Why I cannot believe in God
"The governors of the world believe, and have always believed, that virtue can only be taught by teaching falsehood, and that any man who knew the truth would be wicked. I disbelieve this, absolutely and entirely. I believe that love of truth is the basis of all real virtue, and that virtues based upon lies can only do harm." -- Bertrand Russell
This file is directed to theists. Since most of the theists I have met are christians this file will be rather specifically directed to christians. Because I speak to theists, I will talk about God as if he existed, and use the word God with capital G. This course of action also makes it easier for me to formulate my arguments.
The importance of being earnest
The most important prerequisite to believe is to believe things to be true. If you are not honest and really believe the dogma of your religion, but only pretend to believe, God will see through you and know that you are lying, not only to yourself, but also to Him. Thus you have to believe with your whole mind and soul to be a true believer.
Somebody once sent me an E-mail asking this question:
"If ignorance is the tool of the devil, then why is it ignorance that makes people continue to belive in the biblical god?"
I think that asking that question is to answer it. Somebody who truely seeks God cannot believe because of ignorance. There must be some rational basis, or else the faith is not true.
Now, suppose you really want to believe, but your mind and nature are constituted so that you don't take something for true. What is the most honest way to find out the truth? If you really want to honestly believe something you will have to investigate it honestly. This requires that you are being objective and sceptic. After all God wouldn't like you to believe just to satisfy Him, he wants you to really believe with all your heart.
"Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." -- Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787)
To be honest before God and yourself you have to be sceptic before the facts you get, and check them yourself, reason about them yourself, and investigate them in true baconian manner, without any prejudices. If you don't do that, how can you look God in the eyes on judgement day and tell him you truely believe?
Of course I could, you might say. When I meet God on judgement day I will know for sure he exists, and I will be able to look him in the eyes and tell him I truly believe in him. The problem with this reasoning is that it is equally true for non-believers like myself. If I saw God on judgement day, I would believe in him too! Then it is too late, you will probably reply. Why? If it is possible to change your mind here on earth, why isn't it as possible to change your mind when you have the evidence? I cannot see how God would accept those who did not honestly investigate the evidence, while sending the honest unbelievers to eternal punishment. After all the way to investigate the basis for your faith, which is most honourable of God, is to be critical and consider the objections against your arguments as well as the arguments themselves. Doubt is something good. To doubt is to be honest before God.
"Without doubt you are not sane" -- Tage Danielsson
Belief is not an act of will
Sometimes you hear the argument that you choose to believe. As an atheist I have, according to this argument, chosen not to believe. And if I have selected a life without God in this life, I have chosen to live without God in the next life. Nothing could be less true. True belief is not an act of will. The world is not affected by our will. True belief should be based on honest sceptical inquiry, reason, logic and investigation of the world. If I found out after I die, that I was wrong in my atheism, I would be the first to admit it before God. The laws of logic and nature are what they are no matter how much you would like things to be differently. To be honest before God, you cannot believe what you want to believe, you must believe what the facts tell you is true.
"We should not believe anything unless there is reasonable cause to believe that it is true" -- Ingemar Hedenius
The way to knowledge
Now in our honest inquiry, what is the way to knowledge? Like Paul Davies in his book "God and the new physics" I think the best way to achive knowledge is through investigation of the world, i.e. science. What about the Bible, you say. Once again I have to remind about the importance of being scientifically and logically honest. The church came before the Bible, that is a fact. The Bible was written by people, that's another fact. If the writers of the Bible were inspired they have coloured the stories with their own ignorance, their own purposes and their own prejudice. It is impossible to know what God really intended with the words and even impossible to know what Jeus really said or did. We don't even know for sure if Jeus really existed or if he was made up by the founders of the Christian faith.
If you want to be honest with God, you will have to read the Bible in the light of your time and know the limitations of the society where the Bible was written. You must know about the roman culture two thousand years ago. You have to investigate the early christian documents etc. To do so, you must use science.
The Bible was written in a far more superstitious and ignorant time than we can ever imagine. Thus it is very likely that the authors were not using the honest sceptic way of reasoning when they wrote down the stories of the early church. Hence, using the bible too strict can not be a honest way to achieve knowledge about God. I do understand that it is important for christians to read the Bible, but what I'm saying is that without science you can never know how to interprete the bible. Without science your conclusions of God are as dishonest and ignorant as the time when the Bible was written. You will have to see the Bible from the light of your own time.
"Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories." -- Charles Darwin
What about metaphysics and philosophy? Metaphysics and philosophy are based on logic, which I advocate. But to draw philosophic conclusions, you must have some basic premises. The philosophers throughout history have come to the most diverse conclusions, and often have they been wrong. Aristotle, for example, thought that the brains were not used for thinking, but only to cool the blood. If your basic premises are to be in harmony with the world, they have to be scientifically derived. That is how we have understood things like the nature of light and atoms. If you come to a conclusion which is incompatible with the world, either your basic premises are wrong, or your logic has some errors in it. It is very important to understand the limitations of philosophy and its dependence of science. I your metaphysics and philosophy does not agree with the world it is your argument and not the world that is wrong. Science must be the final judge.
"The foolish reject what they see and not what they think; the wise reject what they think and not what they see." -- Huang Po
If you really want to know God you will have to be basically sceptic and you must use science. Neither the Bible nor pure reasoning can prove God. If your faith is not scientifically based, you are not being honest to God.
Why I don't believe
I don't think it's up to the atheist to explain why he does not believe, it is up to the theist to provide some evidence for why someone should believe. However it is important to explain why theism is illogic and irrational.
The topic why I don't believe in God is too large to cover in detail here. I will only give my conclusions, for a more detailed account on some of the reasons see my Apologia Atheos page.
There is no scientifical basis to suppose that there is any god. All christian arguments for the existence of god, that I have seen, have many errors in them. The only honest conclusion through science is not to believe in God. All other faiths are unrational and not honest to God.
The concept of God is incompatible with my scientifically derived views of the world. I believe in indeterminism, and thus omniscience is impossible. If the world is not predestined, how can God know anything about the future? I don't believe that there are ultimate things such as utopia, ultimate goodness, ultimate evil, etc, and this is incompatible with an ultimate creator and the qualities of the monotheistic gods.
The concept of God is logically inconsistent. How can anything imperfect come from a perfect God? How can there be evil in the world if God is good. Who created evil? If God is the only creator, why did he create evil, and how could he do that if he is good? How can God have a nature at all if he is omnipotent?
Outrageous claims require outrageous proof. If you told me you had pizza for lunch, I have no reason not to believe you, and I would accept your claim unconditionally. If you, on the other hand, told me you dropped your watch and it fell upwards, I would require some severe proof, for example a video tape of the event (documentation), or that you showed me the experiment (reproduction). This last recuirement is, of course, not appliable to miracles, but there are many other ways of proving something than scientific reproducibility.
The bible is not like it would be if an omnipotent, omniscient, good god, who wanted us to believe in him, had written it. Thus the Christian god is unsupported by the christian scripture. In other words: There is no rational basis to believe in the christian god.
There are many religions, not only theism/atheism. I find it impossible to know which, if any, of these religions is the right one.
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Last update: November 24, 1996