A Brief Case for Atheism
“Theology is but the ignorance of natural causes reduced to a system.”–Baron d’Holbach, Common Sense (1772)
Was the universe created by a conscious intelligence to achieve some end? There seems to be a consensus in the scientific community that evolution provides an adequate explanation of how human beings came to exist from earlier organisms and that the very origin of life itself is likely to have resulted from natural chemical interactions without the assistance of a supernatural Designer. It seems clear that we can explain the origin of Homo sapiens, the first forms of life, the solar system, and ultimately the entire known universe in natural terms without invoking ‘God,’ whatever *that* is, or any other ‘supernatural’ forces (i.e., forces which supposedly violate scientific laws of nature).
There is a relatively recent consensus among the majority of cosmologists that the Big Bang, an explosion of a cosmic ‘fireball,’ brought into existence all of space, time, and everything in between. “What caused the Big Bang?” is a question for which we may never have an answer–but our ignorance is no excuse to invoke a ‘God of the gaps.’
Ultimately it matters little whether or not the universe had a Creator. Rather, what matters to us is whether or not any current *religious concept* of God–a God who is deeply concerned about the welfare of a single species in the entire universe–exists. I leave the question open whether or not deism is true, the view that the universe had an impersonal Creator who “set the universe in motion” yet let it run on its own. The deistic God doesn’t particularly care about the welfare of humans, for he neither performs miracles for our entertainment nor bothers to let us know that he exists. The truth of deism stands or falls on the soundness of the traditional philosophical arguments for the existence of God, which modern philosophers have found unconvincing; thus we have no reason to accept it as true. Furthermore, in the words of Richard Dawkins in an interview by Sheena McDonald of the BBC, “A creator. . . would have had to be present right at the start of the universe. The whole message of evolution is that complexity and intelligence and all the things that would go with being a creative force come late, they come as a consequence of hundreds of millions of years of natural selection. There was no intelligence early on in the universe.”
My contention is simple: God, as conceived by the major religions, does not exist. I hold this neither dogmatically, nor as an article of faith. Rather, I think the existence of the Judeo-Christian/Islamic God is as improbable as the existence of Zeus and the plethora of Olympian gods. I am simply more consistent in my skepticism. I have the same amount of evidence for the existence of Yahweh, Jehovah, or Allah as I have for Zeus–none.
Consider the importance of such a lack of evidence for God in demonstrating the plausibility of atheism. According to the major monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, thousands of years ago miracles were commonplace. Moses parted the Red Sea. Jesus rose from the dead after three days of decomposition. Mohammed learned to speak a few minutes after his birth. The question must inevitably arise: Where have all the miracles gone?
No, I’m not talking about seeing Mary’s face on a burrito, or God curing your cold after intense prayer (if you want a *real* medical miracle, try finding a case of an amputee who grew an arm after praying for one). Why haven’t we seen the Red Sea parting on CNN lately?
This lack of miracles is vitally important: if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, he could easily remove all of the doubts of every one of us. The fact that he won’t give us any evidence for his existence leads to the conclusion that either he doesn’t care if we believe in him or he simply doesn’t exist. The reliance on evidence when it comes to forming beliefs is paramount–faith simply will not do. One can have faith that astrology works, but faith doesn’t make it so.
I find the creationism-evolution debate quite interesting. Most people take a middle-of-the-road approach and claim both a belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible and the process of evolution. Where there appears to be conflict, they say the Bible is metaphorical. “A day is but a thousand years to the Lord” is supposed to allow for a universe older than 6-10,000 years, but the metaphorical interpretation is a cop-out by believers to save face. If you find the biblical claim that Adam lived 930 years (Genesis 5:5) hard to believe, try applying the above ‘day=1000 years’ criterion to his age: He would have lived for 339 million years! Is the above definition of a day arbitrary and indefensible? Yes–but in both cases, not just the latter example. When strong evidence conflicts with a sacred text, believers say it’s metaphorical; when there is no contrary evidence they take it literally on faith. In the words of Saturday Night Live’s ‘church lady,’ “How convenient!”