June-July 1998 Articles:
A glance at the 1998 World Almanac reveals that over 1.1 billion people (19 percent of the world) are either atheists or non-believers; a stark difference with North America, where only 7 percent are atheists or non-believers.1 The atheist position is perhaps founded on a principle of truth--a wish to only believe on evidence rather than on faith.
While the notions of God are countless, in this essay the focus will be on the Christian God, described in the following way by John Hick:
"God is the unique infinite personal Spirit who has created out of nothing everything other than himself; he is eternal and uncreated; omnipotent and omniscient; and his attitude towards his human creatures, whom he has made for eventual fellowship with himself, is one of grace and love."2There has probably been more written on the subject of religion than on any other, hence not even a representative portion can be addressed here. However, several important incongruities within the concept of God will be revealed.
One problem with religion is that words seem to mean different things when applied to God than when applied to anything else. When we claim that a mother loves her children, it is because she takes care of them, feeds them, plays with them, educates them, talks to them in a pleasant voice, and so on. If the same mother were to plot her children's death, poison their food, abandon them, and burn their house down, we would no longer say that she loves her children. A person who maintained that she still loves her children would be properly advised to read the dictionary more often. And yet, theists claim that God loves his creatures no matter how many people are hurt and die due to floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and the like. Perhaps the theist ought to change the attributes of God.
Many people claim religious experience as a light to truth. Let's test this proposition. Religious experience could hypothetically be a gateway into a super-reality. In that case, all religious experiences would be of the same thing--the same god or gods, the same angels or lack thereof, and so on. Specifically, people of different cultures would report the same gods. After all, if a god exists in a part of reality accessible by prayer, then all people that pray will be shown him, no matter where they are located on the planet. On our world, as was mentioned before, differing concepts of god number as many as the stars, hence the reasonable conclusion denies the possibility of prayer revealing anything besides one's own ideas. Religious experience, to the rational person, is nothing more than an inward look at one's conscience.
One paradox inherent in the concept of God is brought forth by the juxtaposition of God being all good and the presence of evil. It was perhaps first stated by Epicurus (341-271 BC):
"God either wishes to take away evil, and is unable, or He is able, and unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious [malicious], which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does He not remove them?"3
The common answer is that God is both willing and able, but free will was deemed more important, and, because of it, we humans freely choose to do evil. For the sake of the next argument, we can assume that free will and God are not incompatible. As they are defined, good and evil are diametrical opposites; good is construed as necessarily opposing evil. Why didn't God, since He is all-good and loving of his creatures, make the world such that all people freely chose to do good? The reply is that a free action cannot be brought about. That statement does have some sense to it. But let's look at creation. When God created the world, He did so fully consciously. That is, He did not just throw the pieces of the universe together randomly; rather He deliberately assembled it. Before the world was created, God was aware of how it would turn out; He knew that today there would be so many good and bad people inhabiting the planet, for He knows all, and today there are as many good and bad people as God knew there would be. Because God actually brought about the universe which contains certain exact free actions done by certain people as anticipated by Him, He, in some sense, brought about certain free actions.
If the creation that Christians believe in left us with free will, then God could have created the world such that today there would be one less bad person and one more good person, and all would still have free will. Thus God would have brought about, in the same sense as before, free will. Once this is possible, the process could be continued to eliminate all evil people altogether. If God is truly all good, he should have done this.
What are the theist's options? As the denial of free will is unthinkable (after all, if a human had no control over his actions, he certainly can't be held responsible for them), the only possibility is to acknowledge that God is not all-good, or He is not omniscient, or He is not omnipotent. In any case, the Christian God is shown to not exist. A theist can, of course, pose objections. Let's consider two of them, very briefly. Evil is necessary for good to exist, he may say. So, say someone rescues another from drowning. If there are no evil persons around, the action is not good? Of course not--the worth of an action does not change by a lack of "appropriate" observation. The second objection, which is much more reasonable than the first, is that God does not know the future. The future has not happened yet, so God not knowing it is not only logical but also is not a threat to His omniscience, since it is only possible to know what is. While the reasoning is clear, there are many instances of God revealing the future in the Bible, so according to the Bible itself, God knowing the future is not illogical. The theist who still maintained that God is unaware of the future should be pressed to explain his entire disregard of, for instance, the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
Two final pleas of the religious apologetic must be considered. First, he may say that I cannot claim that God does not exist--only that some aspects of some definition are inconsistent. This reasoning is fallacious, however. For example, if I were to insist the presence of a triangle with four sides on the dark side of the moon, the moment I show that a triangle cannot possibly have four sides by definition (that is, the idea is shown to be self-contradictory), I will have demonstrated the impossibility of the existence of any entities that fit said description anywhere, including the dark side of the moon. Likewise, the contradictions entailed in God's description rule out the possibility of the existence of a God that fits the Christian definition.
Second, he will assert that I do not know God only because I do not seek Him, and His glory would be revealed to me should I only open my heart. To these remarks I only say that it is a truly horrendous doing, a case only of devious sophistry and mischief, to try to convince someone of the presence of a truly illogical being such as Christians make God out to be. Furthermore, if at one point I did succumb to their art, and the belief brought me comfort, I would ask myself--If I were to live in constant belief of the square triangle, and such a belief brought comfort to my life, of what value would my life be once I have died? Would it not truly be a disgrace to the abilities that nature has so generously afforded humans? The ability to reason distinguishes us from other animals; we have a chance to explore the universe, to learn the wonders of nature through science, and yet, some surrender willfully to the callings of their animal self to be emotive and not think.
There are those among us who turn away from philosophy, who declare the art tedious and without return. However, it seems to me that one is puerile to base final knowledge on anything except philosophy--the only human endeavor to entail no assumptions. And if through logical argument and rational debate the impossibility of a god is revealed, however much our sentiment of nostalgia calls for a divine caretaker to walk our world, the falsehood must be cast off so we may enjoy the ultimate freedom that only truth can bring.