Question from MiK’la:
Atheists always ask the Christian to prove that God exists. What proof is there that He doesn’t exist?
Answer by SmartLX:
None, but that doesn’t change anything.
Most atheists, myself included, allow for the possibility of a god existing. We think it’s unlikely, but there are so many ways in which a god could exist and yet remain unproven that there’s no way to prove beyond all possible doubt that there are no gods. That in no way means there’s enough evidence to justify positively believing that there is one, let alone a particular one. It’s impossible to prove that George Burns wasn’t the actual composer of Eleanor Rigby – he was around at the time, after all, and might have written Paul McCartney a long letter – but no one believes he did it. (That analogy was originally going to be that no one believes Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare’s plays, but it turns out some people do.)
Christians do believe in God, and therefore think there is at least one good reason to believe in God. When atheists go asking, we’re asking what that reason is. It’s an important question, because if it’s really a good reason to believe then we should believe too, and if it’s not a good reason then the believer shouldn’t. This is all based on the simple assumption that one should only believe in something with good reason. You’re welcome to argue with that if you really want to.
Question from Jackson:
Should I believe in the Bible? I have grown up in a Christian church and I am having my doubts about the Bible and “God”.
Answer by SmartLX:
Well, I don’t think you should believe in it because I don’t think its central claims are true, like the existence of a god or the resurrection of Jesus or the instant creation of humankind in its present shape, but that’s just my opinion.
What’s important is what you think, and you can think better by learning about the issues. If you have a specific doubt about the Bible, many others probably share that doubt, so if you Google some keywords you’ll find a wealth of information and arguments. Or just use the search field on this site, because we’ve gone through all the major ideological battlegrounds at some stage. Feel free to comment anywhere with questions, even in long-dead threads, because we see it all at this end.
Don’t just look for the skeptical material, though. Ask your fellow Christians about the things that cause you to doubt, and see what you think of their answers – and just as importantly, their emotional reactions. Are they ready with an answer like the Bible tells them to be (1 Peter 3:15)? Do they try to deflect the question with appeals to unquestioning faith? Do they start to become wary of you as a potential source of doubt in themselves? Or do they just avoid the subject?
Trust me, you’re not alone among Christians in doubting the dogma, and it’s often flavoured with a significant fear of doubt. Admitting that you have your doubts is therefore an important first step towards either becoming more secure in your beliefs or discarding them altogether. Either way, it’s in your best interests to pursue this line of inquiry.
Question from Devilush:
I am a devout Atheist. I enjoy documentaries, I recently watched one on PBS Nova and they were talking about a subject I know a little about, alternate universes. This made me think about the theist argument I always hear…god’s divine plan. To me it makes a strong argument that every choice is possible, therefore it is god’s plan because he does not make mistakes. So whatever we think is choice is in reality his plan because every choice is possible…personally I need measured evidence of [I think Devilush was possibly cut off there]
Answer by SmartLX:
If every choice is possible, and has happened in some universe or other, then every possible wrong choice has been made. Yes, there would be at least one universe where everything has always gone perfectly according to God’s supposed plan (maybe more, if nothing stops universes from being identical) but the larger multiverse would be littered with universes that had fallen by the wayside.
Crediting God for the one universe He got right would be like calling someone a good marksman for peppering the area around the target with stray bullets until one happened to hit the bullseye (close to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, but really just simple confirmation bias). It would also be completely undeserved, because in a multiverse where everything happens somewhere, it’s a mathematical certainty that any given plan will be matched perfectly and God doesn’t actually need to do anything. So much for all-powerful. If He created the whole system in the first place, good for Him, but that makes him a deistic god, not the kind of interventionist theistic god the theists you’ve heard this from actually worship.
Of course this is all assuming there’s a god at all, which brings it into the area of theology and out of the area of consideration which is useful to atheists, except when they’re conversing with believers.
Question from Madoka:
I’m a Catholic but I’m open minded. I keep hearing about how God does not exist but how can you PROVE he doesnt exist? I’m just looking for your opinion because I read about some atheists who had near death experiences and became Christians so it’s kinda confusing. Have you ever thought that He might exist?
Answer by SmartLX:
I can’t prove God doesn’t exist, and I still think that He might exist. Neither of these is a good reason to believe in something, though.
In order to prove God didn’t exist, with our vague concept of what a god actually is, we would have to rule out every place in (and outside) the universe where He might be hanging out. This would be impossible to anyone except a being which itself had godlike powers, so it’s not worth trying. Thing is, it means very little that we can’t prove God’s non-existence if whether he exists makes so little difference to the pursuit. Put another way, we can’t prove that there’s never been any such thing as a leprechaun, but that doesn’t mean we should all believe in them.
I used to think God existed, because I grew up Catholic. When I realised there’s no good reason to think He does, and lost my faith, I didn’t suddenly declare that God can’t exist. I could still be wrong, and He could be out there somewhere. I just think that’s very unlikely, for reasons I’ve given here, and until we know that it’s the right God and not a jealous alternative deity it’s no use worshipping any particular one.
Question from Cody:
When Christians and atheists argue, they seem to assume they mean the same thing when they say words like “existence,” “being,” “is,” and “truth.”
I find that they usually do not. Some speak from the modernist/rationalist mindset, some from the classical metaphysical mindset, and others from the post-modern, phenomenological POV.
What do you, and other atheists you know, assume as definitions for these seminal terms. What is the arbiter of truth? What is being and existence? Or, more realistically, what are your working assumptions about these things?
I’m afraid without clarity about our basic assumptions, any attempt to real dialogue is doomed. Help a devout Catholic understand atheist fundamental philosophy.
Answer by SmartLX:
I don’t think there is any fundamental atheist philosophy, Cody. That’s like asking for the common political views of everyone who isn’t a libertarian. Different people may have come to reject it by different routes.
That’s not to deny that many atheists think about this stuff in similar ways. For many or most atheists, questions of existence are rooted in the material. If something exists as anything more than a manmade abstract concept like love or justice (though of course those can be quite powerful in their own way), then it either has a material presence or some practical effect on something in the world. If something were to exist but have no effect on us, we might be strictly wrong but who cares?
The other assumption I think is near-universal is the idea that existence is universal. If an entity exists, again as anything more than a hypothetical construct, it exists for you as it does for me, and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t exist for anyone. “What’s true for me is true for me” is only meaningful when applied to interpretations of the abstract.
Let’s be explicit here: when atheists and Christians or any other believers clash over words like “existence” and “being”, they’re usually talking about God, or a god. This makes the issue a bit simpler. The Christian God and many others share certain qualities: they watch over us, they are capable of intervening in the natural world and they have complete power over whatever’s left of our personhood (our “souls”) after we die. If a god doesn’t do any of these things, then even if it still “exists” in some sense it might as well not.
I honestly think that common understanding of words like “existence” stretches far enough that people with different positions on the existence of something important can discuss and debate it in a way which is at least meaningful to them.
Question from Amber:
In his book “The God Delusion”, Professor Dawkins states that given the improbability of life originating in the universe, the creator would presumably have to be as improbable, if not more. Please expound upon this, for I do not quite understand why probable creator cannot do improbable things without being improbable himself(I say ‘himself’ for the sake of convenience). Also, Richard notes that the creator of the universe would have to be a simple one (to start out from nothing?), God is complex thus he could not have created the universe?
Creationists and other theists argue that one reason life must have been deliberately created is that it’s so complex. By that logic, God as understood by most religions is even more likely to have been created because an all-powerful, all-knowing being would have to be more complex than any known life, or even the whole universe. If God exists without a creator, why is is less likely for beings infinitely less complex, like you and me, to do the same?
Dawkins’ other point is that complexity in the universe has arisen very gradually over time, right up until the first living things existed and could design their own creations (most likely pre-human primates shaping rocks). Life, for example, took a billion years after the formation of Earth just to get started and then a billion more to get past microscopic organisms. For something like a god to form by any known undirected process, it’d have to start out simple and proceed slowly.
If on the other hand God can have existed forever without having formed at all, why is it less likely that the (less complex) universe itself has always existed in some form? Why does the insertion of an even more complex entity into our origins help us at all?