Where’s your god now? A logic-based journey to atheism

Most atheists you will encounter will assert their atheism on the basis that after hearing unfalsifiable assertions about God and religion and the sola fide approach believers take in their faith, the truth value of the existence of this so-called god came increasingly into question. That is to say, atheists became atheists after seeing a lack of falsifiable evidence for any particular religious system. But it’s a bit troubling to take this sort of leap of faith (or perhaps non-faith), isn’t it? After all, the lack of falsifiability of a given religious faith conversely creates a scenario in which a case for atheism can’t solidly be made.

Or can it?

I came across a fantastic video that explores some of these subjects in great detail (and I admit I’m pretty much ripping the ideas of this video off and TheraminTrees does a better job of it than I do) and my troubles were largely eased by presenting some pieces of logic that give atheism a lot more credibility and can indubitablly cause a person of faith to reevaluate their decisions.

When you think of a god, you are probably associating some omnis with that being.  Omnisience, omnipotence, perhaps also omnibenevolence (unless you’re the Westboro Baptist Church). However, these concepts are nothing more than abstract and cannot possibly exist as properties of an entity. Let’s take omnipotence, for starters.  Stoners the world over have surely pondered whether an omnipotent god could microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn’t touch it. And pondering a situation like this immediately strikes a sizable hole in one’s perception of God. If we alter the meaning of omnipotence to mean “able to do anything that doesn’t interfere with its other properties” in an effort to shut up those smart asses who ask those strange questions, then I’m omnipotent because I can do anything that doesn’t interfere with my other properties. Creating a recursive definition of “able to do anything that doesn’t interfere with a being’s omnipotence” becomes meaningless because there doesn’t exist a base case and we end up with infinite recursion.  So we are left with a god that, at pest, isn’t omnipotent, because it’s not possible to be omnipotent.

Exploring the concept of omniscience, we are similarly left with conflicts, especially when you take biblical stories into account.  If a god is to be all-knowing, then the consequences of any actions the god takes are necessarily known beforehand. Thus, it is grossly unjust and illogical for a god to have made the design decisions that he did when creating the universe, especially if he was to also create conditions as to how his creations should behave. If we had an omniscient god, it wouldn’t have been necessary for him to make a bet with Satan in the book of Job about how he’d behave when God screwed him over; he would have known. God should have likewise known when creating the universe that it would lead to his dissatisfaction with creatures that would piss him off and cause him to willfully flood the earth (related note: how did Noah build an ark that could house animals living in all of the different biomes? Climate control back then seemed nonexistent.  Oh, and did we lose a lot of species on the ark from carnivorous creatures?).  We are left with either a god that is definitely not omnicient, or he is criminally insane and a danger to all of humankind.  And these punishments certainly put a strike in God’s omnibenevolence.

And is God immortal? If so, is he capable of killing himself? If so, he’s not immortal. If not, we’ve got another strike against omnipotence.

This brings me to the virtue of faith. God would presumably know what it takes to communicate with the humans he is responsible for creating. Humans who believe in him seek a relationship with him, and God would presumably likewise want this relationship.  Yet, God refuses to communicate with some humans in ways that make them sure and fully aware that God is communicating with them. Some may argue that if God were to show himself and it was perfectly obvious that he exists, then that would interfere with our own free will and we’d be unable to sin because it just wouldn’t make sense.  Yet Cain directly communicated with Jahweh and sinned nonetheless, so that argument holds less water. But ultimately here, in what way would God benefit from his subjects communicating with him in what is really a monologue because God is either unwilling or unable to make himself unambiguously known to humankind? It just doesn’t make sense.

Most devout believers will fire right back at me after my last sentence, proclaiming that God doesn’t have to operate within the confines of logic because that is a system he created himself and we are unable to comprehend it, because we’re imperfect (which also debunks the notion that God is perfect; how can imperfection stem from perfection?). If your mind lets itself wander there, we are left with gods that cannot exist. Even if you are convinced that a god or gods exist(s), you can surely see here that it is necessarily true that this(ese) god(s) is/are not perfect, are not necessarily immortal, are not omnipotent, are certainly not omnibenevolent, and are not omniscient. And when these properties of your god(s) are dissolved, what rationale remains for you to worship him? Fear of punishment? Perhaps a Stockholm Syndrome of sorts?

I choose here to look at reality and reach the conclusion that there probably are no gods. Because any would-be gods are no longer communicating in direct ways with people, I have received no retribution and have not been smited in any disproportionately large way. I make moral decisions for myself, and my moral compass is in constant calibration, but I feel liberated in that I don’t feel I must be obeying a pre-made set of rules. If misfortune falls upon me, I see it as the result of a complex series of interactions between everything that makes up the earth including my own actions and decisions, not as part of some other being’s plan for me. When good fortune falls upon me, I credit my own hard work as is due and being lucky. I work to be a good person to others and I seek to understand the world’s issues and how best to solve them.  It works for me. It’d probably work for others too.

2 responses to “Where’s your god now? A logic-based journey to atheism”

  1. Mike says:

    I certainly respect your position, and I’m not here to try to change your mind. But consider this, since you’re getting at the philosophy here:

    Even if God cannot logically be omnipotent, can’t He be powerful enough so as to appear omnipotent relative to our power as humans? And couldn’t you say the same for perfection, immortality, omniscience, omnibenevloence, etc.? Perhaps God just operates on a totally different scale than we do.

    And even if those properties are dissolved, if you posit that God did create us, despite His imperfections, one could logically come to the conclusion that He’s important enough, powerful enough, etc. to worship. I suppose that may include a fear of punishment, but you need not take a purely negative view of what God may or may not be and do. It could just as easily be that one believes his worship of God will bring about positive things in the world or in his own life. You could point to plenty of negative things that happen every day as counterexamples, but a counterexample doesn’t disprove the theory if we’re already making the assumption that God is not perfect.

    There’s no knowing that God exists, of course, only believing it (or not), so since there are some serious assumptions being made, a logical person might turn to Pascal’s Wager that there is no real downside to believing (except for those Sunday mornings when you don’t get to sleep in, perhaps).

    The video and these arguments are a pretty good analysis of religion – every one is filled with contradictory and illogical beliefs. But they don’t preclude the existence of God, even if they cast serious doubt on humanity’s ability to understand that God.

  2. aaron says:

    Mike, these are interesting thoughts, but I think I can address them:

    Even if God cannot logically be omnipotent, can’t He be powerful enough so as to appear omnipotent relative to our power as humans?

    Concepts like omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, or perfection in general are abstract. There can’t exist a thing that exhibits these properties because the properties themselves require contradictory things simultaneously. So, at best, you’re left with a god with severely limited capabilities, which must be taken into account. A deity could work within its own set of constraints but still be able to do everything that is possible within our universe (this is perhaps what people imagine omnipotence to be).

    one could logically come to the conclusion that He’s important enough, powerful enough, etc. to worship.

    Creating something sentient doesn’t alone create obligations to worship it. Children of abusive parents, for instance, are not expected to put up with that treatment. And even if you took into account that the deity created the universe and is capable of much more than you, combined with the fact that the deity wants to be worshiped by you, that still doesn’t create much incentive to worship. If you were created by a god that wants you to to have faith in its existence regardless of whether it’s logical, and this god is going to give you eternal punishment for not doing as it likes, what about this deity is worthy of worship? If that is the case (and this is more or less the assertion of many religions, give or take some punishment), assuming a god does exist we are nothing more than victims of a magnificently abusive being.

    Granted, the above paragraph doesn’t have any bearing on whether a god exists (or even can exist), but it surprises me that this thought isn’t profoundly troubling to even the most fervent believer.

    Though I don’t think any actual statistical study has been performed on this, I think we can accept it as common knowledge that there exists no link between being deeply religious and having better outcomes in life. Even an aspect of religion I’m most concerned with (the proliferation of dogma) isn’t something that atheists are immune to (look at East Germany, for instance). Though it’s reasonably well established that people do have better outlooks on life by believing in things, adding a religious dimension to these beliefs doesn’t seem to make a big difference in these effects. Furthermore, being strongly religious can hold a person back in many ways. People dismiss science as too complicated and instead embrace simpler, more religious explanations. Worse yet, because religion is a sort of ideological rootkit (in the sense that it seeks to take precedence over all of your other morals and ideologies), people cite their own religious beliefs as justification for doing harm to others or subverting others.

    But I digress in a big way. The discussion at hand relates to the possibility of existence of gods as dictated by logic, and you’ve pointed out that no longer how good of a proof one can create of a god’s nonexistence, someone will always come along and encapsulate that reality into something that can contain this god, but it just exists in a way that makes it impossible to prove or disprove the god’s existence in the reality we live in. It’s when you get to that point that you (read: I) start to REALLY think that we’re grasping at straws to make a god exist.

    And this brings me to Pascal’s wager, as you mentioned. Picking a religion and going through its motions would for sure relieve you of a tiny bit of risk (very tiny, given the large number of religions that exist or have existed), but any deity would hopefully be wise enough to know the difference between a believer and a Pascal, and even if this deity gave Pascal credit for what he did, isn’t just trying to be a good person just as good of a wager?

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