“You can’t prove God doesn’t exist!”

If you listen to The Atheist Experience show, or are involved in apologetics, you’ll find that one of the go-to arguments Christians rely on is “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist, therefore atheism is based on faith!”

The standard answer is that atheism is a lack of belief, not a belief that there is no God. This seems extremely difficult for Christians to understand, probably because they are stuck in the mindset that anyone who’s not a Christian must have some alternate religious worldview to compensate (and a lot of atheists are stuck in that mindset, too). This leads dialogues into one of two directions: either the Christian acknowledges the lack of belief in God and equates atheism with nihilism (because they confuse an apparent lack of worldview with an actual lack of worldview, which they equate with a conscious form of nihilism), or the Christian, due to their intellectual limitations, simply cannot understand how a lack of belief is different from a belief in the negative. Neither of these avenues are fruitful, and they both lead to frustration. This is partially why I think talking about atheism is a waste of time.

So the inevitable question posed to atheists is: “what is your proof that God does not exist?” To which atheists usually try to keep the high ground and reply that they only lack belief in God, and that it is the Christian who is making a statement about reality. The Christian is the one who has to prove that God exists. The atheist is free to disbelieve in anything that is not sufficiently justified, without having to prove anything in turn. So the atheist doesn’t have to prove anything, which is why it’s a good route to take if you’re having a dialogue.

But there is a difference between an expedient answer and an honest answer. Christians play fast and loose with the truth, and it’s hard to nail them down (pun intended). We have to resort to expedient answers in order to not get bogged down in details that just slow the conversation down.

The honest answer, I think, should be that there is no God. Of course there isn’t. We know the Christian god does not exist. We know the Greek gods don’t exist. There are no gods at the top of mountains, on the clouds, or in one of the ten to twenty-six dimensions that may or may not exist, all rolled up like an atomic swiss cake. To this people will inevitably reply, as Al Sharpton ill-advisedly tried to argue against Christopher Hitchens in their debate on the existence of God, what about the abstract concept “God”? Sharpton’s arguments failed, as these arguments always do, because there is no such thing as a “generic God” that is revealed to us by nature. The only concrete pieces of evidence we have for gods are holy books which proclaim the existence of a specific God, which can be easily disproven. These holy books are unconvincing, to say the least, but at least they are evidence. There is no evidence that someone like Sharpton can point to and say “look, here is a conception of God you can’t disprove!”

To continue along these lines, I think the perennial comparison with Santa Claus is never followed through, and that’s unfortunate. We don’t disbelieve in Santa Claus’ existence, we know Santa Claus does not exist. How do we know Santa Claus does not exist? The existence of Santa Claus is established through mythical narratives which don’t have much connection to reality. We also know that the concept of Santa Claus has evolved over time, from the Wild Man and Odin to Sinterklaas to the Santa Claus we know today. Like other myths, God’s existence is established through mythical narratives, such as the Bible or the Quran, and has evolved over time, from living and breathing pantheons to polytheism to highly abstract monotheism. Is this conclusive? It’s conclusive enough for us to declare Santa Claus, leprechauns, elves, fairies, and werewolves to be mythical creatures.

There are other strong arguments against the existence of God. The one I find most persuasive is the argument from physical minds. All the minds we know are the product of an evolutionary process and function on a material substrate, and we do not know of any minds which are not the product of evolution or which do not function on a material substrate. Therefore there is no reason to believe that such a mind could exist.

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7 thoughts on ““You can’t prove God doesn’t exist!”

  1. NY Bfile December 10, 2016 at 21:29 Reply

    Thanks for this topic.

    1) Do you believe that a naturalistic theory of human nature offered by the natural sciences, such as evolutionary theory, can tell us most everything we need to know about religion?

    2) Do you think that religion will eventually be replaced by our scientific and secular worldview?

    Whenever these questions are brought up most people usually respond with exasperation and assert that Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris ….”do not understand what religion is and don’t know what they’re talking about”

    They keep reiterating that a humanistic tradition of sociological, anthropological, and philosophical study of religion that can be traced back to great intellectuals like Hegel, Durkheim, Mauss, Weber, Cassirer, Schutz, Voegelin, Ricoeur, and Geertz is the superior approach and what is needed today.

    3) Are they correct to blame Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris for being ‘misguided’ and lacking scholarly depth?

    • Francois Tremblay December 11, 2016 at 01:43 Reply

      “1) Do you believe that a naturalistic theory of human nature offered by the natural sciences, such as evolutionary theory, can tell us most everything we need to know about religion?”

      I’m not sure what you’re encompassing into a “naturalistic theory of human nature.” I don’t think that natural sciences are the only thing we need to understand human nature, although clearly it helps a great deal. But I suppose my answer would be “no.”

      “2) Do you think that religion will eventually be replaced by our scientific and secular worldview?”

      They’re not really the same kind of thing. Religion is supposed to provide the spiritual and ethical context of our lives. At this it mostly fails miserably. But I don’t think a secular scientific worldview is an alternative.

      “Whenever these questions are brought up most people usually respond with exasperation and assert that Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris ….”do not understand what religion is and don’t know what they’re talking about””

      I have not seen this to be true. While there are things I disagree on with most of these people (except perhaps Hitchens), religion is not one of them.

      “They keep reiterating that a humanistic tradition of sociological, anthropological, and philosophical study of religion that can be traced back to great intellectuals like Hegel, Durkheim, Mauss, Weber, Cassirer, Schutz, Voegelin, Ricoeur, and Geertz is the superior approach and what is needed today.

      3) Are they correct to blame Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris for being ‘misguided’ and lacking scholarly depth?”

      No, I don’t think so. As far as I recognize these names, they are sociologists. Is that correct? I think sociology is a quite different enterprise from debunking religion. Anyone who confuses the two will not get far in understanding. The role of sociology is to describe and analyze. The role of debunking is to expose the tensions and contradictions within an ideology or belief system. A debunker cannot be neutral.

  2. John Doe December 11, 2016 at 08:53 Reply

    Here are more reasons to stay the hell away from DeviantArt. There are a number of incredibly spiteful apologetics on there.

  3. Sundazed December 12, 2016 at 07:18 Reply

    Interesting post and I would like to extend this writing to all of the big three that is rooted in Abrahamic theologies; Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    I sometime play with the thought that let’s say this entity they believe in truly exist. That is named either Elohim (or sometime referred to as Jehova) God or Allah.
    I usually argue that if this entity truly exists its more an entity depicting a demon than anything else.
    A jealous entity, that says you shall have no other entities before you and demand total obedience or great horror will be inflicted upon you (esp when you die and shall enter the after life).
    And as far as I know all three of them argues that evil comes in the disguise as good, a false goodness. Well, their entity seems to be doing that splendidly.

    • Francois Tremblay December 12, 2016 at 07:28 Reply

      As Hitchens used to say, a celestial dictatorship.

      • Sundazed December 12, 2016 at 08:45 Reply

        While I have not read/seen much with Hitchens that is a good way to put it :)

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