In the movie the exorcism of Emily Rose, the defense attorney played by Lora Lenee echoes the sentiments of many philosophers. In a closing statement she says that God either exists or he does not and either thoughts are astonishing. I am going to describe which of these equally striking alternatives holds true in reality. Before I present my arguments; a few words about my terms and method:
Any discussion about the existence of God must begin with the clear definition of what is meant by the word God. I have in mind an eternal being who is all powerful; all knowing and morally perfect who created us and takes special interests in us, a being who transcends the universe and yet is imminent in it.
Now admittedly no one can prove or disprove God’s existence with, 100% certainty, but my method for this discussion is simple. Because the hypothesis that offers the best explanation for the widest range of evidence is more likely true than other competing hypothesis, what we need to do is contrast two competing hypothesis before us: that God exists and that God does not exist and determine which hypothesis better explains the available evidence. Then using that explanation we can come to reasonable view possible and should accept it as our own.
I will now offer the evidence that is better explained by atheism than by theism, in support of the hypothesis that God does not exist:
Atheism offers the best explanation for the physical forces that causes natural disasters. In December 2004, a day after Christmas, an earthquake in the Indian ocean created a tsunami that killed approximately a quarter of a million people. Then the year later in August of 2005, hurricane Katrina killed almost 2000 more people in New Orleans. What are the explanation for these events?We can’t blame man’s free will for natural disasters because God could have created the world without the forces that cause natural disasters without ever hindering our free will. And man’s free will is not a cause of natural disasters anyway, unless of course the ancient people and Christian coalition are right then natural disasters are Gods way of punishing sinners. But if God is just, then these explanations make no sense at all. Even if a few guilty parties were killed by Katrina or the tsunami, considering all the otherwise innocent people who died also, that will be like God sentencing a man to death by firing squad, then placing him in the middle of a group of innocent children and shooting him with a shot gun from 20 feet away. Don’t you think God will have the ability to punish sin with a little more precision?
Surely if God exists then the death and devastation caused by natural disasters is absolutely baffling. However if atheism is true, such disasters are no less tragic but we can explain them. They are the product of mindless forces like plate tectonics and tropical weather systems operating in the universe blind and indifferent to our struggles for survival. Thus physical disasters that cause natural disasters are evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for unjustified pain and suffering in the world. Let me be clear. I do not mean to imply that God cannot allow some pain and suffering in the world, if he exists, since it would be possible for an all loving God to allow pain that we all can learn from, like that of the pain after touching a hot stove, or maybe even pain that leads to some greater good, like that felt after a root canal. In these cases pain is justifiable, instead, my claim is that it is impossible for a morally perfect God to allow unjustifiable suffering, like pain that teaches nothing and in which there is no greater good.
For example, consider the severe pain suffered by most people suffering from cancer, there is no conceivable justification for it, they are gonna die anyway. As caring and compassionate human beings we do what we can to ease and their suffering, with the limited resources available to us (e.g. painkillers). But if God exists, he is even more caring and compassionate than we are , and has an even greater ability alleviate pain than we do. Since no one can be morally superior to God, we would expect God to also do something ease the entirely unnecessary pain in cancer victims. But he doesn’t. Yet as even theists admit, unnecessary pain and suffering cannot, there has to be some ultimate justification. But God hasn’t shared it with us. And those speaking on his behalf hasn’t figured it out yet. In contrast, if atheism is true, we have an explanation. A sensation of pain happens naturally as body’s way saying something is wrong, but since an evolution is not intelligent process, it never figured a way to turn the pain off when there was no more need of warning, thus since only atheism is compatible with unjustifiable pain and suffering, and because it appears that unjustifiable pain and suffering exists, the existence of unjustifiable pain and suffering is evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for God’s silence in the face of adversity. Consider the great theologian and lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he writes:
God is teaching us that, we can get along well as humans without him, the God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. Before God and with him, we live without God.
Really? And the God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. Out of context, these words don’t sound like the words of pastor. But Bonhoeffer’s words makes perfect sense from his context. He writes from prison in Nazi Germany, where he died. And Bonhoeffer is not the only person who felt abandoned by God. Many people do when trials of life come their way. So much so that, a great deal of preaching is devoted to help believers maintain their faith even when God seems to be nowhere around. Thus we can understand Bonhoeffer’s claim. The God forces us to live like he is not there. As a rationalization for the severe circumstances Bonhoeffer found himself in. But is it good rationalization? Not really.
Consider all the circumstances parents take their children take immunization shots. I remember vividly being one of those children. I did not understand the purpose of the shots. I only knew that they hurt. Since I was too young to understand what was happening my mother did the best of what was necessary to comfort me, just as any decent parent would. Now if God exists he is not just any decent parent, he is the standard of decency itself. Thus when we go through our trials and tribulations which are minor compared to Bonhoeffer’s it is commonly thought that God has a plan that we don’t understand. But in these situation wouldn’t we expect God to comfort us just like a loving parent would?
Bonhoeffer probably expected as much. But when his expectations weren’t met, he came up with an alternative. Those strange explanations.
But there is one more potential explanation: If atheism is true then God doesn’t exist, thus we could expect God not to comfort anyone. Now it may be objected that they have felt God’s comforting presence during adversity, thus my argument fails. But isn’t it possible that people who believe in God’s comforting presence are mistaken? Of course it is. Otherwise who would be having this discussion? All it would take is for one person to claim God helped me get through it, and this should be settled. But the issue isn’t settled. We all know that the idea of God acting as a placebo would help us without God ever truly existing. So atheism and theism can explain God’s comforting presence equally well. But this is not true when explaining situations when God’s comfort isn’t felt because only atheism has a good answer for that. Thus God’s silence in the face of adversity is evidence for atheism and not theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for the physical dependence of the minds on the brain. It is commonly assumed by theists that somehow connected to the body is an immaterial soul. It is this souls that receives credit for our higher mental capacities, such as the ability to make free choices, think rationally, and even the ability to continue living after the death of our body. In short we identify our soul as the source of our mind. But is there any evidence that such soul exists?
Unfortunately there is not. The idea that our mind exists directly independent of our body is directly contradicted by everyday observations. Like the fact that alcohol and other physical substances can change our conscious states and that degenerative brain diseases Alzheimer’s and brain damages can seriously impair or even destroy conscious states and the fact we don’t expect young children to be capable of advanced forms of abstract thinking, they require more fully developed brains. Certain controlled substances can also generate out of the body experiences, similar to the ones experienced during near death experiences.
As Owen Flanagan, Duke University Professor of Neurobiology, have that stated advances in the sciences of the mind, cognitive sciences, cognitive neuroscience has lead to the rejection of the idea that the mind or soul interacts with but is metaphysically independent of the body. And as Marvin Minsky, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated, Minds are what brains do.
Indeed extensive evidence suggests that all of our conscious and mental states correspond to some physical brain state. Since it appears that no way that a mind can exist apart from functioning physical brain, we are justified in concluding that disembodied minds do not exist. However this implies a serious difficulty for theism. If disembodied minds don’t exist, since God is supposed to be a disembodied mind, strongly suggests that God does not exist. Therefore the physical depenndence of minds on the brain is evidence for atheism and not theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for the hiddeness of God. If God exists and wants his existence to be known (e.g. faith-will-save-you propaganda), it is strange that the evidence for existence of God isn’t stronger. Think about it. Are there much more ways God could have made the evidence for his existence obvious? As Sam Harris observes, God could have included in the Bible a flawless discourse in mathematics so advanced, that it will still be useful today. It would be hard to deny the divine inspiration behind such old scripture. And given all the space devoted in the Bible devoted to who begat who and all the erotica, there would be certainly room for it.
Or consider the biblical account of the resurrection of Jesus. It is said that resurrection is the supreme indication that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh but then, after rising from the dead, he ascended into heaven 40 days later. So why only 40 days? Couldn’t he stuck around a little longer? Perhaps a year? Or 10? Or a 1000? In fact Jesus could still be alive for claiming his message of divine love and surely everyone will be convinced, I know I would be, and isn’t this what he wants? But instead as the story has it, Jesus to took the first flight back into heaven floating away into the sky like an elegant super hero. Why? I doubt Jesus had important business in heaven that required immediate attention. And these are just two ways God could have made his existence more evident. We can probably all think of more. It would do no good in claiming that God wants us to believe in him by faith, because this would mean that God created us as rational beings, but has chosen to frustrate the rational capacities he has equipped us with. And if God exists he must be choosing withhold his existence from us. But this doesn’t make any sense, if God truly wants us to believe in him. But if atheism is true, the reason for God’s hidden is quite clear. He is simply not there. Therefore divine hiddenness is evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation of religious history. If it were true that God has revealed a message of salvation to any of the world’s religions, then we would not expect that religion’s success to be explicable through historical contingencies and natural cultural diffusion. But that religion to display signs of unique and undeniable signs of divine favoritism. However there is no religion in the world that satisfies these expectations. For example, despite the fact that Christians try to romanticize their history and imagine that their religion has achieved this success through divine providence, this is clearly not the case. Christianity really began to genuinely thrive after it began to have the support of not of God but of the Roman empire. Equipped with the ability to eliminate competing religions and passing laws that called for their extermination, Christianity embarked on a lengthy reign of terror. Burning books, burning people, destroying cultures, launching Christian crusades and genocide, and excommunicating or murdering any so called heretics or that is anyone who dare question their authority. And so we have the largest religion in the world history has the bloodiest history of totalitarian intolerance and indignation. Is it any surprise? It certainly is if Christianity is the out growth of an all loving incompassionate God. If God exists, regardless of which religion is true, we would not have expected him to sit idly by and let all this happen, instead, you would expect God to intervene to either Christianity straight, or to have defeated Christianity in the name of what other religion might be true. But if atheism is true then there is no God to intervene in any religious warfare or offer divine favor to any group of believers. There would be no religion that displays Gods favor and indeed there is not. If Christianity is merely part of human invention, as surely most religions must be, then it is not at all a surprise that Christianity has dominated the world religious scene by being the most violent. Not the most reasonable, therefore, religious history constitutes evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for religious confusion. For a moment put yourself in the position of an unbeliever who has just lost his/her faith and is considering which specific religious path to pick (e.g. Islam, Jainism). What religious path wuld appear to be the correct? If God exists we would expect the path he expects his followers to take clear and obvious. So that we would have no confusion about it. In fact doing so will be God’s moral duty. Especially of there were consequences for choosing the wrong path. However, consider the rich diversity of religious claims made world wide. We have already seen christianity does not display any sign of God’s favor. Can you think of any other religion that does? Probably not. I couldn’t either. The religious landscape is purposely confused and cluttered by conflicting opinions about the nature of God and the supernatural. There are approximately 10,000 religions in the world today. Only one of them is christianity with over 33,000 denominations in it. This is all out of the imagine if God is aware of the situation and has the slightest bit of care about it. However if atheism is true, there is no truth in the God hypothesis that believers can discover. So there is no reason for them to agree about any of them. Therefore religious confusion is evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for the uniformity of religious experience. When I was a christian, the argument that caused me to maintain my faith as long as I did was my religious experience. I said that I was not ready to admit that my relationship with Jesus had all been in my head. However what I did not realize was that, as real and convincing my religious experiences were to me, members of other religious groups had the same kind of certainty about the truth of their faith that I possessed about mine; and for good reason. For as it turns out, the different religious experiences of the religious of all faiths were all caused by stimulation in the same areas of the brain. In fact one can even be induced into feeling that he/she is having the religious experience when those parts of the brain are artificially stimulated and the believer will interpret that experience according to whichever faith he or she holds. What is the explanation for world wide uniformity in religious experience? It certainly can’t be that all religons are true. But if we imagine that one of them is true, then it would be very strange that believers who experience the real God use the same brain states as the believers who experience the wrong God. Therefore, uniformity of religious experience is not what we would expect if there were truly a god that communicates with us through select religious channel. However if atheism is true then uniformity of religious experience is to be expected as no religious experience would be caused by anything genuinely supernatural. Instead religious experience would find its roots in the human brain. And this display of uniformity would be due to similarities in human physiology and psychology. Since this is precisely what we find to be the case, the uniformity of religious experience constitutes evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for the evidence of evolution. Since the publication of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, Evolution by natural selection has been proven to be the most successful scientific theories ever. The evidence for the occurrence of evolution is immense and secure. It includes the fossil record, comparative anatomy, geographical distribution of species, embryology and the rapidly growing base of molecular evidence such as protein and DNA functional redundancy, transposons etc. This evidence is so convincing, that according to one report, less than one in a thousand scientists in relevant fields worldwide reject evolution in favor of creationism. It is actually possible, that many theists believe that God has simply chosen to create life with the process of evolution. However evolution shows no signs of intelligent direction. Instead it proceeds blindly by producing vestigial organs and other biological systems that are not entirely efficient. Only 1% of all species that ever lived still survive today. And as Darwin pointed out beneficial mutations are produced by the same means as harmful ones. Without doubt evolution appears to be an odd method for an all powerful God to use considering all the other more efficient methods he could have used. However on atheism, evolution by natural selection is the only method we know of, that has the ability to produce complex organisms like those today. Thus evolution constitutes evidence for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for the scale of the universe. Consider the kind of universe that most ancient people, such as the authors of the Bible thought that lived in. They speculated that the universe they lived in is a few thousand years old, relatively small and the earth since it was at the center of God’s attention was also the center of the universe. Furthermore, they believed in flat earth covered by a dome and above that dome was the location of heaven. And this is all quite reasonable, considering the only hypothesis they were working with was that God had created the universe. In fact only this view of the universe makes sense if the otherwise resolved bible stories such as the tower of babylon, were God was threatened by the construction of a sky scraper (Gen 11:6). However we now know that the universe imagined by the authors of the Bibles is not the universe we live in. The visible universe is 156 billion light years wide and there is no center to it just like there is no center “on” the Earth. If God created the universe with us in mind then much of it is a complete waste, but it strongly implies that a rational God didn’t create it. However if atheism is true, we would expect the universe to be very large and very old so that the circumstances for life to evolve gradually would be able to arise. Thus only when we pretend that the universe was not created with us in mind will does the size of the universe make any sense. Consequently the scale of the universe is for atheism and against theism.
Atheism offers the best explanation for bad design in nature. There are certain biological process amongst other kinds that from a theistic perspective must have been created to sustain life, yet they do a poor job of it. Even a decent designer, far from a perfect one could have designed these artifacts more effectievely and efficiently. Now lets consider some examples: Organisms require food. If theism is true then God doesn’t need food ad other supernatural beings probably don’t either. So why do we? God could have created us so that we could live without food, thus protecting from all the perils in the world without hindering our free will. Perils such as starvation, the bloody food chain and death caused by choking. Speaking of choking, isn’t that another instance of poor deisgn in nature? There is no reason for God to make our wind pipe intersect with our digestive system. In fact since God doesn’t need to breath, why do we? The need to breath only causes more perils such as suffocation and carbon monoxide poisoning. The designer who produces bad designs must be incompetent or just plain mean. If most Gods are neither of these things, the bad designs in nature to do mean any of these things.
Source: This is a introductory speech given by by Richard Spencer in a debate on whether God exists. I found that it resonates with my own experiences.