Is God Dead?
(An Introduction to Kya ishwar mar chuka hai?)
Dr. Ramendra Nath
Reader, Department of Philosophy, Patna College
Originally published by the Buddhiwadi Foundation
216-A, S.K.Puri, Patna 800 001, Bihar, India
Electronically reprinted here with permission.
"Is god dead?" This is the literal meaning of the Hindi title of my book on atheism, Kya ishwar mar chuka hai? This small, Hindi book was written by me in June 1981 as a student of M. A. (Philosophy) in Patna University.
Kya ishwar mar chuka hai?, which is my first published book, was written by me in fifteen days. Though I actually wrote it in fifteen days, I had been thinking about it for about four years, that is, since I joined Patna College as a student of B. A. (Hons.). I had opted for philosophy as my honours subject. Philosophy of religion was also a part of our syllabus. We were required to study in a critical manner various "proofs" for the alleged existence of god. This set me thinking on the subject. In addition to studying about it in various books of philosophy of religion, I was also discussing this topic with my friends. I did this deliberately to find out why people generally believed in the existence of god. What reasons they had, or they thought they had, for believing in the existence of god?
This book was not written by me for scholars and academicians. I wrote it keeping in mind an average educated person. Therefore, I did not assume any prior knowledge of philosophy on part of my readers. It was intended as a "popular" work. Because of this, I deliberately avoided discussing the "ontological argument" of Anselm, which, I think, only sophisticated "philosophers" (theologians, in fact) could have imagined. On the other hand, I have discussed the argument that I encountered most often in my discussions, though the argument is not found in the books of philosophy of religion. In short, the argument goes as follows: "Everyone believes in the existence of god, therefore, god must exist."
The other arguments discussed by me in the book, namely, "the causal argument", "the teleological argument" and "the moral argument" are generally discussed critically in books of philosophy of religion. I could have related these arguments to philosophers like Descartes and Kant. Similarly, I could have related the criticism of these arguments, as well as "the problem of evil", which I have used as the main argument for disproving the existence of god, to philosophers like Epicurus, Hume and Bertrand Russell. However, I did not cite any philosopher or scholar in support of my views, or document my book, because, as mentioned earlier, it was not intended as a scholarly work, but as a popular work. Besides, though many of the arguments used by me were used earlier by distinguished philosophers, I had used them after making them my own. I wanted to take full responsibility for the arguments used by me. In short, I wrote the book as an original, argumentative work for general readers.
Though I have not documented the text of my work, or mentioned any names of philosophers and scholars in it, the book contains a small bibliography in which I have mentioned the names of Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, Gora’s An Atheist with Gandhi and John Hospers’ An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis. Besides, I have mentioned Dr. Y. Masih’s scholarly work in Hindi titled Nireeshwarwad Bhartiya aur Paschatya (Atheism Indian and Western).
In the first edition of the book, which was published in 1985, I had not discussed "the argument from special events and experiences". I added this argument in the second revised and expanded edition published in 1995. I also added the name of Dr. A.T. Kovoor’s book Begone Godmen in the bibliography. (I was acquainted with all these books before I wrote Kya ishwar mar chuka hai?)
The title of my work was based on Nietzsche’s famous statement "god is dead". I just took this as an interesting starting point and went on to argue that there was no question of god dying because he was never born! The central idea of my book as mentioned in the introduction of the first edition is that "we do not have a single logical argument for believing in the existence of god, whereas we have logical arguments for believing in the non- existence of god. Therefore, god is the biggest superstition of humankind. And it is logically wrong and morally harmful to base our philosophy of life on a superstition."
The fact that I took Nietzsche’s statement as my starting point led some persons to believe that my work was inspired or influenced by Nietzsche. One journalist went on to write that my book was a translation of Nietzsche’s ideas! In fact, I have not at all been inspired or influenced by Nietzsche. Apart from the title, my book or my ideas have nothing to do with Nietzsche. My favourite philosopher is Bertrand Russell to whom I have dedicated the book.
The meaning of "god"
In the brief, first chapter of my book "What is ‘god’?" ("’Ishwar’ kya hai?"), I have used the familiar method of philosophical analysis. The main idea of this chapter is that we must clarify the meaning of the word "god," before discussing the question of the existence of god. I have maintained that since the word "god" is already being used in the language, we must not stipulate any arbitrary meaning of "god" from our side, but rather try to find out the public or lexical meaning of the term. According to me, the word "god" is used mainly in the sense of "the creator of this world." "God" is regarded as "the omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent creator, maintainer and destroyer of this world." I have stated very clearly that I have used the word "god" in my book in this sense only. Those who use the word "god" in some different sense end up merely confusing others as well as themselves.
Does god exist?
The second chapter of my book, titled "Does god exist?"("Kya ishwar hai?"), is the longest of the three chapters of the book. In a way it is the main part of the book, though I consider the third chapter more original. In the second chapter, I have logically evaluated some popular arguments for "proving" the existence of god, namely, the causal argument, the argument from design, the argument from special events and experiences, and the moral argument. Besides, I have discussed the popular argument mentioned earlier. I have tried to show–and I think I have done it successfully–that none of these arguments is logically tenable.
Let us consider, for example, the popular argument: "Everyone believes in the existence of god, therefore, god must exist."
I have rebutted this argument, firstly, by denying the truth of the premise. It is not true that everyone believes in the existence of god. Many people do not believe in the existence of god, though persons living in a particular cultural atmosphere may not be aware of it. Secondly, I have pointed out that the conclusion does not follow from the premise. At one time almost everyone believed that the earth is flat, but today we all know that it is round. The fact that a belief is widespread proves nothing except that the belief is widespread.
The causal argument, too, can be disposed off quite easily. The argument begins by asserting that "every effect must have a cause" and ends up by claiming that "god is the uncaused cause of the universe". Thus, the premise of the argument is contradicted by its conclusion.
Most of us believe in the existence of god not because we have any good reason for doing so but only because we are taught to do so since our childhood.
The problem of evil
The main argument used by me for disproving the existence of god is referred to as "the problem of evil" in philosophical literature. In short, the argument is that the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent god is logically inconsistent because of the presence of the evil in this world:
"The presence of evil in this world is a harsh truth which cannot be denied either by a theist or by an atheist. Human beings have to face events like earthquake, bursting of volcanoes, flood, cyclone, epidemic, famine, starvation-deaths, killings, rape, war, etc., from time to time. This cruel reality is incompatible with the god of the theists. The idea of an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent god is rendered inconsistent by the presence of evil in this world. Every year so many innocent persons are killed because of natural disasters. Is god not aware of this? If he is not, then he cannot be regarded as omniscient. Now, if god knows about these evils, why he is not removing them? If god wants to eliminate these evils but is not able to do so, he cannot be omnipotent. If he can remove these evils but still does not do so, then he is not benevolent, and he is also not fit for being worshipped by us. And if god is capable of removing these evils, and he also wants to do so, then why these evils exist at all? The theists are incapable of giving any satisfactory reply to this question."
The free-willist defence
In the second chapter of my book I have also discussed and rejected some of the attempts made by the theists for evading the problem of evil, for example, the free-willist defence. According to this defence, god has given free will to human beings. The presence of evil in this world is owing to the misuse of this free will by human beings. Therefore, human beings are responsible for the presence of evil in this world.
The problem with this argument is that it fails to make a distinction between natural evil and moral evil. Earthquakes, bursting of volcanoes, flood, cyclone, epidemic, etc., are natural evils. On the other hand, murder, rape and war are moral evils for which human beings could be held responsible. Even if we accept the free-willist argument, it can only explain the moral evil and not the natural evil. Human beings cannot be held responsible for the natural evil.
Some theists maintain that god sends natural evil to punish human beings, because human beings misuse their freedom of will to perform wrong actions. But such theists forget that natural evil has existed in this world even before moral evil came into existence. Earthquakes, bursting of volcanoes and storms, etc., have existed on this earth even before human beings entered the scene. The cause of an effect comes before it and not after it. Therefore, this argument falls flat. Besides, nothing could have prevented the allegedly "omnipotent" god from denying human beings the freedom to perform wrong actions. God, if he had existed, could have easily created human beings who had the freedom to perform only right actions. It is truly ridiculous to suggest that god first makes human being perform wrong actions and, then, punishes them for it!
Why oppose theism?
The third chapter of my book is titled "Why oppose theism?" ("Ishwarwad ka virodh kyon?"). In this chapter I have tried to show that the idea of god is a big hurdle obstructing the growth of human knowledge and morality or, in other words, the growth of human society. Before discussing the harmful effects of the concept of god on human conduct, I have briefly discussed some related doctrines such as the theory of "divine justice", fatalism and the theory of incarnations (avtarwad).
In this chapter I have pointed out that a questioning mind is an essential pre-requisite for the growth of knowledge. Theism inhibits the questioning attitude by providing oversimplified and ready-made answers to complex questions. As a result, a person believing in god is not able to understand the real causes of the events taking place around him or her. He thinks that everything is being done by god, and that everything can be explained in terms of "god". There is no need to search and investigate beyond this.
Secondly, when the theists find that they are not able to defend god from the attack of logical and scientific, anti-god arguments of atheists; they start discouraging logical and scientific thinking itself. In order to preserve the belief in god, they start glorifying "faith" and "devotion", on one hand, and they try to devalue the importance of reason, on the other. Instead of encouraging freethinking, they encourage superstitious mentality by saying that we ought to believe in the existence of god even though we do not have any evidence for doing so. Once we accept the superstition of god, the door is thrown open for all kinds of superstitions.
Thirdly, the followers of theistic religions regard their own religious scriptures as the final truth, because, according to them, these scriptures contain "the words of god". This kind of blind faith obstructs the growth of knowledge as is demonstrated by the examples of Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno or even Darwin, whose theory of evolution was opposed by the church because it went against the theory of creation propounded in the Bible
As far as morality is concerned, I have not only rejected the argument that the idea of god is morally useful, but I have also pointed out the dangers of founding ethics on a superstition. My contention is that we ought to develop and practice a secular and human morality based on logical and scientific thinking. The idea of god is a stumbling block in developing morality in the true sense. There is no room for ethics in a consistent theism. Thus, it is not my position that atheists, too, can be moral or that the idea of god is unnecessary for ethics. On the contrary, I have maintained that only an atheist can be moral in the true sense of the term. As I have said:
"Ethics is a branch of philosophy which makes a systematic and rational study of important problems related to morality, but for the theists whatever has been called "good" in divine scriptures is good, and whatever has been called "bad" in them is bad. They do not consider it necessary to think anything beyond this on the subject. When god has provided a ready-made solution to the problem, then why should anyone spend ones mental energy on this!… In the name of morality the theists only cling to fossilized traditions, which often have no logical foundations. It is possible that in various religious scriptures some such actions have been called "right", which could be regarded as right even from a logical point of view. But, on the other hand, in almost all scriptures many such things have been called "right", which are totally wrong from a logical and human point of view. For example, the Hindu scripture Manu-Smriti justifies varna-vyavastha and untouchability, which are based on inequality. Similarly, Islam does not grant equal rights to man and woman. In the name of god and scriptures, the religious fundamentalists oppose social reforms including social changes in the direction of equality. In this way blind faith in "divine" scriptures is a big hurdle in the path of social reforms and in the growth of true morality."
Besides, according to theists, god is omniscient and omnipotent. Nothing happens in this world without god’s will. (Theists bring in the idea of free will only when they are face to face with the problem of evil.) This kind of divine determinism leaves no scope for freedom of will. What a person will do at a particular time is already pre-determined. But if human beings are not free, then they cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. Human beings can be held responsible for their actions only if they are free to choose among various alternative options. The idea of god knocks the bottom out of morality. Thus, there is no room for freedom of will and morality within a consistent theism.
God as a crutch
In the last part of the third chapter, I have tried to explain the widespread existence of belief in god in spite of the idea being logically incorrect and morally harmful. I have listed three reasons for this: one, mental inertia and relative absence of free and critical thinking. Two, the wrong notion that the idea of god is essential for preserving morality in society. Three, because the idea satisfies certain psychological needs of human beings, though in a wrong way.
I have shown that the attitude of a believer towards god is similar to the attitude of a child towards its parents. "God is a crutch for weak persons, who are unable to face the reality and who always want to remain a child. An adult human being should not need this false support…If we want to live our lives in a proper manner, and if we want to solve our individual and social problems in a sincere manner, the first essential precondition is that we must see our problems as they are, and we must take full responsibility for our future…We have to realize that social evils are human-made, they have nothing to do with the so-called god… We also have to realize that "divine justice" does not exist, and that god is not going to come as an avatar (incarnation) to solve our problems, we have to solve them ourselves."
I have concluded the main text of my book with the following lines: "Honesty demands that instead of hankering for the false crutch of god, human beings stand on their own feet; instead of running away from reality like an ostrich, they face the reality boldly and squarely; instead of shifting their responsibility on ‘god’ and ‘fate’, they take their own decisions with a full sense of responsibility, and face the consequences of their actions in a bold manner."
God in traditional Indian philosophy
My book also contains two appendices. The first one is titled "God in traditional Indian philosophy" (Paramparagat Bhartiya darshan me ishwar-vichar). This part was existing in the first edition of my book as well, but I have almost re-written it for the second edition, drawing heavily from a paper on this subject that I had prepared for a philosophical conference. This part of my book is fully documented. My aim in this appendix is to disprove the popular myth that traditional Indian philosophy is god-dominated. I have shown that the reality is just the opposite. Five out of "nine schools of Indian philosophy" are atheistic. They are: Lokayat, Jainism, Buddhism, Sankhya and Mimamsa. Thus, traditional Indian philosophy is actually dominated by atheism.
The attack on reason
The second appendix is titled "The attack on Reason by Mystics" (Rahasyawadion dwara Tarkbuddhi par akraman). When the theists find that they cannot defend god against logical arguments, they start attacking reasoning itself. This attack often assumes the form of mysticism. But the problem with the mystics is that they are not only unable to demonstrate the objective validity of the "knowledge" that they claim to possess, but they also start claiming that this "knowledge" cannot be expressed through language. I have suggested in this part of my book that if this is really so, then the mystics ought to remain permanently silent. Because, according to their own admission, if they open their mouths in trying to express the inexpressible, they will only utter senseless sentences! If what the mystics say is true, going "beyond reason" is the first pre-requisite for moving closer to god. However, we cannot accommodate anything that is "beyond reason" in a rationalist-humanist philosophy. The mystics claim that the scope of reason is "limited". But that is no justification for jumping into the ocean of "unlimited irrationality".
Buddhiwadi Foundation is a registered, non-profit, tax-exempt, educational trust for promoting rationalism-humanism and for eradicating blind faith and superstitions. Buddhiwadi Foundation is working for a philosophical revolution in the rationalist-humanist direction by promoting logical-scientific thinking and a secular, rational morality based on human values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
For achieving the above-mentioned aims, Buddhiwadi Foundation has decided, among other things, to publish literature, mainly in Hindi and English. It has already established the Buddhwadi Study and Research Centre, and an institute for promoting computer literacy and scientific outlook.
Is god dead? is the first booklet being published by the Buddhiwadi Foundation. This is an introduction to Dr. Ramendra’s Hindi book, Kya ishwar mar chuka hai? The Hindi book was published by the Bihar Buddhiwadi Samaj in 1985. In fact, the Buddhiwadi Samaj had started its activities with the publication of this work. The book was well received in Hindi. We hope that the readers will like the English introduction as well.
We thank the Rationalist Foundation, Mumbai, for extending financial assistance for publishing this work.
Kawaljeet, Managing Trustee, Buddhiwadi Foundation
We can safely assert that most of the humanists all over the world do not believe in the existence of god. They are either atheists or agnostics. Yet, there is a view among some humanists, including those who themselves do not believe in the existence of god, that humanists should leave god alone and concentrate on their own "positive" beliefs and activities. It is useless to waste ones time and energy in attacking god and other negative aspects of religion.
I want to state very clearly that I do not agree with the view mentioned above. In my book Kya ishwar mar chuka hai? (Is god dead?) I have asserted that the idea of god is a big hurdle obstructing the growth of human knowledge and morality or, in other words, the growth of human society. Therefore, we must get rid of the god idea. It is, in fact, a very positive thing to do.
The idea of god has many harmful consequences. Apart from obstructing the growth of knowledge, the idea of god is a stumbling block in developing morality in the true sense of the term. In the name of god and "revealed" scriptures, the religious fundamentalists oppose social reforms including changes in the direction of equality.
Thus, the idea of god cannot be ignored as a harmless superstition It is not possible for rationalists and humanists or for rational humanists, working in a god-dominated cultural atmosphere, to ignore this idea. If in a particular society a majority of individuals have ceased to believe in god, then the humanists of that particular society may give comparatively less importance to promoting atheism. But in a country like India promoting atheism should form an important part of the humanist agenda. One need not be defensive and apologetic about it.