Arguments Against The Existence of God
Arguments against the existence of God (atheism) range from philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include arguments that there is a lack of empirical evidence, the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief. Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities; therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. Secular Humanism), there is no ideology or code of conduct to which all atheists adhere.
Atheists have presumed that the most reasonable conclusions are the ones that have the best evidential support. And they have argued that the evidence in favor of God’s existence is too weak, or the arguments in favor of concluding there is no God are more compelling. Traditionally the arguments for God’s existence have fallen into several families: ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments, miracles, and prudential justifications.
Arguments against the existence of God are deductive or inductive. Deductive arguments for the non-existence of God are either single or multiple property disproofs that allege that there are logical or conceptual problems with one or several properties that are essential to any being worthy of the title “God.” Inductive arguments typically present empirical evidence that is employed to argue that God’s existence is improbable or unreasonable. Briefly stated, the main arguments are: God’s non-existence is analogous to the non-existence of Santa Claus. The existence of widespread human and non-human suffering is incompatible with an all powerful, all knowing, all good being. Discoveries about the origins and nature of the universe, and about the evolution of life on Earth make the God hypothesis an unlikely explanation. Widespread non-belief and the lack of compelling evidence show that a God who seeks belief in humans does not exist. Broad considerations from science that support naturalism, or the view that all and only physical entities and causes exist, have also led many to the atheism conclusion.
Each of the arguments below aims to show that a particular set of gods does not exist—by demonstrating them to be inherently meaningless, contradictory, or at odds with known scientific or historical facts—or that there is insufficient proof to say that they do exist.
The following empirical arguments rely on observations or experimentation to yield their conclusions.
- The argument from inconsistent revelations contests the existence of the deity called God as described in scriptures—such as the Hindu Vedas, the Jewish Tanakh, the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, the Book of Mormon or the Baha’i Aqdas—by identifying apparent contradictions between different scriptures, within a single scripture, or between scripture and known facts.
- The problem of evil contests the existence of a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent by arguing that such a god should not permit the existence of evil or suffering. The theist responses are called theodicies.
- The destiny of the unevangelized, by which persons who have never even heard of a particular revelation might be harshly punished for not following its dictates.
- The argument from poor design contests the idea that God created life on the basis that lifeforms, including humans, seem to exhibit poor design.
- The argument from nonbelief contests the existence of an omnipotent God who wants humans to believe in him by arguing that such a god would do a better job of gathering believers.
- The argument from parsimony (using Occam’s razor) contends that since natural (non-supernatural) theories adequately explain the development of religion and belief in gods, the actual existence of such supernatural agents is superfluous and may be dismissed unless otherwise proven to be required to explain the phenomenon.
- The analogy of Russell’s teapot argues that the burden of proof for the existence of God lies with the theist rather than the atheist; it can be considered an extension of Occam’s Razor.
The following arguments deduce, mostly through self-contradiction, the existence of a God as “the Creator”.
- Stephen Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinow state in their book The Grand Design that it is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. Both authors claim that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings. Christian mathematicians and scientists, most notably Leonhard Euler, Bernard d’Espagnat and John Lennox, disagree with that kind of skeptical argument.
- A counter-argument against God as the Creator takes the assumption of the Cosmological argument (“the chicken or the egg”), that things cannot exist without creators, and applies it to God, setting up an infinite regress.
- Dawkins’ Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit analogizes the above. Some theists argue that evolution is akin to a hurricane assembling a Boeing 747 — that the universe (or life) is too complex not to have been designed by someone, who theists call God. Dawkin’s counter-argument is that such a God would himself be complex — the “Ultimate” Boeing 747 — and therefore require a designer.
- Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language – specifically, words such as “God” – are not cognitively meaningful and that irreducible definitions of God are circular.
Some arguments focus on the existence of specific conceptions of God as being omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect.
- The omnipotence paradox suggests that the concept of an omnipotent entity is logically contradictory by considering questions such as “Can God create a rock so big that He cannot move it?” or “If God is all powerful, could God create a being more powerful than Himself?”
- Similarly, the omniscience paradox argues that God cannot be omniscient because he would not know how to create something unknown to himself.
- Another argument points to the contradiction of omniscience and omnipotence arguing that God is bound to follow whatever God foreknows himself doing.
- Argument from free will contends that omniscience and the free will of humanity are incompatible and that any conception of God that incorporates both properties is therefore inherently contradictory: if God is omniscient, then God already knows humanity’s future, contradicting the claim of free will.
- The anthropic argument states that if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect, he would have created other morally perfect beings instead of imperfect ones, such as humans.
- The problem of hell is the idea that eternal damnation contradicts God’s omnibenevolence and omnipresence.
- The Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God contests the existence of an intelligent Creator God by demonstrating that such a being would make logic and morality contingent, which is incompatible with the presuppositionalist assertion that they are necessary, and contradicts the efficacy of science.
Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.
- The atheist-existential argument for the non-existence of a perfect sentient being states that if existence precedes essence, it follows from the meaning of the term sentient that a sentient being cannot be complete or perfect. It is touched upon by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness. Sartre’s phrasing is that God would be a pour-soi [a being-for-itself; a consciousness] who is also an en-soi [a being-in-itself; a thing]: which is a contradiction in terms. The argument is echoed thus in Salman Rushdie’s novel Grimus: “That which is complete is also dead.”
- The “no reason” argument tries to show that an omnipotent and omniscient being would not have any reason to act in any way, specifically by creating the universe, because it would have no needs, wants, or desires since these very concepts are subjectively human. Since the universe exists, there is a contradiction, and therefore, an omnipotent god cannot exist. This argument is expounded upon by Scott Adams in the book God’s Debris, which puts forward a form of Pandeism as its fundamental theological model. A similar argument is put forward in Ludwig von Mises’s “Human Action”. He referred to it as the “praxeological argument” and claimed that a perfect being would have long ago satisfied all its wants and desires and would no longer be able to take action in the present without proving that it had been unable to achieve its wants faster—showing it imperfect.
- The “historical induction” argument concludes that since most theistic religions throughout history (e.g. ancient Egyptian religion, ancient Greek religion) and their gods ultimately come to be regarded as untrue or incorrect, all theistic religions, including contemporary ones, are therefore most likely untrue/incorrect by induction. H. L. Mencken wrote a short piece about the topic entitled “Memorial Service” in 1922. It is implied as part of Stephen F. Roberts’ popular quotation:
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
See also: Anecdotal evidence
Similar to the subjective arguments for the existence of God, subjective arguments against the supernatural mainly rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, or the propositions of a revealed religion in general.
- The witness argument gives credibility to personal witnesses, contemporary and from the past, who disbelieve or strongly doubt the existence of God.
- The conflicted religions argument notes that many religions give differing accounts as to what God is and what God wants; since all the contradictory accounts cannot be correct, many if not all religions must be incorrect.
- The disappointment argument claims that if, when asked for, there is no visible help from God, there is no reason to believe that there is a God.
Atheistic Hindu doctrines cite various arguments for rejecting a creator God or Ishvara. The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra of the Samkhya school states that there is no philosophical place for a creator God in this system. It is also argued in this text that the existence of Ishvara (God) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. For instance, it argues that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever-changing world. It says God is a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya endeavor to prove that the idea of God is inconceivable and self-contradictory, and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject. The Sankhya- tattva-kaumudi, commenting on Karika 57, argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world, and if God’s motive is kindness, Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering. Samkhya postulates that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not an imperfect world like the real world.
Charvaka, originally known as Lokāyata, a heterodox Hindu philosophy states that there is “no God, no samsara (rebirth), no karma, no duty, no fruits of merit, no sin.” Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy, decided that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God is insufficient. They argue that there is no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there is no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a god to validate the rituals. Mimamsa argues that the gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. In that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of gods.
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Black Swan, 2007 (ISBN 978-0-552-77429-1).
- Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve Books, 2007 (ISBN 978-0-446-57980-3).
- Hick, John, ed. (1964). The Existence of God: Readings, in The Problems of Philosophy Series. New York: Macmillan Co.
- Plantinga, Alvin. “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments” (PDF). Calvin College. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2007-11-25.
- Schneider, Nathan (2013). God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520269071.
- Swinburne, Richard (2004). The Existence of God (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199271672.
- Walls, Jerry L.; Dougherty, Trent, eds. (2018). Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190842222.