God Doesn’t Exist: The Proof
First off, don’t anyone get their knickers in a twist, this post is an exercise in logic and debate, not theology or metaphysics. I’m not attacking anyone’s faith, just discussing something that came up in an atheist/theist debate group I am in. A theist pointed out that when an atheist claims “There is no God,” why shouldn’t they have to prove their statement? Atheists are always shifting the burden of proof to the theists, why shouldn’t they have to prove their assertions?
It was an interesting argument, and whenever it’s raised, atheists generally explain seven ways from Sunday why the burden of proof is on the person claiming that their invisible supernatural friend is real. And then they fall back on the “you can’t prove a negative” canard. OK, true enough, I do actually think that the burden of proof is on theists, but just for the purposes of debate, let’s grant the point and see where it goes. First we run right into our familiar “can’t prove a negative” canard. I say canard because there are a vast array of circumstances where it is most definitely possible to prove something isn’t possible, in some ways math and science is based on proving negatives. Can one divide 13 by 2 and get an even number? No, and vastly more complex negatives than that can be proven.
So I’m up to the challenge, can I prove that God doesn’t exist? And here we come to the first problem, what, exactly, do we mean by God? And to avoid a lot of discussion and codicils, I’m going to cut right to the chase. Who is usually the one asking atheists to prove there is no God? Evangelical Christians primarily, but fundamentalists in all the Abrahamaaic faiths have been known to raise the question. So for purposes of our discussion, I am going to try and disprove the literal existence of the Old Testament Biblical God. We’ll call him God for simplicity’s sake. I am going with three lines of argument. Lack of evidence, similarity to other supernatural mythical figures, and psychological/cultural need for.
The first thing is that there is no empirical evidence for him. Science had shown by the late 18th century that the events described in Genesis didn’t happen. The Earth is billions of years old, and there was never any global flood, certainly not in human times. And none of God’s appearances in the Bible are documented by anything even remotely resembling historically trustworthy standards. At best the evidence for God is anecdotal, often FOAF (friend of a friend) anecdotal, including evidence for his supernatural powers. And not only is there no evidence for God, there are no gaps in our scientific understanding of the Universe that require a God to fill. There are those that would dispute all these points, but the vast majority of modern educated people, including huge numbers of theists, would grant them. (I didn’t say I would convince anyone, I’m just making my case for the premise God doesn’t exist.)
Secondly, the Old Testament is not the only ancient text that references supernatural beings. Humans have worshipped thousands of Gods, some very similar to the God of Abraham, most very very different. And humans have recognized thousands of prophets, Jesus was by no means a one shot deal. And prophets have followed him, some with large numbers of followers who claim Jesus foreshadowed their real prophet. Like Joseph Smith for example. And innumerable sacred texts like the Bible. Hell, even what is exactly meant by the Old Testament varies depending on whom one asks. My point here is that there is a vast canon of literature about Gods and prophets, the old testament god is nothing special. Again, I suspect that most educated people, including many theists, would agree with this. Some wouldn’t.
Lastly, I think there are powerful reasons why the idea of God would naturally appeal to people, and powerful reasons why some people would encourage the idea. I will go into more detail, but this quote sums it up
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”. – Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)
A lot of people very much want an authority figure to explain a confusing and sometimes painful world to them. Religion fits the bill nicely. And there’s plenty of people perfectly happy to use religion to enhance their social status and manipulate the common people. This is probably the least debatable of my three points, which may explain why Evangelicals avoid it like the plague. There are powerful social and psychological reasons why faith and religion exist and prosper, the fact that we find variations of it in all human cultures testifies to that.
Add these three points together, and I think this is a powerful argument that the God of the Old Testament is no more real than Thor or Santa Claus. The arguments I have heard claiming otherwise have been weak at best, but if anyone has a new angle I would be glad to hear the argument as to why your particular God is the God and the rest are all imaginary. I think it’s interesting that a number of faiths, even ones with Abrahamaaic roots, have adopted to the arguments above and have adopted their beliefs to be in line with modern scientific thinking.
And others have dug in their heels and would rather we all die than admit that Genesis was allegorical. What the hell is up with that? Tomorrow’s blog post, maybe.
(The above post is being used legally as it is a NASA image, credit and copyright: Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), C. Conselice (U. Wisconsin/STScI) et al., NASA. It’s a warped spiral galaxy. Most spiral galaxies are flat, some are deformed by near misses or collisions with other galaxies. I chose it because it shows the universe we live in is grand and amazing and awe inspiring … without any God required.)