The main problem with the question
Does God Exist? is that there are different ideas about what God is or could be. So the approach I will take here is to examine multiple conceptions of God, not just one. If none of them stand up, then atheism will be justified, but if a single idea of God does stand up, even if all the rest fail, then some form of theism is justified, though it may be different from the theism you are accustomed to.
Let’s start with the sorts of deities people believed in during ancient times. People attributed various natural phenomena and psychological states to a variety of different deities. For example, Apollo pulled the sun across the sky, and Eros made people fall in love. In time, people found more scientific explanations for the things they attributed to these gods, and belief in them fell away. Moreover, some of these gods were involved in ridiculous stories the likes of which have never been witnessed by anyone in history. For example, Zeus would transform himself into animals to have sex with women who bore him children, or the Titan Prometheus would be chained to a mountain, or goddesses would offer bribes to a mortal to judge in their favor in a beauty contest. The absurdity of such stories is one of the reasons people stopped believing in them. And then there is the fact that different cultures had different pantheons of gods. So far, I have just given examples from Greek mythology, but other cultures all around the world had their own gods and mythologies. There were some similarities, but the many differences lent weight to the idea that the mythologies of all these cultures were made up. So, nowadays, few people at all believe in the pagan gods.
Creator of the World
The Bible opens with a couple creation stories. In the first, God creates the world in seven days. In the second, he creates Adam and Eve. And the Bible is by no means the only place where a deity is portrayed as creating the world. In mythologies from all around the world, there are stories of some god or other creating the world, the details often varying from story to story. Besides the creation stories themselves, some people have argued that the appearance of design that we find in the world indicates that it had a designer. This was the idea behind Paley’s watchmaker argument. He argued that if you found a watch without previously knowing anything about watches, you would still conclude that it had a maker. By analogy from this, he concludes that the universe as a whole had a maker.
For some people, creator of the world is the only role God has. These people are called deists, and prior to the discoveries of Darwin and Wallace in the 19th century, it was common for critics of Christianity to be deists rather than atheists. These included the French philosopher Voltaire1 and the American founding fathers Thomas Paine2 and Ethan Allen3. Since then, the strongest support for God as a creator has been found in creation science or intelligent design, which some religious people promote as a rival scientific theory to evolution. Proponents of intelligent design maintain there is scientific evidence for it, such as irreducible complexity. Some religious people disagree with them, maintaining that God used evolution to create life. But I disagree with them even more completely. As I understand evolution by natural selection, it accounts for the diversity of life, the existence of life, and even the order of the universe — all without appealing to any acts of creation or intelligent design. I have numerous articles tagged evolution, which go into detail about how well evolution explains the world around us, and here I’ll just highlight a few of them.
My oldest article on evolution is a review of Daniel Dennet’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. This article provides an overview of my understanding of how evolution explains everything from the order of the universe to the diversity of life on earth.
In Is God Needed for Scientific Laws?, I go into greater detail about how evolution by natural selection accounts for the order of the universe.
In Abiogenesis by Natural Selection, I go into detail about the role evolution by natural selection played in the emergence of life.
In Addressing the So-Called Seven Scientific Reasons the Theory of Evolution Cannot Be True, I give a detailed refutation of an article that mistakenly argues that genetics and math disprove evolution. My main point is that the author misunderstands how natural selection works, and I point out again and again where this steers him wrong.
Finally, I address Paley’s teleological argument head on in an article called Flaws in Paley’s Teleological Argument. But instead of just pointing out that evolution explains things well enough without appealing to the idea of a creator, I focus on various things that are hard to explain from the perspective that a creator is responsible for them, such as death and disease, and I then explain how evolution by natural selection accounts for them better.
Thanks to my understanding of how natural selection accounts for the order of the universe, the existence of life, and the diversity of life, I believe there is no deity who created the world.
The God of the Bible
The God of the Bible differs from the pagan gods by allegedly being the one true God. The Bible puts forth the idea that while all the pagan deities are phony, the God of Israel is the creator of the world and the only God to ever exist. One immediate problem with the idea that the Biblical God is real is that the Bible portrays this God as creating the world, and as I just noted, the world has no creator. The story of the world’s creation in seven days never happened, and the story of Adam and Eve never happened. Without the story of Adam and Eve, the idea that Jesus died to save us from original sin gets unanchored from the story explaining how we came to be subject to original sin. But that only affects Christian ideas about God, not the Jewish ideas originally expressed in the Old Testament. So let me turn to some other problems with the OT portrayal of God. The main thing I’ll argue for here is that there is evidence that the Biblical God is a modified pagan god.
For one thing, this god starts out as the God of Israel, not as a universal God known to every culture in the world. If this is the one true God, wouldn’t it make sense for him to reveal himself to every culture around the world? In fact, if the Bible is to be believed, God did this in the time of Noah. After the flood, the survivors should have been well aware of the power of this one true God, and a record of this event and the God who made it happen should have made its way to every culture on earth. Yet this didn’t happen. Most of the world apparently forgot that there was only one God, falling into paganism even though they were all descended from people who had witnessed the power of the one true God. And in time, most of the world was pagan, and it took God revealing himself to Abraham and his descendants for people to start taking monotheism seriously again. Then, after the God of everyone’s ancestors revealed himself to Abraham, he took a special interest in the people descended from Abraham. When they lived in captivity in Egypt, this God made a huge hullabaloo about getting them out. Yet instead of using the Hebrews to tell the Egyptians that he was the one true God and deserved their worship, he inflicted multiple plagues on Egypt, each one announced by his prophet Moses and Aaron, the brother of Moses. And instead of being satisfied with one plague being enough, he kept hardening the heart of the Pharaoh against letting the Hebrews go, because he wanted a pretext for continuing to show off his power. After the Hebrews left Egypt, they followed Moses around for 40 years, and during this time, God killed most of them off for being unfaithful and disobedient. Meanwhile, despite the show of power God displayed in Egypt, the Egyptians remained pagans. During the course of the Old Testament, the prophets frequently talk about the relationship between God and Israel, not about how this is a universal God who can save Jews and Gentiles alike from either sin or death. The main promises God makes in the Old Testament are to look after Israel and to send a Messiah who will deliver Israel from its enemies, and God routinely fails to keep these promises. Israel splits up into Israel and Judea, which both get conquered by foreign powers who worship pagan gods. In time, Jews return to Judea (though not Israelites to Israel), and they continue to live under the rule of foreign powers, eventually living under Roman rule during the time of the New Testament.
Next, this God is known by the same names as pagan deities. Many references in the Bible refer to God with some variation of El, which is the name of the supreme god in the Canaanite pantheon. The Canaanites are noted for being the people whom Hebrews kill off at the command of their deity for being a bunch of pagans. The name of El is found in such names for God as Elohim, El Shaddai, and El Elyon, and it is a common component of names that include God in their meaning, such as Daniel (God is my Judge), Michael (who is like God), and Israel (may God reign). If the Hebrew God is the one true God, and he is having the Hebrews kill off people for being pagans, why is he letting them call him by the same name as one of those phony pagan gods? Could it be in fact that stories of the Hebrew God are actually based on local pagan mythology?
Another sign that the Biblical God is a modified pagan god is the inclusion of mythological stories in the Bible. One of these is Noah’s Ark. Although there is geological evidence of catastrophes and floods, there is no geological evidence of a global flood, and there is no genetic evidence that the DNA of all species bottlenecked at a certain point in history. Furthermore, the Ark, given its dimensions, could not possibly contain one pair of every species on earth, which is the bare minimum that would be needed to repopulate the earth. There is also the problem of how animals from the far ends of the earth, such as Australia and Antarctica, made their way to Noah’s Ark before the flood happened. Overall, there are too many scientific implausibilities in the Noah’s Ark story to take it seriously. It is also noteworthy that a similar story appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh4. This book is older than the Bible, and it tells of its hero, Gilgamesh, meeting Utnapishtim, a man whose story is very similar to Noah’s. But there are some differences. One is that he has been granted immortality, which explains how he can be around to tell his story to Gilgamesh. The other is that multiple gods were involved in the story of the flood instead of just one. If the Bible is to be believed, the story of Gilgamesh is pure mythology. Yet it appears that Gilgamesh includes source material for Genesis. So, the evidence is that the Biblical flood story is not based on real events that happened as described in the Bible but is instead based on pagan Babylonian mythology.
Following closely after the flood story is the Tower of Babel story. This story makes God responsible for causing the diversity of languages. In fact, the evidence supports the idea that differences in language are the result of linguistic evolution, not of a divine miracle. I have covered this at greater length in my article Linguistic Creationism in the Tower of Babel.
And there are many more myths and parallels with pagan myths in the Bible than just the creation myths, the flood myth, and the Tower of Babel myth. For more details on this, I will refer you to Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions (1882) by T. W. Doane, which, thanks to its age, can be downloaded for free.
Besides containing myths and scientific errors, the Bible is rife with contradictions. Its very first set of contradictions is between the two Creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. This makes sense if the Bible is just being compiled from multiple sources without any fact-checking, but it doesn’t make sense from the perspective that this is the revelation of God. Throughout the Bible, there are numerous contradictions, including contrary portrayals of God. For example, God demands animal sacrifices in some places, and other places portray God as saying that he never demanded animal sacrifices. There are also passages that call into question God’s moral character, such as flooding the world5, asking Abraham to sacrifice his son6, sending plagues on the Egyptians7, commanding the Hebrews to slaughter entire groups of people8, even the children and babies9, accepting the human sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter10, granting Samson the strength to murder over 3000 Philistines11, and telling the Hebrews that he will make them eat their own children12. These are all indications that the Bible is not a divine revelation, and that the God portrayed in it is as mythological as any pagan deity.
One good book on the various problems in the Bible is The Cure for Fundamentalism: Why the Bible Cannot be the “Word of God” (2014) by Steve McRoberts. This goes into verse-by-verse detail on Bible contradictions and other problems with the Bible, such as bad science and unflattering portrayals of God. If the Bible were truly the word of God, I would expect it be free of errors, completely clear, especially on the things that are essential for salvation, and informative on some topics ancient humans couldn’t have otherwise known about. Yet the Bible is far from any of this. It is clearly not the work of God or even the record of people who communicated with God. So, I maintain that the God of the Bible is completely mythological and just does not exist.
Allah, the God of Islam
Given that Islam claims that Allah is the same deity as portrayed in the Bible, and given that the Biblical deity shows so many signs of being mythological, all indications are that Allah is just as mythological. Besides this, Allah is supposed to be the one true God, yet instead of revealing Islam to all the peoples of the world through a bunch of local prophets, he reveals himself through an Arabian prophet who is regarded as the last of the prophets. I can understand why a phony prophet would make this kind of claim. It gives him greater authority, and it makes it more difficult for anyone else to usurp his authority by also claiming to be a prophet. But it doesn’t make any sense from God’s perspective. God would know that any 6th century prophet would be limited by his location in time and space, and that it would simply be more effective to communicate with people through numerous prophets who represent him in various times and locations. This is, of course, assuming that God considers speaking through prophets to be a good way of communicating with people in the first place. Being God, he could communicate with everyone directly, which would give his message much more credibility than it would have coming from some stranger claiming to speak for a much more powerful being. Aside from these logistic issues, Islam makes some ridiculous claims, such as Muhammad splitting the moon and riding to Heaven on a flying horse. Overall, Allah shows all indications of being mythological.
Creator of the Universe
Some theists accept that evolution is true, and that there are scientific explanations for the formation of the stars, galaxies, planets, and life. So they don’t imagine God as the literal designer of the planet earth and the life thereon. But instead of letting go of the idea of a creator, they just push it back and say that God is responsible for the creation of the universe itself. This is where the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God comes in. According to this more evolved form of the Teleological argument, the universe could have not supported life at all if certain constants of the universe had been different. From this, it jumps to the conclusion that God must have been responsible for fine-tuning these constants so that the universe would support life. To counter this, I will first bring up the anthropic principle, which states that any observations of the universe must be compatible with the existence of the lifeforms observing it. Because we are living beings, any universe we could possibly find ourselves living in and observing would be one that supports life. There was zero chance that we would observe the universe to be one incapable of supporting life.
One of the hidden premises behind the fine-tuning argument is that this is the only universe. If the observable universe is the only universe, then the odds that it would be one that supports life seems too huge to be a matter of chance, and based on this improbability, it is assumed that it wasn’t by chance but by design that the universe came to be one that supports life. But how do we know this is the only universe? If this universe popped into existence with the event known as the big bang, couldn’t there have been other big bangs? Is there anything special about the big bang that an event like this could happen only once? Maybe there have been multiple big bangs, all separate from each other, each one producing its own self-contained universe, each with constants tuned differently than this one. In that case, there could be many more universes that do not support life, and it is merely thanks to us being living beings that we find ourselves in a universe with all the right constants to support life.
At this point, the theist may cry Occam’s Razor and insist that a single universe created by a deity is a simpler explanation than a plethora of universes all popping into existence on their own. But it really isn’t simpler. Although it adds fewer entities, it adds more types of entities. The multiple universe hypotheses starts with what has appeared to have happened once, and it hypothesizes that it has happened more than once. In contrast, the god hypothesis assumes that there was an intelligent being who somehow existed before the universe and decided to make it one that could support life. But where did this being come from? If there was no universe in existence prior to the universe it created, then it did not evolve in a universe, and it presumably just popped into existence as a fully-formed intelligence with the power to create a universe. This is really a huge violation of Occam’s Razor.
As we understand the emergence of human intelligence, it came about through a long process of evolution by natural selection, because having even a small degree of intelligence helped our ancestors prevail against those who had even less intelligence. As barely intelligent beings competed with each other for resources, it continually proved advantageous to have a bit more intelligence, and over a long period of time, our ancestors gradually produced slightly more intelligent offspring, eventually culminating in beings with the high level of intelligence humans now enjoy. While it makes sense that intelligence could evolve in this way over a long period of time, it is hugely improbable that a fully-formed intelligence would just pop into existence without being the end result of a long evolutionary process. I would consider this way more improbable than a universe capable of eventually supporting life popping into existence. To explain the universe with a deity is to open up a whole new can of worms that is even more closed off to explanation than the mystery of the universe.
Another hidden premise behind the fine-tuning argument is that a universe must be sufficiently like the one we observe to be capable of producing life. As I understand the process of evolution by natural selection, it is an axiomatic algorithm that is going to be at work everywhere, as I have explained in The Algorithm of Natural Selection. So even in a universe with a different form of matter, the process of evolution could produce elements different from our own, and these elements could lead to more complex forms that could eventually result in complex reproducing forms that could evolve into lifeforms. So I don’t think the odds of a single universe producing life are as meager as proponents of this argument make them out to be.
Furthermore, we might expect that an intelligent being who wanted a universe capable of supporting life would have made it one capable of supporting more life. As we look out at the universe, most of it seems incapable of supporting life. We live in the habitable parts of a planet with all the right resources that orbits a suitable star in a Goldilocks zone. Other planets in the solar system seem to be unsuited for supporting life, and aside from unverified close encounter reports, there has been no sign of life existing on other planets in the universe. And if a deity was so interested in the universe producing life, why not produce life directly? Why rely on the process of evolution to bring about life over the course of several billion years? Apparently, this being is supposed to be powerful enough to create a universe but incapable of producing life or intelligence directly. So, for this and the other reasons I just went over, the hypothesis that the universe has an intelligent creator just doesn’t add up.
Creator of Existence
Existence cannot have a creator. A creator, by definition, is a being who already exists before creating something else. If the universe had a creator, this creator would already exist prior to the creation of the universe, and while this creator would be responsible for the creation of the universe, it could not be responsible for the creation of existence. I cover this point in more detail in Must We Presuppose God to Account for Existence?
Some versions of the Cosmological argument try to establish the existence of a first cause, and then the theologian making the argument tries to leapfrog from this to the particular deity of his religion. Perhaps the best version of the Cosmological argument would go like this:
If everything has a cause, then there will be an infinite regress of causes, which is absurd. Therefore, by reductio ad absurdum, there is or has been something that is uncaused.
This seems like a good argument, but it doesn’t establish the frequency or the nature of uncaused phenomena. The usual form of the Cosmological argument begins with the claim that everything is caused, making one exception to this for the first cause. In this way, it limits the number of uncaused phenomena to one first cause that is supposed to jump start all the rest of causation. But if the argument I gave above is a good one, and it has to be for the Cosmological argument to work, there is no good reason to infer that everything has a cause. Clearly, based on this argument, something doesn’t have a cause, and if one thing doesn’t, why not more? After all, if at least one thing can happen without cause, there is no cause why other things cannot also happen without cause. If we close this loophole by claiming that everything has a cause, then there can be no first cause. Just like there is no negative number furthest from zero, there would no cause earlier or prior to all the rest. So, this is the dilemma. If we accept uncaused phenomena, there is no telling how many uncaused phenomena there are, and if we don’t accept any, there is no first cause. Either way, the argument fails to establish a single first cause that is at the base of all other causation.
But let’s take a momentary leap of faith and assume there is a first cause. The next question is, like the first track on Kind of Blue,
So what?. Just because something jump starts causation doesn’t mean it is a deity with intelligence and volition. It could just be an uncaused event that got everything else going. Perhaps the big bang was such an uncaused event. I suppose the Cosmological argument has more force when combined with the Teleological argument. The idea must then be that the first cause is also the designer of the universe, but as I already discussed above, there is no good reason to think that the universe has a designer. Without this role for a first cause to play, there is no good reason to think that the first cause requires any intelligence or volition, and without intelligence or volition, the first cause would not be a deity.
So, as far as God as first cause goes, I believe that either there is no first cause at all, or if there is one, it’s not a deity.
A Being Than Which None Greater Can be Imagined
This comes from Anselm’s Ontological Argument for the existence of God. He argues that since it is greater to exist than to not exist, a being than which none greater can be imagined must exist. As Kant points out in criticism of this argument, existence is not a predicate.13 In English,
exists is the grammatical predicate of the sentence
God exists, but in logic, predicate has a stricter meaning, and in symbolic logic, we would symbolize
God exists differently than we would something expressing an actual predicate, such as
God is mighty. As long as we presuppose the existence of God, we could symbolize the latter as Mg, where M is the predicate of being mighty, and g is the subject God. Or, if we take
God as a description of a certain type of being without presupposing its existence, we could symbolize it like so: (∀x)(Gx ⊃ Mx), which more precisely says
If something is God, then it is mighty. To say that God exists, we would not replace M with E, where E stands for exists. Instead, we would use the existential quantifier. This looks like a backwards E, and it is described in more detail in my post Introducing Existential Instantiation and Generalization. Using it, we could symbolize
God exists either as (∃x)(x = g) or as (∃x)(Gx). In each of these, x is a variable, and the expression says there is an x that is God. They differ in whether they treat
God as a proper name or as a description. I think it makes more sense to treat the word
God as a description, but either way, it is not symbolized the same as a predicate would be. Because existence is not a predicate, it is not a quality of a thing imagined that it exists or not. Rather, there is simply the question of whether the being imagined is real or just imaginary.
Besides the reason Kant points out for Anselm’s argument being unsuccessful, there are some basic problems with the idea of a being than which nothing greater can be imagined. For one thing, this concept presumes there is a limit on how great one can imagine a being to be. But maybe there is no limit. After all, there is no limit on the greatest number one can imagine, and even if there were, there are greater numbers still, since there is an infinite number of them. In fact, it seems that imagination can exceed what is actually possible. Evidence for this is that some people imagine that all things are possible for God. But a being who can do the impossible is greater than any being that could possibly exist. So, there are two possibilities here. Either such a being is non-existent in the same way that the greatest integer is non-existent, or since imagination exceeds what is possible, such a being is impossible. Either way, there is no such thing as a being than which none greater can be imagined.
An Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent Being
René Descartes proposed a different form of the Ontological argument, in which he claimed that God is a perfect being, and among these perfections are omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and existence. Claiming that existence is a perfection, he argued that a perfect being must exist. This can be met with the same criticism from Kant that existence is not a predicate. Not being a predicate, it is not a perfection, and you cannot legitimately argue from the concept alone that a perfect being exists.
This particular conception of God has been the target of the problem of evil. This argument, which has been attributed (perhaps erroneously) to Epicurus, goes like this:
If God is omniscient, he knows of all evil. If God is omnipotent, he is capable of preventing all evil. If God is omnibenevolent, he wishes to prevent all evil. Therefore, if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, he knows of all evil, wishes to prevent it, and is able to. If God knows of all evil, wishes to prevent it, and is able to, there should be no evil. But there is evil. Therefore, by two applications of modus tollens, it is not true that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
This is a valid argument. The question is whether it is sound. One common response is to suppose that God chooses to allow evil for the sake of a greater good, such as giving people free will. The understanding is that it is impossible for God to both prevent evil and grant us free will. With this in mind, it may be best to replace the premise about omnibenevolence with
If God is omnibenevolent, then he would wish to prevent evil so long as this does not come at the expense of some greater good. With this change, we no longer have a valid argument against the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being. However, this response is not open to Calvinists, who claim that there is no free will because all of our actions are predestined, and it does not work for those who believe in eternal damnation in Hell. Eternal damnation in Hell is a much greater evil than anything anyone endures on earth, and it does not seem to serve any greater good. So, one thing we can get from the problem of evil is the idea that eternal damnation in Hell is incompatible with the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity.
But the problem of evil is not the only way to criticize this conception of God. If any quality of this being is impossible, the whole thing is impossible. As I have proven in my article The Impossibility of Omniscience, omniscience is impossible. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being is also impossible.
An Omnipotent Being
Since omniscience is impossible, let’s drop that and focus on just omnipotence. If this means that all things are possible to God, then it’s impossible. A being for whom all things are possible is simply an impossibility, for this would be a being for whom the impossible is possible, and that is a contradiction.
To salvage the concept of omnipotence, let’s narrow it down to the ability to do anything that is possible. Even so, it seems to meet with paradox. Can God create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it? If he creates such a rock, it will be impossible for him to lift, which will be a limitation on his omnipotence. And if he cannot, that is another limitation on his omnipotence. Putting paradoxes such as this aside, there just seems to be no evidence that an omnipotent being exists. The existence and order of the universe can be accounted for without such a being, and there is no evidence of any being who is routinely violating scientific laws to do what is otherwise impossible. As far as we can tell, the universe operates without any assistance or interference from a higher power.
One might claim that even if there isn’t evidence of such a being in our part of the universe, there might be in other parts. After all, we haven’t explored most of the universe. But we would never find an omnipotent being anywhere in the universe, because an omnipotent being couldn’t possibly be a natural being. Natural beings are part of nature and subject to natural law. As such, their power is normally limited by natural law and the time it takes for natural phenomena to work. As far as we know, the effects that any natural being can have on the universe are limited by the speed of light. For example, if a being of great might created a new star a million light years away, no one on earth would see light from that star for a million years. And if that being wanted to reach earth, it would take him no less than a million years unless some kind of FTL travel is scientifically feasible. Since an omnipotent being cannot be a natural being, it is not something to be found in the natural world. Rather, the only evidence we might find of an omnipotent being are violations of natural law that reveal the workings of someone behind the scenes.
Religious people do claim that miracles happen, but these so-called miracles normally seem to be consistent with natural law. For example, someone may get remission of cancer after praying for it, but prayer has never resulted in anyone regrowing a limb. For some reason, faith healing doesn’t work for amputees. If people pray for money, they might get money from a friend or relative or just find some somewhere, but they never see money materialize in front of them with a note saying it is from God. If people pray for guidance or for assistance in dealing with something psychologically troubling, the prayer could just as well be tapping into their own minds. When people do get what they hope and pray for, there is usually no telling whether it was just a coincidence or the workings of an omnipotent being behind the scenes. Since there are never any clear signs that a prayer has been answered by an omnipotent being, since prayers for scientifically impossible things never get answered, and since many prayers for things that could happen still get no results, the odds are overwhelming that an omnipotent being isn’t answering anyone’s prayers.
Since an omnipotent being cannot be a natural being, it could never evolve in the natural world. In fact, evolution by natural selection could never produce omnipotence. Evolution by natural selection works by gradually improving the capabilities of mortal beings with limited powers. Although it could result in beings who are more powerful than human beings, those beings would all have similar powers to each other, and none would be omnipotent. It’s also important to note that omnipotence is not something that can be shared. If two beings are omnipotent, then neither is truly omnipotent, for each could undo what the other does, or they could struggle with each other in a perpetual stalemate. So, omnipotence, if it exists at all, must belong to a single being who is not the product of any evolutionary process. Instead of evolving, such a being would have to appear fully formed with the power to do everything possible and the intelligence to wield this power. But the odds of such a being coming into existence out of the blue are wildly improbable at best, and most probably just zero. The odds of human beings appearing fully formed on earth just by accident without any prior history of evolution is far greater than the odds of an omnipotent being coming into existence, and those odds are still so wildly improbable that creationists, in their misunderstanding of evolution, ridicule evolutionists for believing something like this has happened.
Given that there is no evidence of an omnipotent being, and given that it is either impossible or immensely improbable for such a being to ever exist, it is fair to say with confidence that there is no such thing.
A Necessary Being
Some forms of the ontological argument for God claim that he is a necessary being. Assuming that there is such a thing as a necessary being, why must we presume that this being is a deity? The necessary being could just be matter, the stuff that the universe is made out of. Since no arguments for God are successful, I see no reason why a necessary being should possess intelligence or awareness, much less morality or the power to create and affect things.
The Creator of Logic
The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence maintains that logic is real only because it exists within the mind of God. This is nonsense. If logic depends upon God, then God is not subject to logic. Not being subject to logic, God could do the impossible. It’s also noteworthy that a being who is not subject to logic could not possibly be necessary. For God to be a necessary being, as some have claimed, logic would have to be independent of God. For further details on what is wrong with the Transcendental Argument and why logic cannot depend upon God, I’ll refer you to my article on Matt Slick’s Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence.
A Supernatural Mind
In the natural world, minds are complex information processors that came about through evolution by natural selection, because having mental functions helped beings maneuver to eat food and avoid predators, among other things minds turned out to be good for. Presumably, a supernatural mind would not come about by anything like evolution by natural selection. It would just pop into existence out of the blue, fully formed, fully capable of understanding things and of peering into the natural world. But why would this happen? Even if we allow for uncaused phenomena, something as complex as a mind is just too unlikely to pop into existence like this. It is most likely that all minds are complex systems produced through a process like evolution by natural selection or by intelligent design (assuming roboticists are creating artificial intelligence somewhere in the universe). People originally imagined supernatural minds, because they didn’t understand how nature worked, and they assumed the causal mechanisms behind nature were other minds. But aside from the minds it has produced itself, this is not how nature works. As I’ve already gone over in discussing why the world has no creator, natural phenomena are not due to the working of supernatural minds behind the scenes of nature.
God as Love
Love exists, to be sure, but love is an emotion, not a deity. Love primarily involves valuing someone or something.
God as the Universe
The universe exists, but it doesn’t seem to have any volition or intelligence of its own, and without that I’m not sure in what sense it could be considered a deity.
God as Each Person’s True Self
Borrowing pantheistic ideas from Hinduism, Alan Watts describes God as each person’s true self in The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Expressed mythologically, there is the idea that God became the universe to play hide and seek with himself, there being nothing better to do when you’re the only being who exists. The main intuition in favor of this idea of God is that it is difficult to imagine my own non-existence. If this is true, then I’ll still exist as other people after I die, and I have in fact been everyone, living or dead, and will be everyone else still to be born. The main problem with it is that there is no evidence in favor of it. If different minds could be linked between their shared identity with everyone’s true self, or if someone could shift perspectives between being different people, that might count as evidence, but these kinds of things don’t appear to be happening. And even if there is something to parapsychology or psychic phenomena, it could be a natural phenomenon that just involves interlinking and communication between different minds, sort of like the internet connects computers. While I sometimes do have an intuitive sense of being the universe focused into consciousness of itself, there is nothing concrete about this that I can hold onto as they way things truly are. All my memories are of being one person, and the other people I know act as if they have their own interests and perspectives, separate from my own. Furthermore, I have no firsthand knowledge of the past before I was born, of most of the world, or of the outer universe. As far as I can tell from the evidence, I am just me, and I will cease to be when I die. While I would like to go on forever, and the idea that I’m God can give some comfort in that regard, it takes a leap of faith to think that way, and taking this idea too seriously could imperil my life by keeping me from having sufficient concern for it. So, while I entertain the notion and hope there is some truth to it, I don’t take it seriously, and I consider it prudent to not regard it as true. In a sense, I’m making a reverse Pascal’s wager against it. If I am God, I will be fine whether I believe it or not. If I am not God, I could lose my life too early by believing I am, or I could prolong my life by recognizing my mortality and taking measures to stay alive. Since life is important to me, and actually remaining alive is more important to me than escaping the fear of death, I’m making the wager than I am not God. And since the evidence is in favor of my wager being correct, I avoid taking the idea that I am God very seriously. As far as I can tell, I am an ordinary human being, a mortal product of evolution who is here today and will be gone one of these tomorrows.
But even if I accept this idea of God, it puts me in a different relationship to God than the other concepts do. On this view, God is not something over and above me that demands my worship, obedience, or sacrifice. Instead, God just is me, as well as you and others, and the point of distinguishing between me and God is to point out that there is more to me than there appears to be, not that I must be subservient to a more powerful being. So, even if this idea is true, and I’ll repeat that I remain skeptical of it, belief in it does not require any kind of religious observance. And if God should be understood to be a more powerful being who requires my worship, this idea doesn’t really even qualify as God. It is more about the nature of self than it is about one’s relation to a higher being.
God as the Ground of Being
This is Paul Tillich’s idea of God. God is understood here as the source of being rather than as a particular being. This is similar to saying that God is the creator of existence, which was roundly rejected as impossible. It is certainly a contradiction to say of any being that it is the creator of existence. But it also seems to be a contradiction to say of any non-being that it exists. After all, to be is to exist. So, a being is something that exists. If God is the ground of being rather than a being, this would seem to imply that God is not a being. But if God is not a being, in what sense is God supposed to exist? Is this just a last-ditch effort to hold onto the idea of God?
God as the Tao
Tillich’s idea of God is similar to, and may even be the same as, what Taoism refers to as the Tao. This word is sometimes translated into English as God, and like Tillich’s ground of being, it is described as the source of things. The Tao Te Ching describes the Tao in a more maternal way than the western notion of a masculine creator. Instead of conceiving of the world and giving form to its conceptions, the Tao is understood as the source of things, sort of like a mother is understood as the source of a child. At tao-mother.org, these translations from the Tao Te Ching are given:
The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
Tao Teh Ching 4
The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.
Tao Teh Ching 6
These passages describe it in a paradoxical way, as both empty and full of infinite possibility. Describing it as a well or as a mother is to describe it as a source. It is also noteworthy that Taoism shies away from describing the Tao in concrete terms. The same translation opens by saying,
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
This is a denial that we can pinpoint what the Tao is through description, a denial that we can have a meaningful theology of the Tao.
The Tao may be real. It may be the source of all the potentiality that quantum physics portrays as the reality underlying the universe. But I would hesitate to call it God. The first lines of the Tao Te Ching warn against trying to pin it down with a name or a description. So, there may be some fundamental, underlying ground of being, but if this does exist, or is somehow the underlying reality to existence, it is not anything like the gods of mythology or revealed religion. It is not a conscious being who designs things, interferes with the world, or demands worship of any kind. For practical purposes, belief in the Tao or the ground of being does not seem that much different from not believing in any deity. Belief in it may give one a more reverential attitude toward reality, but it will not entail anything like the theological beliefs that are most common among Jews, Christians, or Muslims.
This has been a run-down of various ideas concerning God. In each case, I denied the existence of such a thing, considered it too unlikely to take seriously, or accepted it as real or possible without regarding it as a deity. In most cases, I ruled out the idea of God completely by denying that the particular concept in question was of anything real or by denying that it would truly be God. In some cases that remain closer to eastern thought than to western, I remain more agnostic. But these more eastern ideas are very different from the western portrayal of God as a Lord or a creator. As long as we’re talking about the common western notions of God, I’m what’s called a positive atheist or a gnostic atheist, meaning that I positively believe that they do not exist. But there could be other notions of God out there that I’ve missed. If you know of any important, legitimate concept of God that I haven’t already mentioned here, please share it in a comment.