There are several reasons why having multiple religions does a disservice to them all:
- It reduces the chances of anyone finding the correct religion (assuming there is one).
- It exposes mankind’s inability to distinguish a true religion from a false one.
- It shows that the majority of religions are human creations.
Why there’s an 83% chance you’re wrong about your religion
Imagine for a moment that we knew that one religion was true, and all the others were either completely false or contained some level of inaccuracy. What are the odds of us finding the truest religion?
Statistically, our best bet would be if the truest religion also happened to be the largest; i.e. the Roman Catholic Church with 1.2 billion adherents. If that were the case, then there’s only a 17% chance we’ll find truth (1.2 billion adherents / 7.125 billion people). This may make Roman Catholicism sound appealing, but remember that almost everyone else (83% of the world) thinks the Roman Catholics are wrong!
And that’s our best case scenario. If it turns out the Pentecostals are right, we only have about a 2% chance of finding the truth. And if the Heaven’s Gate cult held the truth, then we’ve already missed the mother ship!
As a reasonable person, I have to ask:
- Even if we assume that one religion is true, what does this say about all the other religions that have existed? It says that we humans like to make up religious stories.
- And if billions sincerely believe in these false stories, doesn’t this prove that humans are prone to believing religious stories that are untrue?
- If most religions claim to have some form of evidence for their faith, doesn’t this prove that such evidence must be weak, and that we humans are really bad at evaluating evidence for religious claims?
- And finally, if you were to point out the above facts to most believers, wouldn’t they still maintain that they had the truth? Doesn’t this expose our inability to logically assess the situation?
A Priest, A Rabbi and a Minister walk into a stadium…
Imagine you filled a stadium with believers from every religion (past and present). Imagine you then pointed out the above facts and said, “It would be highly illogical for more than one of you to be closest to the truth, so by a show of hands, who still thinks their religion is closest to the truth?”
I imagine the majority of them would still raise their hands; the Mormons, the Catholics, the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Jews, the Scientologists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, even the Raelians — all of them! And while they might look around and appreciate the irony, few would change their mind.
But to an outsider observing this event, their systems for establishing truth is clearly flawed. Logically, most of these believers are wrong, and they seem to lack the ability to determine truth. But how exactly does this happen?
I suspect this is due to the various tactics employed by religions to establish their truths, such as:
- unverifiable or anecdotal stories,
- subjective interpretations,
- emphasis on faith without evidence,
- claimed miracles,
- tricky prophecies,
- childhood indoctrination,
- personal revelation,
- strange signs,
- mystical texts,
- spiritual rituals,
- and a few lucky coincidences.
String two or more these things together and you can build a sense of confidence in otherwise baseless conclusions.
But regardless of how they draw their conclusions, the outsider can see the irrationality, and conclude there must be a problem with this way of thinking.
We can know that the overwhelming majority of religious stories are human fabrications, because they can’t all be true. Sure, there will always be the possibility that one is correct, but with all of human history telling us it’s commonplace for humans to fabricate religious stories, and for millions of believers to insist that theirs alone is correct, it seems like our default assumption should be that all such stories are false (until someone can actually prove otherwise). The one thing all these believers can agree on is that the majority of people are wrong about what they believe, and I’m inclined to agree.
“Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”
~ Christopher Hitchens
Bottom line: if you are unable to prove your religious beliefs, then your beliefs require faith, and if you then deny the validity of other faith-based religions, then you probably ought to deny your own as well.
This post is AWESOME!
You rock. 😀
No, YOU rock, lol! Thanks for the feedback, it’s always nice to know there are people out there reading this stuff (who don’t think I’m insane). 🙂
My posts (on Spirit Lights The Way) rarely focus on religious dogma and tenets, but the last few posts addressed the indoctrination, brainwashing, and mind control techniques used by churches to bring lambs into the fold.
If your interested: http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/stuff-and-nonsense/
Another along the same lines: http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/what-the-hell/
BTW: Eric (Old Ancestor) led me to your door.
To me, it only makes one of them right. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. No one can get to the Father but through Him.
I hardly doubt God would want anyone of his children to practice witchcraft, or satanism lol. If you can’t see the obvious ones that God wouldn’t want you to practice, start by canceling the ones you know God wouldn’t want you to practice out first lol.. that’s what i would do in this case.. .food for thought!!
Food for thought that leaves me starving. You basically are telling people they need to sift through dogma created out of unverifiable stories and subjective interpretations to figure out how God wants us to worship? Every religion is going to say their way is the correct way. God has yet to hold a staff meeting to inform the people of the world exactly what, if anything, he wants out of us. What sort of God acts all worried about our eternal life, but cannot be bothered to tell us in a verifiable manner how he expects us to live our lives so that we can get to heaven?
“Because the Bible says so” is not a verifiable method. It is not the Word of God as so many believe. It is a collection of stories that reflect its authors’ beliefs, none verified as having been written more than 100 A.D. God did not choose what stories went into the Bible, man did. Councils have been held to decide what out of many religious writings were considered “canon,” thus worthy to be included in the bible. Various translations and versions exist as well — Catholic, NIV, King James — in fact over thirty variations of the bible exist. If this was the true Word of God, don’t you think there would be only one version, passed down untouched through the ages since it was dictated to the lucky author who had the privilege of having God speak to him? Don’t you think God would have bothered to make it verifiable somehow so that all the people of the world would know that this was the manual telling of the one true way to worship? Until I get that memo from God, I’m going to refuse to believe the bible is anything more than a collection of testimonies of its authors’ religious beliefs.
I agree partially with your concept, as GTF (God Thee Father) of all His Creation, Father for humans in particular, Not only for Jesus, and what our brother was saying is valid for people of his era as they were of different mindset!
For me, when ever I need something from my earthly parents itself, I ask them directly then why will I have a mediator to talk to my Heavenly Father?
Sure there are millions of people born before jesus, are they unlucky to know the truth?
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Exellent question. I come from an atheist family, and have never understood this particular point of denial in religious thinking. Truth is not found by counting noses, but if a god exists, that god has made the matter of finding the true god from among all the others, a terribly unfair and complicated business. Of course there are and have been religions that do not disclaim other gods. Even Judaism was once such a religion, and you can find the Bible passage in the psalms where Jahwe goes to the convention of gods to declare the other gods as weak. In this respect the pantheistic religions seem more plausible than the monotheistic ones. However, the cultural evolution of religions seems to move from pantheistic to monotheistic. Historically this seems to be the result of monotheistic religions being more agressive towards the pantheistic ones than otherway around. Monotheistic religions have less tolerance for the visions of other people (as a result of monotheism). This makes the pantheistic gods seem rather weak. Most pantheons have fallen into oblivion. The religions that require a club membership and faith in only one god seem to universally agree that terrible fate expects those who do not believe (or have never heard of) their particular superstition. It seems this kind of alledged entity has no morals at all. But what kind of morals has a person who sees this sort of god as a fair player?
Thanks rautakyy, those are all very interesting points.
The irony hasn’t escaped me that if the atheists or agnostics were closest to the truth, they too would be in a minority. But as you said, truth is not found by counting noses. And it seems to me that the agnostic/atheist position isn’t really a religious position, it’s (often) just saying “We cannot make this decision until we can gather better, non-conflicting evidence,” which seems entirely reasonable. (Although, atheists do tend to believe in some form of materialism, but even their minds would likely change if given better evidence for God.) The unfair religious response is often “No, you must decide NOW… or risk burning in hell!” This forces us into making a decision based on fear and other fallacies. All of which does make it a “terribly unfair and complicated business”.
i agree with you to begin with, but would question that monotheism is inherently more agressive than polytheism, just consider some of the most sophisticated of societies, the ancient greeks, the romans, the egyptians and chinese all had polytheistic and in aspects, agressive, religions, the aztecs were into ritual slaughter so i wouldnt like to challenge their gods. further having been to a catholic school, joined to a nunnery, i have never actually met a christian who believes outright in the concept of purgatory or hell, more the idea that hell is to the christian existance without a relationship with god.
Yes, some polytheistic cultures presented very agressive and violent behaviour. The reasons were often religious, and sometimes these included even the concept of killing people who worship the wrong gods. In fact, I would go as far as to say that when the ancient Hebrew started their conquest of the so called Promised land, they had not yet abandoned the idea that the other gods of the other people actually existed. Their idealism only had it that they themselves were not allowed to worship other gods. The early books of the Bible are full of these encounters with other actual gods.
And even though for example the Mongols were known to be a warlike people with a sort of monotheistic religion, they are not known for attacking people with different religion, because of that different religion. Their motives for violence were far more honest than that.
However, when monotheism has evolved to the level where it denies the existance of other gods, it offers a perfect model of tribal moralism, wich makes the worshippers of other gods almost automatically lesser people, than the ones with the club membership card. Such segragation is not typical only of monotheistic religions or even of religions. Racism is only one of the aspects of the same evil.
But nothing is ever so simple. There has allways been people with high ethical understanding even among the vilest forms of any religion, and their actions have influenced the religions in positive ways.
If we look at the succes of any monotheistic religion in this world, we can hardly say that it was ever based on simply turning people by gentle persuation. It is much more often that we find political, economical, or military reasons behind any such phenomenon.
Most everyday regular members of any religion do not much think about their religion. If they did, these cultural heritages might be far less popular than they are. One does not consider hell as long one lives in the cushion of automatic salvation from it by participating in a few rituals and being born into the “right” culture to provide the “right” indoctrination. Even so, there is an inherrent discompassion towards people who are not part of ones own particular salvation. And it is quite dishonest, even if one chooses not to ever think about it, to regard people who are outside ones own salvation from hell as, if these people had chosen to be born into the “wrong” cultures, with “wrong” cultural indoctrination.
It is refreshing to read an unbiased view on a subject that most are afraid to explore! To many “religious” people are so loyal to their beliefs that they refuse to open their mind to common sense! “Great Read”
Are you kidding me ? Unbiased ? It is an interesting statement that believing in something bigger than this world and our minds can be shut down, and proved wrong by saying that in a theoretical statement, after pointing out why they are wrong, they still believe their beliefs. But in contradiction to this, if it was the opposite, this writer in this situation, the result would be the same. Who is unbiased?
Another point is that as a believer, being open minded is what got me to where I am, and by being opened minded i have the truth. Read it, here it, and see the changes in this life, because all are unworthy, but He has given us His gift of life. Email on firstname.lastname@example.org
I think that if any religion was true, it’s probably one that hasn’t been practiced or observed in a long time. Or maybe it’s in the future.
I dunno why, when we don’t know everything in science (although we’ve been working on that a lot less time than religion), why should any religion we’ve come up with so far, be the correct one?
It seems to me that if a religion is true, it’s probably not something that would be appealing or easy. Life never works out that seamlessly.
True dat. Science has only had time to scratch the surface (e.g. the microscope was only invented 400 years ago!), but look at how science has changed the world in that time! Vaccinations, the internet, SD cards, space travel, iPhones — you name it.
And in all the world, there’s probably only a handful of scientists qualified enough to work on the really BIG questions. Meanwhile, there are 6 billion other people who can come up with interesting and meaningful explanations every moment. That’s a lot to compete with!
Ultimately, I think religion is just like science, they’re both just ideas. Only, it turns out that science is much better at sorting out fact from fiction than feelings and personal revelations. Sometimes, it seems like the only religious ideas that continue to hold up are those that are not falsifiable. (If you make a religious claim that can be falsified, some skeptic will certainly put it to the test.)
Still… experience is also a good teacher, and there are many useful philosophies in books like the Bible, like this beauty…
“It’s better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a quarrelsome wife in a lovely home.” ~ Proverbs 25:24
And it may be right about the whole God thing. But then again…
No need to go into the future! That religion is here, now! Ta dah….PASTAFARIANISM
“The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” is the one true religion. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to live in a heaven that has a factory that churns out strippers and a volcano that erupts all the beer you can drink? You also get to wear a pirate outfit with a parrot of your choice to carry on your shoulder. See…. My religion is better than any invented so far! LOL
personally, I’ve been pushing for
predicated on Elvis being the basis
sun records, disciples who wrote books, after life sightings. all the elements are there
Religion is an idea of how to explain the world and every culture has come up with their own explanation of the world and religion is a means to interact with, appease, appeal or influence the forces or idea of what makes things happen in the world.
Science is not about that – science is about understanding how the world operates – so we can alter our behaviour to mitigate or take advantage of how it actually works – with no appeals to said forces because they are not presumed to be sentient or aware of us.
So they really have different approaches to discovering our place
you have a Baha’i symbol in your collage. did you read anything about it? Baha’i’s believe all religions are sent from a single God throughout history, and are not in competition with each other. having many religions doesn’t discredit them all, though you have some points
No, actually I haven’t read much about Baha’i (so much to learn!), but I did check out the link.
I respect and agree with some of the ideas listed, though the idea to merge all religions in one big one doesn’t seem very inspired to me (not trying to be offensive, just completely honest). Many ancient religions made similar mergers to keep the peace, and I would say it’s only natural that someone would come along and try to solve the controversy in this way.
If all religions are from God, and just intended for different times, why would God introduce such big contradictions? And why not tell all religions that He will be sending new prophets from time to time with more info? And why not make them all purple… so we can easily tell them apart from all the other men that claim to have the truth?
To the uninitiated like myself, Bahá’u’lláh is little different from Joseph Smith, or L. Ron Hubbard, or Muhammad, claiming “Everyone else is wrong, but I have the new-and-improved truth!” He’s just being a little more polite about it, saying “You’re all sorta right.” But I see nothing special to make me think his ideas are any more God-driven than yours or mine, or that it somehow proves a God (or gods) exist.
Again, no disrespect intended, I say these things only in the interest of maintaining my own “independent investigation of truth,” and I wish you the best. 🙂
To be fair, Catholics, Pentecostals and Baptist are all the same religion….Christianity. They have minor differences within that framework, but they essentially believe the same thing and they all believe in the same God. If you take all the religions in the world that believe in the God of the Bible and Jesus it adds up to 2.1 Billion or about 30%. Also, I don’t believe all religions have the same credibility. Christianity has Prophecy, Eyewitness accounts, Historical accuracy, Claims of Miracles and even some science backing. Watch this if you have an hour…..its interesting. Attaching also a recent article on the same subject.
Howdy Canadianstandard, thanks for the link and the reply.
Ah, but many Catholics, Pentecostals and Baptists don’t believe the others are going to heaven, so they are still often mutually exclusive. Which group is really going to heaven?
Even if we assume all 30% are allowed into heaven — and they were all wrong about having exclusive rights to heaven — 70% of the world still disagrees with their conclusions. So if you are born into this world at any random location, there is — at best — only a 30% chance of ending up in heaven.
You can believe that, but a Muslim would say same the same of Islam, and a Mormon of Joseph Smith, and a Jew of Judaism. It’s always one’s own religion that is seen as the most accurate, and everyone else’s that contains the most faults.
But I will grant you that there is more historical accuracy in the Bible than in some other religions, but no evidence to confirm Christianity (in any form) is at all true. Just as there is lots of evidence for the existence of New York in Spiderman movies, but no proof that Spiderman really existed.
As for miracles, Jesus is now long gone and his miracles left no evidence. He said he’d heal us if we asked him, but he fails to show up for any modern prayer studies to confirm His existence. Modern-day Jesus is no more powerful than a placebo. Also, many other religions also claim to have proof by way of miracles.
Likewise, many other religions also have accurate prophecies (or proof by science), and there are many other problems with prophecies as I detailed in a recent post.
Finally, as for eyewitness accounts… well… there are very few 3rd party accounts of Jesus from non-Christians, and even the Christian versions often conflict. Strangely, the eye witnesses that were alive at the time of Jesus, the throngs of followers that Jesus fed and healed, STILL voted for Barabbas over Jesus. One gets the impression they wern’t really very impressed.
Given that the Catholics believe that salvation is evident through works (not caused by works, but made evident through it), that Lutherans believe that salvation is by faith alone, and that Calvinists believe that salvation is by god’s random choice, it’s rather hard to suggest that they really are all the same faith. Yes, they might have the same roots, but that’s roughly like saying that the US and Britain are the same country because they came from the same source. Once you add in some of the more extreme outliers (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc), it’s like saying that all of Europe and the Americas are the same country because we can trace our roots the Roman Empire.
Thanks for the reply. I understand your skepticism. It is an impossible thing to prove, that is why it is called Faith. I would only comment back 3 things and then I wish you well on your journey.
1. The Bible states that many are called but few are chosen and that the path is narrow. It never states that its a place that heaven is a place where all humanity will end up.
2. The betrayal and rejection of Jesus was prophesied in the old testament. His acceptance over Barabbas would have nullified the prophecy and lead to him not being crucified, man not redeemed ect….. He said several times that he could save himself (after all he claimed to be the Son of God), but he chose not to. His rejection by his own people was not a sign of his weakness, it was a sign of him fulfilling his destiny and the prophecy.
3. All of those eyewitnesses and many more died for claiming the things they did. The Romans were not very accepting of the early Christians. You would think that one of them, when facing their death for what they knew to be a lie, would have confessed…just one maybe. The Romans surely would have used that testimony to squash the movement, but no record exists of such a thing happening. Who would die for what they knew to be a lie. People may die for what they believe to be true, we see it all the time with suicide bombers ect… but not for a lie.
I hope you get a chance to watch the documentary on the shroud. Its done on a evidence based basis. It seems to me to be a compelling smoking gun.
Thanks for the reply canadianstandard,
I shall respond to your reply and see you on your way. Happy trails! 🙂
1) “…many are called but few are chosen.” Perhaps all should be called and all should be chosen? If most are going to hell, why create them at all? That seems rather illogical. Why not spare them the pain of this life, and possibly the next? Satan appears to be the true victor here, as God has only collected a small fraction of the souls. Perhaps if His love wasn’t so conditional…?
2) Which prophecy says the messiah would be rejected? Are you referring to Isaiah 53? Where the author clearly states that his metaphor is a personification of Israel, and he never says it’s about the messiah… even though he could have? That one? According to Jewish tradition, the messiah is not rejected, but is quite successful. He becomes a literal king, restores Israel, brings all the Jews back to Israel, and brings about world peace. But again, our view is shaped by our religion.
3) “Who would die for what they knew to be a lie?” Lots of people. Joseph Smith and some of his followers, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Marshall Applewhite, who died for the the Heaven’s Gate cult he made up. If being willing to die for a lie proves that you are telling the truth, then The Heaven’s Gate cult is true, because whatever Marshall Applewhite saw, he and 37 others were willing to die for it (they didn’t even have to be executed!).
No doubt many church leaders were killed by Romans for being Christian. But do we know what they saw, or that they were given ample opportunity to be set free if they recanted of their lies? Or were they simply rounded up and executed? Perhaps, like Applewhite, Christianity all started with one man’s delusional claim.
“It is an impossible thing to prove, that is why it is called Faith.”
I see the “faith” card being played a lot, as if ignorance is some kind of virtue. It is an impossible thing to prove any religion, which is why most of them require faith. But which is more reasonable, that they are all true and all their gods require faith, or that they are all false, and thus they all require faith? Did God really say “I desire ignorant people that will believe in me without any solid evidence!” or was there no evidence, so faith became a necessary and convenient desire of God’s?
Live long and prosper!
You are so damned smart! I have the utmost respect for you! Too bad your message can’t reach all religionists!
Thank you for taking time to express your line of thought so clearly. I do find a flaw in the reasoning, though. Your conclusion from the fact that most religions are contradicting each other seems to be that they are all most likely made up out of nothing. My belief is that all (or at least almost all) religions show attempts to explain a spiritual experience. Being a Christian I believe that Christianity by far comes closest to the truth on the matter, but I don’t believe that all other religions are made up out of nothing. I believe that most of them are honest attempts by people to explain experiences of God.
Consider ten people running out of a park in the night. Nine of them say they saw a wild animal, but they disagree on what kind of animal it was. Someone claims it was a bear, someone else a wolf and so on. The tenth claims not to have seen an animal at all. My conclusion would be that there most propably was som kind of beast in the park. (I suppose that the guy claiming it was a stray dog would get my vote.) From your reasoning above it would seem logical to assume that the person having seen nothing would be right simply because the others, not being able to get a perfect view, disagree on the species of the animal. I obviously disagree with that reasoning.
Hi Dave. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, but thank you for that metaphor. After giving it some deep thought, I think you and I start to part ways when you say…
“My belief is that all (or at least almost all) religions show attempts to explain a spiritual experience.”
I would disagree that such universal spiritual experiences actually exist (I know I’ve never had one) or that religions are trying to explain them all. Rather, I’d say that all humans are having a life experience, and religions are attempting to explain that.
It’s daunting enough for man to wake up in the Universe; to cope with why he is here, what is the meaning of it all, and what happens when he dies. It’s natural to want answers to these questions, and this is where religions steps in, each with its own hypothesis.
So religions are not providing answers to a bizarre spiritual phenomenon we’re all experiencing, but rather answers to the “life” experience we’re all having.
This makes perfect sense to me as well. God is not culturally or ethnically bound. For example, the remote African tribes with zero outside influence found to have their own version of a God that naturally reflects close elements to who “Jesus” is in other similar core truth and hope faith systems as well.
I will tell you one thing for certain. Have your toddler child beat you HOME and all of this “shit” gets REAL pretty damn quickly.
I know there is a forever together to come – I am not interested in debating and undermining the methods and routes taken to get there.
It is all well – just don’t lose the ETERNAL HOPE in the earthly muddling over details.
It feels funny for me to write about Jesus like I’m a Baptist minister – I’ve spent most of my life considering the same questions you raise on your site, but I’m no bible-thumper and I rarely discuss religion with anyone. Or politics. Or anything else where there are two sides, no evidence, and just a bunch of bullshit going back and forth. But this post has the capacity I think to influence people one way or the other, and there are huge holes in both your reasoning and your approach to the question in general. So, for once, I’ll speak out on the question.
You write that “God wouldn’t give us a mind and not expect us to use it. Religion doesn’t make sense (pick any one and substitute “Religion” with it). We need SOME means of judging truth from fiction. Otherwise, why not just be a Scientologist, or a Mormon, etc.?” This is an excellent argument for discrediting religion, but it has nothing to do with whether there is a God or not. Religions are obviously man-made, and therefore imperfect. They all have good things and bad things, and they all can be made to be good or bad.
All modern religions have evolved over time (even the young ones, in the sense that they’re all based on parts of those religions that preexisted them), and as is the human way, to benefit those that are in the club at the expense of those outside the club. Attacking religion as “dogmatic” or “nonsensical” overall is going to far, but many, nay most, of them have something in them that doesn’t make sense unless you’re indoctrinated into that religion already. Even the great branches of Christianity have some serious logical problems in their doctrines, and occassionally they’ll change those to fit more with the times.
Pick your religion any way you like – combine them even, or make up your own. If you know God, your religion will be right. The only way to know God is through your non-intellectual side, not the intellect. It’s God, for fuck’s sake – how else do you think you’re going to know something like that? You think you can reason your way to understanding something like God? Does that “stand up to some basic tests of logic and reason?” Basic tests of logic and reason don’t apply on the question of God. Just like they don’t apply on the question of atoms, or time, or space, or the existence of anything. We can’t even figure out how all this got here. How do you expect we’re going to reason our way to understanding He that made it all?
God expects us to use the mind he gave us, I agree, but to decipher and decide between the Truth and the merely doctrinal. It’s not that hard to do and in our times, there’s no real danger in doing it. That’s one of the great improvements in the plan so far. The fact that all religions have some defect, though, is as useful in proving there is no God as the fact that the universe has qualities that we consider to be negative might prove that it’s “evil.”
Indeed, how can you apply your intellect and reason to the question, observe the wonders of the universe, and of Man, and not see a Plan unfolding? YOu limit yourself too much I think. Look into the eyes of a 5 week old kitten and tell me that kitten is not looking back up at you and thinking, “what are you, exactly?” You can see the wonder in its eyes. How can you see something like that and think, “yep, just another random development in the ever-expanding rock pile we started from”?
If there’s not a God, then there’s something, because there’s no way in hell or heaven that there could exist a being like you or me to look into the eyes of a being like that kitten just on random chance – no matter how vast the opportunities in an almost unlimited universe. Something planned that. I call that something “God”. Maybe He’s an alien entity of some sort that started all this. Maybe He’s a society of them. Maybe this is all a result of some fabulous technology – so fabulous that to us it is and shall remain “divine.”
Or, maybe he’s exactly what he says he is – The Creator, a divine spirit, and truly incomprehensible to Man without his gift of becoming human in Jesus Christ. We’re probably never going to know “intellectually,” but why should we? We don’t need to – we either believe or not, we either know or not, and if we do, its not in the intellectual mind but in the feeling, sensing mind. That mind, in my experience, is much better suited for the kind of “knowing” that we long for anyway.
God sent us Jesus to tell us this – and to show us who he was. He’s done his part. Jesus was a Jew, btw – he thought and acted like a man of his time, because he was. He could have been omnipotent if he was just God, but he wasn’t. He was a man, and therefore had the limitations of all men – time, place, understanding. Except, he knew God like nobody before or since. He was pure, as the son of God, like nobody before or since. Don’t blame God and/or Jesus that he didn’t give us all the answers and solve all our problems while he was here. It’s our job to do that – God has left it to us to figure out, like the children we are, from there.
You really think so? Thanks, that’s very flattering. 😉
My non-intellectual side? So… you’re saying we should just stop thinking and follow our emotions?
As odd as this sounds, I actually do understand that reasoning. Christianity operates so much on emotion that logic and reason first seemed foreign to me when I started to question my faith. But just because we have emotions, doesn’t mean we should trust them.
For example, the hundreds of people in the Jim Jones and Heaven’s Gate cults felt emotionally secure enough about their faith to kill themselves, but it didn’t make them right. And millions of Mormons choose to believe in the Book of Mormon because they got a “feeling” from God when they prayed about it, but this doesn’t make those feelings right. So which feelings can we believe?
If we are to find God through our emotions, then why would God give us the capacity to feel so strongly about things that are completely bogus? We should, in fact, feel no emotion towards erroneous ideas. But if we can’t tell the difference, then we cannot trust our emotions to guide us.
I’d agree that there is something, and that something is nature, who (by all observations) operates with indifference and without a plan.
There was a designer who formed us, though it had no end-product in mind, which is why we ended up with so many different kinds of animals (like cute kittens). Nature “thinks” exactly the same way as you and I do: we try things out, and if they work we keep doing them, and if they fail we stop (hopefully). Nature too keeps what works and tosses what doesn’t, over and over, billions of times. This ends up giving us the illusion of design, as though a lot of thought were put into it, but it was simply a lot of success-based decision making.
Life may be rare, but given infinite time and nearly infinite material, stuff emerges.
There’s still the question of where the atoms themselves came from, but it’s easier to explain how a dumb, observable atom might exist than an extremely complex, unobservable, intelligent designer. If an intelligent creator can come about without a designer, then so much more an atom!
I think you’ve answered your own question! Things like “the wonders of the universe,” and “man,” and “a plan” are all logical and reasonable things that can be observed. If there is a logical and reasonable God, then He should create such logical and reasonable things. But if what exists appears random, illogical, unreasonable, and indifferent, then perhaps there is no God.
I don’t expect to ever have a sense of absolute certainty about anything, just more certainty about the issue than I have now. Later! 😉
Thanks for the reply, and for working to think about what I wrote. A couple of corrections though – first my use of the phrase “the non-intellectual side” of the mind does not mean merely the emotions (it’s hard to write about this without shortcuts, unless we’re going to forego space and time limitations), but also, and more what I meant, the part of the mind that sees and comprehends complex wholes, that thinks in terms of complex images and patterns. I’m talking left-brain logic and routinized coding, versus right-brain grasping of non-logical, non-sequential concepts. Both are equally valid ways to think, and we all have the capacity to think both ways. Your arguments are mostly, if not all, left-brain logic trying to prove the nonexistance of something based on a percieved or supposed lack of evidence. You’re trying to prove the nonexistance of God by showing how He hasn’t proved his existance sufficiently for your logical, right-brain analytic. What I meant was that God is a concept, and a reality (presuming for the sake of this point that He is a reality) that cannot be proven or disproven in that fashion. You can’t prove the non-existence of God through reason, but you can disprove the non-existence of God through it, which is equivalent to proving the existence of Him.
You’ve agreed now that there is something – so we’re halfway there already! Your something is called “Nature,” while I call it “God.” So we have different terms, and different ideas on how the something works and even what it’s true function is, but we agree that there is a concept that operates to result in two beings sentient enough to have this discussion. That’s really a miracle in itself, is it not? From Big Bang plasma to this – miraculous!
The fact that we can have this discussion means that Nature or God or whatever we call it is capable of creating sentience, cognition, and awareness or reason. Thus we know that sentience is real, that it exists as a thing in the universe. It existed before us, necessarily – even if only as a concept or idea. It must be the case that our sentience and cognition is imperfect, and that it can be better, or bigger, than it is in us. I suppose we might be the ultimate intellect in the universe, but it seems highly improbable to me. We can, in fact, imagine a more-perfect intelligence than our own. We can, in fact, imagine a perfect intelligence – like that traditionally ascribed to God.
We can only imagine it as existing though – we can’t really understand what it would be like. But take the idea of a perfect intelligence as a possibility, add to it the discussion we had about where everything comes from (the “wonders of the universe” are not actually all that logical and reasonable unless there is a Creator – otherwise the universe has either always been, or spontaneously arose, neither of which fit into our logic. This is another shortcut, I know you know what I mean :)), consider that none of the explanations, including a God that preexisted and created everything and that is omnipotent, make any logical sense, and you have left, still, just questions. BTW, do you really believe its easier to explain how a “dumb, observable atom” might come into existance out of nothingness than an omnipotent creator that preexisted it? Seems to me they’re both equally perplexing and unanswerable questions
Except for one thing – there is reality, there is thought, and there is, therefore, evidence that something bigger is operating than a series of random occurences. There is a bit of a leap in logic in that sentence – but not that great a leap. Randomness over time and space can probably produce some incredible things, but order, like the laws of physics, the building of atomic and subatomic matter? Life? Sentience? That’s not random stuff, it’s too put together to really rely on random chance to explain it.
We don’t really know intellectually what that something bigger is because we can’t fit these facts into our limited ability to understand them. But we can know them through the other kind of intelligence we have – and that’s what I meant by the non-intellectual side of the mind. We can open ourselves to letting God tell us what He is, and to receiving that with the part of our mind that is good at handling that kind of information, and then process it through our left-brain intellectual side and make our decisions about the information from there. The examples you frequently cite about Koresh and the Book of Mormon and the ridiculous crap people fall for when someone abuses their trust or their position or their need to believe are not just “acting on feelings,” but imbalances in thinking. They’re failures of reason in allowing the left brain to get away from right-brain sensibility. They’re also the result of humans taking advantage of other humans. They’re not God acting, or failing to act.
BTW, God doesn’t expect us to have certainty – we can’t, it’s not in us to understand. The universe itself is so complex that we’ll never understand it all, much less the Creator of it. All he wants is to be open to him. I suspect he likes that you question the way you do, because if you didn’t you’d never really know him.
There are some alternatives to pure atheism, as I’m sure you’re aware, for people that can’t say “I know God exists.” You could say, “I don’t know either way – nobody does. But I believe He exists even though I can’t reconcile that belief with my intellectual understanding of reality.” That’s agnostic theism. You could say, “Nobody knows the answer to the question, but I’m open to either side, once there’s some real evidence either way.” That’s a weaker form of agnosticism that many folks adopt. There’s ignosticism, which says, “We can’t even have a coherent discussion about a deity until you give me a coherent definition of what He might be.” Given our inability to apply some empirical test to the question, it seems like one of these positions is more rational than the outright denial of the atheist’s position.
Hopefully this wasn’t too long, I tried to keep it short but man, this discussion is hard to compact and still keep it clear. Thanks for making me think about it though – it’s been a long time since I really gave any thought to the issues you raise. Just try not to overstate the non-existence of God, and lead people who come across your site away from something that might prove to be a life-changing experience, when you know that the issue lacks “absolute certainty,” as you’ve indicated in your response.
My apologies for the two bad words I used in the post below, btw – I meant to edit those out and missed them 🙂 If I’ve offended you or anyone else I’m sorry about that.
With all due respect to 500Q,: Superdave, I came across this site the other day after typing in the question in a search engine, “Why does God allow children to die?” After exploring this site, I have found your posts as intellectually stimulating as the moderator here; Very articulate and well thought out argumentation. Me, I am looking for my “revelation”. Instead of re-posting what I have written in question 17: “Why does God allow Children to suffer and die?”, would you be so kind to visit that topic and respond to my thoughts? Would like to hear your explanation on this matter. It is the sticking point that has always kept me from truly believing. No one, including Christians, with many years of thought and information, can provide the least bit of a “small” logical answer on this topic,i.e. “What is the point of praying for….if?..etc…
Hope you are still visiting here and view this message. Maybe God can direct you to it if not? : -) And 500Q, thanks again for creating this blog for people like me without heavy handedness of your beliefs and some humor. Best I’ve ever come across. The multitude of views given is satisfying to say the least.
Hi Mark – I’m really glad you posted this question, because I know there are so many people out there who struggle with this issue. I have a daughter myself, and when she was very young I occasionally had dreams that something terrible happened to her and I’d wake in the middle of the night terrified that the dream was real and that I’d lost her. That’s the closest I’ve been to losing a child, and it’s much closer than I ever want to be to that particular nightmare. I can’t imagine the pain parents who have actually lost a child have to go through, but I have a sense of what it would be like.
The short answer to your question, for me at least, is that I don’t think God allows children to die – I think He created our complex universe to work in a certain way, and that universe has rules and laws and events that sometimes result in what we perceive as bad things. One of those bad things is that children, being human beings who are subject to all the weaknesses, risks and dangers that we all live with, sometimes die before they get a chance to grow up. Part of living is dying – that’s one of the fundamental rules. When a child dies, it seems unfair to us, whatever the cause. But death is inevitable for us all, and being born into this world means that eventually, at some time, we’re going to die. I think that God has little, if not nothing, to do with how or when that happens – He allows us to live and die according to the rules of our universe rather than intervening in the working of that universe.
The longer answer has to do with why He would do that. If God is omnipotent, He knows a child will die before it happens. He has the power to stop it, to change it. Why wouldn’t he do that and save a child from some horrible fate, if he could do it?
It’s really a simple answer – because that’s how the universe works. If God had to intervene every time the universe did what it does, it wouldn’t be a perfect system. If it weren’t a perfect system, God wouldn’t be perfect – a perfectly good God could not create an imperfect system. It’s a matter of perspective – God knows what is good and right, and we do not. We cannot see what the effect of any one event will be in the future. We look at an event like the death of a child from our own narrow, personal, human perspectives.
Even when we try to reason out a long-term benefit of a tragedy like the death of a child, and even when we’re not close to that child, we can’t really come up with much. When we are close to the child it’s even harder to do. That’s part of what we are too – loss is personal to us, any long-term good is not. Most of us, maybe all of us, would choose to keep our children safe and forsake whatever good may be involved in the death of our own child. Especially when the only good we can come up with is that part of living in this universe is that children sometimes die, and that our reality would be somehow less if that weren’t the case.
Of course, it may be that God does in fact intervene and save children sometimes. Maybe many more children would die than do if he didn’t, and we cannot know when he does that because we can’t know what would have happened but for His intervention. But I think that would mean that He’s there making decisions and changing the operation of His universe on some occasions and not on others. That’s inconsistent with a conception of the universe as a “perfect” system, a system that makes life possible, and that makes something as incredible and as sublime as Man possible.
I believe that God created us to stand on our own – we are free to exist freely. That freedom carries responsibilities to make choices that keep us safe. We’re ultimately subject to the rules of the universe. We can’t always prevent every danger, but we have the right, and the responsibility, to decide for ourselves the best way to try to do it. That God does not intervene is a gift to us, not a burden upon us. It’s a gift because that’s what true freedom is.
How do I know any of this? I don’t “know” it – I simply believe it. I have faith in God, and therefore I have faith that what happens in this reality we live in, good or bad, must be right. To the small degree that we can apply our logic to a concept like God and His Creation (and it’s really a small degree), the only explanation that makes sense to me is that God has given us a reality that works in a certain way. Part of that reality is that children sometimes die. Human beings sometimes do terrible things that cause them to die. Diseases take them, they starve, they succumb to accidents.
But that’s not God acting, or not acting – that’s the way our reality works. If a child dies through human action, or inaction, that’s not God, that’s human beings causing the result. That’s our responsibility, and putting it on God is simply shifting that responsibility. If a child dies through natural causes like disease or accident, that’s the way our universe works. We don’t like it, it hurts us when we must live with tragedy – but that is what freedom is. We have the responsibility to use the gifts God gave us to make our reality better, to use our intellect and our drive to make the bad things that happen less likely, less frequent, less severe.
The atheist might say, “well, a perfect God would not create a universe that works that way.” But that’s no different than a believer saying what I’m saying. They’re both ultimate conclusions about the existence of God. There is no way for human beings to fully conceive of the existence of God through our intellect – and we can’t figure out why a perfect God would create a universe that works like ours does. We have to either believe that He did, and that He is right in His Creation, or not believe at all.
My experience has led me to the former – I believe God created us, the universe, and the way it all works – and that whether I can understand it or not, it’s a perfect universe. I haven’t always believed these things, and I have to work sometimes to accept things that happen in life as part of a perfect plan. But I would rather accept that, and – knowing that God has given me the freedom to make my own decisions about the course of my life – take responsibility for shaping my reality in the best way I can, than to believe that we are just a random development of a random universe, and therefore all alone in a chaotic, dangerous, empty existence.
Sometimes I think that God should do more for me, or for those that experience tragedy. But then I think that if He did, we wouldn’t truly be free – if God was in the background holding our hands and keeping us safe from the universe, and from ourselves, we wouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves. We wouldn’t work hard to take care of each other. We’d sit back, let life happen to us rather than work to develop ourselves, and take care of ourselves and each other. We’d blame God when bad things happen, rather than looking at ourselves and trying to find ways to make things better. When I think like that I can start to see why a perfect God would create a universe like ours.
If those bad dreams I used to have about my daughter ever actualized, it would be hard for me to think like that. It would take me a long time after such a loss to accept it. But I would try – maybe not at first, maybe not for a long time, but I like to believe that eventually I would. I love to believe that my daughter, too, has that gift – that when and if tragedy happens to her one day, and she has to live through it, that she will have the gift of freedom and will understand it enough to try to understand that she has the freedom and the power to overcome that tragedy. I would want her to know that God hasn’t abandoned her because something bad has happened, but that He’s there with her, to support her through the loss and the pain she’s experiencing, and that His love is there for her.
It’s a lot easier for me to say all of this than for a parent that’s lost a child, obviously – and I hope I never have to experience it myself. I hope my daughter never does, either. My task, though, is to do everything in my power to prevent it from ever happening, and to teach myself and my daughter to keep our faith in the face of it if and when it does happen. My task is to believe that God is with us whatever happens, and that His love will be there for us to carry us through.
There can’t be freedom and a master perfect plan. Think about it if there is a master plan then everything we “choose” to do with “the gift o freedom” has already been decided by God and the outcome of course has already been decided by him as well. Yet if there is true freedom then there is no “omnipotent” God since he can’t control his “creations” and has really no power on Earth. Most christians choose to believe on the master plan without thinking about the implications it carries like saying that murderers, rapists, burglars, even Hitler were and are all par of Gods beautiful master plan since He created them, He knew what they would do and what would happen but hey it’s all part of the “greater good” I ponder on what the benefit or compensation for the death of 14 million people during the Holocaust will be. Christianity is self contradictory just analyze my statement and all other contradictions on religion and you’ll be no longer blindfolded with the indoctrination you were given. Also why must we blame every bad thing on “the nature of our reality”? Yet any good thing we must attribute it to God? Shouldn’t it be equally distributed? Anything good therefore is just part of our reality and God has nothing to do with it so overall why call Him God? If he is nor guilty of the bad things nor responsible for the good things? God is just the desire of humans for their existence to have meaning and for the idea that there must be something superior. You can NEVER prove the “un-existence” of something directly. Because of the fact that there is no evidence since it doesn’t exist. What we do is run the tests and experiments to try and prove the existence of something if it fails then it doesn’t exist. Faith is just the desire of believing in something that no one has since, has no proof, no remnants no nothing. Just because some say it exists others must blindly believe in it through ignorance=faith.
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>otherwise the universe has either always been, or spontaneously arose, neither of which fit into our logic.
Because your “logic” is biased.
The universe is all that exists. The universe spontaneously arising is not any stupider than something spontaneously arising then creating the universe.
>that there is a concept that operates to result in two beings sentient enough to have this discussion. That’s really a miracle in itself, is it not? From Big Bang plasma to this – miraculous!
Nothing miraculous in this. Stochastic processes have nothing to do with the result of religious thinking.
>Randomness over time and space can probably produce some incredible things, but order, like the laws of physics, the building of atomic and subatomic matter? Life? Sentience? That’s not random stuff, it’s too put together to really rely on random chance to explain it.
>That’s not random stuff
Of course it is not entirely random, there are deterministic processes at work there.
But a lot of evolution is stochastic.
Why do you think we have a blind spot on our eyes? Was it made on purpose?
Why didn’t we get better eyes like the octopi?
> I meant by the non-intellectual side of the mind.
The way you theorize the mind is outdated.
This is not mine but I think it relevant to the conversation and an interesting read.
Greg Ganssle, Ph.D.
I. You Cannot Prove God’s Existence
Ever since Immanuel Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason, it has been common for thinking people to insist that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. In fact this claim has been elevated to the level of dogma in American intellectual culture. The reason I know this is considered unquestionable dogma is the reaction I get when I call it into question. When someone says “You cannot prove the existence of God.” I want to ask “How do you know? You just met me! How do you know what I can do?”
What do most people mean when they recite this claim? Most people mean that I cannot provide a philosophical argument for the existence of God which will convince all thinking people. It is impossible, so the story goes, to provide an argument which will compel assent. If my argument will not convince the most ardent atheist, I have not proven God’s existence. Since I cannot convince such an atheist to believe, my arguments do not count as proof. If they do not count as proof, what good are they?
I agree that I cannot provide an argument that will convince all thinking people. But what does this tell me? Does this tell me anything about God? No. This tells me more about the nature of proof than it does about whether God exists. I cannot provide an argument which will convince everyone, without a possibility of doubt, that God exists. That is no problem. You see, I cannot provide an argument for any interesting philosophical conclusion which will be accepted by everyone without possibility of doubt.
I cannot prove beyond the possibility of doubt — in a way that will convince all philosophers that the Rocky Mountains are really here as a mind-independent object. I cannot prove that the entire universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago and that all of our apparent memories are not illusions. I cannot prove that the other people you see on campus have minds. Perhaps they are very clever robots.
There is no interesting philosophical conclusion that can be proven beyond the possibility of doubt. So the fact that arguments for the existence of God do not produce mathematical certainty does not by itself weaken the case for God’s existence. It simply places the question of God’s existence in the same category as other questions such as that of the existence of the external, mind-independent world and the question of how we know other people have minds.
Does this mean that arguments for the existence of God are useless? Not at all. Sure, I cannot provide an argument which will convince all thinking people but this does not mean I don’t have good reason to believe in God. In fact some of my reasons for believing in God may be persuasive to you. Even if you aren’t persuaded to believe that God exists, my arguments may not be useless. It is reasonable to believe that the mountains are real and our memories are generally reliable and that other minds exist. It is reasonable to believe these things even though they cannot be proven. Maybe some argument for God’s existence will persuade you that belief in God is reasonable.
So how can we know that God exists? Instead of looking for undoubtable conclusions, we weigh evidence and consider alternatives. Which alternative best fits the evidence? We will choose one alternative or another. There is no neutral ground.
II. Where Can we Find Information about God?
When you get to thinking about it, it seems that there are only two basic sources of information about God, if such a being exists. They are the following:
We can infer what might be true about God from what we observe in the universe. We look at the physical universe, human nature and culture and we observe things which may be clues to the existence or nature of the supernatural.
God may have entered the Universe and told us true things about himself, morality, meaning and how to have a relationship with him. This is called Revelation.
Let me explain each of these. One year my wife and I drove from Los Angeles to Rhode Island. It took a long time. The country is pretty big. From this observation it makes sense to think that if there is some person or being who is responsible for making the physical universe, this being has a lot more power than we do. Now this is a rather simplistic example. Another observation we can make is that every culture we know anything about has a deep sense that certain things are morally permissible and certain things are morally prohibited. This leads us to infer that if there is some supernatural being responsible for human nature, that being is personal. He has a moral aspect to his nature.
The second source of information is that God may have taken the initiative and stepped into the universe to reveal himself. He may tell us true things about his nature and purposes and about human meaning and morality.
Christianity holds that both of these are good sources of information. We have clues to God’s existence which can be observed and God has entered the physical universe through the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in History and told us about himself.
Now in this article I am concentrating on the first source. Can we know anything about God from what we observe? Are there good reasons to believe in God based on these observations? I think there are.
III. Reasons to Believe in God
I want to pick up two observations which I think give us good reason to think there is a God. First, the existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God. Second, the existence of objective moral values is better explained by the existence of God.
A. The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
I will begin by laying out the argument:
1. There are things which come into existence.
Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.
There cannot be an infinite series of past causes.
Therefore, there exists a first cause which did not come into existence. In other words, the first cause always existed.
Let us look at each of the steps in the argument:
Premise 1. “There are things which come into existence.”
Many things have come into existence. This article is coming into existence as I write it. You came into existence and so did I. This premise is not uncontroversial.
Premise 2. “Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.”
It is obvious that Nothing can cause itself to come into existence. Anything that causes itself to come into existence has to exist before it exists. This is impossible. Perhaps something can come into existence from Nothing without any cause whatsoever. Can a thing just pop into existence with absolutely no cause? This also does not seem reasonable.
I have three children. If I walk into the dining room and see a picture of Pinky and the Brain which is drawn on the wall in Permanent Magic Marker I will ask “Where did this picture come from?” My daughter Elizabeth (who is almost five) might say “It came from nothing, Dad. Nothing caused it. It just popped there. I think it is quite strange — don’t you?” Will I accept this? No! Things do not come into existence from Nothing without cause. So, we have good reason to think that premise two is true. Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.
Premise 3. “There cannot be an infinite series of past causes.”
Is the series of past causes infinite? Can the universe have an infinite past? The answer is that it cannot. First, there are philosophical reasons to think the past cannot be infinite. Second, there are scientific reasons which support this view.
Why can’t the past be infinite? The answer is that it is impossible to complete an infinite series by addition. The series of past events is complete. Think of this mathematical fact. Why is it impossible to count to infinity? It is impossible because, no matter how long you count, you will always be at a finite number. It is impossible to complete an actual infinite by successive addition.
The past is complete. This claim means that the entire series of past events ends now. It ends today. Tomorrow is not part of the series of past events. The series of past events does not extend into the future. It is complete at the present. If it is impossible to complete an infinite series by successive addition (as it is impossible to count to infinity) the past cannot be infinite. If the past is finite., that is, if it had a beginning, then the universe had a beginning. We have strong philosophical reason to reject the claim that the universe has always existed.
I will not develop these. Rather, I will simply point them out.
Big Bang theory does not prove that the universe had a beginning, but it supports this claim.
The second law of thermodynamics does not prove that the universe had a beginning but it also supports this claim.
We can see that we have good philosophical and Scientific reasons to reject the idea that the Universe has always existed.
About the Universe, there are only three alternatives:
1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
The universe was popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.
We have strong reason to reject the first two alternatives.
Alternative Three is the most reasonable. There was a first cause. This cause existed eternally. It initiated the big bang and created the universe. Now what can we know about this cause? Why think the cause is God? I will briefly sketch a few implications.
First, the first cause is not a part of the space-time physical universe because it caused the space time universe to begin. Therefore it is outside of space and time. It is not physical. Second, it has a great deal of power. Third, it is a personal agent. This means it is not an inert force but it must have aspects of person hood; namely, that it wills. How do we know this? This is because it is the best answer to the question of why the Big Bang happened when it did. Why not sooner? Why not later? All of the conditions for producing the Big Bang existed from eternity. The only kind of cause we know of that can initiate an effect when all of the conditions are already present is the will of a personal agent.
I have not argued that it is logically impossible that the universe popped into existence from nothing without cause. I have argued that it is more reasonable to hold that it has a cause and that this cause is a non-physical personal agent — God.
So it seems that the first argument is fairly strong. The existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God.
B. The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.
People experience a sense of morality that leads them to hold strongly that certain things are right or wrong for all people in all cultures. For example, it is wrong to torture another person just for fun. It is wrong for me today. It is wrong for a citizen of the Philippines and it was wrong for someone living in 500 BC. Our moral sense provides strong reason to believe in a personal God.
It will help clarify what I am saying if we put it into the form of an argument.
If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
There are moral values which are objective.
Therefore, God exists.
Before I discuss this argument, I must make it clear that I am not claiming that one must believe in God in order to be moral. I am not claiming that statistically those who believe in God are more moral than those who do not. I am also not claiming that our knowledge of morality depends upon God. This argument is to the effect that objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit.
Defending Premise 1. “If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.”
I have to admit that this claim is quite controversial and many philosophers disagree with me. I think, however, that objective moral values are not sufficiently explained in a universe without God. Many have agreed with this claim. For example, Dostoevski had Ivan Karamazov claim, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Sartre wrote of Dostoevski’s statement, “That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to.” [see his essay Existentialism] John Mackie — probably the best philosophical atheist of the twentieth century recognizes this: “[Objective moral values] constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful god to create them. If, then, there are such intrinsically prescriptive objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them [The Miracle of Theism, pp 115-116.]
Mackie recognizes that these objective values do not fit in the universe if there is no God. His answer, since he rejects God, is to claim that there are no objective moral values. His book on ethics is appropriately titled Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. I agree with Dostoevski, Sartre and Mackie. If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
Defending Premise 2. “There are objective moral values.”
We know there are objective moral values. By this I mean that the content of morality is not determined by the individual, or by culture. Rather some things are objectively wrong. Other things are objectively obligatory. Actions such as rape, racist discrimination and torturing an innocent baby to death for no reason are really wrong. Furthermore, It is wrong for me to do these no matter when I live and no matter from what culture I come.
Now many people believe that morality is not objective. This view comes in three basic varieties.
1. The individual determines morality.
If the individual determines morality, then if I believe it is morally permissible to steal your stereo and beat up your girlfriend, it is permissible for me to do it. But it is not permissible for me to beat up your girlfriend. Therefore, the individual does not determine morality.
2. Society determines morality.
If I lived in a completely racist society, would racism be right for me? Not at all. When an American university student protests against South Africa’s policy of apartheid, he is assuming that morality is not determined by society. It is transcendent of cultures. All of our greatest heroes have been men and women who have stood up to society’s wrongs and appealed to a morality that is transcendent to society in order to demand change. If society determines morality, it is always morally wrong to criticize society. There is no morality outside of society which can form the basis of a moral critique.
3. Morality has survival value.
Some people claim that the reason we have this moral sense is that it helped the human race survive. Those individuals with moral sense grouped together for mutual protection and these did better than those without the moral sense. This is a kind of prehistoric social contract theory of morality. The problem with this is that we do not need morality to survive today. In fact, if you and I know that morality has no objective validity and the rest of our culture still thinks it is valid, we can take advantage of this to get the most we can. There is no moral reason to refrain from rape, robbery and murder.
These inadequate objections show that our sense is that there is a morality that is trans-personal, trans-cultural and trans-temporal The existence of a personal God is the best explanation for this. It is not up to the individual or the culture whether it is permissible to rape simply for fun. Any individual who believes it is morally permissible to rape for fun has a false belief. Any culture whose moral guidelines include the claim that it is permissible to rape for fun has simply got it wrong.
If it is true that Hitler was morally wrong, it is true that there are objective moral truths which are trans-cultural. If it is true that it was wrong for Romans to leave baby girls to die on the trash heaps — simply because they were girls, then morality is not determined by culture. If it is true that Martin Luther King was a moral hero because he criticized his own culture by appealing to objective morality, then it is true that morality is not determined by culture.
Now, It is true that Hitler was wrong. It is true that the Romans were wrong. It is true that Martin Luther King was right — heroically right. So, we know there are objective moral truths. But objective morality makes no sense in the Universe if there is no God. Objective moral values point to the existence of a moral being who created the universe. His moral character is the standard for objective right and wrong.
I have briefly presented two arguments for the existence of God. These show that it is more reasonable to believe that God exists than that He does not exist.
A. The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
B. The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.
So we see that some of the things we observe about the natural world ground a strong inference to the claim that God does exist. This gives us reason to consider with renewed openness the possibility that God has entered the space-time universe and revealed Himself through the person and life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
I have not claimed to prove with mathematical certainty that God exists. I have, however, provided good reasons to think that He does. If someone wishes to argue successfully that God does not exist. He must first, provide an answer for each of my arguments and second, he must offer arguments that God does not exist. Until He does this, we can conclude that we have good reason to claim that God does exist.
That was an interesting read. But the “First Cause” argument and argument from morality are nothing new, so I’ll briefly summarize why I object to what Greg is calling “evidence for God’s existence.”
I object to the First Cause argument because it cannot be done without special pleading. Greg argues that everything must have a cause… except God! Why? We could also argue that everything has a cause… except the Universe. There is abundant evidence that the Universe exists, and none (that I’ve seen) that God exists. Furthermore, the Universe doesn’t have nearly the complexity requirements that would need to go into an all-knowing God, especially one who had the power to create something from nothing! The Universe doesn’t have to create something from nothing… it just IS that something. We may not fully comprehend all of nature’s inner workings, but we know it exists, and it’s simpler than any complex, magical, powerful, invisible god.
I object to the morality premise because I believe morality CAN be determined by individuals and society, and does not require a mystical outside force. And frankly, Greg’s examples are simply ridiculous. He says…
“If the individual determines morality, then if I believe it is morally permissible to steal your stereo and beat up your girlfriend…”
What nonsense. If Greg really believes this, then all it proves is that Greg is a jerk. I shouldn’t steal your stereo and beat up your girlfriend because I wouldn’t want you to steal my stereo or beat up my girlfriend. People realize that in order to feel happy and secure they must be civilized and respect one another.
Greg also says that “…we do not need morality to survive today.” This is also absurd. There are places in the world today that seem to lack a civilized mutual respect for one another, and those are places I do not wish to live. It’s possible, it’s just not desirable.
We humans need each other, and it works to our advantage to behave morally. When we lack empathy, we run into trouble.
Hi, I found what you had to say interesting, what you are saying is true it is hard to stick to one religion as they are so many out there. although I do believe in god, I believe that what we call god is our creator I do not believe we just appeared from no where and I believe that there are a number of things that are beyond our understanding; I also believe that stories can be made up by anyone; I think the best option is just do good live a good life and try and help others along the way; if you have a good heart you do that anyway and I don’t believe god will punish people for not finding the right religion, but its always good to read other books and try to have your own relationship with god; i have had so many things happen to me in life and just at the right time I get saved, it has happened to many times for it to be a coincident and that’s why i have so much faith in god, I pray and i feel god hears it, i just want to encourage people to try it out and see what happens its worth doing.`
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I know I am late to join the party but I could not help but think that “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.” -Christopher Hitchens is not just far from most reasonable conclusion but not true.
If more than one religion(+ nonreligion e.g. atheism) claim different claims on the same object, then it is reasonable to hold that ether all are wrong or one is right and they can never all be right. I think that is the reasonably logical conclusion. The probability that you are correct 500Q in holding that 2 + 2 = 4 does not decrees if the whole universe, but you, claimed that 2 + 2 = 5. If one is correct, she is correct period.
Doesn’t the existence of many religions discredit them all? Not at all. If one religion is correct, then it is correct. Correctness does not depend on how many other religions and non-religions believe or not believe.
I meant “decrease”, not “decrees”, Sorry for typos and grammar. English is my strong side.
will the real jesus please stand up? the enemy wants to keep people from the truth by creating thousands of counterfeit religions to overshadow the truth. it all started in the garden of eden. satan says, “eat this fruit, you will not die like god says you will, eat this fruit, and you can become wise, eat this fruit, and you can surely become like god..” and every religion out there preaches this same lie that satan said in the garden. every religion out there, except christianity, is based on some kind of self effort and self righteousness (works). self, self, self, self, self! Everyone wants to be like god or equal to him, everyone wants to “figure him out” by demanding him to show his hand, so they eat these beautiful fruits that ultimately does lead to death. so what did adam and eve do? they covered themselves with fig leaves as a sorry attempt at self justification. but but but, only the blood can cover your nakedness and shame, and make you pure and righteous in Christ, before God. plead the blood.. hey i didnt make the rules, this is what the playbook says. dont hate the player, hate the game. everyone is whining and complaining and asking a million questions. either play the game, or just go home. the truth doesnt care whether you like it or not. and wow, this 500q author guy, is so incredibly smart. and i was amazed at the SUPERDAVE commentator as well.. you rarely find intelligent christians.. but i find 500q’s though process to be very linear, to a fault. but i hope he will evolve into a more multi dimensional way of thinking. i was in 500q’s position too a while back. and i still ponder these very questions myself. the fact that he is asking these questions reveal to me that he’s really special. that he wants to want to know God this much.. you can run away from God as much as you can, only to end up in his arms… sorry for being super cheesy.. but i never thought id be a christian. they were always so emotional and annoying to me. but here i am..
Well, thank you to Chabris Simpson and Prayson Daniel for returning to the topic. The conversation abowe is interresting, among other things in the sense how it got totally out of track about the many religions, wich is a key question.
If one religion is true and others are false, why are we all not revealed wich god(s) represent the correct religion? By what method could we determine wich religion is the correct one and is it even a reasonable/ethical demand, that we should choose one?
I have a suggestion:
First that comes to mind is to exclude all religions, that claim that the followers of the wrong religions are deserving of some sort of punishment (in this life or the alledged next one), for those sort of religions are indeed unethical and their god(s) seem quite petty to be any sort of creator(s) of the entire universe. We could also exclude all religions, that obviously support any sort of unethical behaviour, such as holy wars, terrorism, violence, genosides and human sacrifices. That is, if we want to believe the one and true religion is not unethical. In this respect I would also exclude any religion wich is claiming, that people who are not following the authorative commands alledgedly given by the god(s) of this specific religion are somehow deemed to be immoral. Because, that kind of twisting of social morals leads to horrible things done by good people, who think their actions are good, while they are infact unethical.
Now, allready at this point our list of plausible religions is getting quite short. To ad to this, we could exclude all religions, that have self contradicting claims, or claims that contradict with the scientifically researched reality. In effect, religions that have been down right outdated, or that have some form of metaphors included in their doctrine/tradition. Since, why should we worship god(s) totally unable to communicate with us comprahensively? Then, we could exclude religions that require us to worship god(s). Now, if something is petty and undignified from the creator(s) of the universe, is that any such powerfull entity expects us human beings to worship and sacrifice our very limited time for such rituals.
This far our list of religions must be rather short, but I would claim also, that to find the one true religion, it is not unreasonable to expect that the god(s) who created the universe could contact us everyone, and convince of the existance of such god(s), if it was somehow required we human individuals believed in such a thing as a god at all. And then we could exclude such religions that claim god(s) in all the power to create the universe required us to have faith in the claims made by mere men about god(s). Perhaps, it would not be out of proportion to also exclude any religion, that claims their god(s) are answering any sort of prayers, when such interference as answering to prayers would brake the otherwise perfect creation of universe (thanks to Jack Blair for that idea). There must be other requirements we could make to find the one true religion, but I can not think of any just now.
I know you see my point. That even if there existed god(s) the interrest of such god(s) should be demonstrated. It is quite a long leap from one cultural explanation of the universe to any objective truth about the matter.
To measure the religious morals we have ethics. It is the only way to compare the different religions, wether they are beneficial or not to the society and human individuals. But if human ethics are a higher echelon in comparrison to all these moral commands from god(s), then what are the commands for? What do religions stand for in human society?
Religions are quite obvious products of different human cultures, and they are part of our cultural heritage, but how can we demonstrate, or even examine wether their supernatural claims are true? The mere fact how many different religions there are and how they reflect the different cultures they come from as well as the cultures where they are valued today prove how much they are the product of humans. If we can agree that religions are the products of human cultures, then is it not obvious that their concepts of god(s) are that as well? If any of them somehow better represented the eternal creator(s), it surely would stand out from the human inventions to all of us, would it not? But none does, do they?
Liability Release Clause: Joining this conversation late. And read several comments and your responses 500Q, but not all comments.
“Doesn’t the existence of many religions discredit them all?” No.
No, because of my own personal sphere of knowledge and experience has taught me that 31 flavors of ice cream doesn’t make all ice cream bad; unless you have a serious health weight problem. I am a Free-thinking Humanist son from an Agnostic father; both of us with a passion for all things science. I identify myself as a human from planet Earth. I find value & truth through a kaleidoscope of lenses. Orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth & beauty, but an evolving collaborative multi-disciplined group (world?) seems in my mind to adapt & survive peacefully the best.
That same sphere of knowledge and experience has also sufficiently taught me the dark-side of humanity, such as elitism, exclusivity, prejudice, absolutism, bigotry, murder, or genocide. Sadly, we humans mistakenly attribute those atrocities to a label rather than to the acting responsible individuals. Justice must be served, but in a democratic (global?) way, not a singular theocratic way.
However, I must admit that some of the tenets of some religions (including the 3 major ones) do seem to encourage the dark-sides of humanity I listed; at least their followers interpolate those passages & tenets that way.
I think we may be talking about discrediting two different things.
I enjoyed the ice cream metaphor, but flavors of ice cream are not mutually exclusive, while religions are. If one religion says, “You MUST eat Rainbow Sherbet every day in order to get into heaven, and NEVER Rocky Road,” and another retorts, “NO! You must eat ROCKY ROAD every day and NEVER Rainbow sherbet,” then these ideas are mutually exclusive and one (or both) of them must be is wrong. (Though this is the kind of religion I could really get behind.)
It’s not my intention to discredit ALL religious ideas, and there are many ideas I still adhere to because I find them to be sound. My primary premise is that it’s normal for humans to invent stories about gods and spirits, and when those ideas are mutually exclusive we can logically rule out some of them. For example, if 10 different cultures invent 10 mutually exclusive creation stories, we can know that 9 are wrong, and likely infer the 10th is as well, if it’s no more based on evidence than the others.
Not every religious idea is mutually exclusive, but many religions insist that their particular band of truth is the one and only truth, and everyone else is simply wrong.
I do not ascribe to the traditional description & framework of heaven because no organized religion (barring Unitarian Universalist attempts) or faith has compelling evidence to support their claim. Near-death experiences are currently inconclusive, and the 3-4 major theistic religions offer only intangible evidence & self-supporting literature, some of it sensationalized myth. Hence, in my own opinion their “infinite heaven” is only relevant from a story-book point-of-view; BUT much of paranormal sciences and quantum physics strongly indicate an “after-life” non-congruent with traditional religions and faiths. Mainstream religions can, however, offer some lessons in human pathology and philanthropic social conduct. But those lessons are inclusive, not exclusive to themselves.
Therefore, I will always discredit ANY religion/faith claiming exclusivity. Nature (existence), understood through the sciences, structured by “evolving multi-disciplined collaboration”, are increasingly showing that religious elitist theologies & tenets are antiquated. Keep in mind too that the world’s major 3 religions entice followers out of fear of eternal punishment for non-conformity. Adolf Hitler (and historically many others) used the same tactic to gain followers/robots.
More truth is discovered when universally (infinitely & indiscriminately?) available. Or to put it another way, a lottery is more popular and beneficial to the winner when the entire human race is allowed to invest and play…over and over again. Close it off from two-thirds or three-quarters of the world and the winning is less impactful, perhaps flawed. 🙂
Religion does not teach us hatred. If I hate someone or someone hate me .on basis of religion then it is always good to be without a religion identity. As pure, As colorless as water. I have not to colour my self in any colour of religian. this is itself a true religion without a religion. ” A Hindu Boy”
Some more food for thought.. I would agree with all of your points, that the existence of many religions seems to discredit them all. But instead of pondering how this interesting phenomenon falsifies religion (as I have myself many times) how about a string on the following:
What seems to cause this innate ability, or even need, in most humans to believe in a higher power? For instance, I myself decided that I did not align with the Christian views of much of my family at a young age, and became thirsty for science fact. In this search however, I can’t escape the feeling that their is a power beyond human comprehension, maybe not what we would call a “being,” but at least the force that sent the cosmos into motion and subsequently caused life to form. Isolated groups of humans all over the world came up with their own religions through the ages, probably most of them consisting of stories of their own minds, but almost all groups of humans came up with some version of the same thing.. the belief in a higher power. Why is that? There has to be some substance to such a widespread sensation. Would you agree?
A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you ought to write more on this
subject, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people do not discuss these topics.
To the next! Many thanks!!
Velocity of Gary brave to produce me see them, love them, value them.
They tap into with a of the most basic human desires enshrined in Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”
and, like Hollywood films, present an exhilarating if transient glimpse in to
a different world. the ego section of our minds can do whatever needs doing to shield us from feeling pain.
I would like to make a comment that can also be taken as a question. I would say that there’s another possibility to what you’ve outlined above. That if there is one true religion and it’s the only way to salvation, if you were an enemy of God wouldn’t you want to turn people away from the truth? What better way then to make as much confusion as possible about which path is the right one than by sowing the seeds of numerous other religions in order to obscure the true one.
Not to be combative, but I see a couple immediate problem with this religiously-minded explanation. The first being that any religion could claim that THEY are the ones who have the truth, and all others are deceived by evil forces. (E.g. it’s just as easy for Christians to accuse Muslims of being deceived as it is for Muslims to accuse Christians.)
Secondly, there are A LOT of untenable supernatural presuppositions that must be assumed before we can draw this conclusion, perhaps more than you realize. For example, we must assume that: 1) non-material things exist, 2) some of these immaterial things are incorporeal beings actually capable of higher thought, 3) at least two of these incorporeal beings have had a falling out, 4) the afterlife exists, 5) there is a scary place in the afterlife you don’t want to end up, 6) the “good” incorporeal being can save you from going there, 7) the “evil” being is so angry at the other (and so petty) that he has spent thousands of years and countless hours inventing stories, and spreading them across the globe, so that when the REAL story came to light, people would be a less inclined to believe it.
If you are already religious, accepting such a possibility may not require a major leap of faith. If you are not, it’s a pretty convoluted explanation that seems a little… imaginative and rather unnecessary.
The other possibility is that we humans can think, and we make up stories. It’s easy to understand why we would make up stories, we are curious beings trying to relate to our surroundings and our situation. We also like to make up stories just for fun. I don’t think we need to invent a background story involving sparring invisible beings with petty disputes to explain why we have lots of creation stories and religious explanations.
Actually, your supposition assumes that the truth is weaker than the false. The only way a being lesser than the All Powerful God could accomplish what you suggest is that the the God allowed it.
Owen Lewis, i agree
But don’t most religions believe in a god?
I would say most, though not all.
Awesome somebody who can think for once
Depends on who you ask. 😉
This question 11 is the one that set me down the path to no longer believing in God some years ago before I discovered 500Q. I had heard on TV that there were over 8,000 religions in the world. I heard similar figures before but for some reason this time the sheer number of them stuck in my head for days. I pondered why there were so many but only one Bible, Koran, etc. It dawned on me that they all couldn’t possibly be right and I started to doubt even my own religion. Since no religion can be proven or disproven, how was I or anyone supposed to figure out which is the right one? It could take a lifetime to research 8,000 religions. Why did God let this happen? And what could it mean?
While thinking and pondering this over the following weeks, one by one, each conclusion I made led to the next one:
1. A just and loving God wouldn’t send everyone to hell, including those who lived a godly, clean, selfless life but followed the wrong religion through no fault of their own.
2. Since we can’t easily or reliably identify the one true religion, God must not care which one we follow, so I can just pick any one and follow it.
3. If God is cool with me picking any religion, why not create my own? Why follow someone else’s especially if its is no more valid than mine? If their’s were more valid, there’d be verifiable evidence, right?
4. If God is Ok with me creating and following my own religion, then should I even follow mine or any other religion at all? Why not focus on living a moral, honest and clean life, and following the Golden Rule.
5. If any religion will do, then religion is unnecessary and none of the religions is the right one.
6. If no religion is correct, then the God of the Bible probably doesn’t exist. If He did, we’d know which religion to follow.
7. If God doesn’t exist, all the life that exists on this planet today must be the result of tens of millions of years of evolution, random mutations/changes, and natural selection. Of which there is plenty of evidence, and exactly what I was taught NOT to believe in church school.
8. The universe, containing at least 2 trillion galaxies in the portion of it we can observe (with 100s of billions of stars in each galaxy), had plenty of time (over 14 billion years) to produce the perfect combination of the multitude of factors that resulted in Earth and all the life it contains. No matter how unlikely it seems.
9. If I’m wrong, God can’t fault me for coming to these logical conclusions, can he?
I’m no longer a believer, thanks to the existence of 8000 religions, the Science Channel and 500Q. And some possibly wonky reasoning.
I think similar logic got me started down the same path. In all likelihood, the universe is more vast and much older than we presently imagine. This may not even be the first incarnation of our universe, and there may be others outside our own (maybe billions of them, who knows!).
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
― Marcus Aurelius