This is my contribution to the debate this week at UCD Literary and Historical Society, which attracted over five hundred students, on the motion that there is no reason to believe in God. The full debate will be online soon.
No reason to believe in God
I think we have to assume that the motion is whether there is a good reason to believe in God.
I think we have to assume that the God, with a capital G, is the personal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God that has a particular focus on human beings. Because, if we go into the whole area of the ‘well, there must be something up there and we don’t know what it is’ type of god, then we’re going to get nowhere. The type of God we are concerned about is the personal God, that has a focus on human beings.
What are the claims made about that God?
Typically, he is supposed to have created everything that exists, for our benefit, so that he can communicate with us, so that we can have a personal relationship with him, so that he can enable us to go to heaven or to Hell, in order to give us eternity with either protection or damnation for our immortal souls.
Evaluating the claims
The difficulty in evaluating religious claims is that we tend to take leave of our senses when we discuss religion. Normally when we evaluate a claim, we proportion our belief to the evidence. As the claim becomes more implausible, we raise the bar of evidence that we require in order to believe that claim.
But with religion and belief in God, we do the exact opposite. As the claims become more implausible, we lower the bar of evidence that we require, to the extent that not only are we believing implausible claims, but we are believing literally untestable claims, and we are being asked to live our lives on the basis of those untestable claims.
What is our test?
So let’s ask ourselves about this perfect, all-knowing, all-good, personal God, who has a focus on human beings, and let’s ask ourselves whether it is more likely, based on the extent of the claim, that he actually exists, or that humans have invented the claim, at a time before science showed us that we don’t need to invent that claim?
In terms of fine tuning, let’s look at fine-tuning the other way around. Let’s look at this universe that is supposedly fine-tuned for life. I’m using approximate figures, but they are conservative, and close enough to make the point.
The observable universe has over 100 thousand million galaxies, with over 100 thousand million stars like our sun in each galaxy, and with a total of about 150 million million million planets in the universe.
The observable universe is 13.8 thousand million light years away in every direction, which is an observable diameter of nearly 28 thousand million light years. And that diameter itself has expanded since it started sending its light to us, so the actual diameter is much bigger than that.
So, having created this vast universe, let’s look at how this all-knowing, all-powerful, fine-tuning God designed his human project.
A light year is six million million miles. Our sun is eight light minutes away. There can be five light years between each star. So God wasted almost all of space.
Out of 100 thousand million galaxies, God wasted all but one galaxy. Out of 1,000 million million million stars, God wasted all but one star. Out of 150 million million million planets, God wasted all but one planet.
And that brings us to planet Earth. The grand stage for the purpose of God’s creation. We humans.
The universe is 13.8 thousand million years old. Earth is 4.5 thousand million years old. So God wasted the first 9.3 thousand million years of the universe, with regard to his human project.
The Earth is 4.5 thousand million years old. Humans are 200,000 years old. So God wasted the first 4.4998 thousand million years of the Earth, with regard to his human project.
Humans are 200,000 years old. The Abrahamic God revealed himself to humans 4,000 years ago. So God wasted the first 196,000 years of humanity.
There have been five thousand million species on earth. 99% are extinct, so God has wasted all of those.
Of the remaining 50 million species, God wastes 49.999999 million of them, because God created everything for just one species, which happily is us humans. We alone on the planet, and in our galaxy, and in the universe, have immortal souls.
There have been over a hundred thousand million humans, about 7 thousand million alive today. God gives all of these people different messages, and every religion is in an overall minority.
And God’s priority when he does give messages to people, his priorities are to tell them that it’s important not to gather sticks on the Sabbath, and that he is going to impregnate a virgin in order to give birth to himself, and give Mohammed a ride on a flying horse, and will appear in Joseph Smith’s hat in order to attire him in magic underwear.
Those are the priorities of this God, and he has created an entire universe in order to fulfil those priorities.
Human life is as we would expect based on natural evolution. It is not as we would expect based on intelligent design. It is arguably as we would expect based you and everyone is a minority on stupid design, or no design.
We can only live on a small part of the planet’s surface. The part that we can live on has earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis.
We can die within minutes of being deprived of oxygen. We can die from birth defects or cancers or ectopic pregnancies.
We can believe absurd claims disproportionately to the evidence. We can do things that are counterproductive to our survival. Those of us who do the fewest things, that our counterproductive to our survival, are the ones who survive.
Human life is as we would expect based on natural evolution. Not as the design of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, human-focused God.
Finally, let’s look at morality. Morality is a natural function of our brains. It is an evolved trait of social animals, that enable sys to live together.
It is based on compassion, empathy, cooperation, reciprocity, fairness and justice. And those evolved traits enable us to live together as social animals.
Now, it is a tricky enough decision at any stage to predict what is the morally best thing to do,
But believing in God corrupts this already-difficult task, by adding in irrelevant commands, supposedly revealed by an imaginary God, that have nothing to do with compassion or empathy.
One of our opponents tonight asked whether rape is objectively morally wrong. Well, not in the Bible, it isn’t. The Bible encourages you to rape women after you have overcome a city in battle.
You can kill people almost at random in the Bible if God decides so. The Ten Commandments are not a code for being morally good. They are a code to strengthen the position of the adult males of a particular tribe at a particular time.
I will conclude by reminding you of the test that I suggest we should use.
Which is more likely? That this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, intervening, personal God who has a focus on human beings, actually exists? Or was he invented by humans as a way of explaining things that we didn’t understand, at a time that we didn’t have the science to understand it.
I’m not making any claims about what caused all of this to happen. Because we don’t yet know. We know what happened from the Big Bang on, but not before it.
But to believe that all of this happened because a creator God cerated all of this universe for this purpose is so absurd and self-centred and arrogant a claim that there is no good reason to believe in God.
2 thoughts on “No reason to believe in God – my talk at UCD debate”
Even removing a personal focus on human being and a personality, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God is subject to the Problem of Evil:
If there exist an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good entity, why is there evil in the world?
An all-knowing entity surely can know how to create a world with no evil in it (otherwise this entity isn’t all-knowing) an all-powerful entity could surely program a world with no evil in it (otherwise this entity isn’t all-powerful) and an-all good entity would surely want a world with no evil in it (otherwise this entity wouldn’t be all-good).
Theists usually reply that there is a good reason while there appears to be evil in the world: either human free will (which still doesn’t explain evil caused by natural causes), the necessity of the presence of evil to know good (which doesn’t justify certain kinds of evil, like a long, painful death) , or “God’s mysterious ways” (a rather obvious cop-out).
Even if we remove the “all-good” requirement, the problem of evil remains. There are many ways that I think of to eliminate evil if I had a lot of power, and I’m neither all-knowing nor all-good for that matter.
Even if this “god” didn’t want to negate free will there are many ways for an all-powerful entity to at least reduce evil which don’t happen.
For example a god who’s merely as knowledgeable as me and as good as me (so not particularly knowledgeable or good) but had “cosmic powers” could warn, say, people of a hurricane or of a earthquake in time for them to safely get away from danger.
This just doesn’t happen. The theists justify this discrepancy by claiming that there are reasons why their god doesn’t act and that we can’t know them while he can because their god is all-knowing , but this is just another cop-out.
If we take away that attribute of being all-powerful what is left to this hypothetical goal is the fact the it created the universe.
At the time there is no evidence that the universe has been created by an intelligent being. Even if there were some evidence of it, this intelligent being couldn’t be all-knowing, all-powerful or all-good. it would be just some kind of powerful, intelligent alien being. A pretty piss-poor god.
Theism is pretty much impossible to justify rationally without cop-outs. Pantheism is either just a way to call the universe “god” or an unwarranted assumption the universe as a whole has either a personality or an interest in human beings.
Deism is easier to justify than theism, but it still relies on the unwarranted assumption that the universe was created by an intelligent being, while a)there is no evidence for this and b) things like the non-deterministic nature quantum mechanics suggest otherwise.
If we’re intellectually honest the only option left is that there is no good reason to believe in a god which is defined as a) the cause of the universe and b) an intelligent being.
An intelligent being which isn’t the cause of the universe but powerful enough to have some god-like powers (reshaping galaxies, come back from the dead, bring people back from the dead) could exist but it wouldn’t be a god, just a Sufficiently Advanced Alien.