MonoRealism Philosophy Site

Gods Truth

Part B: God Created?

In Part A we discussed the origin and nature of religion. Now we shall examine the evidence proposed to support it.

Consider the Evidence

The Church and other religious authorities are big on telling people what is and isn't God's word and God's will. But when you look at the actual facts of reality behind it, all they are telling us is what they or someone before them claimed was God's word. By the rules of inductive reasoning, the only proper response is to paraphrase Jesus: "That's what you say." Anybody can claim they speak for God. But before you set your values and run your life on their say-so, reason demands better reasons than "somebody told me so."

I do not intend entering into a detailed refutation of the arguments for religion. Whatever flaws their philosophies might have, skeptical and atheist philosophers such as David Hume, J.M. Robertson, Joseph McCabe, H.L. Mencken, T.H. Huxley, Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell have done a good job over the centuries demolishing such arguments, and I refer you to them (a good reference point is the web site atheism.about.com). However, I will briefly touch upon the basic arguments.

There are two basic types of evidence claimed on religion's behalf: the objective and the subjective. The former looks at the facts of external reality, present or historical; the latter looks at personal feelings and experience.

The Grand Plan

Probably the most persistent objective argument for religion is the argument from design.

The argument from design is basically that life and/or the universe is so marvellous, complex, etc., that it is unimaginable that it came here "by chance", and must have been designed by an intelligent creator.

Unfortunately for this argument, science has shown that quite a small number of fundamental laws is sufficient to explain all the complexity of the universe, from the origin of galaxies, stars and planets, to the origin of chemical elements, to the evolution of life. It is not that the world is designed to fit us, but that we have evolved to fit the world! Note that contrary to the assumptions of the usual arguments from design, these natural processes are not random. The charge of randomness is especially made against the evolution of living things, but evolution is in fact based on the selection from random changes of those which enhance organisms' life and reproduction: analogous to how a self-winding watch uses a ratchet mechanism to select a directional "wind-up" from random movements. A full defence of evolution is beyond the scope of this article and I refer interested readers to the extensive published literature on the matter, especially the various books by Richard Dawkins.

I am not saying that science knows everything. But in order for the argument from design to be convincing, it is not science which must prove there is no need for a designer, but those who argue design who must prove that natural forces are insufficient (this is a consequence of Occam's Razor, that the simplest explanation, requiring the fewest assumptions, is best unless proved insufficient). For example, one thing science doesn't yet know is exactly how life arose from non-life. But not knowing exactly how it happened is a long way from proof that it didn't or couldn't happen. There is certainly enough evidence – from the abundance of organic chemicals in space, to laboratory experiments on the natural synthesis of complex organic polymers – to suggest that it can and did.

A more subtle form of the argument from design is to grant that natural laws are enough to account for what we see, but then ask why these particular laws exist: why is the universe such that human life is possible in the first place? One can certainly imagine laws of physics in which life, let alone intelligence, is impossible. There are obvious problems with this argument. Clearly, we can only be here to ask such questions if the universe can support life! Perhaps this is only one cosmos of many, each with different physical laws, and life can only exist to wonder about itself in some of them. Or perhaps the laws we have are the only ones there are or can be.

In any event, the fundamental flaw in this argument is this: it claims that the universe couldn't exist unless created by a god, yet doesn't apply the same reasoning to god himself. If a natural universe based on matter, energy and natural laws requires a cause and explanation: why doesn't a much more complicated intelligent, self-aware, omnipotent creator require the same? Basically, you can't have an infinite regression of causes: you have to stop somewhere. In logic, to hypothesise a god accomplishes nothing: if you have to stop somewhere, why not stop with the visible and known (the physical universe)? What is gained by proposing a greater invisible and unknown?

Even if we grant all that, and conclude that there must have been a creator, what have we proved? The final nail in the coffin of the argument from design is that it is useless as a defence of any particular religion. Those who propose it are generally using it to bolster their religion. But there is nothing in the argument from design which can support anything more than the past existence of some impersonal, distant being who knows and cares nothing about the fate of us people here on earth.

Signs & Wonders

A miracle is something that could not occur by natural means, and thus is claimed as evidence of the existence of a greater power.

Some philosophers dispute the possibility of miracles because they violate natural laws. However miracles do not necessarily require such violations: everything from parting the Red Sea to raising the dead could be done by the precisely directed use of sufficient power within natural laws. So we need to look beyond "prohibition by definition".

The first problem with miracles as evidence is proving that they actually occurred. When you look at Christianity for example, the further back you go into the past and the further from being able to verify them, the bigger and better the miracles get. But the only evidence for them is the unverified word of authors of unverifiable character. If modern evangelists could generate miracles of the calibre of those reported in the Bible, there might be something worth discussing – but they cannot.

I have quoted Hume's maxim before (in Philosophical Reflections 27A):

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.

And that is the critical problem with "reported evidence" for miracles. They purport to be evidence for an amazing supernatural power, but there are perfectly reasonable natural alternatives such as errors or fraud on the part of the reporters.

The second problem with miracles is that there is no necessary link between the purported miracle and the claims of the miracle worker. Even the Bible warns against miracles done by "false prophets":

A prophet – may promise a miracle or a wonder, in order to lead you to worship and serve gods that you have not worshipped before. Even if what he promises comes true, do not pay any attention to him. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear; they will perform great miracles and wonders in order to deceive even God's chosen people, if possible. (Matthew 24:24)

Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When Judgement Day comes, many will say to me, "Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God's message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!" Then I will say to them, "I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!" (Matthew 7:21-23)

That last quote puts the finger on the fundamental problem. We must ignore false prophets and do what God wants us to do – when the only way we know what God wants us to do is through prophets! But which is the liar and which is genuine?

Written Proof

Another strand of objective evidence is historical evidence. Obviously, proof that some prophet actually lived or some mundane historical events really happened wouldn't be enough: the evidence has to be for the actual occurrence of supernatural events, such as fulfilled prophecies and eyewitness accounts of miracles.

For example, this is an historical argument for the fundamental tenet of Christianity:

The reports of Jesus' resurrection in the Bible were written by eyewitnesses. Therefore, they knew whether their claims were true or false. They were willing to die for that testimony, but nobody would be willing to die for testimony they know is false. Therefore Jesus was in fact resurrected from the dead.

Unfortunately, such evidence is just a subset of the evidence from miracles, and suffers from the same fatal flaws. Even ignoring the unreliability of human testimony and people's capacity for self-delusion, the twin criteria of Hume's Maxim (quoted above) and the unprovable source of the miracle demolish it.

By the first criterion, which is more likely: that a miracle occurred, or that those reporting it made it up, misinterpreted and/or embellished a natural event, or based their claims on yet other unreliable sources, maybe decades or centuries after the event? We see human fraud, folly and error all the time. So what is more likely: that an astounding miracle happened, or that all we have is yet another example of that? And by the second criterion, even if the event did occur, who can say what being performed it and for what purpose, good or ill?

Feeling God

Subjective arguments for the existence of god are all variants of "I feel it is true, therefore it is true."

However there is no valid induction from feelings to facts of external reality. Feelings are not tools of cognition and are never valid arguments for such facts.

Yes, feelings can be powerful. Yes, conversion experiences can seem real. Yes, people may achieve a feeling of peace, joy etc. from religious experiences and assign these to the workings of God in their lives.

But again, there are multiple flaws with such arguments. Firstly, the same subjective experiences are felt by people in all religions and cults, including cults so bizarre that few people in "mainstream" religions would not agree that those cults are wrong and/or evil – and all cults, being cults, will claim that the experiences of everyone else are wrong! Indeed, it is cultists who seem to experience these things the most intensely, as witnessed by their willingness to devote their lives to their cult and to sacrifice everything for it, even their children and their own lives.

The principle here is clear. When the same subjective feelings arise from contradictory beliefs, they cannot be evidence for the truth of any belief. All they prove is that religious feelings exist, which has no bearing on why they exist. Indeed, recent scientific studies have found that religious feelings can be generated simply by stimulating the appropriate part of the brain.

Secondly, if you insist that your feelings are caused by a supernatural power, we have the age-old question: how do you know whether your experience is God working in you, or the devil deceiving you?