- Religion and Philosophy»
- Atheism & Agnosticism
Is Belief in God Logical? Is Belief in God Reasonable?
In a previous hub I made a distinction between atheism and belief that theistic claims are unreasonable. An atheist can have no such opinion, in which case he has zero burden of proof or he may have that opinion, with an attached burden of proof but NOT for the atheism itself. Such a person would only need to prove that belief in a deity is not reasonable. Here I would like to provide some concrete examples of how belief in a deity can be proven to be not reasonable.
A deity (the Christian god for example) is purported to have certain characteristics. Such a being must be metaphysical, which means it is not made up of matter or energy and is timeless. In essence it can exist outside of our universe. This is necessary if the deity is said to have created the universe because it is illogical to create a universe from inside of said universe. Furthermore, no scientific instruments have ever detected a deity, which makes it reasonable to say that it must be metaphysical. It is also reasonable to say that God is omnipresent (in the past, present and future simultaneously) since it is possible for it to exist outside of time and therefore is not constrained by time. Current scientific evidence suggests that time is a tangible thing that distilled into existence during the big bang and relativity has proven repeatedly that the flow of time can be altered (for example it can be slowed for fast-moving particles). Since God is metaphysical, he ought to be omnipresent as well. The remaining attributes come from claims from scripture and are somewhat denomination specific. Many religions claim that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing) and omnibenevolent (all-good). The problem is that these characteristics logically contradict each other.
One who went from theist to atheist, back to theist
The first contradiction is strictly between 2 of the characteristics and requires no specific references. For something to be all-good (omnibenevolent) it can not be associated with evil in any way shape or form. However an example of something which is "not good" can be unnecessary or purposeless suffering. If someone is made to suffer for absolutely no reason whatsoever, there is zero benefit and the act is therefore not good. We know that purposeless suffering exists because acts of nature are capable of causing suffering and they are without purpose or benefit. If a newly born baby dies from complications, this is a natural phenomenon and had no purpose. It is not good. If a hurricane pins someone beneath a car who dies in agony, that act was without purpose or benefit and is therefore not good. God, who is all-knowing and all powerful is not only aware of these events taking place, but he has the power to prevent them and does not do so, which means EITHER, he is in fact not all-powerful OR he is not all-good. Furthermore, since God is all knowing, then he understands, in fact internalizes, the most intimate and personal feelings that a sick murderer has in his head, which delight him in the act of killing a baby. God has to be at least capable (since he is all-powerful) of being a sick murderer himself. If God is not able to be a sick murderer through and through, then he is not all-powerful. If he is capable of being one, then he is not all good. Therefore there is evidence that belief in God is not reasonable because, as you can see, several of God's characteristics do not permit the existence of the others.
The proton-proton chain powering the sun is an example of conservation of mass and energy
What about science? There's a case to be made here too. God may be transcendent (metaphysical) but he is at least capable (omnipotent) of operating within the universe he created. He can "interact" with the physical reality that we live in. In Christianity, the Bible says that God took a rib from Adam and created Eve. Assuming this was a normal rib that we are familiar with in medical terms, such a transformation violates the laws of physics, namely conservation of mass and energy. In fact numerous acts of creation (from within the universe where physics are known to hold reliably) and miracles violate conservation laws by creating something out of nothing. The theist may be tempted to interject at this point and say that the big bang is the same thing but it isn't. The big bang is an event that created the very laws of physics themselves. Prior to that (even though the word "prior" has no meaning when time didn't exist), there were no physical laws to break so something COULD come from nothing. Once the universe has been created however, you cannot disobey the natural laws. God, being omnipotent, should be able to do so anyway but this is only logically consistent, not reasonable. What's reasonable is to expect everything to work as it always has according to the natural laws. The fact that we have never known the laws of nature to be broken, even once, is physical evidence that belief in God is unreasonable or at least less reasonable than not believing in one.
I will use scripture as the 3rd piece of evidence that theistic claims are not reasonable. Again I will use Christianity as an example. There are countless parts of the Bible that are unlikely from a scientific or rational perspective. For example, almost every detail of the great flood and Noah's ark is highly improbable. The boat was not large enough to hold its occupants. There isn't enough water on Earth to make the flood levels rise as high as is claimed and there are many more questionable details of this sort. There are also gross omissions and errors regarding the origins of the human species. The first 2 humans were made from dust and a rib. Subsequently the entire human race would have come from the same 2 ancestors, which doesn't allow for the necessary genetic diversity to create the population demographic we have today. God dispatches servants to do things and collect information, which is unnecessary for a god to do. He is known to violate his own moral code numerous times by killing people indiscriminately who have committed no offense. If there was an offense, it seems to be obfuscated. With all we know about how the universe works today, to read the Bible is to question the validity of most of what we know. Because science is established through rigorous validation and scrutiny, we would either have to seriously question the natural laws and probably discard them if we believed what the Bible says, or conclude that the Bible is in error, which makes the theistic claim far less reasonable than simply lacking belief.
There is no free will for billiard balls
God is all-knowing but he gave men free will. This is logically impossible. Suppose a man named Adam, who has free will is about to make a choice. The choices are beer or sex. Adam hasn't made his choice yet. He is thinking about it. He chooses beer because he had sex 3 times that morning. He exerted his free will. However God knew what he was going to choose because he is all-knowing. What if Adam had chosen sex instead? Having free will means you control your own actions rather than some external force controlling you. But if Adam's choice is already known to God, then it could not be any other way or God would be wrong. If it could not be any other way, then by means beyond Adam's comprehension, he was compelled to make that choice. He may have felt as if his choice was his own but he MUST choose beer or it would make God wrong. It was his destiny to choose beer. The reason you can't have free will and omniscience at the same time is simple. Omniscience means that there is a causal and deterministic link between all events. Imagine a line of billiard balls separated by a few centimeters. If you strike the first one with the cue ball, the future of all the other balls is already known because the initial conditions are known and the balls must obey the laws of physics. This is a deterministic causal system. The cause of striking the cue ball has the effect of sending the last ball on a specific path. The laws of physics (the speed, the angle, the mass of the balls) makes it deterministic. If God knows Adam will choose beer, it can only be because the universe is of a deterministic and causal nature and he can see the interactions from his vantage point outside of space and time. This sort of a system can only play itself out 1 way so Adam is really just a billiard ball obeying the laws of nature. He does not have free will. Today we know that the world doesn't work quite like this because of things like quantum uncertainty but that makes an omniscient God an unreasonable belief as a consequence.
Opposing views on free will and omniscience
Finally I'd like to propose a thought experiment. If you were a god and had infinite power, knowledge, morality and could see eternity, why would you create anything? Why create humans and then get upset with them? Why judge these flawed designs? Why make flawed designs in the first place? You see, when you become a god, and you remove all limitations from yourself so that you can do absolutely anything, then you remove all purpose as well. Purpose comes from having limitations, not removing them. The purpose of a human life may be to strive to better himself because he is flawed and limited. Without limitations, there is nothing to aspire to, no reason to do anything at all. Why create the universe? For entertainment? As a test? Tests assume you don't know the outcome, which a god of course would. Entertainment suggests your emotional state can be improved, which is meaningless for a god which can have all emotional states at the same time with zero effort. Does God love us? Again, love is unnecessary for a perfect being to exhibit. Why does he need us to worship him and believe in him? A god should logically NEED nothing. He is perfectly complete in every way already. And so I ask, is it more reasonable to believe in a deity or is it more reasonable not to?