February 13, 2007

I Believe That No Gods Exist

No Gods IMage
No Gods IMage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Following up on my post about the importance of atheists articulating what we do believe, it is time to begin. I start with a small but important step. While atheism refers to the lack of theistic belief and need not imply an active rejection of theism, I go an additional step in my beliefs. I believe that there are no gods of any kind.

Many atheists will undoubtedly join me in this additional belief that there are no gods, but it is not necessary that they do so in order to be counted as an atheist. Still, this will be a familiar position to anyone with even minimal familiarity to atheism.

What makes me willing to take this additional step? After all, theists are correct to claim that one cannot prove the nonexistence of their particular god (or anything else for that matter). Thus, it is technically possible that some sort of god exists, right? Not so fast. Before we can determine whether the existence of some particular god is possible, we must know what is meant by "god" and what properties this god is presumed to have.

What is god?

According to George Smith, author of Atheism: The Case Against God, all modern conceptions of monotheistic gods include at least two common properties. First, god is presumed to be supernatural. Second, god is presumed to be unknowable. Can a being with these properties exist?

Following Smith's excellent analysis, we realize that saying a being is supernatural tells us almost nothing about the being. We know that it is somehow apart from nature, but we have learned nothing about what it is. If a child asks me what a horse is, and a reply that a horse is a being without wings, the child is unlikely to be satisfied. In the same way, attempting to define god with the attribute of "supernatural" tells us nothing.

Far worse, the idea of a supernatural being may well be incomprehensible. We know of nothing that exists outside of nature. It is highly suspect that we can even entertain such notions. This brings us to the notion that god is inherently unknowable, somehow beyond the grasp of human understanding.

Many believers will be all too happy to proclaim that no human can possibly know the mind of god, that "god works in mysterious ways," or that we cannot possibly understand "god's plan." Such claims not only fail to tell us anything about what god might be; they tell us that attempts at understanding are likely to be futile.

Part of why I do not believe in any sort of god is that this undefined and unknowable entity makes no sense to me. I have yet to encounter an intelligible concept of god that is not logically incoherent. Since it is logically impossible to believe in something that has no definition and no informative properties, here I am.

Where is the evidence?

In all cases of human belief except for one, there is an expectation that evidence is required to justify belief. The one exception is in matters of religion. No other sort of belief claim is so routinely viewed as being exempt from this evidentiary requirement. And yet, this is precisely what must happen when one is dealing with an undefined and unknowable entity such as god.

Because believers refuse to commit to any sort of definition of god, they can change the rules at will. "Well, that might be evidence against that sort of god, but that isn't the god I believe in." Never mind that they appear to have no idea what the god they supposedly believe in truly is (i.e., the properties of this god).

I see no reason to grant an exception to the requirement of evidence, especially when I am expected to believe in something unknowable and without definition. After all, how could I even know if I believed in this unknowable and undefined entity in the first place?

Spotlight on the Christian god

I tend to focus on the Christian concept of god because it is the one with which I am the most familiar due to my upbringing and the culture in which I live. This concept of god suffers from the same flaws I have discussed above.

I am familiar with the arguments which have been offered to suggest that this sort of god might exist, and I have found them lacking. Thus, I see no reason to believe in this sort of god. Nothing more than the exercise of reason is necessary for me to conclude that it is far more probable that this god does not exist than it is that this god does exist.

There is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of the Christian god or any other sort of god. Thus, believing in any god would be irrational. While no human can claim to be 100% rational, I certainly strive toward rationality rather than intentionally turning my back on it. The absence of evidence does not equate disproof of existence, it certainly makes it more likely, especially when the very concept is declared to be unknowable.

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