The supposed maker of the universe: An intellectually useless
for some is emotionally satisfying.
The mathematician Pierre Simon de
La Place, who wrote a celestial mechanics, is supposed to have answered
Napoleon, when he desired to know where God was in his system that described
the movements of the heavens, 'I have no need
for that hypothesis', and neither have I.
Many feel differently, but this feeling is rarely based on good
and normally derives from wishful
thinking and a religious education in childhood, when one could not defend
In any case, I discuss religion and two
standard arguments for God's existence, namely the
Cosmological argument and
the Design argument in
this dictionary, and also
discuss Pascal's Wager, and have
myself the benefit of a non-religious education.
1. A little less seriously
There are also other arguments against the
hypothesis of God, and I here give three of them.
First: God is a hypothesis, and not a
fact, for all you know,
whatever the depth or direction of your convictions. Even if He (She, It, They) exist(s), no
one has succeeded in giving an argument for His existence that is logically
sound: valid with true premisses. Moreover, all religious beliefs in a god or gods have come with lots of
claims that since they were originally made - often more than a thousand years
ago - have been shown to be either false or very improbable by science, indeed
like much else that people long ago believed.
You may believe in a hypothesis, but as long as you have no uncontroversial
logically sound proof for your beliefs you have no right to demand from others
that they believe what you believe, nor do you have a right to demand their
respect for your beliefs. You do have the right to believe what you please -
but in fairness only if you allow others precisely the same right. Others may well believe
that your beliefs are ridiculous, but then happily you may believe the same about
their beliefs. And as long as you merely argue and not fight, such differences
of opinion may even produce useful ideas.
Second: God is an intellectually useless hypothesis, like my belief in
Santa, which for the moment I wallow in, because I
wish to, and like to, and desire to.
You may never even have heard of Santa, but - it may initially amaze you
to learn - Santa made everything there is, including your god or gods,
and you yourself, and me, and all the devils that ever were thought of by
anyone, and anything else besides, for Santa is infinitely powerful and
most mysterious and made all of the infinitely many universes anybody ever
thought of. Verily!
How have I arrived at this most holy and beneficient knowledge of Santa? By a deeply religious process of
reasoning, that has been followed by all the
prophets of all the divinities, and that has been faithfully
repeated by all priests and
clergy. Here it is, all for your benefit and
Premiss 1: I cannot explain X.
Premiss 2: I wish to explain X.
Conclusion: Santa made X.
Note that this is a most satisfyingly simple process of reasoning: Why X?
Santa made it! Why Y? Santa must have desired it! And don't you
dare to disagree, for then you deeply offend my most holy and strongest
feelings! Besides, Santa dislikes those who disbelieve in Santa,
according to the best authorities on Santa, so if I were you I would take
care, and beware of Santa! Maybe Santa, in His Infinite Goodness, fries doubters and scoffers
like you for breakfast! Or what is almost as bad and far more probable: Maybe believers in
Third: The God you believe in probably
does not exist. He certainly does not exist if his
existence implies a
contradiction, as most divine hypotheses
do, so suppose - a large and improbable
hypothesis, but suppose! - your belief in your God is consistent. Is it
true? Here is a premiss:
Premiss A: What a majority believes to be true probably is
This is a widely believed hypothesis. Suppose it is true. Since most men on
earth do not believe in your god even if they believe in some god, your belief
in your god is probably false.
Here I grant that historically by far the greatest part of mankind has
believed in some god - and I insist that there have been very many different
such beliefs that mutually contradict each other. Therefore the argument I
gave is sound if you accept the premiss.
2. More seriously
So I am an unbeliever, and indeed not even an
agnostic, not because I cannot see that the
hypothesis of God is formally contingent, for which reason there may be a non-zero
probability that it is true, but because there are lots of contingent
hypotheses I also reject quite confidently, since there is no
them, and lots of evidence against: There are no mermaids, no dragons, no
griffons and no elfs either. Also, there is no Santa Claus,
even if it would be nice if he were to exist.
The serious difficulty I have with most religions and most religious
believers I know of is that they seem to be
totalitarian at heart, even if they know well how to pretend
they are in a minority. Related difficulties I have are that the believers in
religious faiths tend to be prone to insist
that one should respect their faith, and that it is somehow moral to believe
in some God, and immoral not to.
First, about "respect". I cannot understand why I should respect any belief
or any person just because he happens to have a belief.
Of course, if the believers in it tell me they will kill me if I don't
believe like they do - as believers in many religious faiths have done, which
practice has killed millions of human beings simply because they believed
other than those who therefore murdered them - it does make practical sense to pretend respect.
I can understand why religious believers demand or desire respect:
Unlike mathematics or
science, they have no plausible
rational arguments for
their religious beliefs. And religious beliefs are precisely the kind of
belief that strike non-believers as patently false and at least a little
Second, about "morality". I do not see why it is moral to believe in some
God. Indeed, being an atheist I believe that - if morals are involved - since
it is more moral not to believe something for which there is no good evidence
than to believe it, it is more moral not to believe in a God.
Read Clifford, and seriously consider in
the present context Clifford's dictum:
is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
This also holds for all manner
of religious beliefs.
Apart from my lack of faith and apart from
Clifford: The evidence about morality and
religion is very diverse. It is true that the fears of hell or the
promises about the hereafter may have prevented some murder and mayhem that might have been committed
otherwise. It is also true that literally millions of men, women and children
of many faiths - Christian, Mohammedan, Hinduistic, Buddhistic etc. - have
been killed by people of different faiths - Christian, Mohammedan, Hinduistic,
Buddhistic etc. - simply because they had another
In brief: Religious motives have been at the foundation of many
were quite bad by my moral norms, and also at the
foundation of many acts that were quite good by my
moral norms, and there just is no sensible
pronouncement to the effect that religious belief is good or bad in moral
consequences: The bookkeeping is too complicated and requires far too much
detailed knowledge about motives, knowledge and ignorance, and much more.
But there is one important point here: One can agree about good and bad to
a large extent without bringing in religious beliefs, and indeed one must do so
as long as one does not want to start killing or persecuting others because
they have another religious belief and do not want to give it up. One can
agree in principle about morals because this requires only some minimal
assumptions about human nature, that need no religious underpinning: That all
human beings can be hurt and pleased in similar ways and have similar needs
because they have similar constitutions.
Therefore, while I believe that there is no good
evidence that the consequences of belief in
some god or gods have been more good than bad on balance, I believe that there is excellent
reason to try to settle one's moral differences peaceably and without
demanding religious beliefs the people one must settle one's differences
with do not share. For that carries no conviction and is bound to lead to