Posts Tagged ‘Existence’

Today’s post is part 4 of a series on the arguments for the existence of God.

The First Cause

I’ve often heard the religious bring up the subject of cause and effect. Everything that moves is moved by something, they say. Everything that happens is the effect of an earlier cause.

In its simplest logical form this argument states that everything which exists has a cause and because the Universe exists it must also have a cause. Therefore the cause must be God. The argument is an example of infinite regress. With every effect having a prior cause the ‘chain’ continues backwards forever. The religious argue that only God can break that regress and so must be the first cause.

The flawed logic is immediately obvious to me and it raises more questions than it answers. To claim God breaks the infinite regress makes the assumption God himself is immune to having a cause. We have nothing to suggest this and so it is an example of special pleading.

Even if it could be said that the Universe did have a cause, to assign responsibility of that to a ‘God’ is another jump in logic. God is not the only available explanation; the big bang provides a much more likely explanation.

“God exists because the Bible says He does”

Anybody who bases their belief in God on nothing more than because of what a book says clearly has some mental issues. I’ll just get that out the way first. There is no helping these people, they’re completely devoid of any ability to process thoughts logically so don’t waste your time with them. I wasn’t even going to comment on this argument because it’s so stupid.
So this is here purely for the sake of it. I mean come on, is it even worth wasting my time on people who make the above statement? I don’t think so but I guess I have to justify what I’m saying. Having to justify my belief these books are full of shit is like having to justify my belief the Sun exists. I am referring to every single religious text here not just the Bible.

Still there appear to be many of these people. Most deny evolution because the book says, some murder people because the book says and all base their entire life on what the book says.

It’s quite clear that all the religious texts cannot be correct. They all contradict each other too much for that to be true. This then throws plenty of doubt over all of them. While aspects of them have been historically verified the vast majority of the scriptures are the writings of some pretty confused people thousands of years ago.

The single biggest problem with all the religious books is that they were written by humans. In the 23 years I’ve been alive I’ve learned that some humans are totally fucked in the head and some have a tendency to think and believe complete rubbish. I’ve especially learned to keep well away from people who believe God has revealed something wonderful to them and only them. A man two thousand years ago who believed God was speaking to him is likely to be even more untrustworthy than the crazy nuts now. These people lived in a time when they thought the Earth was flat and the centre of everything. They thought the stars were the ‘heavens’ and that hell was under the ground. They had no knowledge of the billions of planets and stars or the detail of DNA. But yet some wish us to believe them? Given the track record of total bullshit in the Bible, Qu’ran, Book Of Morman and all the rest, I think we can safely say their authors were definitely a bit off the mark.

It saddens me occasionally when I think of the misery and death caused by religion. I have met so many who’ve experienced unnecessary turmoil as a result of conflicts between their religion and their life. Right now the single biggest cause of instability on the planet is religion. Religion can be found somewhere in every major war. For me personally the biggest problem I have with religion is that it turns our eyes upwards. It makes us look for favour with God and forget that we have a short time on this Earth. If we could rid the world of religion maybe we could realise we are all the same species and must rely on each other for survival. Perhaps we would stop obsessing about an imaginary ‘after life’ and make the most of our only life on Earth.

At times I think this is an impossible dream and that religion is too deeply seated. But it is important to remember we are only 150 years from the publication of The Origin Of Species. We are witnessing “New Atheism” in its infancy. Every day science discovers new things and our knowledge of the Universe increases. I do genuinely believe it is possible for the Earth to sort itself out although I don’t expect to see it in my life time.

One thing I do know is that time will tell. History will vindicate today’s ‘sceptics’.

Over the past couple of days I have been sharing my opinion on the arguments for the existence of God and today I continue by looking at religious experiences.

“I Experienced God So He Must Exist”

This is perhaps one of the most convincing arguments for the existence of God. There are many people who believe they have had some sort of spiritual experience. They range from direct ‘supernatural’ experiences where people say they’ve witnessed miracles or angels, to circumstantial experiences where prayers have seemingly been answered. They include ‘out of body’ experiences of people believing they have met God or seen their life ‘flash before’ them. When presented to us by people who otherwise seem totally logical and ‘normal’ they can be convincing and when accompanied by events that seem unexplainable they are strengthened further.

The argument in its logical form states that it is only possible to experience something which exists and therefore if someone experiences God, then God must exist.

To test this I thought about whether it was possible to experience something that doesn’t exist. There are many examples of humans experiencing something that doesn’t exist. Dreams are situations where the brain completely believes the dream is real. It is not until you wake up you realise you’re dreaming; you never realise while you’re actually dreaming. A hallucination is the same thing except you are awake. Some drugs can alter our minds so that we believe we are experiencing something that isn’t happening. Drugs add no new capabilities to our brain they merely interfere with the normal processing occurring within the brain. Drugs have the ability to allow incredibly realistic yet non existent experiences. Some mental illnesses provide evidence of the brains ability to do this without chemical help. Schizophrenic people sometimes have very different perceptions of reality. Some people recall in the most detailed way how they were abducted by aliens and what happened to them. The world is full of examples of the human’s ability to experience something that doesn’t exist.

This concept is pretty easy to understand when you understand how the brain actually works and what an ‘experience’ is. Your eyes let in light which in turn is detected by optical sensors. These send constant signals to your brain which arranges them into an image. Your ears do the same with sound. You are not listening to an audio feed, you are hearing your brain’s construction of a constant supply of sound vibrations. It is easy to fool the brain with simple optical illusions where things appear to be completely different to how they actually are. 3D films appear 3D but are actually on a flat screen.

Sometimes we don’t receive enough information to construct a truly accurate picture and our brain calls on information it already has stored. An example of this is when a person lying in bed may hear what sounds like someone breaking into their car. On closer inspection it turns out to be a fox poking around in the bins. When the person heard the noise they thought it was a thief. Their brain was given nothing but the actual sound waves but it immediately used its pre-stored memory of what it expected a car thief to sound like. Indeed the very fact that the person suspected a car thief is evidence of knowledge previously stored in the brain. I make this example merely to demonstrate that a particular experience comprises of different factors. The brain can easily create an experience which is not actually occurring.

It is quite clear then that the argument’s main premise is false and that it is in fact possible to experience something which does not exist.

It is entirely plausible that a person with pre-determined beliefs in angels and miracles could be in a situation where they experienced what they thought was an angel. I have no logical reason to not extend the same to miracles. There are more examples of the effect pre-determined beliefs have on what we can experience. I have witnessed plenty of avid ghost hunters speak of the ‘spirits’ and ‘presences’ they have experienced.

Some religious people say God speaks to them, they say they know it’s God and so he must exist. Despite the obvious comedy value in this belief I will address it none the less. I worry about the sanity of someone who genuinely believes that the random thoughts that pop into their head are God but yet millions of people do believe it. It is more than clear that God tells them whatever they already believe God would say. Humans consistently apply characteristics they have invented to God.

I could go on with more examples; people who claim to have met Elvis after he had died, people who say God has told them to murder and rape, suicide bombers who say God told them to blow up buildings. It is more than obvious that it is possible to see, hear and experience things that aren’t actually happening and don’t really exist.

Yesterday I began this article on why I believe there is no God. I looked at the argument from design and gave my opinion on why the Universe appears to be designed. Today I continue by looking at morality and whether it comes from God.

Without God We Have No Morals

Morality is concerned with right and wrong. To many it is an impulse, they say they just know what is right and what is wrong. It seems true to me that our sense of right and wrong is not entirely learned. We are not directly taught what to do in a given situation, yet we appear to make similar moral decisions. These decisions are sometimes found universally, spanning many cultures and nationalities. It might even be said that their are certain moral ‘laws’. People appear to feel compelled to act in a morally good way. This raises the question of why we would often act in a selfless manner, sometimes helping others at our own expense.

This argument states that morals appear to exist objectively and that they have authority beyond what society dictates. That as humans act morally right when they’re not always required to by society there must be a reason why they do so; that as morals are transcendental and not ‘within’ us they must come from God.

I have a major problem with this argument. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous. In its most basic form it says that without God people would not do good. I personally do good because of the benefits to the world not because I think God wants me to. It’s a strange argument because I don’t see how the existence of God shows us what is right and wrong. If the religious mean they get their morals from religious texts then their argument falls down. They were written by humans, and as such the moral concepts they wrote about clearly already existed in their minds. One doesn’t have to delve far into the world of most major religions to find a wonderful array of hideous ‘morals’ and ‘rules’. Islam scores maximum points here.

In addition to all of this the evolutionary advantage of doing good to our kin is plainly obvious. We can observe how most other species co-operate with their kin, watching out for each other. They stay in groups and clean each other. More intelligent species display similar social structures to us. It’s impossible to ignore the striking similarities between ourselves and primates. Not just in appearance but in behaviour also. Brothers defend their young sisters and mothers nurse their babies. Partners hug, kiss and clean each others backs and parents mourn the death of their young. It is clear to me that altruism is found at all levels of the living world. It is not unique to humans and it does not have its basis in religion or God. A species who work together for survival are much more likely to survive than a species who spend all their time doing bad to each other. It is observed in humans that when you do good to others you live a better life and it’s not difficult to see the benefit to our survival.

If the argument that morality has to come from God were true, then it should be so that the moral laws are universal. That is they are non-negotiable and apply always. If the laws don’t originate in us we can’t have the ability to alter them for different situations. Clearly if we were expected to do this it would defeat the object of having the laws in the first place as they would then become subjective not objective.

I have no option but to reject this as never in my life have I observed morality to be a set of concrete laws. There are trends consistent across the globe, however in every situation people judge what is right and wrong based on many variables. It cannot be said that to kill is always wrong, as there are many situations where taking life has been justified. Morals can also be observed to change over time. Most of society has adopted changes in morals regarding human rights over recent history. Religion has taught us it is immoral to be gay, modern knowledge and understanding has taught us it is immoral to hate something which happens naturally.

In my opinion the existence of morality and altruism is easily explained through natural selection and observed in the individual benefits we get from doing good to each other. God is not required to explain it.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about personal religious encounters and how they are easily explained.

Either there is or there isn’t a God. It is a yes or no question. Something cannot half exist, it must exist or not. The answer to the question has huge ramifications on everything we know and it is a question humans have probably been asking since we learned to talk. Almost everyone I know has an opinion on it and it comes up countless times when people have had a few drinks! As I have declared myself an atheist I feel I should clarify where I stand. I’m writing this to record and share my opinion on this fundamental and unavoidable issue.

There are literally millions of people in the world who disagree with me. I can safely say this without having even written that much yet! So let me just get this out of the way. I’m not a philosopher, neither do I have a degree in ‘Biblical Theology’, I’m not a biologist or a particle physicist. I have no intention of fully explaining the process of evolution, those who do not understand it can find a wealth of information on it. What follows is not a PhD paper and will likely not have covered every angle of possible logic nor will I cite everything I talk about . I may be wrong, I do not assume I ‘have all the answers’. It merely stands as my observation of how the world appears to be. Not surprisingly this article has turned out to be pretty long so I have split it into a few smaller parts and will publish them over the next few days. But hey, if this was a subject you could comment on in a few lines then we’d have it all figured out by now!

‘God’ is a human creation. It is a name we have given to the imagined creator of the physical Universe. It is the result of humans asking “how did we come to be here?”. Humans have attached many characteristics to God, such as being just and fair. One of the biggest being the notion that he/she/it has to be served and that he/she/it rewards or punishes good and bad behaviour.

God is universally viewed as the creator of the Universe, the being responsible for the existence of everything we know. God is therefore superhuman. This is the definition according to most religious believers, and it is this definition I will use.

I feel the need to separate God and religion at the outset. Religion is all of the added characteristics humans have attached to God. Religious rules, texts, customs etc are all irrelevant when contemplating the existence of God. What I am concerned with, therefore, is whether any evidence can be found for God’s existence. I am not concerned with what any supposed God might like or dislike, whether he/she/it wants me to marry before I have sex, or whether to force my wife to cover her body from head to toe.

I’m avoiding getting into deep philosophical epistemology here but will simply state that I am aware I cannot claim to ‘know’ there is no God. However, I feel I can state that based on all available evidence; taking reference from the whole range of information and scientific discovery available to me at the present time; that I’m pretty damned convinced there is no God.

What follows is every single argument for the existence of God I’ve ever had put to me. There is not a single time where I’ve debated this issue that the points put to me have not been some variant of those I’ve written about here.

The Universe Must Have Been Designed

The first, and to me the most frequently used, argument is that the Universe must have been designed. I’ve had this put to me by militant creationists and hippy agnostics. Many people feel the natural world is too well suited to its environment and is too complicated, intricate or beautiful to have happened for no reason or by chance; that if it didn’t happen by chance it must have been designed with a purpose. Proponents of this argument say that the complexity of the design shows forethought and so must be the product of a ‘mind’. That ‘mind’ is what you call God.

This whole argument relies on the assumption that complexity must be the product of a ‘mind’. The argument from design presents you with limited options. It forces you to make a choice between a world where everything happens by chance and a world where everything was designed with a purpose. The design advocates use the word ‘chance’ to create an image of a world without God as one of disorder. They then claim that as the world contains order, this order must come from God. It is a complete misunderstanding of the very fabric of evolution which provides a very good explanation indeed as to how the natural world appears to be designed. Evolution is the process of natural selection. It is not an ‘anything goes’ world of complete chance. It is a series of minute improvements over millions of years which results in a complex object. Had we the ability to travel back in time we would no doubt be able to observe creatures which were not so well adapted to their surroundings. They would appear to to be badly designed.

Other people have said to me that for the Earth to be in just the right location with the right conditions for life to exist is evidence of design. That if the Earth was tilted differently or closer to the sun we couldn’t be here. They then go on to reel of a list of the many other minute tolerances in the conditions we need to survive. This, they say, could not happen by chance! The sheer number of variables that have to come together for the conditions to be perfect must require intelligence. To me, however, it’s a slightly narrow minded position. It is true that the conditions for life as we know it, consisting of the diverse collections of living things on Earth, have minute tolerances. It is also true that if you changed the conditions, even by a small amount, many living things could not survive. But we only have knowledge of our immediate solar system. We are aware of only ourselves. We cannot take it as given that for life to exist conditions must be like Earth. The Earth is one planet in a galaxy of billions of planets. The Universe contains billions of galaxies. Those odds suggest there could be billions of Earth like planets. Given the sheer size of the Universe it’s not improbable that other planets exist with life bearing capabilities. In fact to me it is more improbable that Earth is the only one. I find it hard to follow the logical path that just because the conditions are perfect for us it must have been designed. If these are the conditions we need then it’s not surprising that we’re here is it?

The tolerances and the fine balance of life in no way implies that it must have been designed. The entire design argument projects human like qualities onto the larger Universe. It basically says “because we have designed complicated things it must mean all complicated things are designed”. It is totally ludicrous and completely illogical.

Tomorrow I will comment on the argument that without God we have no morals.