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The Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion for the Nonexistence of God

Theodore M. Drange

 

My aim here is to show that there are two bits of good objective evidence that the God of Christianity does not exist. I call them the Argument from Nonbelief and the Argument from Confusion.[1]

The Argument from Nonbelief (ANB)[2]

Consider, first, these two definitions:

The gospel message = the following two propositions:

 

(a) There exists a being who rules the entire universe.
(b) That being has a son whom he sent to be the savior of humanity.

Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans since the time of Jesus coming to believe both propositions of the gospel message by the time of their physical death.

Using the above definitions, ANB may be formulated as follows:

 

(A) If the God of Christianity were to exist, then he would have caused situation S to obtain.
(B) But situation S does not obtain.
(C) Hence, the God of Christianity does not exist.

There are various ways in which God could have caused situation S to obtain. He could have spoken to people worldwide in a thunderous voice or used skywriting to proclaim the gospel message. God could also have done it without resort to spectacular miracles, say, through behind-the-scenes actions. For example, he could have sent out angels, disguised as humans, to preach to people in all nations in such a persuasive manner as to get them to believe the gospel message. In addition, he could have protected the Bible from defects. The writing, copying, and translating of Scripture could have been guided so that it would today contain no unclarity or errors of any sort. Also, it could have contained very clear and precise prophecies that become amazingly fulfilled, with that information noted by neutral observers and widely disseminated. People reading it would have been much more likely to infer that everything in it is true, including the gospel message. If such things had been done, then situation S would probably now obtain.

The question might be raised whether the God of Christianity wants situation S. It is clear from the Bible that he does. According to 1 Tim. 2:4 (NIV), God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." Presumably the "truth" here referred to includes the gospel message, in which case God must want situation S.

Consider, also, three divine commands:

 

(a) God commanded people to "believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23).
(b) God commanded people to love him maximally (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30), and called that his "greatest commandment."
(c) Jesus directed missionaries to preach the gospel message to all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) and to all creation (Mark 16:15-16 NIV).

In my book (pp. 64-65), I show how it might be inferred from the issuance of the above commands that God must strongly desire situation S. I shall say a little more about that later.

Also relevant is the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus declared, "for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth" (John 18:37). Since the truth here referred to includes the gospel message, part of Jesus' mission was to testify to the truth of the gospel message. God worked through Christ to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and Jesus sent his disciples into the world to make the world aware of the gospel message (John 17:18). In his prayer to his Father, he said, "May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21,23). Thus, since God wants his son to testify to the truth of the message and wants it to get out to the whole world, he must want situation S.[3]

Another argument is that, according to the Bible, God wants all humans to be saved.[4] But in order for people to be saved they must believe in God's son,[5] which is usually taken to include accepting him as the savior of the world. Hence, God must want people to believe both propositions of the gospel message, and so must want situation S. More needs to be said about this argument, and I plan to discuss it further in a later posting.

Finally, quite apart from biblical verses, Christians regard God as a being who loves humanity, who wants that love to be reciprocated, and who wants people to be aware of the gospel message (which would help them to reciprocate God's love for them). In the case of some, it might incline them towards greater morality, at least in regard to their behavior. Certainly it would provide people with comfort and hope for the future, and since God loves people, he must want them to attain such a benefit. It might be argued, then, that the proposition that God wants humanity to be aware of the truth of the gospel message fits in well with Christianity's overall worldview and conception of God. It is a proposition that would be assented to and affirmed by Christians. On that basis, even without reference to the Bible, we may infer that God, conceived of in the given way, must want situation S.

It might be suggested that there may be other things that conflict with situation S which God wants even more than it. I would like to challenge this idea. Consider, first, the matter of people's eternal destiny. Since there can be nothing regarding humanity of a "weightier" nature than that (Matt. 10:28, 16:26; Mark 8:36-37; Luke 12:15-21), it follows that God can have no want regarding people that outweighs his desire for their redemption and eventual salvation, which (it might be argued) calls for situation S. As shown above, he wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, so there can be no want on God's part that would override his desire for situation S.

Note also that, according to the Bible, God has commanded people to believe in his son, which is quite forceful. And God's commandment that people love him maximally is described as the greatest of all the commandments (Matt. 22:38, Mark 12:29). That suggests strongly that God wants people to be aware of all that he has done for them, requiring them to believe the gospel message, and that this is not a matter overridden by other considerations. Also, God not only sent out missionaries to spread the gospel worldwide, but provided some of them with miraculous powers in order to help get their listeners to accept the message.[6] That suggests that situation S must have been such a high priority in God's mind as not to be overridden by anything else. Finally, it is hard to see how God could have any purpose regarding humanity that might override his son's mission to the planet earth, a large part of which was to get the gospel message out to the whole world. Christians regard Jesus' mission as the key to human existence and the meaning of life, so it does not seem they could view it as overridden by something else. Since the God of Christianity is supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing, there could be no reason for him not to cause situation S to obtain, which, in effect, establishes the truth of premise (A) of ANB, above.

ANB's premise (B) is an empirical truth. It is simply a fact about our world that it is not the case that all, or almost all, humans since the time of Jesus have come to believe both propositions of the gospel message by the time of their physical death. Christianity may be the most widespread religion, but it still claims a minority of the earth's people (only 33.5 percent according to the 1996 World Almanac), which suffices to make (B) true. Thus, both premises of the argument are true, and since step (C) follows logically from the premises, the conclusion has been established: the God of Christianity does not exist.

The Argument from Confusion (AC)

My second atheological argument, AC, goes as follows:

 

(A) Christians are confused in that:

 

1. They disagree with one another about important doctrinal issues such as God's nature, God's law (e.g., which kinds of killing, if any, are within the law), the role of sacraments, the requirements for salvation, the role of the Roman Pope, the place of Jews and the nation of Israel, the sequence of end-time events, the status of the Bible, and so on. The list goes on and on.
2. The Bible contradicts itself on these doctrinal matters, is exceedingly unclear in many important places, and contains errors which make it appear to be a merely manmade work.
3. Different copies of the Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts say conflicting things. Even the biblical canon involves disputes and is apparently arbitrary.
4. There is no objective procedure for settling any of the many disputes, especially since the original manuscripts of the Bible have been lost, and there has been no public declaration from God that would resolve any of them.

 

(B) If the God of Christianity were to exist, then he would love all Christians and want that love to be reciprocated. He would also strongly desire that, here on earth, Christians become aware of, and be clear about, those aspects of his nature and system of governance that have importance to their lives.
(C) Hence, if that God were to exist, then he would prevent Christians from becoming confused in their beliefs about his nature and system of governance in ways that have importance to their lives and that interfere with them coming to love him.
(D) But Christians have not been prevented from becoming confused in those ways. The forms of disagreement and confusion mentioned in premise (A), above, are of the sort in question.
(E) Therefore, the God of Christianity does not exist.

Like ANB, AC focuses on what is essentially an epistemic problem: the failure of God to clearly reveal himself. That failure produces both nonbelief and confusion among the believers. As with ANB, AC can be supported by appeal to the Bible. If the Bible is not the revelation of the God of Christianity, then nothing is. But that God is supposed to be a "revealing" kind of deity. If there is no revelation from him, then he simply doesn't exist.

The question might be raised: why believe AC's premise (D), which says that the forms of disagreement and confusion mentioned in premise (A) have importance to the lives of Christians? Just to mention here only a single example, I maintain that the Bible contradicts itself on the matter of God's requirements for salvation.[7] For example, it says that one must repent in order to be saved (Luke 13:3). Yet, there are other passages which state or imply that everyone in a certain group will be saved, where no mention is made about repentance. It says, for example, "whoever believes in him [God's son] will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, 6:40, 11:25; Acts 16:31) and "whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Rom. 10:13). Apparently some biblical verses say that repentance is necessary for salvation but other verses, in effect, deny it. Yet, nothing could be more important to a Christian than the issue of the requirements for salvation. Many other examples of biblical inconsistency or unclarity, producing disagreement or confusion among Christians that has great importance for their lives, could be given. Thus, I maintain that AC's premises are true. And since its conclusion follows from its premises, the argument is sound.

My overall conclusion is that the Bible is a very different sort of book and the world is a very different sort of place from what they would be if the God of Christianity were to exist. In addition to the evidence already provided by ANB, the fact that there is so much confusion among believers about important matters is excellent further evidence that that deity does not exist.

Notes

[1] An alternate title sometimes used for the type of reasoning that I employ here is "the Argument from Divine Hiddenness."

[2] My treatment of ANB here is adapted from my book Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Prometheus Books, 1998). What I am doing, essentially, is to present ANB as in the book and replace the Argument from Evil, which is also discussed there, by the Argument from Confusion.

[3] It should be noted that the mission of John the Baptist is also relevant. It says in John 1:6-7: "There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light [Jesus], so that through him all men might believe [the gospel message, among other things]." This provides further support for the claim that God wants situation S.

[4] Matt. 18:12-14; John 12:32; Rom. 5:18, 11:32; 1 Cor. 15:22; Col. 1:20; 1 Tim. 2:4,6; 2 Peter 3:9.

[5] Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18,36, 8:21-25, 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; 1 John 5:12.

[6] Acts 3:6-18, 5:12-16, 9:33-42, 13:7-12, 14:1-11, 28:3-6.

[7] The example given is taken from my essay "Biblical Contradictions Regarding Salvation" (Free Inquiry, Summer 1994, pp. 56-57).


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