I’m a heathen. An Infidel. A heretic, a non-, dis– and unbeliever, a skeptic, an apostate, a nullifidian and to make matters completely and utterly worse: an atheist.
Why I don’t believe in God
My transition from a little boy that didn’t think about these matters into a slightly larger boy that couldn’t stop marvelling at the beauty of
holidays science as well as the oddity (best case), absurdity (average case) and atrocities (worst case) of religion has been a defining event in my life.
For me, it started with an acute what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-here moment in a local church twenty-odd years ago, followed by an equally sudden what-the-fuck-is-that-guy-talking-about moment in the same church five seconds later and culminates today in my sudden urge to start writing on the subject.
My goal here is not to burn any particular religion to the ground (though no expense has been spared by some religions to burn atheists to the ground). Rather, I would like to go over the generic reasons why – even though I’m told the majority of them is furious at me because of this – I don’t believe in any God whatsoever. (Other than Sir Isaac Newton.)
These ideas are not new, they’re just the ones I have come across over the years that contributed most to my personal conversion and conviction. The following is an attempt to state them as simply and clearly as I can.
Reason #1: I’ve never seen him, nor any indication of his existence.
Arguably the most obvious reason and possibly the most important one as well: if God exists, where is he? The only faculties a human being has at his disposal to assert the existence of something are:
The senses – direct observation
Things you see or feel, including stuff other people tell you. These days, we can see pretty far into the cosmos, across the entire electromagnetic range, using all sorts of telescopes. So far, to my knowledge, nobody has made a single credible observation that requires the presence of a supernatural intelligence (not even a stupid one).
Logical argument – indirect observation
Combining known facts and drawing conclusions from those. I do recognise the fact that not everything can be directly observed by our limited faculties. However, if I can’t observe something directly, as a non-lunatic I require either some sort of observable effect or a sound chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that the subject under investigation must exist.
Both approaches have come up empty so far.
Even if we assume God can’t be observed directly for whatever reason: there is not a single convincing bit of indirect evidence or remotely conclusive argument around, especially if we discount reports of people discerning a divine presence in their food.
If there was any evidence or proof out there, it would be world news instantly, especially in these times. Twitter would detonate. It would take over the planet and shut everybody up (except for the Dutch, who always seem to have something worth yapping about). It would have been rubbed in my embarrassed face ten times over during the past five seconds, and rightly so. This hasn’t happened yet, so I can safely continue to assume nobody has a strong case to convince an atheist.
Reason #2: followers of one religion are atheists of the others.
This is a slightly more subtle point: even the most devout Christian on the planet is an atheist regarding all the other religions that don’t agree with the particular flavour of faith he subscribes to. This is true of the followers of any religion. Even the most isolated tribes in the amazon have their own version of religion, and are equally confident they’ve got it all figured out.
Who is right?
Cause all the others are mistaken! No one religion has a better claim to the truth than any other, no religion has features that elevate it to a more likely Candidate for Truth. Cause, again, the world would know about it. So why assume any of the religions on offer is The One, and worth joining?
It’s just as reasonable to assume they’re all equally mistaken.
Whichever way you turn things, the vast majority of the world’s population is wasting their time worshipping a figment of their imagination.
Were you born correctly?
Even if there is one religion out there that happens to be the correct one, the chance you happened to have been born into that particular one are very slim indeed. The vast majority of believers have the same faith as their parents, and unless you’re a kid of God himself, it makes even less sense to assume they have chosen correctly in your stead.
Your parents were in the same situation as you with their parents, back in the day. They might have switched allegiance or they might have chosen to trust their parents‘ decision. Both options are error-prone, their grandparents were in the very same predicament way back when, and it’s turtles all the way down.
So it doesn’t make much sense to choose at all. Even if there is a God: your best chances for a nice afterlife sprout from not sticking to a particular religion since you’ve almost certainly been born into the wrong one.
- If the God you should have believed in is vengeful and you pick wrong, you’re in trouble.
- If he is vengeful and you don’t worship another you have a better case.
- If he is not vengeful he will either forgive you no matter what you do, or just plain don’t care.
So logically, being a devout [insert religious affiliation here] makes no sense at all.
Reason #3: complexity of God vs the universe.
Many people with some sort of affinity for religion and spirituality will object to being chucked into the same bucket as ‘man-in-the-sky’ theists. They are equally unconvinced of these extreme versions of belief, but still feel there must be ‘something there‘ to ‘explain all this‘.
To those people I would say: “Evolution.” And then they would ask: “Explain what you mean or go away.” And then I would start explaining, and they would wish they’d have limited their response to “Go away.” And I would go on, regardless:
” The urge to postulate the presence of some supernatural entity usually seems to follow from being flabbergasted by the complexity of the universe. People tend to feel better if they know who made something, so they can understand where it came from. For an infinitely complex and confusing cosmos this urge becomes strong enough that a majority of people feel A Cause must be identified at all costs.
Nobody would postulate a divine entity if the cosmos would have been created by Apple. They would have been able to see Steve Jobs, standing right there. No doubt about it. As it happens, Apple only made a dent in the universe.
I consider evolution to be the most powerful idea science has investigated so far, it gives us the mechanism by which the complexity of life has arisen from extremely simple beginnings. (Evolution applies much more generally, I will definitely talk about this in future writings.) Since we now know how the complexity of life came to be, the need for a creator vanishes in a puff of logic.
A God that designed and created the entire universe must be more complex than that universe, and thus offers no explanation as to where the necessary complexity came from in the first place. Add this to reason #1 (nobody’s ever seen God) above, and the idea of God The Creator loses all substance. Occam’s razor is quite sharp enough to cut it away. “
For those who doubt
For those who have a lack of faith in evolution and would like to use that to undermine the argument above: evolution is absolutely real, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence available. Shouting at the top of your lungs it’s all nonsense is a bit like denying – over breakfast – that chickens lay eggs whilst enjoying an omelette. The evidence that proves your mistake is not hard to find, see or understand. You just need to go have a look in your back yard.
The inevitability of evolution deserves a separate treatment which I hope to get to some time in the near future.
Reason #4: God does not explain anything.
God is invoked to explain all kinds of things. Why am I here? Where do we come from? How on earth did Trump get elected? But it’s inevitable to not know lots of things.
I don’t want to go to school today
Even though people try to pin everything that happens on God by way of explanation, we still don’t know anything since God himself is not explained. In other words, we’re saying (well I’m not saying that at all!) God explains everything, but we can’t explain God. We still have to cover for him by stressing the mysterious ways he likes to move in. It is a lazy, inadequate and feeble attempt to avoid doing the work and actually learn something about the world.
God of the Gaps
This idea is called ‘God of the Gaps’. It comes down to the observation that God appears wherever there are gaps in our understanding of the world. These gaps have been consistently shrinking for the past centuries, at an ever faster rate, as scientists have diligently been going about the process of filling them with papers.
It seems entirely reasonable to assume that these gaps will continue disappearing in the future, rendering the domain to which God is confined ever smaller, quite possibly ending in oblivion.
In contrast, so far we haven’t encountered a situation where scientific knowledge disappeared and had to be replaced by God.
While I understand the appeal of being able to point at The Cause, the gap between wanting to know something and actually knowing something can only be bridged using the scientific method. Not by stuffing the gap with fluff and sleeping on it. It might be comfortable and cozy but you will not get to the other side, you will only sink deeper into ignorance.
Reason #5: I’m not a Voldemort agnostic.
You might argue that if I don’t believe in God I should call myself an agnostic cause I can never disprove him and know one hundred percent for sure.
Given that I admit there being a tiny chance there is some sort of god, why not believe in him just in case? If god is fooled by my pretended piety he is not all that great, is he? At least now I have integrity, for which he might summon some respect. And if he isn’t vengeful my anti-religious conduct doesn’t matter either.
To put it another way, there is a tiny chance Voldemort is real as well but I am pretty sure he has been made up. It seems a safe bet to me to live my life ignoring the possibility rather than becoming a death eater just in case. This opens up a lot of free time in which I can do stuff I like better than worshipping.
Which does not mean I wouldn’t convert – with Malfoy-ian conviction – in a heartbeat, as soon as he’d show up on my doorstep. That’s science for you.
Reason #6: It’s free.
Nobody is asking me money for being atheist. It’s the cheapest set of principles around, the alternatives require a lot of time and money to be spent. Really exceptional value for money. Recommended.
Reason #7: I’m free.
Nobody is making me do stuff. Nobody is telling me what I should think or believe.
Trust in me
By definition, if you can’t know what you’re supposed to do to follow a particular religion by thinking for yourself – that would constitute some form of evidence – you are running with ‘facts’ (are they?) that are offered to you by other people, be it through ancient books or through direct interaction with representatives and followers of the faith in question. You are accepting arbitrary claims devoid of any justification whatsoever. This is obviously a very dangerous thing to do.
The great manipulator
It gives other people the power to have you do all sorts of things without having to explain themselves. Which, as far as I can tell, seems to be the main reason religion still exists today: people who realise they can manipulate people into practically anything and don’t have a conscience to stop them keep religion alive to have other people do stuff they would like to happen but aren’t keen on doing themselves.
The extreme case of this has been the main source of terror and bad politics for ages, with a distinct bump around the 9/11 mark in humanity’s timeline.
Nobody would dream of handing his or her wallet to some guy on the street because he claims he can talk to an almighty spirit that requires you to part with your cash, and you’re just gonna have to believe that spirit is there cause you will go to a rather unpleasant party when you die if you don’t. Nonetheless, this principle is widespread.
You believe in science. So science is your religion.
No it’s not.
Please do not touch
Religion forces an untouchable set of ideas on you. These rules supposedly never change, they’re ancient and even though the world is changing at dazzling speed, they still apply. Unadapted.
You’re not allowed to question any of these ideas, and if you do, you’re accused of misunderstanding them or you’re told they can’t be analysed in a rational fashion and to take them at face value. You can’t think about them, you just have to accept them. “Don’t you just believe in anything? That’s so sad!” I’ll be alright.
The scientific method
Science poses a fundamentally different way of looking at the world, called the Scientific Method (if God deserves a capital G…). I intend to write a separate post soon to explain the idea in more detail (that post is now available here), but the crux of the matter is to be ready to drop any idea at all, immediately, whenever you meet some beautiful new evidence that tells you that idea is wrong.
The marvels of science put it in stark contrast with religion. “Scientific thought produces technology. Religious thought produces art.” I want to poke giant holes all over that but I don’t know where to start. Technology is starting to produce art these days, so there’s that.
Science does not deny God outright. Rather, if he exists, science would be the way to find out. As it happens, science didn’t stumble upon any indication of his existence so far. It did stumble though, and fell face first into a mountain of facts that unanimously point to the opposite conclusion.
It just works
In any case, you can see for yourself – everywhere around you – that science works. If it didn’t you would be reading this carved into a rock on the town square. Even the most fundamentalist jihadist acknowledges this by happily using the product of the very ideas he loathes so deeply to orchestrate and execute the most vicious acts of destruction he can think of, in order to eradicate the very notions that led to the development of the technology he, too, uses every day.
Who’s gonna make their cell phones when they’ve reached their goal I wonder.
Free thy children!
This limited listing alone – there are many more forms of justification scattered all over reality, waiting for people to ignore them – leaves me no other option than to be a radical atheist.
To close, a point Richard Dawkins never fails to highlight, and I think this might perhaps be the most important message for humanity to take to heart if it cares to survive for a good while longer: teach your children to think for themselves.
Don’t raise them to be manipulable and naive, but have them question the reasons for what other people request of them (not for what you request though, they’re gonna eat those carrots!) This would undoubtedly eliminate a tremendous portion of misery from the world and skew the scales towards a world population that has enough common sense to save itself as well as its pale blue home.
Help your children to be free instead of chaining them to the wall of the same prison cell you might happen to reside in. You live in there only because your parents did, for no good reason. Instead, open the door. Leave them free to wander around, to see what the other cells look like and who’s in there, if they want.
And then let them leave the prison building altogether, to roam the earth and experience the cosmos like nobody intended it to be.
There’s a plethora of excellent reading options available, these are some famous personal favourites of mine.
As some readers will no doubt have noticed, a huge portion of the ideas described here have been treated in much more detail by Richard Dawkins, and many of them in this book. It turned me from a curious agnostic into a full-blown heretic. The lucid reasoning throughout is inescapable and by the end of the book you either didn’t understand it or you’re an atheist.
I can’t not recommend most of Dawkins’ bibliography, but this work in particular made the concept of evolution really click for me and had an immense impact on my world view. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.
This famous book makes a great case against religion as well. Hitchens’ style is quite direct and unapologetic, though, which usually puts off the people he would have liked to convince most. This trait is shared, to a slightly lesser extent, by Richard Dawkins.
A beautiful bird’s eye overview of the sciences. Perfect for people who are not very familiar with any of them but would like to get some idea of what has been found out so far, through some light reading.
If you’re brave enough to jump in at the deep end, try Charles Darwin’s very own masterpiece. It’s quite readable but obviously misses more than a 150 years of progress in the field. The core idea is there though, in all it’s glory. To get a more modern treatment, read The Blind Watchmaker (mentioned above).
This is an upcoming book by Lawrence Krauss, one of the most prominent physicists of our time. Krauss has a great track record in popular science writing, so I’m very much looking forward to his new book which promises to be a true celebration of the scientific method and how it is used to learn more about how the universe works. Already recommended.
Feel free to leave a comment in case you have anything to add to (or subtract from) this post, I’m all ears (a horrible condition science hasn’t been able to find a cure for that doesn’t kill the patient).