold water. And even if it did, it would not really refute the argument put forth by Epicurus.
Does God interact with the world?
If God does interact with the world, then it must be measurable. No external force has ever been measured as working in on the world. And, to quote comedian Tim Minchin, “every mystery ever solved has turned out to be… not magic”. So either God cannot interact with the world, or chooses not to. If he cannot he is not omnipotent or worthy of worship, if he chooses not to he simply isn’t all that good.
One of the ways that God is said to interact with the world is by answering prayers. Various studies have been done on the effectiveness of prayer and they have found prayer wholly ineffective. Atheists and believers across different faiths have similar mortality rates in hospitals, and recover equally well whether being prayed for or not and whether they know they are being prayed for or not. Here and there studies have appeared to favour prayer, but they often cannot be reproduced, and the vast majority of studies show no benefit. In short there is no evidence that prayer does anything. If God answers prayers, he’s keeping it a secret.
In spite of what people believe about things like exorcisms, healings and other paranormal events, there is no good evidence for any of it in spite of several cash prizes asking anybody with good evidence for the paranormal to step forward. One such prize is the $1m James Randy Paranormal Challenge, unclaimed since 1964 (then a smaller prize). Many other such prizes exist, and in spite of hundreds of years of trying, scientists have never been able to confirm any paranormal activity anywhere. So great is the lack of evidence that paranormal investigation is now considered pseudo-science. Not one psychic, not one case of actual telekinesis, not one child levitating with the power of devils has ever been found or documented. No werewolves, no vampires, no ghosts, no demons, souls or dragons.
Is God worthy of worship?
Even ignoring the logical inconsistencies with God (there are many more than those I’ve covered here) and pretending that the physical evidence for God does exist and that miracles do happen, is God, as described in the Bible, actually even worthy of worship?
The Christian God is said to be unchanging (Mal. 3:6 / Heb. 6:17 / Jas. 1:17), constant, he doesn’t change like a human being does. How he is today, is how he is 1000 years from now. Jesus was sent because the old laws were so hard to live by (Eph. 2:15). If that is the case then he is almost assuredly evil. As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (The God Delusion)
The old laws, supposedly laid down by God, so hard for us to keep, are racist, homophobic, misogynistic and pro-slavery to name but a few. They are immoral laws, and if people could not keep them, it’s because they weren’t sadistic psychopaths themselves and not because they were not worthy of his love. To replace these laws God had his son tortured to death so that we can ignore the racist, misogynistic laws and get into heaven even if we masturbate and don’t keep slaves.
God could have created any world, yet he created one filled with unimaginable suffering where the existence of certain species is directly dependent on the suffering of others. There are wildlife photographers that quit because they can’t stomach the sheer brutality of nature watching animals slowly die over a number of days for example. If God is capable only of warm, fuzzy, good thoughts and love, why did he design a world where animals have to rip each other to shreds to survive? Wouldn’t you need to be slightly psychotic to come up with such designs if you could literally do it any way you wanted?
Does God require our belief?
Let’s consider that all I have said is false, then I still hold that God, at the very least, is not interested in human affairs. In my opinion this much is obvious from the state of the world. But even if he does care, why would he require us to believe in him in order to be saved? Many theists love using ants in analogies when dealing with God. We can’t understand God anymore than ants can understand TV’s they say. Here’s one for you: have you ever cared whether ants believe you exist or not? I bet you haven’t. If you did, would you torture ants for not believing in you given their incapacity to understand you or even what you are? If you did, wouldn’t that make you slightly, oh I don’t know, insane?
In the end a loving, caring God would not care whether you believed in him, but whether you live to the best of your abilities. He would not judge the same as men do, for he would know how much compassion he gifted the murderer and whether he designed the serial killer’s mind that way. If there is an omnipotent God and he gave us the ability to think and rationalise, he would welcome debate and thinking, not punish us for it. So even if God exists, it makes no sense to assume that he would even care whether you’re atheist or Hindu.
The God hypotheses explains nothing
When I woke to these realisations it dawned on me that using God as an explanation for anything is silly. In medieval times people with epilepsy were thought to be possessed and illnesses were thought to be God’s punishment. This kind of thinking did not expand human consciousness. I’m not sure whether it was Hitchens that suggested you think of one instance where a religious explanation has replaced a scientific one. There are none. Yet you can name thousands of examples of scientific explanations replacing religious ones (Germ Theory for example). Saying that God did this or that doesn’t provide an answer to any question. It does not expand human knowledge. It adds nothing. It’s the laziest possible way of thinking.
Furthermore, the Christian Bible is deeply flawed and borrows stories from older sources and as pointed out there’s little evidence for Jesus to begin with. Thousands of gods and goddesses have gone before. They were believed in and sacrificed for with just as much fervour as the current ones, yet everybody thinks their existence is silly now. In the end there is no less and no more evidence for the Christian God than any other. They are all equally improvable and equally unlikely. There is no good reason to believe in any of them. No more than leprechauns or ghosts.
All arguments for the existence of god have been adequately countered. That’s a fact. If you stubbornly hold on to one, say the ontological argument for example, go and look, it has been thoroughly debunked. I don’t know of a single good argument for god that has not been ripped to pieces. If the god debate was a boxing match, the theistic side would have been TKO’d long ago.
This is, again, in spite of all the space I have taken, a vast over simplification of my journey. There are a myriad of logical inconsistencies, Biblical problems and thought processes I can’t cover in such limited space. Investigate for yourself! As I’ve said this entire series: don’t take my word for it. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and anybody who claims he does is either lying or ignorant.
Investigate, ask questions, do what we’re told not to from the time indoctrination starts and question your beliefs. Put the same burden of proof on your own beliefs as you do of others. Be sceptical, you’ll soon realise it’s fun to find out new things. In my next article I hope to talk a bit about morality and what it means to be a good person without religious beliefs.
Until next time, happy hunting!