The Human Truth Foundation

The Assumptions about God and Creation, of Both Theists and Atheists

By Vexen Crabtree 2014

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#atheism #god #religion #theism

The Universe exists. Both theists and atheists believe in one uncaused cause: atheists think that the Universe itself, with a few universal laws, intrinsic traits and values, is responsible for everything including itself. However theists think that it is ridiculous that the Universe can exist without a cause, and, have come to the much more reasonable assumption: the Universe was created by God, who himself exists without a cause, complete with a range of intrinsic traits and values. Putting it like that, we can see that although theists believe in god(s) and atheists don't, both have some similar assumptions about how the universe came to exist.

Theists and atheists both believe in some universal laws of logic and/or nature which exist as the first cause. But the theist position adds on a list of personality traits to this first cause, and, calls the result "God". Whether these additional assumptions are warranted or not is hard to prove, hence why we say that the additional assumptions under theism are based on faith. These theistic assumptions include attributes about God: it is all-powerful, omniscient, benevolent, it has memory, it has rational and ordered thoughts running along logical lines, it is emotional, it wants to be worshipped and other particular assumptions of various religions. Even if it was found that the First Cause must be a conscious god, then, it is not reasonable to assume that all those other assumptions are true too. In comparison to all that, atheists make far fewer assumptions about reality, meaning that their position is more likely to be correct.

Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

"The Devil's Dictionary"
Ambrose Bierce (1967)


1. The Similar First-Cause Assumptions of Theists and Atheists

Theistic Atheistic The Underlying Shared Premise
1a. God requires no cause
or
Universe requires no cause
or
Something can exist that requires no cause
and / or
1b. God is infinite
or
Universe is infinite [nc]
or
Something can exist for infinity
1c. God was not created Universe was not created Something can exist that was never created
2. Logic exists as a property of God Logic exists as a property of the Universe Logic exists
3. God is conscious Universe is conscious [nc] An omnipresent entity is conscious, not mechanical
4. God is omniscient Universe is "omniscient" There is a container of all truth, of all reality.

[nc]: No Consensus, but there are theories that postulate that this is true.

The atheists' premises about the Universe are very similar to the theists' about God. It seems that one or more of 1a, 1b or 1c must be true. The scientist could even believe in an all-present conscious being that is the universe. I will therefore call this being the godhead.

Although atheism and theism share many of the basic assumptions about the cause of reality, theists make, on the basis of 'faith', many further assumptions. When these assumptions become codified and traditionalized, they form religions. These assumptions turn the generic godhead into 'God' or 'Allah' or 'Zeus'. If a theist is to prove the existence of the traditional monotheistic God, they must give evidence or feasible arguments to back up these assumptions in addition to the mere existence of (a) god.

2. Objections to the Additional Theistic Assumptions

2.1. God is Omniscient (All-Knowing)

See "Is Omniscience Possible? Does God Know Everything?" by Vexen Crabtree (2002). Its page menu is:

2.2. God is Omnipotent (All-Powerful)

Any powerful, unearthly, being could appear to us to be omnipotent. It could trick minds, perform tricks, even cause floods and inspire books to be written, but, we would have no way of knowing if it was truly all-powerful or merely very powerful. Arthur C Clarke famously wrote 'Any technology, sufficiently advanced, will seem like magic' and likewise, any particularly powerful being can seem as God to us. Assuming that God is all-powerful simply because it is said to have facilitated miracles is not a sensible extrapolation.

Interestingly the very concept of omnipotency has such theological and philosophical difficulties that it seems that it is a self-contradictory and impossible concept, especially when combined with other properties such as omniscience and free will. God itself is constrained by the laws of logic and rationality - it can't make a square circle, or create an object that it can't destroy, or create other omnipotent beings. In order to create and to act, God's thoughts must be rational and logical; hence, God itself relies upon the pre-existence of logic in order to create anything according to any thought out plan. The strength of these logical rules imply that nothing can be omnipotent.

See Is God All-Powerful? Can God or Anything Truly Be Omnipotent?. Its page menu is:

2.3. God is Perfectly Benevolent (Good)

That "God is Good" is a common assumption made by theists yet God could exist and be neutral (amoral) or malevolent (evil and immoral). But it cannot be "morally good". It if it perfectly good then it always makes the most perfect choices and therefore has no free will. A being with no free will cannot be morally good as it makes no moral choices; it can only be morally neutral like a robot. Also, if God's actions and wishes are automatically good by definition, then its morality is arbitrary and we ourselves have no moral reason to follow it, and may do so only out of fear of the consequences or of selfish want of reward. If God's actions are not by definition good, then, there must be an independent source of the definition of goodness. If God has always been good then God can't have been the creator of goodness; yet if it wasn't, then what was? The idea of a good god causes contradictions. If you do not accept purely logical, philosophical or theological arguments that god cannot be benevolent, then, the real-world existence of evil and suffering (of babies, etc) is also evidence that the world was not created by a perfectly good god. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes appear to be universal and not linked to Human free will, yet they cause much destruction. It seems that morality and God are contradictory. God cannot be the author of morality nor can it itself be moral.

See:

2.4. God Has Free Will1

It is known by four strong arguments that God cannot have free will, as other features and properties of God contradict the possibly of god being able to make choices.

  1. An omniscient being cannot have free will because it is predestined by its own knowledge of its future actions.

  2. A perfectly benevolent God cannot have free will because there is only one perfect course of action, which God, being perfectly good, must follow.

  3. The creator of time cannot have free will: if God exists outside of time then it is immutable, unchanging, and as such it has no mental states except one everlasting and perfect state. Choices require changes in mental states over time. An eternal being that created time cannot have free will.

  4. If God created free will then it cannot itself already have had free will before it done so: yet, an omniscient being already knew (before it created free will) everything it would do. Therefore any creator-god cannot have free will about any of its actions.

See:

2.5. God is Rational1

#atheism #theism

If god created anything according to a thought-out logical plan, or, if God had a desire to create anything that wasn't pure random chaos, then, god's thoughts must have been framed around logic. This logic allowed god to think and create, and, gave motivation to God. Logic must have been the first cause; but if logic is a requirement for God and existed before God could create, then God cannot be the First Cause, and therefore, creator-god theism is false, and atheism is true.

2.6. God is Conscious1

#buddhism #taoism

There is no reason to assume that the first cause is a conscious being that deliberates over choices to be made. There is nothing stopping a divine principal running along unconsciously - more akin to a natural law or a clockwork being. Just because it has effects does not mean it is conscious. Westerners would not often think along these lines, so it is assumed by a great many that consciousness is a requirement of the absolute power. But take Buddhism or Taoism, where karma provides eternal justice through a system of cause and effect: it has the same features as God, the Judge. But karma is not a conscious being, with 'intent', emotion or a mind of its own. It is an assumption to think that we know that the First Cause has a mind, an assumption that it is safer not to make.

2.7. God Feels Emotions (Human Ones!)

If God exists, it doesn't mean it knows the same emotions that we do. Our emotions are a result of our brain chemistry and hormones (we know this because if we alter these chemicals, our emotions alter accordingly). God does not have the same bodies that we do. To state that God feels emotions (loneliness, anger, pride, hatred, love, doubt) is a ridiculous assumption on our behalf and merely shows our immaturity as a species to conceive of intelligent beings that are not like us! Personification of our emotions on to God is compelling for us to do, but we have no way to defend our assumptions that God feels any emotions that we can understand. It is much safer and more realistic to assume that God's emotions are completely unlike ours.

2.8. God Wants to be Worshipped

We do not know if worship is meaningful to anything else but ourselves. If God is omniscient, it knows all the respect we have for it and worship itself doesn't show God anything it didn't already know. Just because God exists doesn't mean that it wants worship. Why would an omnipotent being want to be worshipped? There is no good answer to this question: worship is a function of dogma and tradition. If we conclude that worship can make people feel happy then it's probably more honest for us to consider worship a form of meditation.

2.9. God Communicates With Us1

#god #god_communication #monotheism #religion #theism

It is an unwarranted assumption to think that God wants to tell us anything, or, that we ourselves can tell God anything. In other words, if there is a God, then, it still doesn't hold true that any particular theistic belief system is true (they could all be horribly wrong), nor that any particular morality, text or tract is being propounded by God.

It seems that God's methods of letting people know that it exists, and of promulgating correct beliefs, are comprised of some fairly suboptimal methods. Excepting direct revelations to a very few number of people, God has all knowledge about itself passed by word of mouth from human to human. This limited and confusing way of communicating with us has led to uncountable numbers of chinese whispers, confusion, mistranslation and error, resulting in disagreements, sects, divisions, varying denominations, entirely different religions and dispute, conflict, violence and war, sometimes on large scales. Strangely, it also seems that direct revelation is nearly always given to mankind - for example there is no instance in the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) of God talking directly to any woman2, and, causing additional problems, revelation is apparently restricted to classical and ancient languages. Many holy books are very clear that believing in signs is the good and holy thing to do, but, most of the same books have terrible punishments in store for those who have the wrong religious beliefs. This contradictory mess clearly shows us one thing: the vast majority of religious instruction that has surfaced in our history is a construct of human error. God, it seems, is a very poor communicator.

It also seems to make little sense to say that we can "communicate" with God - in that - there is nothing we can actively say to God that it didn't already know we thought or felt. Take prayer as an example.

When we pray, we are conveying our thoughts to what we think of as God. But, if God is all-knowing then it already knows anything we would want to say. If we pray because we are feeling insecure or frightened... God already knows how we feel. If we pray because we want God to make a friend recover from illness... then God already knows that we want it to help our friend. So what is the point of praying to God for these things? It is certainly not because it needs us to, or because we want it to tell it something that it already knows! Clearly, prayer is not because God has needs!

2.10. God Cares What We Believe1

#china #hinduism #japan #turkey

The vast majority of the people in the world live in cultures or communities where nearly everyone is the same religion. Millions of people die - for example children and young adults - without actually obtaining enough worldly knowledge to make a reasonable estimate of what religion they think is true. This was especially true in previous centuries, where a Christian could call all Muslims or Jews devil-worshippers and not be afraid that anyone would actually know any of them personally in order to object.

The Chinese, Japanese, Hindus, Tartars, Africans, Eskimo, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Polynesians, and many other peoples, are substantially ignorant of the Bible. All the Bible societies of the world have produced only about one hundred and twenty millions of Bibles, and there are about fourteen hundred million people. There are hundreds of languages and tongues in which no Bible has yet been printed. Why did God allow, and why does he still allow, a vast majority of his children to remain in ignorance of his will?

"Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900)" by Robert. G. Ingersol (1900)

Ingersol's statement is no longer true, but the point is that Human civilisation has existed for over 7000 years, and the human species for somewhat longer, but religions come and go over time. The fact is, most people must have remained not only members of the 'wrong' religion, but, actually without any exposure to whatever the true religion is. How can this be?

  1. God doesn't care what religion people are, or what beliefs they have.

  2. or

  3. God reveals the truth to people when they die, and cleanses of them of the biases they gained in life due to exposure to 'wrong' evidence, and lets them choose posthumously.

    or

  4. God is immoral and injust, and simply punishes people for having the wrong beliefs even if they've never had a chance to learn what the 'right' beliefs are. We should all, hopefully, if we are moral beings, reject such a monstrous god.

Notice that for all possible answers to this question, it doesn't matter what beliefs a person actually had while they were alive. The only sensible conclusion, if there is a good god, is:

2.11. God Cares About Humankind in Particular1

#christianity #islam

Historian William Draper in 1881 writes that it has been a historical feature of nearly all world religions created by mankind that it is, actually, mankind that it is at the center of the creator's plan3. But it makes no sense to think that God is interested in us as a species, more than any other species. The dinosaurs would have had every reason to imagine that the Universe was fine-tuned for them. The stars and moon to provide light at night, the sun to make the plants to grow, for food. The evidence is convincing that everything was designed, just for them. The same logical arguments would lead dinosaurs and Human theologians to the same conclusions: We are the species that God cares about! But how wrong the dinosaurs were! Given the success of insects such as ants, and reptiles, and bacteria, it is actually more likely that the Earth was built for them, not animals, and not Humans. Some bacteria can survive in space; and 99% of the Universe is pure, vast, empty space. To say that the Human species is central to creation is somewhat odd, given the uninhabitable vastness of the universe.

Given the egocentrism that seems to characterize the human race, convincing people that the universe was designed with them in mind is as easy as convincing a child that candy is good for him.

"Intelligent Design" by Victor J. Stenger

Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.

"The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce (1967)

Bertrand Russell the philosopher hits upon this subject in two separate books. Although the Religion and Science quote is most generic, the first one could easily read "Islam" as "Christianity":

Book CoverIf Christianity is true, mankind are not such pitiful worms as they seem to be; they are of interest to the Creator of the universe, who takes the trouble to be pleased with them when they behave well and displeased when they behave badly. This is a great compliment. [...] It is an even pleasanter compliment if He awards to the good among us everlasting happiness in heaven.

"Why I am not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell (1957)4

Is there not something a trifle absurd in the spectacle of human beings holding a mirror before themselves, and thinking what they behold so excellent as to prove that a Cosmic Purpose must have been aiming at it all along?

"Religion and Science" by Bertrand Russell (1935)5

Egocentrism is surely the most pleasing and natural belief system of any species throughout the Universe, until such a time as their philosophy and science learns of the vastness of the Universe. Anthropomorphic gods are a projection of our ego rather than a humble admission that we (as individuals and a species) are relatively unimportant when we consider our place in the massive Universe.

Our ego makes us want to feel special, wanted, watched and observed. We want to be punished when we do wrong, because we like to feel that our actions count. Psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud, R.D. Laing6, etc, have also held that God is a projection of the ego. God provides an imaginary fulfillment of the role required by our ego; the position of a being that ratifies our importance in the world. The less important we feel ourselves to be, the more this God can assert itself. In angst and powerlessness, people find comfort in a personal "realisation" that actually everything is ok, they are not worthless, because God cares for them. Some turn to God to fill a hole created in our heads by an impoverished ego, filling them with a sense of importance.

2.12. God's Existence Explains the Universe

#buddhism #christianity #islam #judaism

It is not enough to say that "God exists" as the explanation as to why the Universe exists. If a God created the Universe, then, why did it do so? God must have had thoughts - a creative impulse - to create the space-time continuum. Therefore it is the properties and thoughts of God that explain the Universe, not the mere fact that God exists. God could easily exist for all of its eternity, existing in perfection in a perfect world, without creating the Universe. So saying that God explains the existence of the Universe is not the whole story.

If God has a plan for the universe, which is implemented as part of his will, why does he not simply create a deterministic universe in which the goal of the plan is inevitable? Or better still create it with the plan achieved?

"God And The New Physics" by Paul Davies (1984)7

Unfortunately there have been no comprehensive or compelling arguments as to why God created the Universe. This is a problem that effects not only monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also other religions such as Buddhism: Sages from all these religions have tried to explained why existence is the way it is, complete with suffering and death, but none have given a straight answer as to why any of it needed to exist at all.

3. Spirits, Angels, Demons

The mere existence of God doesn't provide us with proof of anything else. We can't base the assumption that there are bad and good spirits on the fact that God exists, because the two are different topics entirely. Likewise, proving that ghosts or angels exist does not prove that God exists. There could easily be a spiritual world that does not require the existence of god(s): physical processes might lead to the survival of spirits without bodies in a completely natural manner. It is an unfounded assumption to state that a spirit world implies the existence of God, or vice-versa.

4. Proving the Existence of God Would Not Support Any Particular Religion

#theism

If science found evidence for God, or philosophers came up with a logical argument that God exists, then we will still not know which religion, holy text, prophet or set of beliefs were correct. Most religions' beliefs contradict one another, so we know that most of them are wrong. We can't conclude that the most popular religion is most likely to be correct. At various times in history various beliefs have been most-popular. In the future, Islam will be the most popular religion. It doesn't mean, however, that it becomes the true religion. Popularity is not a measure of truth.

Many theistic arguments for the existence of God are only selectively applied. If "everything must have a cause" but, that the cause is itself uncaused, then it is of course quite possible that there are different ultimate causes of different things, and therefore, that there are multiple gods, all uncaused.

David Hume (1711-76) formulated some telling objections to natural theology. For example, he pointed out that even if one could, on the analogy of clocks and clockmakers, infer a maker of the world mechanism, there is nothing to guarantee that there would be only one such maker rather than a plurality of makers - a view that would not sit comfortably with monotheistic Christianity.

"Religion, Science and the New Age" by Roderick Main (2002)8

See:

5. Conclusions

#atheism #christianity #islam #judaism

If evidence was found that implied the existence of god, or, a logical argument was concocted that irrefutably proved the existence of god, then, it is not so simple as to then think you know things about God. There's no reason to think that God cares about Humankind in particular, given that the vast, massively huge Universe is almost everywhere completely unsuitable for us. There's no reason to think that God cares what we believe, that it wants us to try to communicate with it, that it wants to be worshipped, or that it feels emotions. Proof of God is not even proof that God is a conscious being with free will. And finally, the big three: benevolence, omnipotency and omniscience. All of the properties of God have to be argued for separate from the existence of God. And the problem is, many of these properties of God contradict one another. Now, if you take the position of mainstream religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, you find they assume that all those properties of God listed above are true. Not only true, but essential. This means that God, as an uncreated being, is really rather complicated. Much more complicated that the atheist position that the Universe is an uncreated thing. In other words, there are more unanswered questions with theism, than with atheism, and you'll be making fewer assumptions if you dispense with the idea of God. In summary, do not accept the simplistic assumption that just because someone says they can prove God exists, it also means they can prove anything about God!

Current edition: 2014 May 06
Originally published 2002 Aug 29
http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/assumptions.html
Parent page: There is No God: Theological, Philosophical and Logical Problems of Theism

All #tags used on this page - click for more:

#atheism #buddhism #china #christianity #god #god_communication #hinduism #islam #japan #judaism #monotheism #religion #taoism #theism #turkey

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References: (What's this?)

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Bierce, Ambrose. (1842-1914?)
(1967) The Devil's Dictionary. Paperback book. 2001 Penguin Classics reprint. Originally published 1971. Current version published by Penguin Group, London, UK. Published in UK by Victor Gollancz.

Clay, John
(1997) A Divided Self: Biography of R.D.Laing. Published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Davies, Paul
(1984) God And The New Physics. Paperback book. Penguin 2006 edition. Davies is a Professor in theoretical physics who has published ground-breaking research.

Draper, John William. (1811-1882)
(1881) History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. E-book. 8th (Amazon Kindle digital edition) edition. Published by D. Appleston and Co, New York, USA.

Ingersol, Robert. G.
(1900) Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900). Paperback book. 1998. Published by Kessinger Publishing.

James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Paperback book. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. Book Review.

Main, Roderick
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p173-224).

Pearson, Joanne
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

Russell, Bertrand. (1872-1970)
(1935) Religion and Science. Paperback book. 1997 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Introduction by Michael Ruse.
(1957) Why I am not a Christian. Fourth Impression of 1967 edition, 1971. Published by Unwin Books.

Stanton, Elizabeth C.. (1815-1902)
(1898) The Woman's Bible. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Carrie Lorenz and John B. Hare.

Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.

Footnotes

  1. Added to this page on 2014 May 06.^^^^^^
  2. Stanton (1898) p130.^
  3. Draper (1881) p153.^
  4. Russell (1957) p40.^
  5. Russell (1935) p221.^
  6. Clay (1997) p53,59.^
  7. Davies (1984) p142-143.^
  8. Main (2002) p177-178. Added to this page on 2014 Apr 13.^
  9. 2002 Sep 02: Objections to the use of word "assumption" led me to change some occurrences of this word to read "premise" instead.
  10. 2009 Nov 25: My pages on "Faith: Similar Assumptions of Theists and Atheists" is merged with this page. I have only lightly edited the page, more will be done later.

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