Updated: May 19
August 20, 2019
I described yesterday how I've become an anti-theist and what that means in terms of my decision to take on the burden of proving that God is not real. Namely, the god called Yahweh, who had a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I know that there are many other gods which people of different faiths posit as real; and for these, I remain an agnostic-atheist, which means that I simply do not know enough about these other god claims to take a more informed or considered stand. For now, let's just deal with Jesus and his dad, as this particular god claim is the one I know best.
In my letter to you yesterday I outlined the following four lines of evidence for the non-existence of the Hebrew god - who I will henceforth write in lower-case letters as I token of my certitude that this god is fiction:
Four evidences against the existence of the god of the Hebrew Bible
The lack of any good evidence in support of the existence of Yahweh
The problem of evil
The inefficacy of prayer
The Holey Bible (sic)
Each of these evidences is progressively stronger than the last, which means that I'll lead with my weakest case and then finish with my strongest. Today, let's deal with the first evidence against the existence of the god of the Hebrew Bible - namely, the lack of any good evidence in support of this god.
With this claim, I'm simply pointing out that Bible supporters appear to have no sound evidence to bolster their claims that a god called Yahweh is real. Despite thousands of years of belief, every argument for the case that Yahweh is real must at last rest its hat on faith - which I'll address momentarily. Proponents in favor of this gods existence come in two main types: academic and amateur apologists. Let's look at the approach of both groups.
In the world of Bible theology there are a handful of arguments which learned and trained apologists have been advancing for centuries. These arguments rarely change, though they are sometimes repackaged and presented afresh by charismatic preachers, professors and theologians. Let's examine the most commonly proposed academic evidences for the existence of god, or more specifically, Yahweh:
Kalam Cosmological Argument This simple argument states that whatever began to exist must have had a cause, and that the universe began to exist, and therefore the universe had a cause. The first problem with this argument is with both the first and second premises (in italics) which are not demonstrated, and are only asserted and assumed to be true. In addition, if the argument were indeed true, then the conclusion says nothing about what the cause of the universe really is, let alone that the cause might be a god, or especially the god of the Hebrew Bible. The argument fails in both form and conclusion.
Ontological Argument This curious argument proposes that the greatest conceivable being must, in fact, exist. For example, if we can think up some greatest being then this being must also truly exist somewhere in the Cosmos. Also, if we can think of a maximal being within our mind, and even if we don't believe it really exists, then it must - in fact - exist, outside our minds, as the greatest conceivable being possible. The argument lacks any substance and rests on a sense of potential which is neither soundly reasoned or in any way demonstrated as true. This argument is wishful thinking...which is a common theme of so many theological arguments.
Argument from Reason This argument suggests that the fact of reason itself is proof that god is real (again, without stating which god is real). This argument presents the tool of reason as a presupposed gift from god, without which we would be unable to apprehend gods existence. The argument fails in offering no actual demonstration that this claim is true, or even an example of a case where the three tenets of reason - Identity, Non-contradiction and Excluded Middle - could not exist. The argument's final failure is the fact that any attempt to prove that reason could NOT exist, must rely on the principles of reason to demonstrate the claim is true - thus demonstrating the necessity of reason to disprove reason. Reason simply is. We don't know why this is the case. But taking credit for reason without good cause doesn't count as credit to show that your pet belief.
Pascal's Wager An old and simply claim that it's better to err on the side of caution, and believe that god is real, rather than disbelieve and risk going to Hell. Put another way; we've got everything to gain and nothing to lose in simply pretending to believe - or "fake it until we make it". The glaring issue with this argument is...which god should you believe it? What if you get that wrong and rest your faith in the wrong deity? Which hell then are you trying to avoid? Which wrathful god do you wish to assuage? It turns out that with humanity's thousands upon thousands of gods to choose from there's more gamble in Pascal's Wager than actual reward.
These people are your friends and neighbors who believe and who may go out of their way sometimes to suggest that you too would be better off if you'd only believe like they do. When you ask these people why we should believe the same as them they will usually trot out the following arguments in roughly this order:
Fulfilled Bible prophecy
What else could it be?
Many believers will immediately cite the Bible as evidence the Bible is real, which fails immediately as circular reasoning. Some though, will cite fulfilled prophecy to support their case, which also fails when we remember that the authors of the books in which prophecy is seemingly fulfilled had access to the earlier books which contained the original prophecy. This means the later authors could simply write in whatever events they wished to record as the fulfillment of earlier prophecy. It's not very impressive then to record the ending to a story which earlier authors left instructions for you to write. And claiming current events as the fulfillment of ancient prophecy is unimpressive as well when we read the vague and general prophetic writings and imagine how many subsequent events in history could fill the same prediction. Citing the fulfillment of Bible prophecy then is one of the weakest evidences in the case for the Hebrew god.
After failing to convince with prophecy, believers will very often turn to personal anecdote to relate their own story and experience of conversion, conviction and belief. The personal tales which they tell can be quite moving and usually involve sharing some private details which make such evidence particularly convincing to the listener who wants to empathize with the believer's suffering and risk. The problem with such stories is just that...they are stories. And without any real evidence to back these claims up - and though the listener may feel some sympathy for the believer - we are unlikely to be convinced or even swayed in the direction of belief given the fact that believers of every faith can easily be found who will present their own personal stories of the experiences which reinforce their own beliefs. Stories simply aren't enough...not nearly enough. In fact, given the fact that stories of personal experience are seemingly universal to every faith, we can therefore assume that such stories alone are bad evidence that any one faith is real, given that all such stories in support of conflicting religious claims cannot possibly be right, and the smart move then is to discount them altogether in favor of better evidence. Personal evidence then, fails to convince.
Some believers, when they feel their earlier evidences are failing to convince, may result to what is sometimes called the "argument from incredulity" which simply holds that the god answer must be the right answer as the believer simply can't think of anything better. After all, "What else could it be?" In formal logic, this position is termed an argument from ignorance fallacy, though I recommend not using that term with theists, as they are likely to think you are calling them ignorant. We're not calling anyone ignorant, though deciding a point simply because you can't think of a better answer does indeed belie a position of ignorance.
Finally, faith... All bad arguments lead to faith, which is the worst argument of all, as it's no argument at all, and is simply a hiding place and cover where we can dig in beneath a bunker of seeming virtue which looks like something good yet is - in fact - the last stance of those with nothing left to stand on. Faith fails simply because there is nothing we can't believe on faith. We can believe in the god of the Bible on faith. We can believe in the Hindu pantheon on faith. We can believe the earth is flat...simply on faith. We can accept the claims of a guru on faith, or a healer or a itinerant godman claiming to be a deity's son - all on faith. Faith works for everything...and therefore it works for nothing. Faith is the last position of arguments with nowhere else to go. Faith, in fact, is a no virtue at all, and the very worst reason to believe anything.
So, the Bible has no sound evidence of its own to support its claims of truth, and must instead rely on poorly founded academic claims, personal stories, incredulity and faith - all bad reasons to believe. And this, after many thousands of years of study and thought on the subject my millions of believers who simply want to believe, and who in the end offer no good reason to believe.
So, I don't believe.
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.