On atheism and reason


graphic by Tyler Herron

In last week’s Trinitonian, Alexander Jacobs asked nonbelievers to answer the question: What specific evidence would make you believe in God? He argued that the universe points to the existence of God because, “The beginning of the universe was the beginning of all space, time and matter, [so] its cause must transcend these.”

After some Googling, I found all kinds of pre-Big Bang theories currently under scientific consideration, from the idea of an older universe spawning our own, to chaotic inflation theory — the idea that universes can ‘inflate’ to full proportions from nothing. In quantum physics, particles can pop in and out of existence without any ‘cause’ at all.

So I’m not convinced by Alexander’s argument that we need a supernatural cause to explain the universe. Unfortunately, since we’re not physicists, we might not be able to settle this question to our satisfaction.

Alexander also requested that we read arguments from the best Christian theologians before doubting God’s existence. I’ve read (some of) them, and I’d rather respond to the main points in his article than write about physics and metaphysics for the rest of mine.

What kind of evidence would it take for me to believe in God? It would take some evidence, any evidence at all, that most people would consider reliable when not discussing their own religion.

Although Alexander seems unsure on this point, I would certainly accept his example of a miracle: an amputated arm or leg growing back after a prayer. If he can provide it, I can believe it. But I suspect we’ll be waiting a while.

Failing a miracle, where is the evidence for a Christian God? I won’t accept stories of personal religious experiences, so I’m probably supposed to look to the Bible. But the Bible is exceptionally poor evidence for God’s existence.

At the time it was written, people believed that demons, evil spirits, magicians, oracles, ghosts and witches literally walked among them. The Bible itself is a superstitious book, full of passages that have, quite apart from being wrong, caused human suffering and death.

For example, Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” and similar Biblical passages resulted in the executions of thousands of innocent women in medieval Europe.

A rational observer can’t accept the miracles in the Bible — turning water to wine, exorcising demons, raising the dead — without accepting the miracles from every other religion and superstition that then existed. This is reason enough to reject Christianity.

A rational person should also reject Christians’ calling these parts of the Bible the “flawed, human” passages, and the more popular parts the “true, divinely-inspired” ones. Unless you have already accepted Christianity, there is no reason to embrace the nicer verses as true and reject the superstitious or awful as false.

I hope this explains why I’m not Christian specifically. I’ll add the general issue that first made me question the existence of any loving God: the problem of evil. If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there so much evil in the world?

Usually, Christians blame it on free will: God couldn’t give humanity freedom without allowing us to commit evil. But this answer falls pathetically short of the question’s scope. Most of the ‘evil’ in the world, i.e. pain and suffering, is not caused by people at all.

Just look at the top causes of death worldwide: heart disease, stroke, respiratory conditions and diseases, cancer, diarrheal diseases and fungal infections. None of those can be blamed on human free will — but God permits them all.

How many children would you have to watch dying in horrible pain before you intervened? In 2016, 5.6 million children died, all under five years old. This, in the most advanced age the world has ever known.

For most of the time God watched, the world would’ve been a much crueler place. Wild animals still live how early humans did: They die either of being eaten alive or starving to death. Presumably their suffering is also necessary for us to be free.

As much as I might want to, I find it almost impossible to believe in a loving God who stands idly by as disease, famine and war afflict his children. Yet if God exists, we know that he does; we know that even if he created one of the better possible worlds for us to live in, God still allows unfathomable amounts of suffering to occur before his eyes.

We know that every good father takes more responsibility for his children than God the Father does for us; no father would allow his child to die of a curable disease. For that matter, no father would ever allow one of his children to kill another in the name of “free will.”

Any loving God thus seems impossible to rationally justify. As for Christianity, I see no reason to believe the Bible over the holy books in thousands of other religions.

So, now that I’ve responded to Alexander’s question, I’d like to ask him: What would it take for you to stop believing?