The following is a transcription of the podcast made available HERE.
Welcome to the ex-Christian monologues, a podcast from the webmaster of exchristian.net.
I’m Dave, the webmaster, and it’s March 26, 2006.
Here’s a comment someone posted on ExChristian.Net just this morning:
“May I ask you a question?” writes the poster. “How are you so sure that there is no god. I think I understand well the position of agnostics. But I am curious about your conviction of no god. Anybody tell me?”
It is both frustrating and fascinating the number of times I’ve seen this question. The people asking are usually sincere, or appear sincere – they believe they are asking a pretty good question, one the requires a pretty good answer. Some people think that by simply asking that question, or some variation of it, that they’ve made a good point, or proven something.
Another version of the “how can you be sure there is no god” question, would be: “what is your evidence that there is no god?”
Okay, let’s consider this for a bit.
Here’s a statement: There is a god.
Here’s another statement: There is no god.
On the face of it, many people see these two statements as almost two sides of the same coin. What I mean by that is that Christians generally see these two statements: There is a god, vs. There is no god, as equal.
But are they really equal?
Let’s create a scene here. I’m no longer a Christian and I’m talking to a Christian friend. My Christian friend states there is a god and I deny that there is a god. Surprised by my denial, he asks me for my evidence that there is no god. I ask him for his evidence that there is a god and he shakes his head, asking again for my evidence that there is no god.
We seem to be at an impasse.
Then he waves his arms dramatically and proclaims, “Look at the world we live in, the complexity and variety of life, the beauty of creation, the majesty of the heavens. That is evidence of my god.”
I look around, and I have to admit, his description is apt. Life is wonderful and so is the rest of the Universe. I have to agree with him on that. What I deny is that the existence of the Universe gives incontrovertible evidence of a god, or that a god played a role in creating the Universe.
My friend and I share a few common beliefs. We both believe life is grand and that the Universe exists, and is magnificent. Now my friend wants to add another belief to this list, a belief in a god.
Now, I freely admit, I don’t know where the Universe came from, if it came from anywhere. I don’t know why our planet appears beautiful to my eyes, or how life can be so complex. I don’t know – I admit it. My Christian friend has offered an explanation for the existence of these things – things we can both agree are quite remarkable.
Now, this is where the in breakdown in our conversation starts – right here.
My friend is the one offering an explanation for why the Universe exists and why it is the way it is. I am not offering an explanation; I’m claiming ignorance on these points. He is claiming authoritative knowledge.
Now, when someone claims to know the reasons for something, it’s proper to expect some justification from them before accepting the explanation.
Let me put it another way.
Someone could state that the Earth is being held in space and spun by giant invisible spirits. Now, before anyone would be expected to accept that belief, they would be well within their rights to ask for some evidence that supports the belief.
I agree that the world is hanging on nothing and spinning. I might not know how the Earth could possibly hang in space and spin, but I don’t believe invisible ghosts on steroids are pushing it in a steady rotation. I might not even have a better explanation than a “ghost theory,” but I still deny that such a thing is true. It falls to the person who claims to have the explanation to provide the supporting evidence. It doesn’t fall to me to provide evidence as to why I don’t believe in the ghostly world turners. All I need do is state that the evidence presented by the "spirit theorists" is unconvincing. I need not provide evidence as to why I deny the explanation; I simply deny that the evidence presented is sufficient for me to accept and believe.
Let’s consider another example. A man’s windshield is smashed and he accuses his neighbor of the crime. The neighbor denies having done it, and asks for the accuser’s evidence. The accuser replies with, “Where is YOUR evidence that you didn’t commit the crime?”
I can hear it already! “That’s not the same thing.”
Let’s see, the two neighbors agree that there is a smashed windshield. The owner of the car has a belief. He believes his neighbor is responsible for the crime. He thinks the smashed windshield is enough evidence to prove his neighbor’s responsibility in the matter. He offers no evidence for the crime except that there is a smashed windshield and his belief. Everyone can agree there is a smashed windshield, but one person has stated a belief, an explanation for smashed windshield.
Similarly, my Christian neighbor and I agree there is a Universe, but he has offered his belief, his explanation for the Universe. As with the windshield, it falls to the person making the explanation to provide evidence supporting the explanation.
Should the windshield case ever come before a judge, the accuser will need to present evidence supporting his allegation – his belief – first that he has a neighbor and secondly that his neighbor sabotaged his property. The accused will need to present nothing, except maybe to show that the evidence is insufficient to prove his guilt.
Okay, suppose I say I’ve designed wings that when strapped on my arms, will make me fly. My friends deny that I’ve made such a thing. It falls to me to prove my assertion; it doesn’t fall to my friends to prove their lack of faith.
How about I tell you I was taken into a UFO where I had nice chat over tea with Bigfoot. Would you believe me? If not, why not? Any reasonable person would expect me to provide some solid evidence before believing that Sasquatch and I are acquaintances who occasionally have lunch with Extraterrestrials. Skeptics would be justified in saying “I don’t think so.” It wouldn’t fall to the skeptic to give evidence for his or her lack of belief in my little story, no matter how much I believed it myself.
Still, I can hear the Christian voices, “Prove there is no god! See, you can’t prove it! Therefore, God exists!”
The demand for disproof can never lead anywhere. I can say “there is good evidence that a god does not exist.” Then I could challenge the Christian to prove that my evidence doesn’t exist. The Christian could counter with “There is evidence that your evidence doesn’t exist – prove that there is no evidence disproving your evidence.”
The discussion quickly gets confusing, and silly, and goes absolutely nowhere.
Now if the Christian could offer some evidence that his or her god exists, then a fruitful discussion might ensue.
I don’t believe in Bigfoot, fairies, ghosts that like to play spin-the-world, or Zeus. Until some solid evidence is presented supporting a belief in these things, I can say with much confidence that none of these things exist, except in stories and in the imaginations of some people. I need not PROVE that Bigfoot, fairies, world lifting spirits, or the gods on Mt Olympus don’t exist. It falls to those who state any of these things DO exist to provide the evidence supporting their beliefs.
In a similar fashion, I can claim that the Christian God does not exist. There is simply insufficient evidence supporting the existence of a god. Pointing to the Universe as evidence of Christianity’s god, is much like pointing at the smashed windshield as evidence that the neighbor smashed it. In the story there is a smashed windshield, and how it happened is a mystery. Evidence must be presented showing that the neighbor was indeed responsible for smashing the windshield.
Likewise, there is a Universe, and its genesis is frankly, a mystery.
Now it’s time to see the evidence that supports the Christian’s accusation that the Christian god is responsible for the Universe.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)