The Atheist Bible, CC-BY Fabian M. Suchanek

The History of God

The origin of God

As we discussed in the Chapter on World Religions , the Abrahamic god was conceived by the Israelites  the people of Israel. The Israelites were originally polytheistic and worshipped the gods of the Canaanites, including the “Most High” El Elyon, his consort Asherah, Baal, and others1. At the time, the god Yahweh was not yet part of the Israelite pantheon: He was worshipped in Sinai, south of Israel2. Merchants and migrants probably brought worship of Yahweh north to Israel, as the Hebrew Bible also hints when it says that “the Lord came from Sinai [...], from the south, from his mountain slopes”[Bible: Deuteronomy 33:2, Judges 5:4, Isaiah 63:1, Habakuk 3:3]. The Ugaritic texts , clay tablets dating to 1200 BCE that were found in the ancient city of Ugarit in Syria, tell us that the Israelites originally considered the newcomer Yahweh a son of El Elyon3. The Hebrew Bible also contains passages that can be understood in this way: Deuteronomy 32:8-9 talks of the “Most High” (El Elyon) who divides people into nations, and gives a share to Yahweh[Bible: Deuteronomy 32:8-9]. The Dead Sea Scrolls (ancient Jewish manuscripts from the 3rd to 1st century BCE) show that the original version of this passage talks of one share for each of the sons of El Elyon, with Yahweh being one of them4. Psalm 82:1-9 also says that Yahweh is one of the sons of the “Most High”[Bible: Psalm 82:1-8].

Over time , El Elyon and Yahweh were fused into one god4, with Yahweh himself becoming the “Most High”3. Traces of this fusion, where both the name “El Elyon” (“the Most High”) and the name “Yahweh” are used to refer to the same god, remain in the Hebrew Bible[Bible: Exodus 6:3, Psalm 97:9].

At that time, the Israelites still worshipped other gods than Yahweh. That would change in 598 BCE , when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylonia, and the most influential citizens of Israel were taken to the city of Babylon as captives 1. In captivity, the Israelite clerics concluded that the destruction of Jerusalem was a punishment from Yahweh for worshipping other gods1. Henceforth, they declared Yahweh the only god, and all other gods were abandoned. This belief was codified in the Hebrew Bible (also called Torah), and all traces of the other gods were removed from the text — although some have remained: Psalm 86:8, for one, still acknowledges the existence of the other gods [Bible: Psalm 86:8]. The introduction of monotheism was the hour of birth of Judaism, and the groundwork for the other Abrahamic religions that followed.

In around 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth started preaching in what was then Roman Israel. He was likely just one of several prophets who tried their luck in Roman Israel. These prophets may have talked about the Jewish god Yahweh, but they may also have talked about other gods (or even no god at all). However, at the time, the Jews did not take talk of other gods lightly (blasphemy and apostasy were punishable by death in the Hebrew Bible). Hence, only those prophets who acknowledge Yahweh stood a chance of gathering adherents. This was the case for Jesus: He believed in Yahweh (“God”), but gave him a new face. God would soon establish his kingdom, and promised inclusion in this kingdom for the poor, the weak, and the sinners. Beyond that, Jesus emphasized devotion to God, observance of the law, and purity of intention5. Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but his followers insisted that he was resurrected to life afterwards. They founded the religion of Christianity on his preachings. The holy book of Christianity is the Bible, which combines the Hebrew Bible (called the Old Testament) with stories and letters from Jesus' time (called the New Testament). Much later, in the 4th century, Christianity came to hold that God was in fact a triune godhead of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and an entity called the Holy Spirit.

The 7th century CE saw the birth of another religion that worships God, founded by the Prophet Mohammed. Mohammed lived near the city of Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula. The region was inhabited by rivaling tribes and governed by rivaling cities. The Prophet had to prevail in this hostile environment, and he did so by transmitting a simple main message: submit to Allah and to Allah alone. There was no space for complexities such as a god who is one and three at the same time, a god fathering a human, or a human being resurrected from death. After all, Christianity had 700 years to catch on in the region, and it did not. Mohammed declared that he had received revelations from God (whom he called Allah). He taught submission to Allah, daily prayer, and almsgiving. The Prophet found many followers, and he started conquering the peninsula. After his death, his revelations were collected in a book called the Quran. They are the basis of the religion of Islam.

In the 19th century, two prophets appeared in Persia: Siyyid Alí-Mohammed (who called himself the Bab) and Mirza Husayn Ali (who called himself Bahaʼu'llah). Their main message was that Yaweh was in fact the god of all religions, and that the religions were just different revelations from the same god. They wrote down their teachings in several letters and books. Both prophets were persecuted, but their teachings stuck. They became the basis of the Bahai Faith.

In America , meanwhile, also in the 19th century, several people reported that they were able to contact the spirits of the dead. The combination of these practices with the belief in the Christian God became known as Spiritualism. Under the pseudonym Allan Kardec, the Frenchman Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail codified these beliefs into the “Spirits’ Book”, written in 1857 CE6. It teaches belief in the spirits of the dead, belief in God, and a largely humanist world view.

All of these religions trace their origin to the beliefs of the early Jews. Since Abraham was an important prophet in the Jewish tradition, the god of these religions is nowadays called the Abrahamic god, and the religions are the Abrahamic religions. Although all of these religions hold that the god is the same, the character of God has accumulated different contradictory properties throughout history, which we detail next.

How God became loving

The Jewish God

In the Hebrew Bible, God is described as a rather brutal character: he asks a father to kill his own son as an act of devotion; he asks for human sacrifices as a tribute; he kills all of humanity except one family because people misbehaved; and he kills numerous people by his own hand in revenge or as a punishment. Furthermore, both evildoers and apostates are punished either directly by God or brutally by his adherents.

We can hypothesize that this brutality is because the writers of the Hebrew Bible (the Israelite priests) lived in a time when societies in general were more violent than they are now7, with retaliation , cruel punishments, and more premature deaths in general. Hence, the writers probably also imagined their god this way. We also remember that the Hebrew Bible was consolidated while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, and their faith was shattered by the capture of Jerusalem. Thus, the editors of the Hebrew Bible had every interest in presenting Yahweh as a firm god who ruthlessly punishes people who go astray. Had they not done that , the Israelites might have adopted Babylonian religion, and the Israelite faith might not have survived at all. It might also not have survived the times of eviction, diaspora, and persecution that Judaism went through. In Charles Darwin’s spirit: Among the faiths that went through such hardship at the time, only those that talked of a firm and revengeful god survived (Judaism).

The Christian God

When Jesus of Nazareth entered the scene as a prophet around 30 CE , he was probably just one of several prophets there. Among these prophets, only those who had a particularly convincing message were able to gather adherents. This was manifestly the case for Jesus: His message of Yahweh as a loving god (compared to the vengeful god of Judaism), and, by extension, his call to love one another, struck a chord: “You have heard that it was said “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” — but I tell you “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[Bible: Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:35, Mark 12:31, Luke 6:35].

After Jesus’s crucification , Saint Paul further developed these ideas, saying that God loves humankind so much that he sacrificed his own son for us[Bible: John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10], rather than other people, as he used to do before. God loves us even with our weaknesses, and we are called to do the same[Bible: 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:8, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:16, 1 John 4:16, 1 John 4:10, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 John 4:19, Colossians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Romans 13:10]. God does not directly punish the evildoers and apostates as he did in the Hebrew Bible, and he does not prescribe brutal punishment for his adherents either. This is how the Christian god became a gentle variant of the Jewish god.

However, evildoers and apostates can expect a new type of punishment after death: For those who digress, and for those who do not believe in God, Jesus has introduced an eternal torture house called hell, which was unknown to Judaism at the time.

The Muslim God

The Prophet Mohammed lived 700 years after Jesus on the Arabian Peninsula. Judaism was known in the region, but, as a non-proselytising religion, did not spread. Christianity, likewise, was known, but did not spread. The message of a god who loves all humankind uniformly did not catch on. Mohammed transmitted a slightly different image of God: Allah inherited the kindheartedness from the Christian God[Quran: 85:14], but reserves it explicitly to those who submit to him: “Allah will generously reward those who believe and do good [but] he truly does not like the disbelievers”[Quran: 30:45, 3:32, 2:98]. The god that convinced the Arab tribes to unite and conquer the peninsula was a god who cursed the unbelievers as “the worst of all beings”, encouraged his adherents to go to war[Quran: 8:39, 61:9, 9:33, 48:28-29, 9:29, 2:244, 47:35, 66:9, 2:216, 4:76, 8:59-60, 8:65, 9:14, 9:111, 9:123, 61:4], called to punish wrongdoers and deviators, and granted his adherents war booty, slaves, and sex slaves. The Christian notion of hell was perfected to a horrible place of the most brutal tortures for those who did not submit to Allah.

The Enlightened God

History took its course, and the Age of Enlightenment came. Values such as the equality of sexes, the ostracism of brutal punishments, and freedom of religion found their way into society. Accordingly, new religions had to accommodate these new values if they were to find a followership. The Bahai Faith entered the stage in the 19th century in Persia. It took over the existing Abrahamic god from Shia Islam . However, given the progress of society, the Bahai Faith adapted the Abrahamic god to be even more loving than the god of Christianity: The Bahai God emphasizes the equal purpose of all religions — unthinkable in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Talk of brutal punishments, punishment of apostasy, or physical torture in hell is nowhere to be found. Thus, the Bahai god is even more clement than the Christian god.

Spiritualism is the latest of the major Abrahamic religions. Since its founders lived in a Christian environment (America), they took over the Christian god. Much like the Bahai Faith, though, Spiritualism had to accommodate the values of the Enlightenment. Therefore, Spiritualism supports also the equality of sexes, freedom of religion, equal respect for all religions, and the rejection of brutal physical punishments, including in hell.

The Enlightenment also impacted the older Abrahamic religions. Judaism has evolved markedly, and renounced brutal punishments. Christianity, likewise, has recently turned towards freedom of religion. Some denominations have even abolished hell as a physical place, and allowed non-Christians to achieve salvation. The liberal interpretations of Islam, too, now stipulate freedom of religion and respect for adherents of the other faiths. However, even if the Abrahamic religions have evolved markedly towards more humanist values, they still carry the baggage of the brutal god that was originally described in the Hebrew Bible: the god that once purposefully drowned nearly all of humanity in a great flood.

The character of Moses, as stated in the Bible, is the most horrid that can be imagined [, as he once ordered:] “kill every male child, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him; but all the virgins keep alive for yourselves”[Bible: Numbers:31:13]

Let any mother put herself in the situation of those mothers, one child murdered, another destined to violation, and herself in the hands of an executioner: let any daughter put herself in the situation of those daughters, destined as a prey to the murderers of a mother and a brother, and what will be their feelings?

In short, the matters contained in this chapter, as well as in many other parts of the Bible, are too horrid for humanity to read, or for decency to hear.

Thomas Paine, in “The Age of Reason”

How God became universal

Yahweh was initially conceived as the god of the Jews. As such, he was interested mainly in a single people and a single land: “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you [i.e., the Israelites] to be his treasured possession”[Bible: Deuteronomy 14:2, Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:7-8]8.

Jesus liberated the god from his focus on the Jews and Israel. Therefore, in Christianity, God is a universal god, in which all humankind should believe. This is in tune with the general pattern that gods become more omniscient and more universal once a society becomes more complex9.

Islam sits between the two: The religion is clearly universalist in spirit, and invites all of humanity to follow it. At the same time, the Muslim God takes a special interest in the Arab people. For example, he explicitly sent the Quran in the Arabic language (and not, say, in Latin or English) for the Arabs[Quran: 12:2, 44:58]. The Quran also takes a particular interest in the Prophet Mohammed himself. Quite a number of verses give him, and only him, specific advantages.

The Bahai God is even more universal than the God of Islam and Christianity: he is not just the god that everyone should venerate, but he is in fact the god that all religions already venerate in their own way10. Spiritualism holds the same: “All religions, or rather, all peoples, worship the same God whether by this or that name.”[Spirits’ Book: § 671]. Yahweh has thus evolved from a god of a single people to the god of all people, and finally to the god that all religions already revere anyway.

How the devil joined

When the Abrahamic God was first conceived, he did not yet have the devil as his opponent. There is no mention of the devil in the Hebrew Bible. The devil was simply not necessary: God himself was responsible for both the good and the bad in life, and he possessed all the negative characteristics of humans to this end, most notably anger, evilness, and hate.

The devil first appeared in the centuries before the common era, at the time Judaism was being influenced by Zoroastrianism. As a classical dualist religion, Zoroastrianism knows a good deity (Ahura Mazda) and an evil deity (Angra Mainyu). It is hypothesized that Judaism took up the idea of the evil deity from Zoroastrianism and incorporated it as Satan into its theology11 in the second and first centuries BCE. The Talmud explains that Satan descends to this world and misleads a person into sinning. He then ascends to Heaven, levels accusations against that sinner, and inflames God’s anger against him. He then receives permission to act and takes away the sinner’s soul as punishment.[Talmud / Bava Batra / 16a].

However, since the Hebrew Bible was already complete when the devil was added to Judaism, there are no explicit mentions of him there. Instead, he appears formally only in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. There, his role was indeed direly needed: Since God had become a loving god, the evilness on Earth could no longer be explained by God’s anger. That role could now be filled by the devil: He is the one who is the source of evil. However, the New Testament failed to identify the devil with the snake that seduced the first humans, Adam and Eve, in the mystical garden of Eden. The idea that the serpent was in fact the devil appeared only in the centuries after the books of the Bible were written12.

The devil exists also in Islam. When the Prophet Mohammed attempted to convert the polytheistic city of Mecca to Islam, they refused. Mohammed then received a revelation that accepted the worship of the goddesses of the city besides Allah13. With that, the people of Mecca accepted Islam. However, the Prophet later declared, in an incident only alluded to in the Quran, that the verses were whispered to him not by Allah, but by the devil[Quran: 22:52-53]. Since then, the verses have been known as the “Satanic Verses ”, and they have been erased from the Quran and Muslim theology. However, Islam does hold that the incident took place, and the devil has thus definitively earned his place in this religion.

The Israeli history professor Yuval N. Harari offers an interesting thought on the concept of the devil14: Monotheistic religions with a loving god (such as Christianity, in particular) have the disadvantage that they cannot explain why there is so much evil in this world if there is only one power, and that power is good. Dualist religions, in contrast, (such as Zoroastrianism) cannot explain why there is order at all in this world (such as the laws of nature, which bind both the good and the evil god). The creation of the devil struck a compromise in this respect.

When the Saints start marching in

The Abrahamic religions are monotheistic, i.e., they know only a single god. However, both Christianity and Islam expanded to societies that were originally polytheistic. These polytheistic societies could appeal to different supernatural forces for different needs: a sea god, a goddess of fortune, the god of war, etc.. When Christianity and Islam arrived, they could offer no such convenience nor could they, as monotheistic religions, admit more gods to cater to this need.

However, both Islam and Christianity know the concept of patron saints, i.e., the supernatural spirits of heroic men and women . In Christianity, the saints are revered in several denominations. In Islam, the saints are called Wali . In both religions, saints are not gods, i.e., they do not have universal power. However, they are believed to be able to influence God by prayers. Hence, people can pray to them, so that they influence God in their favor. Every saint has a specific domain of expertise (e.g., Saint Brendan is the patron of sailors). In this way, the saints take the role of the gods in polytheistic religions. We can hypothesize that this made Christianity and Islam more acceptable to the polytheistic societies to which they expanded, striking a delicate balance between monotheism and the existence of other supernatural beings8.

How God became abstract

Yahweh was originally designed as a hero: he interacts physically with the prophets, punishes the evildoers, helps the good people, and is generally responsible for the working of the universe. The figure thereby satisfies the human desire to obtain justice, to influence fate, to justify suffering, and to see a meaning in life.

In Jesus' time already, physical contact with god had become much rarer. The New Testament mentions no physical interaction of God and humans after the time of the writing of the Hebrew Bible — and that was a thousand years earlier. The same goes for the time of Jesus itself: In the New Testament, God does not appear at all as an actor. He sends angels, speaks from Heaven, and he performs miracles through Jesus, but he himself does not act at all. Even when his own son is brutally crucified, God does not lift a finger. The Christian god had thus become much more abstract than the Jewish god.

In the time of the Prophet Mohammed, god had become even more abstract: Allah acts exclusively by sending revelations to the Prophet Mohammed . Victories and failures in war are attributed to God, but nowhere does God perform a miracle for the Prophet, as he did for Jesus. Even less does he interact physically with the Prophet Mohammed, as he had done with the Jewish prophets. The direct interaction of God with humanity had thus been reduced to sending messages to a single person. Moreover, Mohammed declared that he was the last prophet, thus sealing the door to any further messages from God.

Even if God no longer sent prophets, the Abrahamic religions still considered him the creator of the universe, the earth, and life. That role became contested when science discovered more about the nature of the universe (and, for example, the dinoaurs, which were inexplicably omitted from the Abrahamic creation stories, despite their considerable physical size). When Charles Dawkins proposed the theory of Evolution, the role of God in explaining nature began to shrink. Today, the theory of Evolution is generally accepted in Europe, and also officially by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. God’s role in the universe has thus been reduced to the very first moments of the Big Bang, which science cannot (yet) explain. It has also become less common (at least in Europe) to believe that God grants prayers and performs miracles in everyday life. Thus, the God character has changed from a physical hero to a completely abstract concept.

God over time

We have seen that the image of God changed over time: God was first described as brutal , and later as loving; God was first local, and is now universal; God was first alone, and now has a devil; God is the only god, but people can now also pray to saints; God used to be a physical hero, but is now rather an abstract concept in many mainstream denominations; God is a single God, but became a godhead of 3 spirits in Christianity. And yet, this god is considered the same god — both across the millennia and across the different Abrahamic religions: Each Abrahamic religion holds that its god is identical to the god of the preceding religions.

While this may be surprising , it is very understandable from an atheist point of view: God is but a fictional character, and anything can be said about an object of fiction. The narrator, prophet, or author can thus design God in any way that suits him. He just has to strike a careful balance between continuity (to legitimize his ideas on the basis of the previous beliefs) and novelty (to add the ideas that suit him). In this sense, the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Quran, books of the Bahai Faith, Allan Kardec’s works) can be seen as a series of novels. The novels were written in different epochs, by different people, and with different audiences in mind. And yet, for practical reasons, the main hero of the novels is always the same (God). This entails that the hero of these stories has accumulated contradictory properties over the past 3 millennia.

This development of a fictional character has an insightful modern-day analogy: Tintin is a hero in Belgian comic books that were written in the early 20th century. Hence, they mirror the society of that time. They contain occasional racist prejudices, animal cruelty, and an apologist attitude towards colonialism. These attitudes are nowadays considered outrageous. Therefore, the offending pages of the books were redrawn in the late 20th century15. The novels about God suffer from similar problems — even more so since the moral standards do not deviate by a mere 100 years, but by 3 millennia. However, the stories about God cannot be rewritten, because they are considered eternal. Therefore, the adherents of the Abrahamic religions are stuck with them.

We will now look into some of the vestiges of the brutal god of the Hebrew Bible that the Abrahamic religions of today still carry with them.

The Brutality of God

Mock execution

A memorial to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac

in Tel Aviv, Israel

The Abrahamic god is revered as ever-loving, benevolent, and just. However, scripture tells us a different story. According to the Hebrew Bible [Bible: Genesis 22], God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham brings his son to the altar, and ties him up. He puts him on the wood and brings a knife. He wants to slay him, and then burn him. In the last minute, an angel of God stops Abraham, saying “Now I know that you fear God”.

From a Humanist point of view, this popular story is in reality a disgusting cruelty: A father is asked to slay his own son. Nobody in his right mind would call such an instruction benevolent and loving. Assume that you see someone who is about to slay another person on an altar. Would we not immediately rush to help? Would the excuse “I am doing it because God instructs me so” make the act any more pardonable? Certainly not. We would declare such a person insane. This is indeed what has happened: a Texan mother who said that God wanted her to kill her children was jailed as insane16. And yet, in the Bible, that person is not considered insane. On the contrary, he is a hero, because he followed God’s instruction even though it meant sacrificing his own son. He is so much of a hero that he became the eponym of the entire group of Abrahamic Religions. God, who gives the instruction, is revered as the loving lord of humanity. That is an absurdity in Humanist eyes.

It is also an absurdity in Christian eyes. To see that, consider the story of Wilhelm Tell, the national hero of Switzerland: He, too, was de facto instructed to kill his own son, by the local lord. However, the lord was not praised as the wisest and most loving being ever. On the contrary, people rightly concluded that this lord was insane. The story sparked a rebellion against him, and this rebellion led to the creation of Switzerland as an independent country.

We may argue that God prevented the slaying of Isaac in the last minute. This, however, does not make things much better. How are a father and a son ever to trust each other again when the father tried to kill the son? Pretending to kill someone is called a mock execution. It is a horrific experience that is used as a device of psychological torture. It entails severe traumata, anxiety, and depression17. When the CIA used such techniques on prisoners in the early 2000s, the organization was not met with adoration18. Nobody praised the CIA for not killing the prisoners, but only simulating their death. On the contrary, the practice was condemned all over the world — even if the victims did not die. This is because the threat itself is a crime. Thus, in Humanist eyes, praising God for the story of Isaac is a glorification of violence .

People argue that God just wanted to make a point with Isaac, and say that he no longer desires human sacrifices. If that were true, few people seemed to have got the message. Even God himself seems to have forgotten about it: a few centuries later, he gratefully accepts the sacrifice of 32 prisoners by his own prophet, Moses, as “tribute unto the Lord”[Bible: Numbers 31:25-40].

This makes an atheist interpretation of the story much more likely: The story of Isaac is entirely made up. It was written (or consolidated) when the Israelites were in Babilonian captivity. A faith that was to survive under these circumstances needed absolute obedience from its adherents, lest the adherents abandon the faith in despair. The story of Isaac was written to hammer down this point: obey your god even if he commands you to kill your own son. This strategy worked well: the Jewish faith survived not just the Babilonian captivity, but also the dispersal of the Jews, the persecution, and the Holocaust. It just clashes with the image of the loving god that Christianity foisted on the Jewish god a few centuries later.

When we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize humankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest every thing that is cruel.
Thomas Paine

Human Sacrifices

The Hebrew Bible tells us that God desires human sacrifices: After the story of Isaac, Moses sacrifices 32 prisoners as “tribute unto the lord”[Bible: Numbers 31:25-40]. Jephthah sacrifices his daughter to him [Bible: Judges 11:29-40]. Human sacrifices are also used to end a famine [Bible: 2 Samuel 21]. Even priests are being sacrificed[Bible: 2 Chronicles 34:1-5]. These sacrifices are made so as to appease God, to obtain a favor from him, or to pay him a tribute. In all of these instances, God is either apathetic or pleased with the sacrifices . In the 2nd Book of Samuel, God actually ends the famine in response to the sacrifices. Thus, he approves of them.

From a Hu manist perspective, human sacrifices are a deeply abominable act. Any being that desires such sacrifices deserves our utmost disgust. However, today’s Abrahamic religions have inherited this despicable being from the Hebrew Bible. They are thus obliged to vindicate its acts in the past, and to revere this god as the most lovable being that can exist. For a Humanist, this is an abominable stance. One should never revere a god who once desired human sacrifices — even if he is a mere fiction.

The only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist.
Stendhals

Mass murder

The Bible tells us about the Great Flood, an event in which God had so much rain pour down that the entire world was flooded[Bible: Genesis 6-9]. Only one family survived, because God instructed them to build an ark. This story tells us that God deliberately drowned the entire humanity along with all animals (except those who were on the ark). With that, God makes Hitler look like an amateur19.

We may say that God drowned humanity because humans were very sinful. Yet, that is no excuse from a Humanist point of view. First, the death penalty is a highly disputed instrument of punishment, and the majority of countries have banned it today. Second, the flood drowned babies along with all the others. Babies are innocent beings. Killing babies is a crime called infanticide. It is widely shunned today. Third, drowning is a particularly agonizing form of death: The victim struggles against being submerged in the waters, screams for help, swallows water, becomes unconscious, possibly conscious again, cannot breathe, breathes water, and finally dies. Hence, drowning is outlawed even in countries that permit the death penalty. Thus, whatever the ancient people did, there is, from a Humanist point of view, no excuse for killing the entire humanity by drowning.

It is t rue that, according to the Bible, God gives humanity the rainbow after the massacre, and vows to never destroy humanity again. This can be seen as a sort of apology (even though God does not actually say that he is sorry). He is then presented as the god of love in the New Testament, and all the violent past is put behind. However, the destruction of humanity is nothing that can be swiped under the rock. His change of mind does not make God perfect, loving, or benevolent in any way. If Hitler said he was sorry for his genocide, would we revere him as a wise and just ruler? We should certainly not. And still, to this date, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Bahais alike still worship a baby-killer as the ultimately just ruler.

From an atheist perspective, of course, the story of the Great Flood is made up. The story of the flood is a recurrent theme in ancient myths. It appears in Australian, Indian, European and other mythologies20. Maybe these people found seashells or fish fossils in inland areas, and thus concluded that the Earth was once covered with water. Or they experienced a flood in their history, and tried to explain and justify the calamity with reference to their respective gods. But what is certain is that there is no scientific evidence for a flood that erased all of humankind. Most likely, the story was just invented by the Israelite priests to scare people into obedience to their religion. Atheists would say much the same for the Abrahamic god himself.

Why should I allow that same God to tell me how to raise my kids who had to drown his own?
Robert G. Ingersoll

Other killings

The golden calf (right): bone of contention in Judaism, object of worship in Hinduism

in the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Singapore

The Hebrew Bible tells us how Moses received the 10 Commandments from God[Bible: Exodus 32]. One of these 10 Commandments is, famously, “Thou shall not kill”. And yet, right after receiving this rule, Moses does exactly the opposite, upon God’s instruction. When Moses discovers that the Israelites have been worshipping a golden calf, he orders them to kill each other: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died[Bible: Exodus 32:27-28]. This is in blunt contradiction to the law that God just gave Moses. When Moses has a conversation with God in the follow-up of the massacre, the mass murder is not even mentioned. God is concerned only about the people who worshipped the calf.

God himself commits numerous other murders, killing children[Bible: Exodus 12:28], enabling mass killings [Bible: Isaiah 13], drawing up plans where mass murders happen [Bible: Jeremiah 49:20], ripping open pregnant women [Bible: Hosea 13], commanding the killing of thousands [Bible: Numbers 31], and killing dozens of thousands of people by his own hand[Bible: 2 Kings 19:35].

In total, the Bible tells us of 158 events where God kills someone21. And God is actually proud of his killings: “I kill ... I wound ... I will make mine arrows drunk with blood and my sword shall devour flesh”[Bible: Deuteronomy 32:39-42].

In all of these cases, God appears revengeful, brutal, and heartless. As the militant atheist Richard Dawkins opinions22: the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. And yet, this god is revered as the most loving being by more than half of the world’s population.

We may say that these stories did not really happen, but that they are merely metaphors. But then we have to ask what these metaphors stand for. The metaphor of a god who kills people by the thousands, massacres children, and drowns his own creation in the waters cannot mean something good. So no matter whether we see the story as symbolic or not, God is presented as a vengeful and violent creature. And even if he does not exist at all (which is what atheists hold), glorifying such a murderous being is still despicable from a Humanist point of view.

The brutality of the Abrahamic god is, from the atheist perspective, a vestige of the times when he was invented, thousands of years ago. Societies were more brutal then7, and so people imagined their god more brutal, too. Since then, the world has moved on. Most societies today no longer consider killing in revenge, brutality, and infanticide acceptable behaviors23. But today’s Abrahamic religions have inherited a brutal being that was invented 3000 years ago, and are thus stuck with revering it as the most loving and benevolent entity that can be imagined — an unjustifiable contradiction in Humanist eyes.

I don’t know whether God exists, but it would be better for his reputation if he didn’t.
Jules Renard

Hell

One may think that the brutality of the Abrahamic god is limited to his younger days (as chronicled in the Hebrew Bible), and that he became more reasonable when he grew up. Yet, this is not the case. From the time of Jesus onwards, the Abrahamic traditions have believed in an extraordinarily cruel place called hell. According to common understanding, God makes people suffer ostensibly in hell: they are deliberately tortured, and some will never be able to get out of it again.

While this idea seems just and plausible at first, it is much less so if we think it through. Imagine that we as humans tortured our criminals. We could, e.g., grill them on fire until they faint from the pain (as it was indeed done in some prisons in Yemen24). Then, we would let them recover, and repeat the procedure. While this may lead to initial satisfaction, this satisfaction quickly turns into horror. The cries of pain, the view of a bound human being subjected to cruelty, and the smell of burnt flesh will urge any but the most emotionally crippled to rush to help, and stop the horror. Indeed, torture is today widely outlawed and shunned23. Even the most notorious criminal may not be subjected to torture.

Not so for God. God still enjoys torturing his enemies. This is not because he would be obliged to: God created hell in the first place, he created the rule that humans be tortured there, he decides the time they spend there. It would be easy for him to stop this folly with his omnipotence. But he doesn’t. Thus, God remains as cruel as the cruelest of us, just that his omnipotence and perfection allow him to torture his victims much more systematically than we humans could ever do it. This stands in gross contradiction to the claim that he would be benevolent, loving, and moral.

We may argue that the sinner acted out of his free will. He deliberately chose his actions, and knew what he was facing. Yet, even if the sinner sinned deliberately, eternal suffering is a punishment that is out of proportion. Even the sinner is a human. He has made the wrong decision — as millions of us do every day. No matter what a sinner did during 80 years of earthly life, we would not consider it just to subject him to billions of years of suffering. In fact, most of our own criminals get free before their time. With this, humans are more merciful than God.

We may argue that this description of hell is just symbolic. Most notably, some Christian denominations have recently abolished the physical fire of hell, and so have the Bahai Faith and Spiritualism. However, hell is unequivocally assumed to stand for something that is at least as bad as what the words tell us. The suffering is maybe not physical, but it is still a suffering. Thus, this interpretation does not solve the contradiction of hell and God’s benevolence. We may also think that hell itself is just a myth, and that God just threatens us with it so that we behave well. Yet, hell is depicted quite graphically in the Quran and also in the Bible. Hoping that all of this turns out to be an empty threat is a very lame strategy. It would also beg the question what else of the religious theories is but an empty threat. Finally, just the threat of torture alone is a crime in our human legislations. There is thus no way in which hell can be squared with the loving god.

We may argue that God ultimately pardons the sinner. Yet, even that is not given. Jesus makes it very clear that the sinners “will go away to eternal punishment”[Bible: Matthew 25:46, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 18:8]. Blasphemy, in particular, is a sin that cannot be forgiven[Bible: Marc 3:29, Matthew 12:31]. This is echoed in other places of the New Testament[Bible: Revelation 14:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:9]. For Islam, too, the Quran makes it very clear that unbelievers cannot find mercy — ever. “Repentance is not accepted from those who knowingly persist in sin until they start dying [...] nor those who die as disbelievers”[Quran: 4:18, 4:48, 4:116-117, 4:137, 5:72].

This leaves us with the problem of hell as a substantial contradiction to God’s benevolence, mercy, justness, and love.

To atheists, of course, hell is entirely imaginary. It was invented to scare people into conformance, and to make the religion more attractive by satisfying people’s longing for some heavenly justice. That heavenly justice was first imagined very brutal — in the same way as earthly justice used to be very brutal. When the Enlightenment condemned brutal punishments, earthly justice was updated. Heavenly justice was not. Therefore, the believers of today’s Abrahamic religions find themselves obliged to justify as benevolent what cannot be justified at all — an eternal torture house.

How is the Christian hell in any way different from a concentration camp for dissenters?
Arno Schmidt

Attributes of God

Revelation

We will now look into the attributes that are commonly ascribed to the Abrahamic god and discuss them from an atheist perspective . The first of these attributes is the property of being revealed to humankind through prophets. Judaism knows several prophets, including Moses and Abraham. These prophets are usually dated to the millennia before the common era. Christianity adds Jesus as a prophet, and assumes that Jesus corrects the messages of the previous prophets. Islam recognizes the prophets of Judaism and Christianity and adds the Prophet Mohammed. The Bahai Faith acknowledges the previous prophets (also of non-Abrahamic religions) and adds two more, the Bab and Baha’u’llah, which override the prophets who came before.

According to the latest scientific theories, humans have existed for about 200,000 years. It is therefore surprising for atheists that God waited for 190,000 years before sending the prophets. Why would God deprive these people of the divine message just because they lived too early? Furthermore, it seems strange to atheists that God would reveal himself through prophets. A prophet is arguably one of the most inefficient ways to send humankind a message. If the message is given to a single person only, it will never reach everyone. Even under the best of circumstances, a religion with a prophet will take centuries to expand from its place of origin to other societies, countries, and continents. This is indeed what we see: There are hundreds of religions on Earth, and none of them has reached all of humanity. Why would God deprive people in some places of the divine message?

Furthermore, the choice of prophets was clearly suboptimal: The prophets belonged to some enslaved desert people (Moses), lived in some occupied land at the periphery of an empire (Jesus), were illiterate (Mohammed), or lived in a country that persecuted their followers (the Bab and Baha’u’llah). Only the Bahai prophets actually had the idea of writing their message down in a book right from the start. All the others had their message written down after their death. In such settings, it is obvious that there is the danger for the message to be distorted or misinterpreted. Indeed, most religions have formed several denominations, spin-offs, and sects, each with a different interpretation of the messages. Moreover, sending successive prophets is bound to lead to confusion and conflict. If all prophets came indeed from the same god, then each prophet should have announced, identified, and authorized the following one. Yet, the believers of each prophet can always show proof that the next prophet is a false prophet. Furthermore, each prophet usually claims that he is the last one, and that the other prophets are false prophets, or that their messages are obsolete or distorted. As a consequence, several religions have sprung up, one for each new prophet. This is certainly not what the sender of the prophets intended.

If you are omnipotent and omniscient, then the easiest and safest way to send humankind a message would be to implant it in their minds right from the start. Alternatively, you could print copies of your holy book and deliver it free to every household. However, God expects us to wait for, identify, and interpret messages he sent to individual people in the desert. This is highly implausible in atheist eyes.

Atheists consider it more plausible that the prophets (or those who told their stories) just made up the stories of divine revelation — maybe because they had experiences that they considered supernatural, but maybe also because they strived for power and authority. Since the prophets grew up in an Abrahamic environment, they all ascribed their revelations to the Abrahamic god (and not, say, to the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli). They tried to legitimize their own revelations by claiming continuity from the previous prophets. The stories of these prophets were then picked up, mystified, enhanced, and written down by their followers. There were probably hundreds of prophets (and there still are), but only the most plausible, imaginative, or belligerent stories found enough followers to produce a religion. The founding of religions is thus, from an atheist point of view, merely an Darwinian struggle of ideas in search of adherents.

Mohammed! Jesus! Hear thou me
The truth nor here nor there can be.
How should our God, who made the sun
Give all his light to only One?
Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī

The Abrahamic revelations

We have argued that revelations are a very inefficient means to spread a message. And indeed, none of the Abrahamic religions recognizes the prophets of the religions that follow it. For the Jews, the Hebrew Bible announces a messiah[Bible: Deuteronomy 18:15], and Christians believe that this messiah is Jesus. However, the Hebrew Bible also says that the messiah will bring peace on Earth[Bible: Isaiah 2:4], that he will stem from King David[Bible: Jeremiah 23:5–6] (which Jesus does not, because he stems from God), and that he will unite the people of Israel[Bible: Isaiah 11] — all of which has not happened. Furthermore, the Hebrew Bible states that God is unitary[Bible: Deuteronomy 6:4], that no-one shall contradict or amend God’s law[Bible: Deuteronomy 12:32], and that we should be weary of false prophets who do miracles[Bible: Deuteronomy 18:18-22]. Therefore, God’s own chosen people, the Jews, believe that Jesus is a false prophet[Bible: John 7:42-43].

For Christians, Jesus is the messiah. At no point of time, Jesus talks about another God-sent messenger. On the contrary, he urges Christians not to take miracles by non-Christian prophets as proof of existence for other gods[Bible: Revelation 19:20, Matthew 24]. He says that he himself will return, as son of God, on the clouds of Heaven[Bible: Matthew 24:27-31]. This is why Christians do not see why would God send another messenger, the Prophet Mohammed, out of the blue. Saying that God did not know that as new prophet would be necessary is not an excuse, because God is omiscient. Muslims say that the verses of the Bible were corrupted[Quran: 22:52-53], and that Mohammed has come to correct the word of God. But then, Christians do not see why God waited 600 years to correct the message. Therefore, Christians accuse Muslims of following a wrong prophet.

For Muslims, Mohammed is the last prophet. Hence, they do not believe that the Bab and Baha’u’llah (the prophets of the Bahai Faith) are real prophets. The Bab and Baha’u’llah say that the teachings of the previous prophets were valid for their respective times only, and that they are the new prophets. Yet, Mohammed was very clear that his message was for eternity. Hence, Muslims in some countries persecute the Bahais as heretics.

To atheists, all of this does not look like the work of an omniscient god. Rather, it looks like individual people deciding that they want to be prophets, and trying to legitimize themselves by the preceding prophets.

Omniscience

The Abrahamic god is omniscient. This means that he knows everything. This notion entails what has been called the Problem of Free Will: If God knows everything, he also knows what we humans will do. This means that our lives are predetermined. We have no way to do something that God does not already know we will do . This leads to the Problem of Free Will: If we do not have free will, then our entire moral system collapses. A murderer is not free to choose to abstain from the deed, because he has to do what God knew he would do. If he is unable to abstain from the deed, then how can we punish him? Furthermore, most religions require free will in order to voluntarily adhere to the faith. If a person cannot decide out of their free will to adhere to the religion or to abandon it, then how can God punish those who abandon it? After all, they did not have the choice.

This is why omniscience looks implausible to many atheists. However, from the perspective of this book, this type of omniscience can indeed be imagined — without destroying the foundation of our moral systems. We have already argued that, in the naturalistic world view that this book proposes, human decisions are determined by the chemical processes in our brain. If God knew the state of our brains, he could indeed predict what we will decide. We have also argued that such a determinism does not undermine our moral frameworks: humans are sensitive to rewards and punishments. If we punish a murderer, then he is much less likely to reoffend than if we did not punish him. This holds no matter how the decisions are implemented in his brain. Hence, it makes sense to punish the murderer. The omniscience of God is not an impediment.

More sophisticated is the following objection to God’s omniscience: If God is not just omniscient, but also omnipotent (as is commonly assumed), then he should be able to change the future to an “alternate future” that is unknown to him. This, however, conflicts with his omniscience. Thus, the omniscient God cannot have free will himself.

A more straightforward argument against the omiscience of God comes from the Bible itself. The Hebrew Bible tells us that when God saw what evil man did on earth, he deeply regretted having created humankind — thus proving that he is not omiscient:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thought of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Bible: Genesis 6:5-6

Omnipotence

The Abrahamic god is omnipotent. This means that he can do everything. It entails, however, the Paradox of Omnipotence:

If God is all powerful, then can he create a task that he cannot solve? For example, can he create a stone that is so heavy that he cannot lift it? Or can he create a being that is more powerful than himself? If he can create such a thing, then he is not omnipotent. If he cannot, then he is not omnipotent either.

Common answers to this conundrum say that God cannot create something that contradicts logic. For example, as the Anglican lay theologician Clive Staples Lewis has argued, God cannot draw a square circle25. This lifts logic and reasoning to an important level of power. If logic binds even God, then we should study logic rather than God. This is, coincidentally, a central tenet of Humanism.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...
Then he said “Let there be light”.
Which means he made the entire universe in the dark!
How fucking good is that? He’s brilliant!
Ricky Gervais

Perfection

The Abrahamic god is considered the perfect being. It is assumed that he as well as his creation is without fault. However, as we have already discussed, the world is full of imperfections: Some types of beings, such as the Neanderthals or dinosaurs , came into existence, but then went extinct; dolphins and whales live underwater, but cannot breathe there; humans have their digestive tract and respiratory tracts crossing, so that they are at constant risk of choking; myopia is a problem for people all over the world; people are predisposed to love fat and sugar, which today leads to obesity; wisdom teeth serve no purpose and are prone to produce medical complications; and some babies cannot be born naturally because their head is larger the pelvic opening of the mother. Until 1910, one percent of mothers in the US died in child birth. Giving birth was about as dangerous as having breast cancer is today26. In Humanist eyes, it is perverse to call that design “perfect”.

We may argue that some of these phenomena may just appear imperfect to us, but are part of a grander plan that is unknown to us and perfect. However, if something is perfect, then it requires (by definition) no further acts to perfect it. Then why do we perform caesarian sections, pull out wisdom teeth, wear glasses, and fight obesity? Let us not wear glasses, let us have the mother die at birth rather than performing a C-section, and let us not pull out wisdom teeth! Obviously, this proposal is nonsensical. Even believers wear glasses. Thus, they perfect God’s creation. Thus, God’s creation is not perfect.

From an atheist perspective, the desire to ascribe perfection to God and to his creation is a type of wishful thinking: We would love this world to be perfect, and we would love to have a perfect father-being who is there for us. Yet, that does not make the world perfect (or the father-being exist, for that matter).

If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?
Voltaire in “Candide”

Interaction with God

Thanking God

In the Abrahamic world view, people should thank God for the good things in their life. Prayers regularly involve thanking God for life, health, friendship, or happy events.

Yet, we can thank God for something only if God made that thing come about. It would not make sense, for example, to thank the president for the sunny weather today. The president has no impact whatsoever on the weather. Thus, we conclude, thanking God implies accepting that God is responsible for the good things in life. Now, if God takes responsibility for the good things in life in the Abrahamic world view, then he also has to take responsibility for the bad things in life: natural disasters, genetic diseases, and the misconceptions of nature. And he does: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things”[Bible: Isaiah 45:7]. Thus, God explicitly takes responsibility also for the calamities in life. Therefore, when we thank God for the good things in life, we should also blame him for the bad things. And there are many such bad things in life: hunger, illness, and war afflict millions of people. However, Abrahamic believers never blame their god for these sufferings. On the contrary, God is praised exclusively as the benevolent being who brings all goodness to life. That does not make sense to the atheist. The story of God is thus not only fictional in atheist eyes, but also inconsistent.

Dude. Why is it that your god gets the credit whenever something good happens, but when a roof collapses and kills a bunch of kids, it doesn’t get the blame? That makes no sense. I mean I don’t believe it, but I might respect your stance if it were consistent.
Cyndy Hammond

Praising God

In the Abrahamic world view, people should praise God for his grandness. God explicitly asks us to do so. This is perhaps most obvious in the Lord’s Prayer, which God himself prescribes for Christians [Bible: Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4]: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”. However, the commandment to praise God appears also in the Quran (“I did not create jinn and humans except to worship me”)[Quran: 51:56] and the Hebrew Bible (“Praise the Lord!”)[Bible: Psalm 150].

We first observe that there are quite a number of evil things in life for which God does not deserve praise at all. But leaving these things apart, it is still bizarre for an atheist that people are required to praise God. If God is almighty, wise, and magnanimous, then why does he need the devotion of us humans? He should be above it all. Yet, he seems to ardently need our devotion and gratitude. He even explicitly asks for it. Thus, he cannot be as self-reliant and magnanimous as is commonly assumed. To see this, assume that there is a king, who grants you a job for life. You are very happy. Now also assume that the king comes to your house every day and asks you to worship him, praise him, and thank him for his great idea of giving you a job. Would you call such a person generous and modest? Certainly not! That person is insecure and self-obsessed. Therefore, we would never praise such a person. And it is the same with God.

If God were really magnanimous, he would not need our praise. Therefore, the Abrahamic god appears narcissist to atheists — and thus not worth our praise. As David Hume argued: It is an absurdity to believe that the deity has human passions, and one of the lowest of human passions, a restless appetite for applause27.

Believers can argue that the praise for God just serves our own well-being : By praising God, we are taught to be humble, and this would be for our own good. Yet, this is a modern idea. It appears nowhere in the holy scripture. The Quran, for one, explicitly says that humans were created to praise God, and thus it is the god who needs the prayer, not the humans. Besides, it is hard to discern the positive effect of praising God: By and large, the most religious countries28 are also the countries where the percentage of happy people is the lowest29. Thus, the places that praise God the most are actually the most miserable ones on Earth .

Honest grandness needs no praise.
La vraie grandeur méprise la gloire.
Wahre Größe scheut den Ruhm.
the Candid Atheist

Proclaiming God’s attributes

In the Abrahamic religions, it is common to ascribe positive attributes to God. God is loving, just, wise, and merciful. These ascriptions are repeated in songs, prayers, and sermons. People celebrate these attributes of God.

Atheists wonder why people do that. If God is loving, just, wise, and merciful, then why is it necessary to repeat this all the time? If it is so obvious, as the religions say, then why is it necessary to tell it to everybody?

Compare this to scientists. Scientists do not gather every Thursday evening in the laboratory, join hands, and sing “Yes, gravity pulls us down to Earth! Yes, her force is greater than ours!”. Why then do believers do it?

The anthropologist John Tooby has argued that the proclamation of God’s attributes serves primarily a social purpose: believers praise God mainly in order to show their adherence to the faith and to the group. The more absurd such a claim is, the stronger is the display of committment to the group. Thus, the mercifulness and love of God are proclaimed precisely because they are so implausible in the face of reality. Humanists, of course, prefer to proclaim what is true about objects of reality rather than what is implausible about objects of fiction.

Some people say homosexuality is a sin. It’s not. God is perfectly cool with it, God feels the exact same way about homosexuality that God feels about heterosexuality. Now you might say, “Whoa, slow down. You move too fast. How could you have the audacity, the temerity, to speak on behalf of God?” Exactly, that’s an excellent point and I pray that you remember it.
Ted Alexandro

Praying to God

In the Abrahamic religions, people pray to God. People ask God to heal an illness, to protect them from misfortune, or to grant wishes.

Atheists wonder why people pray. First, if God is omniscient, then he knows their wishes anyway. So what is the purpose of asking him? Second, God has a certain plan for each of us. By praying for something, we ask God to deviate from that plan. This means that we do not trust God with his plan. Why do we not trust the almighty? As Thomas Paine wrote “For what is the amount of all prayers, but an attempt to make the Almighty change his mind, and act otherwise than he does? As if [man] were to say: Thou knowest not so well as I.”30 Third, by praying, we assume that God has an influence on Earth. This makes him immediately liable for most of the evil that happens on Earth. God would be himself responsible for much of the evil that we pray to be saved from. In the cases of diseases or natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis or volcano eruptions, God caused the evil in the first place. Then, it is unreasonable to expect that he would protect us from the consequences.

Even for mishaps that cannot be attributed directly to God, it is strange that humans are expected to pray to God for help. If you see a man hit in a car accident, you rush to immediate help. Everything else would be unethical, and probably illegal. Now assume that you rush to the site of the accident, and then first expect the victim to pray to you. That would be sadistic. And yet, this is the role that God takes in the Abrahamic religions. He is almighty, omnipresent, and omniscient, and yet the Abrahamic religions suggest to pray in order to earn his mercy. Now, back to car accident. Suppose the victim does pray to you. If you still refuse to help the victim, you would act outrageously arrogant and irresponsible. And yet, this is what God does. He does not help, even if is asked to. Despite billions of prayers, there is no evidence that they would change anything in this world. This makes the Abrahamic god an arrogant and pitiless creature in atheist eyes — a fictional creature, to be sure, but a pitiless one at that.

For every player who credits God for the win,
a player from the opposing team can logically blame God for the loss.
Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Problem of Evil

The loving god

God is said to love us. Yet, in reality, there is little sign of divine love. Many people in this world suffer — for reasons ranging from illness, violence, or hunger to sadness or loneliness. In most societies, religious people have no better life than atheist people. Adherents of the Abrahamic religions have come up with lots of explanations for this ostensible contradiction, ranging from God’s desire to grant us free will to the idea of upholding higher principles. We will discuss these explanations later.

For now, we just note that, if you love someone, you will behave very differently from God. If, e.g., you see someone attacking your child, then you will do your utmost to help her. No talk of granting free will to the attacker, love for the attacker, or higher principles will hold you back. This is the basis of love: the unbridled desire to help the beloved. Yet, God shows no such behavior. In fact, God shows complete indifference. Some people do well in life, others do badly, some are hit by acts of God, others are not — independently of prayers, religiosity, or ethical behavior.

Therefore, the word “God’s love” is an empty word. It means nothing to say “God loves you”. No real-world consequences follow from it. It would look just the same if God did not care about you.

If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would.
That’s the difference between me and your god.

Benevolence and the food chain

The Abrahamic god is considered perfect and benevolent. Unfortunately, the world is inherently brutal.

Perfect design? The buffalo can now discuss that directly with the Creator. CC-BY-SA Bernard Dupont
By nature, many species can live only if they kill other animals. This entails that the life of any carnivore is a continuous chasing, tearing apart, and guzzling of other animals. Every single animal chased means the fear of death, the pain of being killed — and a life destroyed. As the American orator Robert G. Ingersoll opinioned: “In nature, every mouth is a slaughterhouse and every stomach is a tomb”.

But the food chain is not the only source of cruelty: Some spider species eat not just their prey, but also their mates. When lions take over a harem, they secure the dominance of their own genes by slaughtering the entire population of baby lions in the group. Some wasps lay their eggs in their prey without killing it, so that the larvae eat their host alive slowly.

If God designed nature, then he designed it inherently brutal. If creation is as he wishes, then he cannot be benevolent.

Whatever in nature produced the antelope, produces the tiger;
whatever produced the woman produced the [...] cancer;
whatever gave the child its beauty created the germ of diphtheria.
Most of us prefer not to ascribe intelligence to that creative power.
Joseph McCabe

Benevolence and natural disasters

Deer caught in a wildfire CC0 John McColgan
The Abrahamic god is considered benevolent. We have already seen that the world is inherently brutal just by the “design” of the food chain. And yet, to the suffering caused by the food chain, we have to add the suffering caused by natural disasters.

The American philosopher William L. Rowe gives an example of such suffering: “In some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering.”31 (see picture). What on Earth did the fawn do to deserve this suffering, Humanists ask. Other examples of natural evil include tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. People and animals get injured, ill, or killed by such events. This causes a great deal of suffering not just for the victims, but also for their offspring and family.

If God is benevolent, then he wishes to prevent such suffering. If he is omnipotent, then he is able to prevent the suffering. He does not. Hence, he cannot be both benevolent and omnipotent.

What does it mean to “trust in God”
if I have to lock my car either way?
the Candid Atheist

Benevolence and humans

The Abrahamic god is considered benevolent. Humans, in contrast, are rarely benevolent. Humans commit murders, they rape and steal, they slander and lie. So we ask ourselves where this evil stems from.

In the Abrahamic world view, there are several possible answers to this question:

  1. Humans have a natural predisposition for evil acts, and not enough force to control themselves . However, God created humankind with this predisposition. Thus, God himself put the seed of evil in us. In Christianity, this is also mirrored in the Lord’s Prayer. It says: “lead us not into temptation”[Bible: Matthew 6:13]. It is clear that God is the agent here, who leads people into temptation. Thus, he is the one who makes us do evil things.
  2. Humans are good, but are seduced to do evil by the devil. However, God created the devil (or he created him as an angel and allowed him to go astray). Thus, God himself created the source of human evilness.
  3. Humans are good, but became evil when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. However, God, in his omniscience knew that the two would eat the forbidden fruit. Yet, he did not do anything to prevent it. Furthermore, it was God himself who created the forbidden fruit as source of all evil. He could have simply abstained from this idea. Thus, God himself co-caused human wickedness.
Thus, no matter how we turn the argument, God remains the source of human evilness. This is true anyway in a theistic world view, because God is the cause of everything. Thus, he is also the cause of human evilness. Hence, he cannot be benevolent.
God says do what you wish, but make the wrong choice and you will be tortured for eternity in hell. That’s not free will. It’s like a man telling his girlfriend, do what you wish, but if you choose to leave me, I will track you down and blow your brains out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath. When god says the same we call him “loving” and build churches in his honor.
Chuck Easttom

The Problem of Evil

God is considered benevolent and omnipotent, but at the same time, he lets people and animals suffer. This contradiction has long bothered theologists. It is known as “The Problem of Evil” or “The Theodicy Problem”. Numerous attempts have been made to reconcile God’s benevolence with the evil of nature. We shall now look into these arguments from a Humanist perspective.
Epicurus’s old questions are still unanswered: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence evil?
David Hume

Answers to the Problem of Evil

The evil as punishment

One way to explain the evil in this world is to see it as God’s punishment for human misbehavior. This line of reasoning goes that illnesses, viruses, and natural disasters punish people for being sinful.

The problem with this argument is that the evil of nature hits everybody regardless of their behavior:

We may think that the punishment is administered uniformly to punish an entire society, even if some people are innocent. Yet, that does not explain why animals suffer, too. Babies have no share in the evil the society produces — and still they suffer. Furthermore, the idea of universal punishment is in stark contradiction to God’s assumed justice. To see this, consider a city with violent dissidents. If we bomb the city and erase the entire population just because of the dissidents, that would be a humanitarian disaster. It is the same if it happens through an act of God. If God is all-powerful and just, then he could think of more precise ways to administer his punishment.

To test how plausible the idea of punishment is, let us do a thought experiment. Assume that you met a child, whose parents were just drowned in a tsunami. Would you be able to tell the orphan that the tsunami was a punishment of God for his parents? Would you be able to tell the child that his parents deserved to die — for a reason that you do not know? Such an argument would be considered heartless if not outright absurd. And it is indeed, fom a Humanist perspective.

Moreover, if the evil were really a punishment, then we would act against God’s intent if we tried to counter it. Thus, it would be disobedient to God to give food to people who are hungry, to cure a person who is ill, or to help a person in danger. We should rather let these people die, knowing that God wants to punish them. Absurd as this may seem, this was indeed the position of some Christian clergymen. When vaccination was introduced in Europe in the 18th century to help against smallpox, Reverend Edmund Massey in England condemned “the dangerous and sinful Practice of Inoculation” as “an attempt to oppose God’s punishments upon man for his sins”35. In a similar vein, anaesthetics during childbirth were seen as an attempt to thwart the punishment that God inflicted on women after Eve’s fall[Bible: Genesis 3:16]. “What a Satanic invention!”, cried the Scottish Calvinist Church after the invention of painkillers. The battle lasted 400 years until 1853, when Queen Victoria accepted the use of anesthetic when she was giving birth to prince Leopold. In a world view where God controls and imposes the evil, the opposition to painkillers and vaccination is only logical.

It is not, of course, from a Humanist perspective. Humanists believe that we should counter evil wherever we find it, and that any way of justifying the evil in this world (be it by God’s will or otherwise) is evil in itself.

If you believe that God is specifically reaching down from heaven to answer your trivial prayer to remove a zit or to help you find your lost keys, while at the same time God is allowing 27,000 children to die of starvation each day by specifically ignoring their prayers, then your God is insane.

The evil for balance

Some believers hold that natural evil exists to maintain a balance in the universe. Without the evil, the argument runs, the universe could not exist.

Would we thus contemplate a map of malnourishment in this world, and approvingly note that the malnourishment in the developing world must exist so that the good fortune in the developed world can exist? Would we welcome the suffering of some people in order to allow the thriving of others? That appears an absurd thought.

And indeed: If God is almighty, then nothing is impossible. A world without natural disasters can very well exist. A world without AIDS has existed for millions of years. So there is no reason why God should feel obliged to introduce this illness now. In Humanist eyes, the argument of “balance” is just an attempt to justify what cannot be justified.

The explosion was now officially designated an “Act of God.”
But, thought Dirk, what god? And why?
What god would be hanging around Terminal Two of Heathrow Airport
trying to catch the 15:37 flight to Oslo?
Douglas Adams in “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”

The evil does not aim to hurt

Despite God’s benevolence, natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes kill thousands of people each year. We can argue that such disasters do not actually aim to hurt us. They just happen for natural reasons. Thus, God is not to blame.

For the victims of such calamities, however, it does not matter whether the earthquake “aimed” to kill them or not. The fact is that it does. Thus, whoever caused the earthquake is responsible for the death of these people. If not by intention, then by negligence. As God is ultimately causing all that happens on earth, he cannot duck responsibility.

I don’t think we get cancer to learn life lessons. And I don’t believe that people die young because God needs another angel. I think it’s just bullshit. And on some level, I think we all know that. I mean, don’t you?

The evil for a greater good

Rest assured, you all died for the greater good!

in Pompeii, Italy

One attempt to bridge the contradiction between the evil in this world and God’s supposed benevolence is to assume that evil is just a means to an ultimate end, which is always good.

As an example, consider a doctor who amputates a patient’s leg (which is an “evil”) in order to prevent gangrene from spreading throughout the patient’s body (“the ultimate end”, which is “good”). Yet this example is only justified on the basis that the doctor has limited powers. With the limitations of medical technology at his disposal, he of course chose the lesser evil; since there was no way of saving both the patient’s leg and his life. However, this analogy cannot be applied to God and the problem of evil, since God, unlike the doctor, has unlimited powers. In fact, a more accurate analogy is a doctor who first actively infects the leg of his patient (God is the cause of all things), and then decides to amputate his leg when some antibiotics would have been sufficient (God is all powerful). We would call such a doctor wicked and mad. Why do we call such a God good?36. In other words: God himself designed the universe and the rules that govern it. Therefore, he cannot escape the responsibility for what happens within.

Humanity has forgotten that it invented God,
and now it has to put up with quite a number of inconveniences in his name.
Martin Walser

We don’t know the big picture

A variant of the argument that evil serves a greater good goes that the world is a highly complex system. In this system, one evil may prevent a greater evil in such a complex manner that we as humans cannot understand it. We do not know “the full picture”, the argument says. As an example, there goes the story of the wise man . The wise man is on a journey with his companion. Suddenly, he reaches out with his knife and kills a bystander. Then he runs away. The companion follows, but does not dare to ask for reasons. After years he brings the story up. The wise man says: “Son, this man had an evil heart. He was to become a murderer. By killing him, I have saved the life of dozens.” Analogously, we can argue that what seems bad to us is in reality a small necessary evil that prevents much greater evil. God optimizes for millions of things at the same time, and what seems implausible to us may be very plausible if we only knew the whole picture.

Compare this to our education as children. When we were children, we often suffered because our parents did not allow us something that we wanted. Only now that we see the big picture, we agree that this was necessary. It could be similar with the world: If we only knew what the big picture was, we would agree that the suffering is necessary.

It is, of course, always possible to claim that there is some bigger plan that justifies what happens within the system. This is easy to do, because this claim is unfalsifiable: we can always claim that there is something unknown. However, if we cannot know whether the suffering is necessary, then there is no reason to believe it either. On the contrary, there are reasons to believe that the claim is false: humans suffer in the worst imaginable forms. Every year, millions of people die of hunger, diseases, and catastrophes. Malaria alone traps hundreds of thousands of people per year in agonizing deaths. Only a minority of the world’s population is living in wealth, health, and happiness. We cannot claim that a world in which millions of people suffer is a global optimization.

To see this, do a thought experiment: We go to a country that suffers from a drought, and talk to a woman with 8 children, 6 of which are undernourished. We tell her: Yes, your children are suffering, but this is all part of a big plan where the global sum is positive. Would that comfort the woman? Most likely not. On the contrary, the thought is absurd and heartless. By saying that there is a big plan and that we just do not know it, we are effectively saying only one thing: That we do not know the reason for the suffering in this world. For a Humanist, the argument of the “big picture” is just wishful thinking. It is an attempt to justify what cannot be justified.

If Hitler said he worked in mysterious ways and had a big secret plan,
would that be all the justification you’d need?
anonymous

A perfect world is impossible

One possible answer to the Problem of Evil is that a perfect world without evil is just not possible. Hence, we may not expect one.

To atheists, that is a curious idea. For centuries, humanity suffered from smallpox. Finally, science gave us a vaccine against the disease. Today, the disease no longer exists. So then, we can ask, if a world without smallpox is possible, why did God not give it to us directly?

Furthermore, there is a world in the Abrahamic view that is perfect: Heaven. In heaven, there is no suffering and no evil. This defies the hypothesis that a perfect world would not be possible.

In ancient times, the best minds were busy giving a meaning to our death. Today, the best minds are busy prolonging our life. They do so by investigating the physiological, hormonal, and genetic systems responsible for disease, and developing new medicines against them.
Yuval Noah Harari in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”

A perfect world is boring

One possible view on the Problem of Evil is that a perfect world without evil is maybe possible, but would be utterly boring. If there were really no evil in this world, then there would be no challenges.

We first observe that this theory does not justify at all the suffering in this world. If you meet a person who suffers from leprosy, would you tell her that it’s good that she suffers, because otherwise this world would be boring? Probably not. This shows that the idea of suffering for entertainment is not sustainable. On the contrary, it is demeaning to those who suffer.

Furthermore, there is a place in the Abrahamic world view where there is no suffering: Paradise. That place is usually not described as boring by believers. Then why would a pain-free world be?

If you contract cancer this afternoon and die three months later, that is God’s plan for you. Praying to cure the cancer is just a waste of time.
GodIsImaginary.com

God can’t do everything

The 2003 American fantasy comedy film “Bruce Almighty” describes Bruce, a man who is unhappy in his life and blames God for it. In a miraculous encounter, God gives him all divine powers to try out whether he can do better than God. The only condition is not to reveal his divinity, and to respect free will. Bruce fails miserably. He is overwhelmed by the task, and in the end, the world is not even slightly better. This seems to suggest that the task of keeping everyone on Earth happy is close to impossible. This could explain why God, even if benevolent, cannot prevent every case of misery in this world.

It is certainly impossible to take care of every human on Earth. However, that is not an excuse for someone who created the system. God created humans and the universe in the first place. He knew how difficult the task would be, and still he allows the world to become ever more and more complex. If he does not know how to handle it, he should not have created it in the first place.

Still, there are a few very simple things that Bruce (and God) could do:

Unfortunately, Bruce fails to implement these ideas — as does God.
He delivered Daniel from the lion’s den
And Jonah from the belly of the whale
And the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace
So why not every man?
the gospel song “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?”

Evil as a consequence of free will

One possible explanation for the evil in this world is that God had no choice: he wanted to give us free will, so he had to accept that this free will is sometimes misused. The evil in this world would be the price to pay for the freedom of decision.

Yet, that explanation is not satisfactory: In the Islam, God guides some of us on a path to good. For others, he chooses not to guide us: “It is Allah Who guides whoever He wills, and He knows best who are fit to be guided”[Quran: 28:56, 24:46]. We may say that some people do not deserve to be guided[Quran: 28:56] — but would these not be exactly those who need the guidance most? Instead, Allah deliberately abandons them37. That is hardly benevolent.

In the Jewish and Christian world view, God made man sinful by nature: “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”[Bible: Genesis 8:20]. For Christianity, this is reflected in the original sin, of which we are all guilty. Thus, God gave man both free will and a predisposition for doing evil. This is a recipe for calamity. It compares to a cockfight. In a cockfight, the roosters are first put together tightly in a cage to make them aggressive. Then they are equipped with spurs to make the fight more violent. Then they are left to fight each other until one of them dies. Spectators bet on the winner. In the Jewish and Christian world view, God is the spectator: he puts us humans together on Earth, predisposes us towards doing evil, and watches us fight. To excuse the resulting brutality, he says that he gave us free will. Cockfights are widely considered cruel today. So would be this view of a god.

Now we can take a non-Biblical view of God, where God did not give humans such a sinful nature. Can we then justify the evil in this world as a consequence of free will? It turns out that we cannot: If God is really almighty, he could make moral actions especially pleasurable, so that they would be irresistible to us; he could also punish immoral actions immediately, and make it obvious that moral rectitude is in our self-interest; or he could allow bad moral decisions to be made, but intervene to prevent the harmful consequences from actually happening. Yet, he doesn’t.

In general, it is not clear whether the explanation of free will accounts for the degree of evil seen in this world. While the value of free will may be thought sufficient to counterbalance minor evils, it is less obvious that it outweighs evils such as rape and murder. Both make an innocent person suffer from somebody else’s free will — hardly a setting that we would call just.

Finally, most of the suffering in this world is not caused by people, but rather by illnesses, natural disasters, and natural aging. The argument of free will thus fails to justify the vast portion of the evil in this world38.

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.
Gene Roddenberry

The evil for spiritual growth

Trust me, it’s for your spiritual growth! Crrrck…

Botanical Garden of Brussels/Belgium

Another way to explain the evil in this world is to assume that our suffering is required for personal and spiritual growth. When we undergo suffering, we become more mature, we become “purified”, and we learn to see life differently. As the Scottish mathematician William Davidson Niven has argued: “Where life is easy because physicals ills are at a minimum we find man degenerating in body, mind and character... Which is preferable — a grim fight with the possibility of splendid triumph; or no battle at all?”38.

If that argument is true, then let us aid human spiritual growth even further. Let us kill some people, and let us torture some others. Surely this will generate even more empathy and other virtues for those who remain? It turns out that this argument is absurd: No suffering can be justified by supposed spiritual growth. From a Humanist perspective, we would prefer a world in which no evil exists and thus no empathy is necessary in the first place. The hope that the evil in this world would in any way lead to “spiritual growth” is just an attempt to justify what cannot be justified.

If the suffering of even one innocent is the price of entry to God’s world of divine harmony, then I most respectfully return him the ticket.
Ivan in “The Brothers Karamazov”, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский)

Suffering is subjective

One possible explanation for the evil in this world runs that suffering is subjective: What may seem like suffering is actually not.

However, no matter how we turn this idea, undergoing a painful disease for years and then dying from it is suffering in all reasonable definitions of the word. Calling it anything else is just manipulating words. To see this, we can make the test: We imagine that we meet a person who has attracted cancer, and will die in the next weeks, leaving 2 orphans. We tell him: Don’t worry, your suffering is just subjective! It happens only in your mind! Would that work? Probably not. There exists undeniable suffering, and calling it “subjective” does not solve that problem. On the contrary, it is demeaning to the victims. It belittles their suffering. It is, in Humanist eyes, an attempt to justify what cannot be justified.

Health, safety, literacy, and sustenance are the prerequisites. If you are reading this, you are not dead, starving, destitute, moribund, terrified, enslaved, or illiterate, which means that you are in no position to turn your nose up on these values — or to deny that other people should share your good fortune.
Stephen Pinker in “Enlightenment Now”

Heaven outweighs the evil

One explanation for the evil in this world goes that all the evil in this world is nothing in comparison to the harmony and joys of the afterlife. The evil is just negligible.

However, no appeal to an afterlife can eradicate the problem of evil. An injustice always remains an injustice, regardless of what happens afterwards. Assume that a man rapes a woman. Since the man happens to be a billionaire, he offers a few million dollars to the victim in compensation. Yet, he does not want to see that he did something wrong. Furthermore, he is actually already on his way to rape another woman. We quickly see that no amount of compensation eradicates the evil nature of the original act. Nobody would praise the billionaire as just and loving. Yet, this is what the Abrahamic religions expect us to do.

Furthermore, by pointing to Heaven, we are actually downplaying the evil in this world. We say that the evil is not important. Thereby, we are doing injustice to those who suffer. Who of us dares telling a mother who lost her child that her agony is negligible? That would be heartless and mean.

Worse, if we downplay the evil in this world, we can justify our own injustice and inertia. If it is negligible that thousands of people die in a famine, then it is also negligible that a man beats his wife, that a baby dies of malnourishment, and that a murderer kills a victim. All of these fade in comparison to the joys of the afterlife. If God does not care about millions dying, then why should we care about a man beating his wife? And yet, such thinking is despicable in Humanist eyes. No reference to Heaven can justify the evil in this world.

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

The evil as a test

The world sees much injustice and evil. We may say that this evil just exists to test us humans. If God finds that we withstand the evil well, then we deserve going to paradise after our death.

Yet, God is omniscient. He knows who will withstand well. There is no need to have innocent people suffer just for the benefit of those who will go to heaven.

Going further, we may ask why he created those people who do not deserve Heaven in the first place. Would a world without these people not be much better? It could literally be Heaven on Earth.

If an almighty god wanted you to be in some perfect world, you would already be there.
There is no need for him to test something of which he already knows the outcome.

A Humanist perspective

By John McNamee
Most arguments on the Problem of Evil say that the evil in this world is part of God’s grander plan: evil exists as a punishment; evil is negligible in comparison to the joys of afterlife; it is needed for natural balance; it serves a greater good; it is needed for spiritual growth; it is part of a grander plan; it is needed to avoid a world that would be boring; or it is the price to pay for free will.

From a Humanist perspective, none of these justifications holds water: if God is really omnipotent and benevolent, he should have designed the world without evil. If he does not know how to do it, he should just send everyone to heaven straight away. The Abrahamic religions agree that heaven is the place of unlimited happiness and no evil — so why not send us all there right from the start? The solution to this conundrum is, of course, to recognize that the Abrahamic god is nothing more than a fictional character. He was developed to appeal to the masses, and as such, he had to be benevolent and ominipotent. As these properties clash with the reality, theologicians have devoted a lot of effort to squaring away the evil in this world with the supposed benevolence of their god. With this effort, they are more concerned about the contradictions in their faith than about the evil itself39. That is, in Humanist eyes, a folly. People should concentrate on fighting evil rather than on reconciling it with some fictional character.

That said, the justification of evil serves an important purpose: It helps people come to terms with the weltschmerz that any reasonable being must feel when it sees the suffering on Earth. When we believe that suffering can somehow be justified, it is easier to bear it. This, in turn, makes the religion attractive.

The problem is that such justifications are convincing only in theory. It is one thing to declare that the suffering in the world is part of God’s plan, and an entirely different thing to actually believe it. Assume, for example, that you go to a developing country and see a family in poverty. Assume that their child is infected by some virus and is about to die. You have no medical experience, so there is no way to help that child. Then, according to the Abrahamic religions, this death must be part of God’s greater plan. When the child dies, it will lead to something good. Either it will test the parents and allow them to go to heaven or it will stimulate spiritual growth, or it will be for a greater good. Then, to stay in our thought experiment, would you seriously consider telling the parents that it is good that their child dies? That this will help them grow spiritually? That this will help you (as a witness) grow spiritually? That probably the death of their child is required to save some other (unknown) people? Of course not. Such an argument would be absurd. This shows that all the explanations of evil hold no water when faced with the reality of suffering.

The justifications of evil are not just absurd, but, according to Humanists, also outright harmful: Any attempt to re-interpret the evil in this world as something good belittles the misery that affects so many of us. It is demeaning to those who suffer. Worse, it can be used to justify our own inaction in the face of evil. That is, in Humanist eyes, never a good thing. For Humanists, justifying evil is evil by itself.

If God created man in his image, I have no interest in meeting him.
anonymous
The Atheist Bible, next chapter: Christianity

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