Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘faith

God Doesn’t Exist: The Proof

with 11 comments

First off, don’t anyone get their knickers in a twist, this post is an exercise in logic and debate, not theology or metaphysics. I’m not attacking anyone’s faith, just discussing something that came up in an atheist/theist debate group I am in. A theist pointed out that when an atheist claims “There is no God,” why shouldn’t they have to prove their statement? Atheists are always shifting the burden of proof to the theists, why shouldn’t they have to prove their assertions?

It was an interesting argument, and whenever it’s raised, atheists generally explain seven ways from Sunday why the burden of proof is on the person claiming that their invisible supernatural friend is real. And then they fall back on the “you can’t prove a negative” canard. OK, true enough, I do actually think that the burden of proof is on theists, but just for the purposes of debate, let’s grant the point and see where it goes. First we run right into our familiar “can’t prove a negative” canard. I say canard because there are a vast array of circumstances where it is most definitely possible to prove something isn’t possible, in some ways math and science is based on proving negatives. Can one divide 13 by 2 and get an even number? No, and vastly more complex negatives than that can be proven.

So I’m up to the challenge, can I prove that God doesn’t exist? And here we come to the first problem, what, exactly, do we mean by God? And to avoid a lot of discussion and codicils, I’m going to cut right to the chase. Who is usually the one asking atheists to prove there is no God? Evangelical Christians primarily, but fundamentalists in all the Abrahamaaic faiths have been known to raise the question. So for purposes of our discussion, I am going to try and disprove the literal existence of the Old Testament Biblical God. We’ll call him God for simplicity’s sake. I am going with three lines of argument. Lack of evidence, similarity to other supernatural mythical figures, and psychological/cultural need for.

The first thing  is that there is no empirical evidence for him. Science had shown by the late 18th century that the events described in Genesis didn’t happen. The Earth is billions of years old, and there was never any global flood, certainly not in human times. And none of God’s appearances in the Bible are documented by anything even remotely resembling historically trustworthy standards. At best the evidence for God is anecdotal, often FOAF (friend of a friend) anecdotal, including evidence for his supernatural powers.  And not only is there no evidence for God, there are no gaps in our scientific understanding of the Universe that require a God to fill. There are those that would dispute all these points, but the vast majority of modern educated people, including huge numbers of theists, would grant them. (I didn’t say I would convince anyone, I’m just making my case for the premise God doesn’t exist.)

Secondly, the Old Testament is not the only ancient text that references supernatural beings. Humans have worshipped thousands of Gods, some very similar to the God of Abraham, most very very different. And humans have recognized thousands of prophets, Jesus was by no means a one shot deal. And prophets have followed him, some with large numbers of followers who claim Jesus foreshadowed their real prophet. Like Joseph Smith for example. And innumerable sacred texts like the Bible. Hell, even what is exactly meant by the Old Testament varies depending on whom one asks. My point here is that there is a vast canon of literature about Gods and prophets, the old testament god is nothing special. Again, I suspect that most educated people, including many theists, would agree with this. Some wouldn’t.

Lastly, I think there are powerful reasons why the idea of God would naturally appeal to people, and powerful reasons why some people would encourage the idea. I will go into more detail, but this quote sums it up

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”.Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

A lot of people very much want an authority figure to explain a confusing and sometimes painful world to them. Religion fits the bill nicely. And there’s plenty of people perfectly happy to use religion to enhance their social status and manipulate the common people. This is probably the least debatable of my three points, which may explain why Evangelicals avoid it like the plague. There are powerful social and psychological reasons why faith and religion exist and prosper, the fact that we find variations of it in all human cultures testifies to that.

Add these three points together, and I think this is a powerful argument that the God of the Old Testament is no more real than Thor or Santa Claus. The arguments I have heard claiming otherwise have been weak at best, but if anyone has a new angle I would be glad to hear the argument as to why your particular God is the God and the rest are all imaginary. I think it’s interesting that a number of faiths, even ones with Abrahamaaic roots, have adopted to the arguments above and have adopted their beliefs to be in line with modern scientific thinking.

And others have dug in their heels and would rather we all die than admit that Genesis was allegorical. What the hell is up with that? Tomorrow’s blog post, maybe.

(The above post is being used legally as it is a NASA image, credit and copyright: Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), C. Conselice (U. Wisconsin/STScI) et al., NASA. It’s a warped spiral galaxy. Most spiral galaxies are flat, some are deformed by near misses or collisions with other galaxies. I chose it because it shows the universe we live in is grand and amazing and awe inspiring … without any God required.)

Written by unitedcats

March 5, 2012 at 5:50 am

The Power of Prayer

with 11 comments

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Various random thoughts on God, atheism, and related topics. What can I say, I gave up my agnostic ways a few weeks back, and have been mentally exploring some of the issues surrounding God, prayer, atheism, religion, etc. since then. It’s kind of a mixed bag, but there are a number of points I wanted to mention and none of them is really enough for a complete blog post. OK, it’s a very mixed bag. Or can of worms. Or plate-o-shrimp. I’ll stop now.

Point one, prayer. I don’t have a problem with people praying for me or anyone, “I’ll pray for you.” is the equivalent of “I care about you and hope things work out for you.” If someone is offended by that, they need to lighten up. However, I noticed recently that when someone says “I’ll pray for you” to an atheist merely because the atheist doesn’t believe in any Gods, it sounds kinda patronizing and condescending. And it kinda is, because the implication is that there’s something “wrong” with the atheist. No, there’s nothing wrong with using the brain God (supposedly) gave us to live our lives according to reason and compassion.

Granted prayer is an irrational belief, or more accurately, believing that there is some supernatural being somewhere who is listening to prayers and granting some of them is an irrational belief. No, there have been no studies showing that prayer works. There have been biased “studies” by people trying to prove prayer works, those are no more science than creationism is science. Not to mention that as I type right now innocent children are dying the world over for want of a few dollars of food or medicine … despite the fervent prayers of their parents and loved ones. Still, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with believing in the power of prayer, as long as one makes rational decisions otherwise and doesn’t rely on prayer to cure their sick child.

Speaking of prayer, something that has always annoyed me is how some people claim  that the Supreme Court banished prayer from schools in the USA.  They did nothing of the kind. For starters, if a person is conscious they can silently pray anytime anywhere, so it’s beyond the Supreme Court’s power to ban prayer in school or anywhere else. However, the Supreme Court didn’t ban prayer, what the Supreme Court did was ban organized prayer from school. That’s becasue organized prayer is a religious service, and religious services have no place in public schools. Don’t like it? Send your kid to a private religious school, they’ll be glad to have him or her. The taxpayer pays for public school, not for religious services.

And worse than annoying is how the anti-science religious crowd is still trying to get religious instruction in public schools: The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools. Sigh, at the risk of repeating myself: You want your kids to learn your religion’s myths and fables, send em to Sunday School. Evolution is about as scientifically controversial as the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun, just the fact that Creationists try to dress their fables up in scientific garb shows that they have already lost the high ground. If God exists, he used evolution and the Big Bang to create us, deal with it.

Lastly, to be fair, one thing a lot of atheists do that annoys me is give religion too much credit. I’ve again and again seen atheists claim that 9/11 was “caused by religion.” No, it wasn’t, 9/11 was blowback from American foreign policy in the Middle East. Osama Bin Laden took up arms against the USA because of US violation of Saudi soil, US support for dictators in the Middle East, and America’s collaboration and support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Yes, Osama is a religious man (in as much as any mass murderer can be considered a religious man,) and his supporters are motivated by religion, but their cause is secular. Which is why the Bush administration went bananas blaming Islam and the whole “they hate us for our freedoms” thing. I mean, wouldn’t want the American public to know that American foreign policy was about enriching the rich and who cares how many people it screws over and inspires to take up arms against us, right?

That however is a topic for another blog, as wikileaks has just revealed  to the world how much the US is screwing them over. And if they did hate us for our freedoms, why are they taking to the streets by the million us to get more freedom? In fact if they hated us for our freedoms, why, didn’t we install and arm the dictators who were responsible for taking away their freedoms? Anywise, my point is that when an atheist blithely says “9/11 was caused by religion” they are simply repeating US propaganda, because unless they also state a few other massacres by followers of other religions, they are just repeating the “Muslims are violent” propaganda. The very sort of religious propaganda that religious people have used to inspire their followers to violence throughout history. Old habits die hard.

Finally, just in case there is any confusion in the matter, atheism is not a belief. Neither is science for that matter, and it’s tiresome that some people of faith don’t or won’t understand that. Religion is a belief in some irrational doctrine, atheism is merely the understanding that there is no logical or empirical reason to believe in any supernatural being. I have decided to live my life guided by reason and compassion, not the dictates of Bronze Age mystics.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is found all over the web. I don’t know who to attribute it to, but will gladly do so if so informed. I just thought it was funny and, well, accurate. If this post generates any interesting comments, there will be follow up posts. If not, well, back to Libyan street fighters.)

 

 

 

Written by unitedcats

March 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Philosophy, Religion

Tagged with , , ,