Just about everyone is an atheist when it comes to other gods — the gods that other people believe in or that nobody believes in anymore. I’m an atheist about all gods because there’s no reliable evidence for any god.
There is also extensive evidence that all gods are fictional characters — myths created mainly by primitive people who had little understanding of how our universe operates.
We all like myths and other stories, but we don’t have to believe them.History and Development of Science and Scientific Naturalism Let’s start with a quick experiment.
You can grab three coins and actually do the experiment, or just do a thought experiment.
Drop one coin and watch it fall.
Do this again.
Hold out the third coin.
If you were to the release third coin, what do you think would happen?
If you could get ten good Christians to pray that this next coin wouldn’t fall, would it still fall?
How about one thousand faithful Muslims?
How about one million people of any faith?
I think that it would still fall.
Drop the third coin.
Our understanding of the world around us, and our abilities to predict what will happen are based on naturalism — the basis of science.
Naturalism is also the basis for how all people live their lives most of the time.
To be explicit, modern science relies on methodological naturalism.
This means that science doesn’t incorporate any supernatural or religious assumptions and doesn’t seek any religious or supernatural explanations.
Science is the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.
Science also depends on mathematics, which likewise has no religious or supernatural component.
OK, let’s do another experiment.
If you were to take two coins and glue them together, then drop them at the same time as you drop a single coin, would they fall twice as fast as the single coin?
Aristotle (384 BCE* – 322 BCE) thought so, and for over 1900 years, his ideas were what was taught about this and many other subjects.
Some of the other ancient Greeks had many ideas that are now a basis for modern science, engineering, math, philosophy, and democracy. Unfortunately for humankind, these ideas were largely forgotten for almost two thousand years while religion took control and Aristotle was revered as the source of supposedly scientific knowledge.Galileo and Empirical Science Around 1600, Galileo had a new idea for his culture.
He decided to do something that now seems like common sense — to actually test the idea of what we now call gravity.
He reasoned that two weights held together would fall atthe same rate as one weight.
Then he did experiments to test the idea— and, not surprisingly to us, it was true.
This was the start of modern empirical science, and our collective understanding of the universe hasn’t been the same since.“Empirical” is a word that I’ll be using a lot.
It refers to ideas that are capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment. Empirical evidence is not simply one type of evidence, but rather it is the only evidence that we can rely on, because it is reproducible. Empirical evidence is the basis for physical science.
Galileo also took the new invention of the telescope, refined it, and used it to look at the night sky.
He was astounded.
On the moon he could see mountains and valleys.
It wasn’t just some strange heavenly object; it was probably made out of the same stuff as Earth. In 1610 Galileo looked at Jupiter and discovered that he could see four moons.
If moons orbited Jupiter then not everything orbited Earth, as the Catholic Church taught.
The motions of the planets in our skies made sense if the theories of Copernicus were true, and Earth and the other planets orbited the sun.
This was what Galileo taught, and in 1616 he was subject to the Inquisition.
They banned him from teaching this idea, which was opposed to the true faith and contrary to Holy Scripture.
However, Galileo later got permission from the pope (a friend of his) to write a book, as long as the Church’s ideas and Galileo’s were given equal weight.
Galileo’s book did not treat the two ideas equally, of course, so he was called to Rome in 1632 by the Catholic Church’s Inquisition, and told to recant his heretical ideas.This was no “simple request” by the Church.
The Inquisition had already executed Galileo’s friend Giordano Bruno.
Have you heard of him?
In 1600, the Christian authorities in Rome took him out of the dungeon he had been in for eight years, drove a nail thru**his tongue, tied him to a metal post, put wood and some of his books under his feet, and burned him to death.
Bruno’s crime was writing ideas that the Catholic leaders didn’t like — Earth revolves around the sun, the sun is a star, there might be other worlds with other intelligent beings on them, Jesus didn’t possess god-like power, and souls can’t go to Heaven. For theseheretical ideas, the Catholic Churchpunished this brilliant man with an agonizingly slow death.
Bruno was not the only man executed by the Christians for heretical ideas.
At least 77 others were either burned alive or hanged by the Roman Inquisition between 1553 and 1600.
Over the centuries, millions were killed in religious wars or for heresy (which often meant simply being the “wrong” type of Christian).
Sometimes it was more explicit heresy which threatened the church’s lock on truth.
The Italian free-thinker Lucilio Vanini suggested that humans evolved from apes. In 1618 he was tried in France and found guilty of atheism and witchcraft.
He had his tongue cut out, he was hanged, and his body was burned — as was customary with all heretics.
Six years later the French Parlement even decreed that criticism of Aristotle was punishable by death, and many more heretics were burned.
In Spain the Inquisition killed over 340,000 during a period of four centuries.
Galileo no doubt knew what he wasup against.
For the crime of heresy the Inquisition could put him in a dungeon, torture or even execute him.
So, after a long trial, this proud 70 year-old man obediently got on his knees and dutifully recanted.
But even after recanting, he was still sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.
The Catholic Church officially condemned heliocentrism 31 years later, when Pope Alexander VII banned all books that affirmed Earth’s motion.
However, even as powerful as the Church was, they could not hold back the tidal wave of scientific discovery.
The Church eventually lost its battle over our view of the universe, but it only took them over three hundred years to admit it.
In 1992, after 12 years of deliberations, they grudgingly noted that Galileo had been right in supporting the Copernican theories. Even then, they ascribed his genius to God, “who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions.” But no such reprieve has been given for Bruno. His writings are still on the Vatican’s list of forbidden texts, and Pope John Paul II refused to even apologize for the Catholic Church’s torture killing of Bruno. Galileo and others started something big — empirical science. Thru**science and the scientific method, we have come to a good understanding of the workings of the world and universe around us. The weather, lightning, thunder, the planets and stars, disease, and life itself all function based on fairly well understood principles. A god doesn’t control them; the physical properties of matter and energy control the universe. This principle is at the center of naturalism — the idea that only matter and energy exist, and they have properties that are repeatable, understandable, and quantifiable within the limits of quantum mechanics.
Naturalism is founded on the ancient Greek philosophy of materialism. We take naturalism so for granted that we typically don’t realize that it is based on several articles of faith. This faith, however, is quite different from religious faith. This faith is based on overwhelming past experience and results. It is the faith that:*.There is an external world that exists independently of our minds.*.There are quantifiable natural laws that describe how things happen in this world, and we can attempt to understand them.*.These natural laws won’t change when we’re not looking; the universe isn’t totally chaotic.
So far this faith has been well-founded, as shown by the amazing accomplishments of modern science, engineering and medicine.God of the Gaps, or Argument From Ignorance Until just a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen?
Well, obviously, God did it.
If a person doesn’t know how something works or why something happened, they can say,“God did it.”This is known as the“god of the gaps,” or the“argument from ignorance,” and it is at the heart of the conflict between science and religion. Science looks for natural causes, while religion looks for supernatural causes. Science is steadily winning, because as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios and his chariot. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor.
In fact, the understanding of lightning was one of the first areas of battle between science and Christianity.
When Ben Franklin discovered that lightning was just a big electric spark, he invented the lightning rod. It was enormously successful at preventing buildings from being struck by lightning. However, this caused a bit of a conundrum for the church leaders; should they trust in their god to prevent lightning strikes on their churches, or should they use these new lightning rods?
Up until then, lightning hit churches much more frequently than other, more “deserving” buildings — such as taverns or houses of ill repute. “Why was that?” they might have wondered. Could it be that churches had spires and were taller, or was it SATAN and his WITCHES?……
Actually, that is what they often believed, and many a supposed witch was executed for having caused the destruction of a church. When they started putting lightning rods on churches, witch killings stopped soon thereafter. However, the obvious fact is that they were putting their trust in science and lightning rods, not religion and prayer.
Why God(s)? Why Not?
The idea of an all-controlling, caring supernatural god is a very attractive one. It can make our mortal lives seem less frightening, more comforting. Somebody’s in control and won’t let bad things happen to us. Many gods also promise that we can go to Heaven after we die, to live forever in some sort of bliss.
The idea of a god is also an easy answer to questions about the world around us. It satisfies a need that many people have where they would rather be certain than right. Where did the universe come from?
A god created it.
Where did life come from?
A god created it, too.
Where did humans come from?
A god created us, and in his own image, to boot.
For almost all believers, it’s not just “a god” that they believe in.
They believe in a particular god (or set of gods).
Religious philosophers have tried for thousands of years and still trying to prove that there is a god or many gods.
They have come up with many arguments. We will look at these arguments. when I refer to God with a capital ‘G’ I will be referring to the Judeo-Christian god Yahweh (a.k.a. Jehovah) and probably the Muslim god Allah. This god is male and is typically defined as having free will, and being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnibenevolent (all-good), perfect, eternal, and unchanging. This god also created the universe and is separate from the physical world while still intervening in the physical world.
After all, what good is a god that doesn’t do anything?
Most of the arguments I use here will also apply to most of the other thousands of gods created by humankind, and most of the thousands of religions. I certainly don’t know all of them, so I will deal with most of the major religions and their god(s). I will also closely link god(s) and religion. I do this advisedly because, for most people, one could not exist without the other. In addition, if there were a god I would think that this god would be able to appropriately guide the religions created for it.
There is at least one religion, essential Buddhism as thought to have been taught by Buddha, which does not have a god or any supernatural component.
To keep things a bit simpler here, the arguments I make regarding religion will probably not apply to this Buddhism or any other religion without a supernatural component. However, almost all religions have grown from belief in god(s) and people’s narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created just for their benefit.
We need to define “atheist” and “atheism.”
A theist is a person who believes in a god or gods.
The Greek prefix “a-” means without; thus an atheist is without belief and doesn’t believe in any gods — and atheism is just the lack of belief in any gods.
Atheists can simply say that the existence of any god hasn’t been reliably proven. For many, atheism is also the conclusion that no gods exist, based on the complete lack of reliable evidence for any god. I take the strong atheist position — depending on how we define “God” we can prove that it does not exist,and I will use the typical definition just given for the Christian god Yahweh.
Why am I doing this?
Is it just because I want to poke holes in people’s beliefs so that we can take away what makes them happy?
No, I’m doing this because I want to know what is true, be intellectually honest, and be open to reality.
And, I hope that you have similar reasons.
This article is an argument in support of reason, rationality, intellectual honesty, and truth.
We must know the truth to act wisely, and truth comes from physical reality.
I put forth many of the reasons why atheism is true — based on physical reality — so they can be examined and evaluated.
I also show why atheism and the philosophical extension Humanism are important to the future of humankind.
The arguments for the existence ofgod(s) fall into several areas. I have arranged them into these categories:
*.Mysticism and Revelation
*.Love and Morality
*.Appeals to Authority
*.Prophesy and Miracles
*.Appeals to Faith, Logic, and Emotion
What Tools Can We Use?
How can we examine these claims? What tools can we use to determine truth of external reality? We have (1) empirical, verifiable evidence; and we have (2) logic. Evidence and logic are the best tools we have to determine how the universe really works.
These tools have been extraordinarily successful in science, engineering and medicine, and in our daily lives. This is the standard that most of usexpect in dealing with the real world; we expect doctors to use the latest medicine, and engineers to use empirical data when building bridges. Why should we use anything else for examining external reality?
When people believe things without evidence, they are left with no way to accurately judge whether or not what they believe reflects how things really are. Their beliefs must then be based on feelings and emotion or the unquestioned authority of something or somebody else, not evidence. I think that this is the reason for much of the emotional response to atheism. For many, the idea of atheism challenges their deeply-held beliefs and emotions. This can be painful, and can elicit a strong reaction. Each of us can choose between a magical view of the universe (one or more invisible, immaterial gods did it), or the “what you see is what you get” scientific version. I think that science, using empirical evidence, has done a far better job in explaining how the universe works.Thinking is hard, and scientific thinking is hardest; it often leads to unpleasant conclusions with little emotional payoff. Dramatic religious story-telling that supports wishful thinking is usually easier, more interesting, and much more emotionally fulfilling. At the center of science is intellectual honesty. In order for ideas to be accepted in science, they must be supported by sufficient evidence and arguments. Anybody can change what is accepted in science, if they can put forth evidence and arguments sufficient to show that their new idea is better. In fact, the larger the change created by an individual, the more that individual is honored. This is why Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein are honored — because their ideas radically changed our views of the universe. With this process of change, science can grow and improve our understanding of the universe. Conversely, most religions are stuck with unchanging “holy” words from a book or founder.
Mysticism, Revelation and Experience Some people claim that there are other ways of knowing, such as mysticism, revelation or direct experience. People claim that they can experience a god, with Christians sometimes thinking that what they call the Holy Spirit has come into them. Many claim that near death experiences have shown them that a god exists. How can we verify these claims? We know that mystical experiences can be caused by hallucinogenic drugs, magnetic fields, brain injuries, and well-studied mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and seizures. The “Holy Spirit” experience seems to be very similar to the well-documented experience of catharsis. Near death experiences are likely the result of brain cells misfiring when they are oxygen-deprived, can be simulated by drugs, and are obviously subjective. Fighter pilots, for instance, experience “tunnel vision” during high-G maneuvers, when their brains are deprived of oxygen. People claiming knowledge thru mysticismor revelation often don’t even agree with each other. The only way that I know to verify any mystic’s abilities is for the supposed mystic to be able to accurately, repeatedly, and verifiably know things that are supposedly impossible to know — such as events of the future. I know of no one who can, or could. Of course, we have to be very careful in any testing of such claims, because a good magician can easily fool us. Even if there were somebody who could predict the future, that does not mean that there’s a god. It would only mean that this person has peculiar skills. I submit that mysticism and revelation result from internal, altered states of consciousness — with no basis in external reality. Mysticism, revelation, and any other religious experience can only count at most for those who experience them; for all other people, they are merely hear say. In addition, religious experience seems to be highly subjective and varies dramatically between cultures. Thus, we can’t depend on mysticism or religious revelation to give us reliable answers to any issues. “Scientific” Arguments for God(s) The biggest weakness in using a god to explain anything scientifically is that the explanation is not falsifiable, and thus not even testable. There is noway to create an experiment to show that it’s wrong. For every possible set of a test and a result, we could simply say, “A god did it.” How did Earth and the universe begin, and why do they appear to be so old? “A god did it.” How did life start, and why does nature seem so balanced? “A god did it.” Once again, why does anything happen? If we say that a god did it, there is no reason or opportunity to learn how the world really works. If we had stayed with a god as the cause of all events, our modern culture would have been impossible. We would have no real science, engineering, or medicine. We would still be living in the Dark Ages. The “god did it” or “god of the gaps” argument has probably been around since humans first started creating gods. It’s the basic premise behind all the “scientific” arguments for the existence of a god. Here’s what the logic looks like when applied to two common weather phenomena: Lightning and thunder are terrifying! They must be caused by something else (that we don’t really understand either). This something else must be a god because we can’t come up with a better explanation.
The obvious main fault of “god of the gaps” is its supposition that current lack of knowledge on a subject means that it can’t be known — that “unknown” means “unknowable.” If this applies to an individual, it’s the argument from personal incredulity — because a person doesn’t understand something then he thinks that the subject must be unknown, unknowable, or false. When faced with an unknown, let’s first note that it’s perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know,” or, “We don’t know,” — just as it would have been when people in the past asked, “What causes lightning or tornadoes?” or, “Why do things fall to the ground?” or countless other questions for which we now have straightforward scientific explanations. Obviously, just because we don’t know how something happened does not mean that a god did it.
Relegating an explanation of something to a god is easy; a person doesn’t have to think much. Finding an explanation with science often involves hard work and analysis. We can’t simply explain something mysterious by appealing to something more mysterious for which there is less evidence. “God did it” is not an explanation. It tells no more than saying, “Santa did it.”For the fringe areas of knowledge that we don’t understand, we are using the tools of science to learn the secrets of nature. As we have all seen, science has made excellent advances in our understanding of the universe, and will, no doubt, continue to do so. There may also be things that are too difficult or impossible for us to understand, but that doesn’t mean that some god is behind them.
There are three common “god of the gaps” types of arguments for the existence of a god. We have: (1) First Cause, (2) Argument From Design (including Intelligent Design), and (3) origin of consciousness.
First Cause, or Cosmological Argument The First Cause, or Cosmological Argument, says that everything has a cause, and, since we supposedly can’t have an infinite series of causes stretching into the past, a god must be the first cause — an uncaused cause. This argument was described by Aristotle, and has at least four problems.
The main problem of the First Cause Argument is the idea that every event has a cause. As we discovered in the 20th century, the universe is actually ruled at the bottom level by quantum mechanics, in which it’s possible for particles and events to have no cause. An obvious example of quantum mechanics in action is the radioactive decay of a uranium atom. There is no previous cause for each such event, and we can only predict it with probability. The averaging of quantum effects gives us the Newtonian experience that we have. However, Newtonian physics does not control the universe; quantum mechanics and Einsteinian relativity do. We now know that the universe has an intrinsic, bottom level ofuncertainty that cannot be bypassed. Quantum mechanics also shows us that objects can appear out of nothing and then disappear back into nothing. Even in supposedly empty space, virtual particles are continuously appearing and disappearing. This is a real and measurable process, via what are known as the Casimir effect and the Lamb shift. Quantum mechanics shows us that subatomic particles such as electrons, protons and neutrons can disappear and reappear in a different place, without existing in the intervening space. Such particles can even be in more than one place at a time, if that time is brief enough. Perhaps even stranger, an electron can travel between two points by taking all possible paths simultaneously. I’d like to emphasize that quantum mechanics doesn’t make sense in our experience of the world. As Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman wrote, “The theory of quantum electrodynamics describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept nature as she is — absurd.”The Big Bang The beginning of the observable universe — of all the matter and energy in it and even of time itself — is called the Big Bang. The science of quantum mechanics has only existed since the early 1900’s, and already we’ve been able to use it to get extremely close to understanding the beginning of the observable universe — with no god needed. How close can we get? Approximately a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. (Our current knowledge of physics doesn’t work before then.) The Big Bang theory is supported by extensive data.
Six prominent facts are:
*.The red shift of almost all galaxies, getting greater as their distance increases.— This shows that the galaxies are flying away from each other, at greater speeds at greater distances.
*.The cosmic microwave background radiation.— This is a remnant of the radiation from the Big Bang, and has cooled over time to the exact temperature predicted.
*.The variations in the cosmic microwave background radiation.— These variations fit theoretical predictions, and were caused by quantum differences near the start of Big Bang.
*.The proportions of the lightest elements and isotopes.— This helps show that the calculations for nuclear interactions immediately following the Big Bang are correct.
*.The changes in galaxies as we look further away (and thus back in time), with distant galaxies more primitive and having fewer heavy elements.— This shows some of the changes in the universe since the Big Bang, and confirms the deep time of the universe.
*.The change in the apparent speed of type 1a supernova as we look back in time, with distant supernova exploding more slowly.— This shows that the light has been stretched out by the expansion of space over billions of years. The physicist and cosmologist Alan Guth of MIT has put forth the scientific theory, called Inflation, that the Big Bang was just the result of a random quantum event called a vacuum fluctuation — with no cause, created out of quantum indeterminacy, and with a total energy of zero. Even tho this doesn’t make sense in the Newtonian physics of our experience of the world, it does make sense in quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general relativity. In relativity, gravity is negative energy and matter is positive energy. Because the two seem to be equal in absolute total value, our observable universe appears balanced to the sum of zero. Our universe could thus have come into existence without violating conservation of mass and energy —with the matter of the universe condensing out of the positive energy as the universe cooled, and gravity created from the negative energy. When energy condenses into matter, equal parts of matter……….