You read it right – preamble. I started writing a blog on my disbelief and it turned into a decent outline for a book. Thus I’ve split this into a few segues. Some of these will be about why I lack any belief in a god at all and others will be why Christianity is a societal menace. Yes, I do rail on about Christianity largely to the exclusion of other religions, but then we don’t have presidential or prime ministerial candidates tripping over each other to demonstrate their nauseating piety for Allah to a gullible audience that not only allows this nonsense but applauds it. I don’t believe in Jehovah any more than I believe in Allah or Yahweh, or (presumably) any of you believe in Zeus or Ba’al. Had I been brought up in an Islamic country I would be writing about Islam and not Christianity. I’m just going with the devil I know. But don’t worry, other religions get honorable mentions.
If God does not exist then where does our notion of God come from?
I used to belong to a Lutheran student group when I was studying at the university I graduated from. I don’t think I ever believed, but I really did enjoy the sense of belonging and kinship that I found there. I have since found out that this is not uncommon. Atheists getting together socially just doesn’t happen much and I think this is a shame. Some go to places of worship to fill this need since they can’t fill it anywhere else. This represents one of the positive sides of religion, but as I will describe later, this feature also has its dark side.
It is interesting that when I came up with the title for this I implicitly recognized the lack of necessity to state what it is I don’t believe. I don’t believe in any god, or gods. I don’t mean this in the sense that I don’t know whether there are deities out there. I mean this in the sense that there is absolutely no reason to believe deities exist and therefore I reject even their possibility of existence. I have to act on the best available evidence and since any god that would interact with the universe would leave traces, including one which did nothing more than create it. Despite our best efforts, no trace has ever been found. Nor is there any indication that we ever will. This is more than enough for me. To believe ‘just in case’, as Pascal would have you do, is in light of this is simply to cower in fear of the unknown. I’m made of stronger stuff than that.
Yet belief persists in our society. There seems to be a pathological need to believe. This in itself cannot be taken as an argument for the existence of a god, though many do see it as such. The reason is that a belief in an idea has no bearing on the truth of an idea. Nor does the popularity of religion lend any credence to the many variants of its ‘truths’. This begs the question of ‘why’ religion exists.
So then why does it exist? Humans, like their relatives in the primate branch of the evolutionary tree, have evolved to be curious. Like pretty much every other behavioral feature, curiosity is the end result of a long series of evolutionary accidents which shaped our nature. Ours is the most highly developed consciousness on the planet and it is only fitting that we take curiosity to an extreme. We want the answers to questions which our curious nature did not evolve to solve. Experimentation on a simplistic level lead to an ability to predict outcomes, a valuable ability in our ancestors’ struggle to survive. Wanting to answer questions such as ‘how did we get here?’ or ‘why are we here?’, what I will call ‘the Burning Questions’, are a natural by-product of this characteristic. Religion, in my view, is nothing more than an accident of behavioral evolution – rationalization of the fruits of our premature curiosity satisfaction taken to an extreme.
But we have also developed a need for instant gratification. We aren’t satisfied with not being able to answer these questions. And this is where religion has its roots. It offered a way to answer the questions which are still front-and-center in our psyche. Today, religions have evolved (and are continuing to evolve) into more sophisticated forms, as evidenced by the regimented structures of the world’s most popular religions. In other words, gods were born out of our ignorance and nothing has changed. Even Newton, arguably the greatest scientific mind that we can name, demonstrated this ignorance. As Neil deGrasse Tyson has pointed out, Newton is in complete command of the Laws of Motion in his great opus, the Principia, God appears nowhere. That is, until he could not solve the many-body problem of the motion of the planets. Try as he might, he could not find an analytical solution which would accurately describe the solar system. Well, if he, the Great Newton, could not figure it out, no one could and it had to be because of the Great Designer! Putting his arrogance aside, to Newton God was all about Newton. His belief was based not on evidence at all, but on a rationalization of his own ignorance which he was too arrogant to acknowledge, even to himself. And yet NASA gets along just fine by calculating the trajectories of probes to other planets solving the equations numerically with an unimaginable precision. Imagine playing darts and hitting a dartboard placed on the moon!
Speaking of Newton, believers often like to bring up the names of famous scientists that believed in God. Many of these names happen to have lived before alternative naturalistic explanations to the Burning Questions were available. Even the great Scottish philosopher David Hume, represented by Philo in his Discourses on Natural Theology, succumbed to the lack of alternatives to God.
But we have absolutely no way of knowing what the theological positions of these great minds would be if such alternatives were available to answer the Burning Questions. Such an Argument from Authority simply carries no weight at all. This is particularly true in Newton’s case, since he was quite heretical in his beliefs (and likely would have met with a grisly end had he ever gone public with them) and was quite the alchemist (again done in secret to avoid the side-effects of the gallows). Many more modern names, like those of Albert Einstein and Paul Davies lend no credence to God’s existence, either. With Einstein, his position on what God is is unclear, but he was unequivocal about his disbelief in a personal god:
‘It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.’
His ideas on the faith of his heritage are less than favorable, calling them ‘childish’ and said of the bible:
‘The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.’
Physicist and author Paul Davies is pantheist in his belief and his version of God has nothing in common with the Abrahamic versions, a point which is dishonestly overlooked by many apologists. (More on Davies later).
One of the most famous quotes ever uttered by a scientist is often cited in association with God: ‘God does not play dice.’ This is of course Albert Einstein’s famous quote to Neils Bohr in protestation to Quantum Mechanics. It’s actually a misquote, the original being
‘I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.’
Einstein’s objections were often accompanied by thought experiments which he felt Quantum Mechanics predicted impossible results. One such experiment was the so-called EPR experiment (named for its ‘inventors’: Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen). It wasn’t till after Einstein’s death that it was possible to perform the experiment and produce the ‘impossible’ results that Quantum Mechanics predicted. The EPR experiment was the starting point for a whole area of Physics research – quantum entanglement. God doesn’t just play dice; God has the ultimate gambling addiction! Again, Einstein’s concept of God seems to spring from his own prejudice and not from any hard data. There is simply no reason to believe that God is anything other than a substitute for our ignorance, even those of Newton and Einstein.
When viewed through the lens of skepticism, both God and Religion fall apart. In turn, I will be looking at specific aspects of the concept of God – philosophical arguments of its existence, the necessity of religion for morality, religion benefits society – and why they are all demonstrably wrong.
Next segue: Philosophical arguments for God