MonoRealism Philosophy Site

Gods Truth

Part C: Heaven and Earth

In Part A we looked at the nature of religion and in Part B we discussed the evidence proposed for it. Now we will look at a deeper analysis of that, and where it leaves us.

The Fatal Flaw

We can see that all arguments for religion suffer from the same fundamental flaws. And this is inherent in the whole origin of religions: religious beliefs are based not on objective induction from the facts of reality, but on the words of other people.

People do not come to religion by looking at reality through open eyes and discovering God. In general, religious people are Jews in Jewish families, Christian in Christian societies, Islamic in Islamic states, and Hindus in Hindu lands. The obvious conclusion is that religious beliefs are in general merely inherited, believed because parents or society believe in them: and the arguments for each religion are merely rationalisations to justify existing beliefs, whose true origin is just children's faith in the words of adults.

Of course, some people are converted into "foreign" religions: but again, that is never because they found that God independently by looking at reality, but because they accepted the words of some evangelist or prophet whose words struck some chord in the person's mind.

This absence of objective evidence is a fatal flaw for two reasons. Firstly, it is the primary epistemological reason why none of the arguments stand up to analysis. Secondly, it is the reason why even if you grant those arguments, you still don't know whether you're worshipping a true god, a false god or Satan himself. None of the arguments for religion can give any guidance as to whom you are worshipping, because none provide any objective means for distinguishing among the alternative possibilities. And as our analysis of false prophets showed, without objective evidence we have nothing.

Pascal's Wager

The consequence of this fact is brought into stark relief by Pascal's Wager, which basically argues for worshipping God along these lines:

If you believe in God and are right, you'll spend eternity in paradise, while if you're wrong, you'll be no more dead than you'll be anyway.

If you don't believe in God and are right, you'll be no better off than the believer, but if you're wrong, you're doomed to eternity in hell.

Therefore the only wise course is to believe.

By side-stepping all attempts at evidence, this argument spotlights the fundamental problem: when analysed, all arguments for religions fail, which means that religious claims are in fact arbitrary claims.

Indeed, increasing theological sophistication over the centuries has admitted this implicitly, while not realising its true import. Thus the gods have been moved progressively from among us, to the sky, to another dimension: getting both grander and more invisible as they went. This is both an admission of lack of evidence – and an attempt to remove God from the possibility of disproof. Hence the stress on faith as a primary virtue worth more than your own eyes and mind.

We have discussed the nature of arbitrary claims before. Not only are they cognitively meaningless, but for every arbitrary claim one can make up any number of contradictory arbitrary claims, making them useless for any decision on what to do.

Even if we allow the primary conclusion of arguments for God, there are no objective criteria involved in deciding what that means, so the arguments lead nowhere. Someone claims a miracle? We have just as much and as little cause to believe it is the work of Satan, elves or mischievous aliens, as the work of God. Someone has strong religious feelings? There is no way to know whether are they God's blessing or demonic deceptions. Pascal's Wager? It assumes what it purports to prove. One could equally argue that as our creator, God insists we live according to our nature as thinking beings: so the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who believe without evidence – only atheists will enter paradise! (To bring life to this idea of the futility of arbitrary claims, see my blog entry on The One True God).

Like a deer caught in headlights, we are left incapable of motion when faced by these conflicting and equally "possible" arbitrary claims. By their nature, arbitrary claims cannot guide you in what to do. The only actual way to decide anything is to look at objective evidence: to see reality for what it is, and act accordingly. And that is precisely what religion has given up. By evading the need for objective evidence by moving God into the realm of the supernatural, it merely succeeds in removing God from the realm of reality.

For reasons noted in previous Philosophical Reflections, arbitrary claims are not true, false or even possible – they are meaningless and unworthy of any consideration. Consequently, an objective philosophy based on reality and reason is atheistic: not as its primary focus, as its primary focus is reality, but as a footnote, a consequence of the nature of objectivity.

The Moral High Ground

The above arguments apply to religion in general. As we live in a nominally Christian society, some comments on Christianity in particular are in order.

Christianity suffers certain problems that have been argued by atheistic philosophers in the past, such as errors and contradictions in the Bible, and the problem of evil (if God is omnipotent and good, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?). These are valid criticisms. However my main objection to Christianity per se is moral.

In earlier Philosophical Reflections (e.g. numbers 9-12) I have shown why the objective basis of ethics is human life, the basis of human virtues is rationality, and consequently we possess individual rights – the right to be free from the initiation of physical force.

Yet the God portrayed in the Bible demands sacrifice in this life, faith as the primary virtue, and force and threats of eternal damnation as his answer why. That is, by the criteria of objective ethics the God of the Bible is anti-life in this world and dedicated to the violation of individual rights – except for those few who purchase a ticket to salvation at the price of their reason. In the light of the objective ethics I have described, such a God is deeply immoral, not the essence of goodness.

But does a man have the right to judge God – or more accurately, human claims about God? I don't think we have any choice about it. Socrates once asked, "Is what is holy holy because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it is holy?" As Anthony Gottlieb wrote (Socrates, in The Great Philosophers), following this line of reasoning leads to the conclusion:

Either goodness cannot be explained simply by reference to what the gods want, or else it is an empty tautology to say that the gods are good – in which case the praise of the gods would simply be a matter of power-worship. As Leibniz put it – :

Those who believe that God has established good and evil by an arbitrary decree – deprive God of the designation good: for what cause could one have to praise him for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?

Thus, this brings us back to our earlier question of how we evaluate whether a prophet and his wonders are true or false: and Christianity fails the test by portraying a God who seeks to destroy the objective values and virtues required for human life and its enjoyment here on earth – which is the only place any of us have ever lived.

It is ironic then that so many professional "ethics experts" base their pronouncements on Christian ethics. But it is not surprising that their version of ethics so frequently demands the violation of individual rights, such as the banning by law of abortion, cloning, and any number of victimless "moral crimes" that they disapprove of.

Ethics, like everything else, has to be based on the objective – on reality, reason, and life – if it is to truly serve life. For life is in the objective world and has actual requirements for its existence.

Your Reverence

If religion has no place in objective ethics, are we to join those who cynically reject religious feelings altogether? No – religious feelings exist and serve a very human need. What is needed is not their dismissal but the identification of their proper object – just as what is needed in medicine is not its dismissal, because so much of it used to be based on superstition, but the identification of its proper nature. In the introduction to her novel The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand wrote:

[The concepts of exaltation, worship, reverence and sacred] do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man's dedication to a moral ideal – It is this highest level of man's emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.

– The man-worshippers, in my sense of the term, are those who see man's highest potential and strive to actualize it – those dedicated to the exaltation of man's self-esteem and the sacredness of his happiness on earth.

– This view of man – is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one's life is important, that great achievements are within one's capacity, and that great things lie ahead – whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man's nature and of life's potential.

That is, it is not an imaginary realm or invisible God that is the validation and proper object of feelings of reverence and exaltation. It is the life and potential of Man himself – and of your self. Then it serves reality and fuels your life: for no person can achieve their highest potential without the realisation that the potential is there to be achieved, or without reverence for the irreplaceable life it serves.

Douglas Adams, in an interview with American Atheists (reprinted in The Salmon of Doubt), expressed a similar sentiment when describing his reaction to realising the explanatory power of evolutionary biology:

It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.


For debate prompted by this article, see "God Strikes Back" and "More for God"

© 2003 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.