missionalchurch.ca welcomes our first guest blogger Trent. He is going to engage in the atheist (and in this case Christian) dialogue about the existence of God. (At least I think that would be the starting question….)
I am an atheist. I do not believe in Apollo or Amon-Ra or Allah. I do not believe in Baal or Baldur or Bacchus. Very briefly, I am going to explain why not.
Obviously real gods
I believe confidently in the kind of gods described by scientists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking and liberal religionists like John Spong and Michael Dowd (or at least as I understand them). Whenever someone uses the word “God” to describe something obviously real like the universe or human goodness* or reality itself, of course I believe in what they are talking about. Using these definitions of “God”, I’m not an atheist, but then again no one is.
The kinds of obviously real gods can be divided into two categories: gods that are real by definition (e.g. when “God” means “reality”) and gods whose existence is easily confirmed by observation (e.g. when “God” means “nature”).
*Actually, even this one might be too empirical to fit into the “obviously real” category. (It goes without saying, however, that I also confidently believe in the existence of human goodness.)
Obviously imaginary gods
There are many gods that are obviously not real. Firstly, there are gods that are logically impossible, such as gods ruled out by the (unresolved) problem of evil. A god is also logically impossible if it has two contradicting properties. Some people argue that omnipotence and omniscience are contradicting properties, but I’m not so sure about that. Here is a poem by Karen Owens expressing that view:
Can omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The omnipotence to
Change His future mind?
There are also gods that are easily disconfirmed by observation. This category includes gods that never allow sentient creatures to exist.
Utterly mysterious gods
Perplexingly, some people talk about gods that they say cannot be talked about, gods that cannot be defined or understood to any degree. In this case, instead of the word “God” meaning “reality” or “the universe”, it doesn’t mean anything at all. A person who says, “I believe in God, but I have no idea what God is” believes exactly the same thing as a person who says “I do not believe in God, but I have no idea what God is supposed to be”.
Gods that may or may not exist
Apart from the obviously real gods, the obviously imaginary gods, and the utterly meaningless “gods”, there are the gods whose existence or nonexistence isn’t just laid out in plain sight. What about a god that is everywhere at all times, that created the universe, that thinks and feels, that listens to my thoughts, that is an important force in my life, and yet is invisible, intangible, and inaudible? This is probably the god most people think of when they hear the word “God” and it is certainly the one that gets the most attention. It is also a god whose existence I have strong doubts about. In fact, I’m fairly confident – at this point in time, at least – that this god is imaginary, but I could be mistaken.
The proposition that this god (or a near-identical version of it) exists is what I am calling “the God Hypothesis”. To explain why I don’t think the God Hypothesis is true, I’ll quote from page 22 of Victor Stenger’s book God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (read sample chapters):
If God exists, where is he? Philosopher Theodore Drange has termed this the lack-of-evidence argument, which he states formally as follows:
1. Probably, if God were to exist, then there would be good objective evidence for his existence.
2. But there is no good objective evidence for his existence.
3. Therefore, probably God does not exist.
Drange criticizes premise 1 of the lack-of-evidence argument, pointing out that God could simply choose not to use the channel of objective evidence but directly implant that knowledge in human minds. However, as he and others have pointed out, such a deity would not be a perfectly loving God and the very existence of nonbelievers in the world who have not resisted such belief is evidence against his existence.
The Argument from Design is often presented as evidence for the God Hypothesis. However, the Argument from Design is nothing more than an argument from a weak analogy. I dedicated my last blog post to addressing that argument.
There is no real evidence for the God Hypothesis that I know of. It is also not true by definition and it is not deducible from pure logic, as far as I know. Therefore, I see no reason to think that it’s true, meaning the personal god that I described is roughly as likely to exist as Russell’s teapot, for example, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s why, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist (obviously real gods aside).
That said, I very well might be wrong about this and if you think so, I’ll be willing to hear you out. And I’m certainly open to looking at new or previously unexamined evidence.
By Trent Eady