The Atheist Bible

Chapter on the God of the Gaps

The Universe

The Atheist Bible / Chapter on the God of the Gaps. © Fabian M. Suchanek

Introduction

This chapter treats the argument that God is the explanation for all the things unknown in this universe — the “God of the Gaps” argument God of the Gaps. The chapter consists of the following sections:

A scientific theory of the universe, as well as common objections to that theory, are discussed in the Chapter on the Universe.

If you lived two or three millennia ago,
there was no shame in holding that the universe was made for us.
It was an appealing thesis consistent with everything we knew.
It was what the most learned among us taught without qualification.

But we have found out much since then.
Defending such a position today amounts to willful disregard of the evidence
and a flight from self-knowledge.

Carl Sagan

Argument by Design

The universe is an immensely complex system. This makes many people believe that it must have been designed. The main theory goes that complexity cannot arise spontaneously, but requires a “designer”.

There are several problems with this argument. First, it is wrong. Complexity can arise from simplicity, as we have seen in the Chapter on the Universe.

Second, the argument contradicts itself. If complexity can arise only from complexity, then the designer must be complex as well. If it is complex, then it must have arisen from some other complexity. This is the question of “who designed the designer”. Here, it is usually argued that the designer is an exception to the rule. This, however, is an arbitrary claim. We can equally well claim that the universe is an exception to the rule.

Finally, the claim suffers from the typical problems of the “God of the Gaps” argument, which we discuss at the end of this chapter: The theory cannot be falsified, and thus it does not make predictions; it does not provide an explanation in the technical sense of the word; it does not prove that it was really that particular god who did the job, and not some other deity or force; it assumes that the world has a beginning; it encourages us to stop searching for a scientific answer to the question; and it wrongly assumes that theology would deliver better answers than science.

Scott Adam’s Dilbert comic 1996-02-11, shortened

Intelligent Design

This theory goes as follows: Whenever we see something smartly arranged (such as a piece of art, a rose garden, or a city), we know it has been created by some intelligent being (humans). Since the world itself is also smartly arranged, it follows that there must be some intelligent being who created it.

We first note that the theory is wrong. As we have shown in the Chapter on the Universe, there are plenty of things that are arranged smartly, and that were created by purely natural processes: Snowflakes, swarm behavior, hands, or indeed the Earth. Therefore, the theory is to be rejected.

An Opabinia.
Note the 5 eyes.Steve Lew
The recurrent laryn­geal nerve in a gi­raffe Pixa­bay, adapted
Apart from that, there are plenty of things that are not designed intelligently: These design choices are not intelligent. Hence, they invalidate the theory of intelligent design (Wikipedia / Argument from poor design). We discuss other problems with this type of argument at the end of this chapter.
You have no reason, on your theory, for ascribing perfection to the deity, even in his finite capacity; or for supposing him free from any error, mistake, or incoherence in his undertakings.

We need a first cause!

The atheist view of the universe can explain quite a number of things, but it cannot explain how the universe started. So the big question is what happened before the Big Bang. Believers argue as follows: everything is caused by something. Thus, also the universe was caused by something. This first cause of the universe is God.

However, the question is then: What caused God? Believers say that God does not have a cause, because he exists outside time. Then, however, we can equally well argue: The universe does not have a cause. In fact, time cannot exist without matter. Therefore, the universe itself defines time. Therefore, the question of the “before the universe” does not make any sense.

In general, the question of the “first cause” (of anything) can never be answered in a satisfactory manner. Let us look at a system that tells us for each event its cause. In such a theory, we can look for the cause of one thing, and then for the cause of that thing, and so on until we reach the “first cause”. Unfortunately, one of the following cases will apply:

There are no other cases (see proof below). Therefore, the question for the ultimate cause of the universe can never be answered in a satisfactory way — with or without gods. This problem is known as the Münchhausen Trilemma Münchhausen Trilemma.

Apart from this, and just like the designer argument, the claim suffers from the typical problems of the “God of the Gaps” argument. We discuss them at the end of this chapter, and mention them here just for the sake of completeness of this article: The theory cannot be falsified, and thus it does not make predictions; it assumes that the world has a beginning; it encourages us to stop searching for a scientific answer to the question; and it wrongly assumes that theology would deliver better answers than science.

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Everything from nothing?

This would indeed be a stupid theory. Where did you find it?thinksee @ wordpress
A frequent critique in the scientific model is that it seems to say that the entire universe basically came from nothing. How can everything come from nothing?

As the attentive reader will have noticed, science makes no such claim. Nowhere does this book or a scientist say that the universe came from nothing. Science says that we do not know so far where it came from (if that question makes sense at all). And as long as we do not have validated evidence for a theory that explains where the universe comes from, we keep searching. That’s all.

Concerning the question of where the universe came from,
science says nothing, not “nothing”.

Watchmaker analogy

The so-called watchmaker analogy goes as follows: Imagine you walked on the beach and found a watch. Would you assume that the watch evolved naturally or that it was created by a watchmaker? Surely, you assume the watchmaker. In the same way, assume God as the creator of the universe.

We can continue this argument: Assume that we continue our walk on the beach and that we find a watchmaker lying on the beach. Would we assume that the watchmaker had no cause and that he was born without parents? Surely, we assume he has parents. This contradicts the claim that God has no cause.

Again, we continue our walk and we find an atomic power plant. Would you assume that the watchmaker made it? Probably not. Most likely, the power plant was built by some unrelated people. This contradicts the claim that God made everything in the universe by himself. This shows that the analogy does not hold water.

Did some caveman just wake up and decide to design a watch? Of course not. It took mankind thousands of years of trial and error to find the necessary materials and techniques. Trying several, keeping the best, and trying again. Which is what we call evolution.
Apart from this, the watch did actually come into existence by pretty random processes, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb notes in a footnote in his book “The Black Swan”. Let us elaborate this idea: It took humanity hundreds of thousands of years to make use of bronze. The metal was not found by some designer, but most likely because someone accidentally used rocks that contained copper and tin to build campfire rings. When the fire heated the stones, the metals melted and mixed, yielding bronze. When the people realized this, they started to heat these stones on purpose, and to identify those stones that yielded the best bronze — they performed a kind of “natural selection”. From there, it took humanity thousands of years to arrive at the metals that we actually make watches of. Titanium (the material that the watch in the picture is made of) was found by serendipity in 1791. The clergyman and amateur geologist William Gregor realized that black sand was attracted by a magnet. He investigated, and found that the sand contained a hitherto unknown material — which was later called Titanium. Again, it was not some designer sitting down and creating some hard material, but rather someone stumbling upon the material by chance. As so many discoveries, it was first of little use, because it could not be extracted from the sand. In 1910, Matthew A. Hunter proposed a process that heats the sand to 1000°C, and then adds hydrochloric acid. In 1940, William J. Kroll had the idea to use sodium gas, which finally gave humanity a way to industralize titanium. The solar cell that powers the watch was again not designed by an omniscient being, but rather discovered by chance when Alexandre Edmond Becquerel realized in 1839 that some conductive solution produced an electrical current when exposed to light. It took humanity 150 years of more or less systematic trial and error to stumble upon the configuration that can power watches. Thus, the watch did actually come into existence by evolution: Large-scale, distributed trials led to some interesting results by chance. The good results were kept, and submitted to the same process. Iterating this for several thousand years led to the watch that you see in the picture. Seen this way, the watchmaker argument is actually an example of an evolutionary process.

Apart from this, the argument that the watch would prove God suffers from the typical problems of the “God of the Gaps” argument, which we discuss at the end of this chapter. Sing with me: The theory cannot be falsified; it does not prove that it was really that particular god who did the job, and not some other deity or force; it assumes that the world has a beginning; and it wrongly assumes that theology would deliver better answers than science.

Can you produce, from your hypothesis, to prove the unity of the deity? A great number of men, join in building a house and a ship, in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth. Why not several deities combine in contriving and forming a world?

God is simpler!

The theories presented here (and scientific theories in general) are very complex. So then it can be argued that “God exists” is a very simply theory that explains everything by assuming only a single entity. For example, to explain why life is here, I can just say “God created life”. Thus, the theory “God dit it” would have an extraordinary capacity of compression.

However, the theory “God created life” makes exactly the same predictions as “Life is there”. There is no prediction that the first theory makes and that the second one does not make. Adding “God” does not add any new predictions. Thus, the theory is actually simpler without the god.

This is the essence of explanations that involve God: They tell us only the predictions what we knew anyway, and nothing more. Ceterum censeo, the theory “God did it” is unfalsifiable. It also has a number of other problems, which we discuss at the end of this chapter.

“I don’t know” does not mean that you can fill in the blanks with your favorite fairy tale.
Kieran Dyke on Quora.com

Nobody knows the origin!

Believers do not know how to explain where God came from. Atheists can’t explain where the universe came from. So, aren’t both views equally unsupported?

The answer is no. We know that the universe exists, and hence it makes sense to search its origins. However, we do not even know whether God exists. Thus, before venturing into where God came from, we should prove that he exists in the first place. Believers are still stuck at that stage of the process.

Atheists are one step ahead, because they know at least that the thing whose origin they search does exist.

How do atheists explain the origin of the Universe when even science has no concrete theory about it?

A hundred years ago, someone would have asked: “How do you explain the origin of lightings and thunderstorms when science has no concrete theory about it?”. The only honest answer that an atheist could give at the time would be: “I don’t know”. And the theist would reply: “The explanation is God!”. Today, science has advanced. Theistic thinking has not.

Nelson Ferraz on Quora.com, paraphrased

Made for us

It seems that the world is so tailored for us that it must have been made for us. If that is so, would it not allow us to deduce that there was a “maker”?

However, the belief that the world was “made for us” is just an artifact of our self-centered thinking. If the world were made for us, we would not have evolved together with several other humanoid species, and even mated with them before they died out. We would not live on the 4th of 8 planets, orbiting around a star that is in every aspect like thousands of others, moving in a galaxy that is a random place in a universe that contains billions of them. Apart from that, the world is not really “made for us”. On the contrary, it is a rather hostile environment. It took humanity hundreds of thousands of years to tame the threats of nature, such as wild animals, the cold, the heat, or the drought. Many threats still remain. Every year, hundreds of thousands of us perish in illnesses, floods, famines, or natural disasters. That is not “made for us”.

The world is not made for us, but we were made for the world — in the sense that all organisms that did not work were filtered out by natural selection. Assuming a god is just a consequence of our inability to understand this. Maybe Douglas Adams phrased it best when he told the following story:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well. It must have been made to have me in it!
Douglas Adams

The probability is so small!

Atheist World
The scientific theory of the universe relies on chance: Molecules happened to be aligned in the right way for life to emerge, cells happened to have a nucleus, and mutations happened to create eyes, wings, and feathers. Isn’t the chance that all of this happens too small to be real? Fred Hoyle has famously stated: “The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” Junkyard Tornado.

We first observe that the chances have to be put in the context of the universe: If the chance for life to emerge on one planet is one in a billion, this still means that there will be life on one billion planets — because the universe just has so many planets (Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion). Nature runs billions of experiments in parallel. If it takes one million years until one particular configuration of molecules appears by chance, then the likelihood that this actually happens is 99.9% — just because the universe is thousands of millions of years old.

Apart from this, most processes in nature are actually not guided by chance. Rather, they are guided by natural selection. It’s not like a monkey is created from scratch by a random meeting of atoms. Rather, nature tried out thousands of different models of primitive life forms first. In each generation, thousands of models were sorted out by natural selection. Only the survivors got a chance to continue. Again, thousands of different variations of these were tried out. This process continued for hundreds of thousands of generations.

To illustrate this process, think of it as a combination lock with 5 number wheels. Finding the right combination requires trying out all possible numbers: 10,000. However, evolution does not try out all possible numbers. Rather, it first tries the first wheel. When the right number is found (i.e., when the species survives), it proceeds to the second wheel. It is as if, at each wheel, there is a little click when we found the right number. If we proceed to left from right in this way, we actually only need 5 steps. (Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion)

Future humans will probably create millions of simulated universes to explore the nature of their past and their humanity. So what’s the probability that our universe is the one “real” universe? Vanishingly tiny. What’s the probability that we’re living in a computer simulation run by future posthumans? Huge.
Mike Heroys

The Fine-Tuned Universe

@TarteGogo
There are a number of physical constants that govern the processes in our universe: the gravity constant, the strength of the nuclear force, and so on. If any of these constants had a different value, then the universe would not have come into existence the way it did. If we vary the values by tiny amounts, there would probably never be life Fine-tuned Universe. This begs the question of why these constants have exactly these values — and not any of the other myriad possible values.

At this time, we have no good answer to that question. Scientists have proposed several theories, including multiverses and bubble universes. However, so far, none of these has been proven true. Thus, science is still mute on this question.

From this, it does not follow that God must exist. Just because a question is open, it does not mean that a god must be the answer. Anything else could be the answer. For example, our universe could be just one of millionsThe Economist: A numbers game, 2017-07-15. All these universes would have different values for the natural constants. Only in one of them would life have emerged — and this is of course the one in which we live. Or there could be some yet undiscovered physical laws that constrain the constants, so that they cannot have any other values. All of these are possibilities — and a god is just one of them. So the same reason that makes people hesitant to believe in multiverses (which are one possible explanation) makes an atheist hesitant to believe in gods (which are another possible explanation). None is proven right. Therefore, we keep searching.

This way of thinking has proven very productive in the past. A few decades ago, we did not know how cells formed. We had to assume that this happened by chance — which was possible, but unlikely. Nowadays, we know that clay speeds up the chemical process. We can even do that in the laboratory. Thus, scientific discoveries have explained what was once unknown. The hope is that similar processes will be discovered for the other open questions in science.

This progress, however, is only possible if we leave that spot open for enquiry. If we fill it with a god, then we prevent science from exploring it. In other words: Only if we admit that we do not know, we will be able to know. This is much more reasonable than using a god to plug the gaps, as we discuss at the end of this chapter.

Science says: We don’t know, but we’re trying to shed light on it.
What are you doing to shed light on it?

Everything else

Where does beauty come from?

There are many questions in life that we cannot (yet) answer by science alone. Examples (taken from a pamphlet) include: Why do cats have pretty stripes on them? Why do the millions of insect species have such startling beauty? Why does man feel guilty when he sins? Why does anyone have a will? Where did personality come from?

Faith in God, goes the argument, can give answers to these questions: The reason is God. Cats have pretty stripes because God wants them to have stripes.

Unfortunately, this theory has at least three problems:

Focus on Beauty
The argument is commonly applied to all the beautiful things in life. Yet, there are many more ugly, dangerous, and brutal things in life. Tapeworms, e.g., are worms that are several meters long and live in the intestines of animals and humans Tapeworm. Much less theological effort has been devoted to explain the existence of these.
Non-exclusiveness
Assume that, one day, we find a scientific explanation to why cats have beautiful stripes. Just assume. Then what happens to the theistic explanation? Do we reject the scientific explanation? That would be foolish, because the scientific explanation makes useful and interesting predictions. Or do we reject the theistic explanation? Then what was the value of it? Or do we keep both? Then why do we call the theistic one an “explanation” at all, if it does not explain?
Falsehood
A religious explanation for the stripes of animals can be found in the Bible in Genesis 30:37-39: “Jacob took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.” This explanation is obviously wrong. Animals do not get stripes when they mate in front of almond trees.
Explaining phenomena by gods is basically an argument from ignorance: Just because we do not know, we say it’s God. This is, however, wrong in the majority of cases.

Finally, the claim suffers from the typical problems of the “God of the Gaps” argument, which we discuss at the end of this chapter. I repeat them here for readers who did not read the other articles of this chapter: The theory that “God did it” cannot be falsified, and thus it does not make predictions; it does not provide an explanation in the technical sense; it does not prove that it was really that particular god who did the job, and not some other deity or force; it encourages us to stop searching for a scientific answer to the question; and it wrongly assumes that theology would deliver better answers than science.

If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final result of all my efforts.
Bertrand Russell

What makes the world go round?

This book harps on about the fact that the existence of God is unfalsifiable. There is nothing that could happen in the present or future that would show that God does not exist. Now what if we say that God raises the sun every day? Isn’t that falsifiable? If the sun does not rise tomorrow, then this shows that God does not exist.

The theory is indeed falsifiable. However, it falls into the same class of arguments as the Greek myth of Persephone, which goes as follows: The goddess Persephone makes spring come every year. If there were no spring, then Persephone would not exist. This theory is falsifiable — just like the theory that God makes the sun rise.

However, falsifiability alone does not make a story true. A story is true only if all of its hypotheses are true. A hypothesis is true if it is either a perception statement or supported by evidence. So then, what is the evidence for the fact that God raises the sun everyday? And what is the evidence that it was not Gayatri? There is none... In fact, there is evidence against either.

If someone tells you that you do not understand the world and that therefore you should follow his religion, he’s obviously playing a cheap trick on you. If he really wanted your good, he’d encourage you to understand the world first.
WhyWontGodHealAmputees.com

Why do things happen?

It is one of the fascinating (and sometimes frightening) facts of life that some things are just outside our control. A loved one may suffer an accident, a friend may fall terminally ill, or you may win a million dollars in a lottery. These events are beyond our understanding, let alone our influence.

Thus, believers assume that there must be some kind of superior being, who makes these things happen. This is an understandable conjecture. Let us make this hypothesis more formal: “There is a higher power who coordinates the events on Earth”. Is there any way we could prove this hypothesis wrong? That is, can we imagine any event that would show that life is not coordinated by a supreme being? It turns out that there is no such event. Whatever happens is the will of the higher power. This means that our hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

As the reader knows off pat by now, the unfalsifiability has two consequences: First, the hypothesis “There is a higher power who coordinates the events on Earth” has no implication whatsoever for our lives on Earth. There is nothing that this hypothesis tells us about what will happen or what will not happen. Thus, a believer is unable to predict the future just like the atheist is unable to predict the future — both are victims of the same random processes. It does not help at all to assume that there is a higher power. Technically, the hypothesis “There is a higher power” does not imply any perception statements. It is thus literally meaningless.

There is a second consequence of the unfalsifiability. It is that I can invent any other unfalsifiable hypothesis that contradicts it. For example, “There are two higher powers, who work together to coordinate the events on Earth in alternation. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it is mainly the first power, and on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, it is mainly the other power. Sunday is actually uncoordinated, real randomness.” This hypothesis contradicts the original hypothesis, but it can also not be proven wrong (try proving it wrong!). This shows that we can come up with an arbitrary number of contradictory hypotheses, which each also “explain” the events of life, but can never be proven false. And this is what humans do indeed. They call it “religions”.

This is just one of the problems with such type of arguments. We discuss the others at the end of this chapter.

Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions.
anonymous

Where does moral law come from?

This argument, the Argument from Morality, goes back to Immanuel Kant. Kant argued that there exists a universal sense of moral obligation. This sense of “ought”, which Kant termed the “categorical imperative”, points towards an objective moral law, which source can only be the supreme being or God Rejection of Pascal / Kant.

However, ancient cultures had moral rules long before the Christian God appeared. Babylonian and Sumerian laws, e.g., date from the year 2000 BCE. These law systems predate the major world religions by several hundred if not thousands of years. The laws codified family laws, punishments, property laws, leasing, debt, warranty, and the presumption of innocence. These laws were invented long before the abrahamic God, let alone Jesus or Mohammed, entered the scene. Ancient Romans and Greeks, too, had sophisticated legal systems but had no clue of the triune God. Today, people in all regions of the world have basic moral rules, even if they never heard of the 10 Commandments — just like Christians have basic moral rules even if they never heard of Hinduism’s legal framework. And the reason is that moral systems arise spontaneously in any human society. Humans have a vital self-interest in protecting their own life and limb, and moral rules are just a means to that end. Moral rules do not have divine origin at all, as we discussed in the Chapter on Morality.

We could argue that God gave humans the divine moral understanding. However, moral standards are by not absolute. They change over time. Slavery, e.g., was widely considered normal in the Medieval Ages (and is approved in the Bible and the Quran). Nowadays, it is shunned. Polygamy is illegal in Christian countries, but legal in Muslim ones. The death penalty is in force in some countries, but considered immoral in the others. This defies the idea that moral standards would come from God.

Even if there were some basic common moral standards, this would not prove that they would come from a god, let alone from the abrahamic god. Our moral standards are way above the moral standards that the abrahamic God supposedly gave us.

Did people really not know that they should not kill before Moses told them?

Why should people behave morally?

This book has argued that moral laws do not come from God. No matter where the laws came from, we are left to wonder why we should actually follow the laws. The theistic response is: We should follow the law because God commands us to. In case this is not sufficient: We should follow the law because otherwise God burns us in hell for eternity.

Theists often ask “If there is no god, then what prevents you from raping as many women as you want?”. The answer is simple: Atheists do rape as many women as they want. In most cases, that number is zero. Turning the question around, we may ask the theist: So if there were no god, would you rape women and kill children? Is the only reason why you don’t rape women your fear of hell? If that is the case, then you are a horrible person. Now, if you have any other reason not to rape women, then how does your question prove the existence of God?

This is just one of the problems with the god of the gaps. We discuss the others at the end of this chapter.

Fortunately, there is a rather simple explanation for why we should behave morally: Would you, the reader, like to live in a lawless society, where everybody can kill and plunder as he wishes? Probably not. The majority of your compatriots think the same. Therefore, the majority of your compatriots, as well as presumably yourself, behave morally. That is all that is needed for the explanation of moral behavior.

It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men good,
but even if it were true, it would not be a proof that religion is true.
Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way,
and yet that doesn’t prove his existence.

How do you explain the soul?

As God­Is­Imaginary.com explains: when you accept evolution, what you are automatically doing is rejecting the concept of a soul [as a separate entity in the human]. Here is why: As soon as you accept that evolution is true, you also accept that the creation story in the Bible is false. It is pure mythology. The concept of the “soul”, which comes from the same book, is exactly the same sort of mythology. Simply think through the logic. What the theory of evolution says is that every living thing on this planet has evolved through a completely natural process. Every species that we see today is derived from simple, single-cell organisms over the course of hundreds of millions of years. There is no part of the scientific explanation of evolution that says, “a mythical supernatural being reaches in right here and guides it.” Evolution, by its very nature, is a supernatural-free process. Thus, in atheist eyes, the whole notion of a soul is a figment of human imagination. The concept of a “soul” has been invented by religion because many people have trouble facing their own mortality. It makes people feel better, but the concept is a complete fabrication God­Is­Imaginary.com .

When we use the word “soul” in everyday language, we do not actually refer to such a meta-physical entity. Rather, we use it as an umbrella term for human abilities such as self-awareness, feelings, suffering, or generally being alive. These, however, are not supernatural things. They are very natural attributes. “Soul” is just another word for them.

So many questions remain!

Science has found out an extraordinary amount of things about life, the universe, and humanity. And still, it is obvious that science is nowhere close to answering all of humanity’s questions — and quite possibly never will. Does this not make the idea of a universal answer (God) plausible?

No. To see this, take again the question of who murdered John F. Kennedy. Up to now, nobody knows who murdered Kennedy. So doesn’t that make the answer “The Russians murdered him” plausible? Of course not! Just because we do not know the answer, this does not entitle us to invent an answer. In fact, it is much better to admit that we do not know the answer, rather than inventing one and believing in it. This is for several reasons: First, if we agree that the Russians did it, we will stop searching for who really did it. But we should not stop searching until we have conclusive evidence for who did it. The same goes for the origin of the universe or in fact any other question. Second, if I say the Russians did it and you say the Chinese did it, we’d have a fight for no reason. The analogy to religious conflict is obvious here. Third, the assumption that the Russans did it when there is no evidence for it can get you in trouble with them — and rightly so. This is what we observe between believers of different faiths, who all claim that their god is the right one.

Finally, it is much more honest to say “I don’t know” rather than to believe (and teach) an arbitrary answer. We discuss this at the end of the chapter.

Those who believe they know everything
are of great annoyance to those of us who do.
Isaac Asimov (with tongue in cheek)

Why are believers wrong?

Atheists don’t know the answer to many of humanity’s conundrums. If they do not know the answer, then what entitles them to say that the theistic answers are false?

In the majority of cases, the theistic answers are not actually false. They are unfalsifiable, and hence nonsensical, but not false. In order to be false, they would have to make a concrete prediction — which they usually don’t.

However, there are a number of cases where an atheist can say with confidence that the theistic answer is false. For example, animals do not have beautiful stripes because Jacob made them mate in front of almond trees. Now the argument goes: How does the atheist dare saying that some answer is false, if he doesn’t have any other answer? Cory Radebaugh replies as follows on Quora:

It is not required to have the correct answer in order to tell that another answer is nonsense.

For example, if the problem is 765769×29310, you don’t know the answer. But you know that -3 is not the answer. This is because two positive numbers multiplied cannot yield a negative number.

In other words: Even if we do not know the answer, we can tell if another answer is wrong. For example, experiments show that story of Jacob cannot be true. Animals do not get stripes if they made in front of an almond tree. Along the same lines, validated scientific theories show that the Earth was not created 6000 years ago, experimental evidence shows that complexity can very well arise from simplicity, and careful observation shows that the creation is not perfect. In these cases, the common theological theories are just false.

But even if the theistic answers are not outright wrong, we are entitled to doubt: Assume that someone tells you that the answer to the above computation is 65762898798. Would you believe this person? Or would you still want to see the steps of the calculation? And if the calculation involves a step that says that you should not ask how it works? And if someone else comes, and tells you that the answer is 5345365498? At this point, you would almost certainly want to see the steps of the calculation. And what if you asked a different question, but the answer would always be the same number? You would probably start to seriously doubt that your interlocutor is right. And it is the same with atheists when they hear the “God of the Gap” argument.

How naive to believe there might be a single answer to every question. Every mystery. That there exists a lone divine light which rules over all. They say it is a light that brings truth and love. I say it is a light that blinds us — and forces us to stumble about in ignorance.

The God is just Raps

Problems with the God of the Gaps

Many open questions in science, metaphysics, and philosophy can be answered if we assume a god. This includes the question of how the universe came into existence, where beauty comes from, and why people behave morally. Adherents of the abrahamic religions often answer these questions by assuming their God, and adherents of other religions use their own gods, spirits, or extraterrestrials. This line of reasoning is known as “the God of the Gaps” God of the Gaps.

In the sections above, we have argued that the assumption of a god does not actually answer the questions. Here, we summarize the problems with the “God of the Gaps” argument:

Apart from this, the God of the Gap argument suffers from the problems that unsubstantiated theories suffer from in general. It is also pretentious to assume that one’s own god would be the solution to all of mankind’s conundrums, as we will argue in the Chapter on Criticism of Religion.

Whom do atheists turn to when faced with a situation that logic cannot explain?

I do not turn to anything. There are some things we don’t know, and making up answers to fill the holes, and then believing that the made-up answers are true is completely idiotic.

Daniel Super on Quora

No Evidence

The “God of the Gaps” argument says that God created the universe (and also accomplished a number of other things — basically everything to which we have no scientific explanation at this point of time).

It is indeed possible that God created the universe. The rule “If God created the universe, then the universe exists” is a specialization of the more general rule “If someone creates something, then that thing exists” — and that is generally true.

The problem is that the rule works only in one direction: If God created the universe, then it exists. This does not mean that, vice versa, if the universe exists, then God necessarily created it. Anything else could have created the universe. The universe could even have existed in eternity. Using the rule the other way round is a reasoning called abduction. As we have seen before, this way of reasoning generally does not lead to correct conclusions.

The only way to deduce that “God did it” is to use evidence for that hypothesis. Evidence for a hypothesis is a true theory that predicts the hypothesis. That is: we need a true rule that has “God did it” not in the premise, but in the conclusion. Up to now, no such rule has been found (see the Chapter on Proofs for God). Until then, the idea that “God did it” is just a hypothesis that hangs in the air.

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Unfalsifiability

Many questions in life could be answered by assuming a god. For example: Where does the universe come from? God created it! Or: Why do cats have pretty stripes on them? Cats have pretty stripes because God wants them to have stripes!

Interestingly, we can never prove such theories wrong. There is nothing that could happen in the present or future that the believer would accept as a proof that God was not the ultimate cause. For example, even if we found one day why animals have stripes, the believer can still argue that God caused whatever was the reason. There is no way to show that God did not ultimately do it.

By now, the reader is well-versed in the concept of falsifiability. Thus, the reader will have spotted immediately that the claim “God ultimately did it” is unfalsifiable: It cannot be proven wrong, even hypothetically. As always, this has two consequences: First, we can come up with arbitrary many contradictory theories, which also explain why cats have stripes. We discuss the range of these theories further down. Second, the claim makes no predictions. By assuming that “God did it”, we are no wiser than before. A believer knows nothing more about this world than an non-believer. Not a single concrete prediction about how the world is, or how the world is not, can be derived from the statement “God did it”. And this is why religious people fare no better in the randomness of this world than non-religious ones (they fare worse, actually). No religious book told us how many species there are, how to make electricity, or how to cure Ebola. A religion always just summarizes the knowledge of the era when it was created — despite claims to the contrary.

What was it God revealed to man? He did not reveal science. The whole structure of physical science was built up very gradually and tentatively by man. He did not teach man geology, or astronomy, or chemistry, or biology. He did not teach him how to overcome disease, or its nature and cure. He did not teach him agriculture, or how to develop a wild grass into a life-nourishing wheat. He did not teach man how to drain a marsh or how to dig a canal so that it might carry water where it was needed. He did not teach him arithmetic or mathematics. He taught him none of the arts and sciences. Man had no revelation that taught him how to build the steam engine, or the aeroplane, or the submarine, the telegraph or the wireless. All these and a thousand other things which we regard as indispensable, and without which civilization would be impossible, man had to discover for himself.

God or other gods

The “God of the Gaps” argument says that anything that is not currently known was caused by God — most notably the creation of the universe. We have already seen that this claim is unfalsifiable. One consequence of this is that we can come up with arbitrarily many other theories about the creation of the universe. By careful design, these theories can be made unfalsifiable as well. This means that there is nothing we could do to prove to an adherent of some theory that the theory is false. Hence, we find ourselves with a large array of theories, each with their respective adherents, and each of them unable to see what is wrong with their theory.

And indeed, there exist quite a number of such theories. To a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim believer, for example, it is obvious that there is only one possible deity who could achieve the creation of the world: their God. However, it could also be a very different god. In Hinduism, for example, Brahma, the Hindu deva of creation, emerges from a lotus risen from the navel of Visnu, who lies with Lakshmi on the serpent Ananta Shesha Creation Myth. Interestingly, this Hindu story also tells us where the creator came from (he emerged from a lotus) — a question to which the abrahamic religions still owe us an answer. In the present book, the universe was created by the goddess Gayatri. She deliberately created different religions with convincing characteristics in order to confuse mankind.

As we have seen before, there could also be several creators of the world. In Raëlism, Earth is a big scientific experiment by extraterrestrials Raelism. Other religions know of a male and a female deity instead. The so-called world parents are commonly identified with the sky (usually male) and the earth (usually female). Creation is then the result of a sexual union, and serve as genealogical record of the deities born from it Creation Myth. The Wicca faith, e.g., holds that the universe was created by the female Moon Goddess and the male Horned God Wicca.

Evangelical Pastafarism
Atheists have taken this occasion to add some more creation stories. Bobby Henderson started the religion of Pastafarianism. In this religion, the world was not created by God, but by a creature called the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Henderson claims that all arguments that can be brought for God as the creator can equally well support the FSM as the creator. Consequently, he wrote a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education to demand that Pastafarianism be taught, along with the Christian theory of Intelligent Design and evolution, in school classrooms as a theory of the origin of the world Flying Spaghetti Monster.

At the same time, our focus on gods is mainly due to our lack of imagination. There are much more philosophical and colorful explanations of how the world came to existence. Buddhists, for example, assume no creation at all. In their view, the universe has always existed. The Daoist creation story, in contrast, goes as follows: “The Way gave birth to unity, Unity gave birth to duality, Duality gave birth to trinity, Trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures. The myriad creatures bear yin on their back and embrace yang in their bosoms. They neutralize these vapors and thereby achieve harmony” [by Daodejing, 4th century BCE, Wikipedia/Creation Myth]. This may sound highly philosophical, but that is certainly adequate for something as foundational as the creation of the universe. It would be implausible to assume that the universe is like a watch, just bigger. There are plenty of other creation stories, which we discuss later.

These theories cannot all be true at the same time. They contradict each other. And yet, none of them can be proven wrong. This is the dilemma that comes with unfalsifiability. Unfortunately, the adherents of these theories cannot understand that unfalsifiability is the problem, because if they did, they would have to abandon their own theory as well.

Ignorance is of a peculiar nature. Once dispelled, it is impossible to re-establish it. Though man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant.
Thomas Paine

Not an Explanation

Many things in life could be explained by assuming that God (or another god) did them. For example, by saying “God created the universe”, we learn where the universe came from. This looks like a very simple explanation.

Let us look into this more closely. Assume the following facts:

Next Tuesday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow.
Next Friday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow.
Next Saturday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow.
Next Sunday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow
The supernatural explanation is:
God wants that next Tuesday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow.
God wants that next Friday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow.
God wants that next Saturday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow.
God wants that next Sunday, the sun shines, it rains, and there is a rainbow
The problem is that we do not learn anything more from the supernatural explanation than from the facts themselves. The fact that “God wants it” does not tell us anything more about how long the rainbow will last, how strong it is, or where we will see it. Not a single verifiable prediction follows from the assumption that “God wants it”. Thus, both the original facts and the explanation make the same predictions. At the same time, the supernatural explanation is not in any way shorter than the original list of facts. We say that the explanation does not compress information. Therefore, it is not a valid explanation in the sense of this book.

A scientific explanation, in contrast, goes as follows:

Next Tuesday, the sun shines and it rains.
Next Friday, the sun shines and it rains.
Next Saturday, the sun shines and it rains.
Next Sunday, the sun shines and it rains.
Whenever it rains and the sun shines, there is a rainbow.
This theory is shorter than the original list of facts. And as we add more days, the scientific theory will become even shorter in comparison to the original set of facts. We say that the scientific theory compresses information. It captures a pattern the data. Therefore, the scientific theory carries additional insight. It has explanatory power, and is therefore a valid explanation in the technical sense. The theory that “God wants it” is not. On the contrary, it makes our explanation longer than just stating the facts themselves.

Furthermore, the theory with God adds a layer of complexity. To illustrate this, consider an example: Small children like playing the game of “Why”. They simply always ask “Why?”. Each answer entails again a “Why?” and the game continues until the unnerved parent finally says “Because it’s like that”. A theist can handle many questions that an atheist cannot answer, because he can answer with “Because God did it”, or “Because God wants it that way”. However, the next “Why” (namely why does God want that?) will finally force him to say “It’s like that” as well. Thus, the “It’s like that” is only postponed, but not avoided. On the contrary, the hypothesis of a god entails many other questions: “Where is god?”, “How does he interact with the world if he is not physical?”, “How do we know there only one god and not many?”, etc. Thus, instead of answering the original question, the assumption of gods just adds plenty of new questions. For this reason, Ibn Abi-l-Awja, an 8th century critic of Islam, reportedly refused to accept any answer that implied that something was done by God. In his view, this merely pushed the question farther back to someone who was not present Ibn Warraq: Why I am not a Muslim / Chapter 10. Of course, he was executed swiftly.

Many religious metaphors see humanity as children who listen to a “teacher”. I kept wondering who this “teacher” could be, until I realized that it is simply the first person who declares themselves so.

The “beginning” of the universe

We fucking love atheism
The question of how the universe began is one of the most exciting questions in philosophy, theology, and physics. Yet, it might be an ill-posed question.

All our thinking goes that the universe must somehow have “started”. That might be a wrong assumption in the first place. As Bertrand Russell observed: “There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts.” Budsas.org / The Origin of the World. There are several alternatives to the assumption that the universe “started”. Summer and winter, for example, come and go. It could be similar with this universe. It could come and go — and have always existed. As David Hume wrote, looking at it this way, the “first cause” has as much meaning as the “largest positive number”. Maybe there is no such first cause.

Buddhism holds a similar view: The beginning of this world and of life is inconceivable since they have neither beginning nor end. Buddhism never claimed that the world, sun, moon, stars, wind, water, days and nights were created by a powerful god or by a Buddha. Buddhists believe that the world was not created once upon a time, but that the world has been created millions of times every second and will continue to do so by itself and will break away by itself. According to Buddhism, world systems always appear and disappear in the universe. In the eyes of the Buddha, the world is nothing but Samsara — the cycle of repeated births and deaths. To him, the beginning of the world and the end of the world is within this Samsara. Since elements and energies are relative and inter-dependent, it is meaningless to single out anything as the beginning. Budsas.org / The Origin of the World

Jains do not believe in a creator either. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents (soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion) have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws. It is not possible to create matter out of nothing and hence the sum total of matter in the universe remains the same. Religion and Science The Piraña, a society in the Amazon forest, likewise have no concept of the “beginning” The Guardian: The power of speech, 2008-11-08.

Science, too, may yet point us to something that is not a “beginning” in the proper sense. The reason is that time runs slower in the vicinity of large masses (yes, really). Since the nucleus of the Big Bang had a practically infinite mass in a single spot, time may just have stopped. Science is also considering the possibility that the universe oscillates between expansion and contraction.

With all this, the question of the “beginning of the universe” may be simply ill-defined.

We do not even know the question,
and some people already claim to have an answer.

Inhibiting science

Atheist World
Gods can be used to explain many things in life. With gods, we can explain natural phenomena, such as the birth of our universe, the working of the human mind, or the nature of ethics. The problem is that if we assume a supernatural explanation for these phenomena, we inhibit the scientific enquiry of the question.

This obstacle appears first in our mind: If we assume that God created the world, for example, we have a hard time even to imagine that this was not the case. We are so fixed on the idea that the universe must have started, that we cannot even consider alternative ways of thought. This hinders us to come up with and explore different ideas about the universe — such as the idea that it oscillates, or that its mass slows down time. The same goes for other phenomena: If we assume that God gave us a soul, we keep searching for that soul, without giving room to alternative views of the human mind. Maybe there is no soul. The same is true for the question of morality: If we assume that moral laws are given by God, then it takes 5000 years to come up with the idea that humans themselves should create their laws.

But the obstacles are not just of psychological nature. If God is the answer to one particular question, then it follows that any other answer is denial of God and hence blasphemy. Many societies had stringent laws agains blasphemy, and some still do. History has shown us that stubborn insistence on unverified beliefs has led to the inhibition, prosecution, and even execution of some of the great thinkers of mankind. This is well known for the case of Christianity. Islam says it has an easier relationship with science. And yet, many variants of Islam punish apostasy by death. Thus, it is impossible in these variants of Islam to investigate a world model without God.

Science, in contrast, has no such constraints. Nobody is put to death if he questions the principle of gravity. In science, a theory is valid if it makes true predictions. If it ever makes a wrong prediction, it is abandoned. If we assume supernatural gap-fillers instead, which do not succumb to these conditions, then we inhibit the scientific analysis of the questions of life. Only if we acknowledge that we do not have an answer, we will be able to find one.

All great truths begin as blasphemies.

The record

There are many things in life that we do not understand. Hence, we have a tendency to assume that a god did these things. Thus, we build the theory:
If we do not know what caused X, then a god did X.
Unfortunately, this theory is wrong. It has made numerous false predictions in the past. In early human thinking, gods were responsible for the fire, for rain, for day and night, for the creation and design of animals, and for the movement of the sun. Yet, in the end, none of these explanations turned out to be true: Fire is a chemical reaction, rain is a meteorological phenomenon, day and night come from the rotation of the Earth, animals were shaped by evolution, and the apparent movement of the sun stems from the orbiting of the Earth. In all of these cases, the theological explanation was nowhere near what we know today. Therefore, gods have a bad track record for explanations.

picture: NASA; text: anonymous
Science, in contrast, has made an extraordinary series of revelations. Chemistry has explained the nature of the elements, and how they react with each other. Biology has explained the working of the cells, the multitude of species, their behavior, and their evolution. Physics has explained the growth of the universe up to the very first milliseconds. Social science has given us models for human group behavior. Psychology has taught us how humans react to different stimuli. Technology has given us printed books, computers, and airplanes. All of these discoveries are consistent with each other, confirmed by repeated evaluation, and very useful. This gives science a good history of reliability. If we have to choose who should answer questions based on the track record, then it is clearly science that deserves our trust, not faith.

So what has science told us about the conundrums of life? Quite something, as we discussed in the Chapter on the Universe. However, science has been mute so far on the origin of the universe. We do not yet know the answer to the origin of the universe (if there is one at all). Most notably, science has not claimed that there would be “nothing” at the beginning of the universe. Science has just not yet found an answer, and maybe never will. This leaves us with the answer that we should give in all modesty to the yet unexplained conundrums of life: We do not yet know. But we will do our best to find out. Meanwhile, there is no use in inventing supernatural entities.

I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one.
Sam Harris

Pushing God away

Many conundrums in life can be answered by assuming a god. This is apparently a abrahamic tradition, as Buddhism has no such aspirations. As a Buddhist Web site explains: The explanation of the origin of the universe is not the concern of religion. Such theorizing is not necessary for living a righteous way of life and for shaping our future life. However, if one insists on studying this subject, then one must investigate the sciences, astronomy, geology, biology and anthropology. These sciences can offer more reliable and tested information on this subject than can be supplied by any religion. Budsas.org / The Origin of the World.

This is a very reasonable statement in Humanist eyes. It is also reasonable from a believer’s perspective: In the past, gods or God were assumed behind a great number of conundrums of life. But nowadays, gods are no longer necessary to explain the rising of the sun, the design of animals, or the provenance of man. All of that has been explained by science. Thus, the explanatory space allocated for the supernatural has steadily shrunk. If human knowledge continues to progress as it does, the room for God will become smaller and smaller. Thus, if believers want to save their faith, it is best to remove it from the physical realm, and to focus on the non-physical — on moral values such as generosity and charity, on hope in the afterlife, and on a positive view on life in general.

This observation was maybe best phrased by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor:

How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.
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