How I can be sure that God does not exist
A response to Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s charge that atheism is arrogant
Ray Comfort & Kirk Cameron Video
This appears to be a hot topic right now. I am constantly being treated as though I am a social leper, insulted by vocal Christians and accused of being arrogant and “philosophically dishonest” because I embrace atheism. All because I say that I am sure that God does not exist.
I wrote this article because I was motivated. I was examining some links my atheist friends sent me and stumbled onto this video where Kirk Cameron tries to disprove atheism. You can see this video here…
As you can see, the first half of the video just rehashes the old “Argument From Design” that has been rehashed for hundreds of years. I don’t feel like discussing this tired old argument yet again on my site so I will just provide a link to The Internet Infidels where they do a good job of explaining how dumb it is in a few words. They also provide a link where you can go into greater depth if you would like.
In the last half of the video they switch to discussing absolute statements. They claim that atheists cannot say God does not exist because that would require absolute knowledge of everything in the universe. He goes even further to say that the only intellectually honest position that anyone can take is one of agnosticism. It is this second half of the video I wish to refute here.
I am not an intellectual and I do not have a doctorate of philosophy or theology, but I know those who do and many of them matter-of-factly dismiss Kirk’s position as ignorant. However, the average American does not read works by theologians and philosophers and would find them incomprehensible if they did, so I am writing a response to this stupid argument that the average layman can see the silliness of such an argument.
I am sure that equally elegant refutations could be addressed to other religions as well as fundamentalist Christianity; however I do not know enough about them to offer intellectual discourse on them here. I personally do not feel that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion that I have ever heard of has any more validity than Christianity, I just don’t know as much about them and I have to deal with Christians every day. This is why I am dealing solely with Christianity in this article, not because of some anti-Christian bigotry.
First of all we must examine the position put forward in this video more closely. What Kirk (and people like him) are doing is this; they are defining God as something unknowable that can only be accepted through faith and at the same time claiming to not only know him, but to have a personal relationship with this God. He mistakenly thinks that the blanket statement that covers the god-concept of deism somehow spreads far enough to cover Jehovah as well.
The problem here lies with the working definition of “god” being thrown about. If we define “god” to be a vague feeling that something bigger is out there, then indeed I cannot prove that such a being does not exist. I cannot be certain that a hypothetical super-being that has no perceivable effect on the universe does not exist; I can only state that it is my belief that such a being is highly unlikely. In fact such a god is so unlikely and so irrelevant that we can safely ignore him/she/it and be logically justified to do so.
But as much as he would like to use this defense, Kirk’s God is not the unknowable god of deism; instead Kirk is claiming belief in the God of Christianity as described in the Bible that he calims to know in a personal way. His god is said to have intervened multiple times in the affairs of men in a direct and testable way. Along with his acceptance of Jehovah’s existence come several other unstated assumptions such as his feelings that the Bible must be at least partially credible and that the Bible accurately depicts this god. He also indicates that Jesus’ influence can directly influence lives and that it is unreasonable and outright dishonest to conclude that Jehovah does not exist. I will address each of these assumptions individually.
First I will examine the claim that Jehovah intervened directly in human history. If he did, then that should be testable.
The first (and most obvious) intervention mentioned in the Bible is the Genesis creation story. All scientific evidence as well as common sense indicates that this story is nothing but myth and that in fact the earth is several billions of years old.¹ We have discovered an enormous number of fossils indicating that life has existed and been evolving for several millions of years. We have oil and coal buried in the ground that had to have taken millions of years to form.² ³ ⁴ ⁵ Using simple trigonometry we can determine that light from most of the stars in the sky have been traveling for much, much more than six thousand years, in fact most stars are several millions of light-years away, some even billions. If the universe were only six thousand years old we would only see a very small percentage of the stars we see now (and certainly no galaxies at all) because the light from them would not have gotten here yet. All this evidence shows that the Earth must be far older than a literal translation of the Bible would lead us to believe.
And even if you reject the literal six-day creation account and instead claim that your God was the force kicking off the big bang, you still have several problems. While it might be a reasonable conclusion that some force triggered the Big Bang, you have absolutely no way to prove that Jehovah was that force. There is just as much evidence that the universe popped into existence on its own or that it sprung from a cosmic egg laid by a giant turtle as there is that the Christian God caused it.
Jesus’ life and death
To most Christians the life of Jesus is considered to be the most important example of divine intervention into men’s affairs. Yet all the record we have of the events and actions of this pivotal intervention are a conflicting set of stories that obviously read like fictional novels.
Why do I say this? Examine the story of Jesus’ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane; if the gospels are actual eye-witness accounts of what happened, then how could anyone have heard his words to have written them down? They must have been made up.
Look at the story of his wandering in the wilderness and his temptation by Satan. How does anyone know what was said if no one else was there? The gospels were meant to be historical novels, not eyewitness accounts.
Biblical scholars (who are almost entirely claim to be Christian) date the earliest of the gospels to about 70 C.E.⁶ ⁷ approximately 40 years after the events they are said to have portrayed. Two of them are believed to have been written in the second century with almost a hundred years passing between the life of Jesus and the writing of the gospels.⁸ ⁹ From this evidence it appears that people’s lives were touched and affected by the myth instead of the man himself.
Careful examination of supposed divine intervention reveals that nothing occurred that left any convincing evidence. Since evidence of direct intervention by a divine being should have been left, this leads us to conclude that the biblical God does not exist.
The Bible as a Credible Source
First of all, I address the contradictions, logical fallacies and scientific inaccuracies of the Bible in other places on my web site. You can find links to my discussion of this topic here and here, so I will not waste time discussing this material in this article as well. However we can find more evidence that the Bible is not a credible source by examining the stories, its content and the faulty morality contained within its covers.
Then we can examine the Genesis flood story. Even if we ignore all the scientific evidence showing that it did not happen¹⁰, we have the greater morality problem of a supposedly “just” god who destroys all creation including innocent or unborn children for the sins of their parents. This consideration of the flood as a morality tale also makes the story highly doubtful and casts the Bible as a credible source. We can also look at all the Old Testament stories of this supposedly loving god of justice condoning genocide, war and slavery.
While the entire Old Testament drives home the concept that our obedience to a set of laws is used to judge our eternal destination, the New Testament says exactly the opposite. The New Testament introduces the entirely new concept (at least from a Biblical perspective) that your eternal fate rests on your ability to believe and accept the Jesus story. In some places (for example the books of Roman and Hebrews) faith alone determines righteousness, while in others (like the book of James) we are back to our obedience to the law again. Christians are still divided over the relative importance of faith and works to this day. The very fact that even believers cannot agree on what the Bible is saying is evidence against its credibility. Were the Bible a truly divinely inspired book, one would expect all believers to be in total agreement as to its meaning and intent.
Now I want to discuss the faulty morality within the Bible. Most Christians firmly believe that their morality comes directly from the Bible; however, nothing could be further from the truth. Take for example the issue of slavery during the 1800’s in America. Both sides found verses that justified their position both for and against slavery. Any source that provides justification for and against the same moral issue is a poor moral guide at best. In fact, since justification for slavery and against it both exists with the Bible, this issue is strong evidence that morality comes from some other source or our society would still be struggling with the issue.
Our current world rejects slavery because our collective morality has evolved outside religion and the Bible to the point that everyone now sees it as evil. All the movement in moral behavior has been outside the moral confines of the Bible. Before the Twentieth Century girls were often married at the age of 13 or 14. My own grandmother married my grandfather at the age of 14 just before World War I and according to her, it wasn’t considered unusual at all. Today having marrying (or having sex with) a girl that age would be considered statutory rape and possibly child abuse. Once again this shift in morality came about through secular forces for change, not through Biblical inspiration.
For Kirk’s argument to hold water the Bible has to be credible, we have shown it not to be. No matter how you consider it, the Bible is not a credible source and it is entirely reasonable (and not at all arrogant) to question its validity.
If anyone goes a step further and demands that we accept a literal interpretation of the Bible then we have absolute and undeniable evidence that it is not infallible and full of mistakes of every sort.
Yet another underlying assumption behind the argument by Ray and Kirk is the idea that people’s lives are changed when they ‘know’ Jesus. Once again, if they can actually ‘know’ Jesus on a personal level then they don’t have faith, they know. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus supposedly does directly affect lives gives us something we can test for validity.
First of all, we will be presented the testimony of people who claim that they have been miraculously transformed by Jesus. What we are dealing with here is personal claims as to what they feel and think they see. I cannot accept these personal testimonies for the same reason I cannot accept the testimonies of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Such extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We also have Hari Krishna’s, radical Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons all making similar claims of spirituality, yet they are diametrically opposed to each other and they all claim the others are fakes. Such testimony cannot be trusted.
So we must judge the effect of Jesus by the behavior of the people making the claims. What does that tell us? Statistics have shown that little difference exists between the behavior of the average believer compared to the average non-believer. Believers do more charity work and give more to charities, but they also commit more crimes. Personal experience has shown me that Christian’s are just as likely to be bigoted and prejudiced as atheists (if not more so). They are just as likely to be hateful, unkind and insulting as any atheist. Believers in Jesus may claim a rebirth or a spiritual transformation, but they behave just as ugly as anyone else.
The Christian Definition of God
So what we have left is a definition of God that says he is the embodiment of love, that he is all knowing, that he is all powerful, that he is fair and impartial, and knowable on a personal level. They also claim that he can be known because he is accurately depicted in the Bible. I will investigate each of these claims based on the Bible.
Embodiment of Love
It is claimed that Jehovah is a loving god that he so completely loves us all that his gave his only son to save us. Yet we see several acts by this god that are anything but loving. Take for example:
Genesis 6-9: The flood story. As mentioned before, this is the story where every man, woman and child in addition to all but a few animals were wiped out for the offenses of the only the ones who knew better. The innocent children and animals were all destroyed along with the guilty.
Numbers 22, 24, 25, Deuteronomy 7, 13, 20, Joshua 7, 10, 12, 13, 1 Samuel 15, 17, 23, 1 Chronicles 14: In each of these chapters the Israelites are commanded by God to commit genocide, totally destroy every man, woman, boy and girl whether they were evil or not. Does that sound loving to you?
When they are confronted with the previous two examples most Christians reply that there problems with the Old Testament, but that was fixed when Jesus arrived with the plan of Salvation. However, the New Testament makes the situation even worse. The Old Testament judged people based only on their actions and punishment was at worst death, but the new covenant taught by Jesus adds thought-crime (Matthew 5:28) to the list offenses. With this plan of salvation you now are punished for being tempted and even having normal human desires, not just for giving into them.
In the New Testament Jesus also introduces the concept of eternal damnation for the first time and adds a brand new concept that mere unbelief can send you there. So we go from an Old Testament where we are fine as long as we observe a set of rules and the worst that can happen is that they kill you for your crimes, to a supposed more loving covenant where every thought can cause you to suffer in agony forever. And this is supposed to be better than the Old Testament approach? I don’t see how.
We can point to several passages in the Bible that make no sense at all if we have an “all knowing” deity. Once again, let’s go to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:8 and 9 we are told that God was walking in the garden looking for Adam and when he can’t find him, he says “Where art thou?” Now if God already knows everything, why did he bother asking? He should have already known not only where Adam was, but would have known exactly what had taken place, so he would not have needed to ask the guilty parties to retell the story.
In Genesis 4, the same situation happens again. Cain killed his brother and then God comes wandering along and act like he has no idea that Cain killed him. We either have God somehow being ignorant of the event or deceptively trying to deceive Cain into thinking he did not know. Titus 1:2 tells us that God cannot lie, so we have a real problem here.
Then looking at the story of the flood, we are told that God regretted creating man and decided to wipe out all the creation he had made. If he already knew the outcome of creation from the beginning, then how could he later regret that he did it when he already knew the outcome? Regret is an emotion that occurs when you realize that you made a mistake and wish you could take it back. This cannot be possible if you are perfect and already know exactly what will happen and yet choose to do it anyway. You might be disgusted or you might feel pained or hurt, but you cannot feel regret. Obviously, none of this actually happened, it was just a myth where the story tellers attributed their own emotions and beliefs onto a deity in a mythological story.
All through the Old Testament we have hundreds of examples of god supposedly being surprised or disappointed by the outcome of events or the actions of individuals. Once again such a deity may not like events or the choices people made, but disappointment and surprise cannot be experienced by an “all knowing” being, therefore the deity described literally by the Bible cannot exist.
Then we must consider the logical ramifications of a “perfect, all knowing” being that makes imperfect creations that are doomed to eternal punishment. I cannot see who a being can make imperfect creations and still be perfect, especially given that he is supposed to have the knowledge to do it right. That would be like calling a man a master carpenter who produces shoddy, inferior work. I know Christians everywhere yell “free will,” but I cannot help but wonder why such a God didn’t just skip creating people he knew were doomed to destruction. He wouldn’t be taking free will away from anybody; instead he would just make the individuals that made the right choice. Isn’t that what an “all knowing” God would do?
An all powerful being is usually referred to as being omnipotent. The idea of omnipotence coexisting with other characteristics already attributed to God it creates several questions and logical paradoxes. Even if we limit our definition of God to only saying he is omnipotent, without saying anything else we still have logical paradoxes. For example, can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift? Theologians approach this question by limiting omnipotence to mean that God can only do what is logically possible.
As we have already seen, God is defined in the Bible as being just, righteous, perfect and truthful. But, each of these other attributes limits the things God can do. Saying that God is all these things also mean that he cannot sin, make mistakes, be unfair, or tell a lie. Once again theologians try to get around this logical contradiction by redefining omnipotence to mean he can do anything except what his other attributes forbid him to do. This is like saying that I am omnipotent since I can do anything except for the limitations placed on me by being human. So you see it actually makes omnipotence mean nothing at all.
So once again we see that the Biblical God claiming omnipotence and yet being limited proves that such a being cannot exist. I cannot leave this section on God being all powerful, without a brief discussion of my own history. You see, I was raised as a fundamentalist and taught to literally interpret the Bible. This is relevant here because the Bible makes many direct statements and promises to the faithful that are direct and easy to test. Look at these two scriptures:
In the churches I grew up in these words were taken to mean exactly what they said, namely that if you asked for anything in prayer believing then it had to happen. These very verses caused me no end of trouble because as a church pastor, I saw good members of my congregation dying with cancer and other terrible illnesses all the while I had a promise that they could be healed; only they never were.
I challenge anyone who believes the Bible to be literally true to try a test. You don’t even need to speak to a mountain, just get a rock and put it across the room, then close your eyes and pray for it to move. If it moves, then you have real evidence to believe that God is real; otherwise God has failed the test. I fasted and prayed for weeks to get God to heal sick members of my congregation, but nothing ever happened. Instead of being all powerful the God of the Bible appears to be powerless.
If on the other hand you believe in the Biblical God, but do not believe these scriptures are to be taken literally, then I wonder exactly what you think Jesus was trying to say here. Do you not think it is extremely cruel to say these words and not mean them? Unless God does not have the power to carry through with these promises… then once again we find that the biblical God does not meet the definition provided by the Bible and we must conclude again that he does not exist.
Fair and Impartial
In the Old Testament we are given several examples of God being judgmental, hot-headed, genocidal and unfair. Here are just a couple examples:
Exodus 20:5, we are told that your great, great grandchildren can be punished for your committing idolatry. Wouldn’t it be fairer to actually punish the person who did the offense?
2 Samuel 24: In this story 70,000 Israelites (supposedly God’s own people) are killed by God because King David conducted a census. If David was the one who did something wrong, why not punish him directly? And if the 70,000 were sinful and deserved punishment… Why not say so, instead of lying and punishing them under false pretense?
It gets worse???
The entire New Testament is build upon the idea of eternal damnation and being saved by faith. Here we see the most unfair doctrine of all. Instead of our fate being determined by our choices and how morally we live our lives; we are told that our fate rests solely on our ability to believe a fairy tale without any evidence. See Matthew 25:46, Mark 16:16, Romans 3:28, 14:23
In spite of what several Christian teachers have said, belief is not a matter of choice. If I told you that a magic fairy was under a box in a park, you cannot choose to believe me, you either would or would not based on your assessment of several parameters such as your previous experience with fairy stories, whether or not you know me and my truthfulness, and so on. You can pretend to believe me or not, but you have no say so at all as to whether you actually believe me. To base eternal judgment on such an uncontrollable factor is the utmost unfairness.
Who is actually being unreasonable and dishonest?
As you can easily see, none of the charges made by Ray Comfort or Kirk Cameron against atheists are valid. There are so many reasons to doubt the Biblical definition of God that it is entirely reasonable (almost impossible not) to take an atheistic position. I would say that to claim that the ultimate power in the universe speaks directly to you is a far more arrogant position then to look at the evidence and make a logical conclusion.
Whenever anyone is claiming a supernatural being exists, ask yourself this question. Who has the burden of proof here? If I said that my car was powered by invisible magic elves inside the engine, would it be on you to prove that they were not? Or would it be on the person making the extraordinary claim? I think it is obvious that anyone who wants to claim that God is real must prove their case before we can rationally be convinced.
So what are they asking you to believe?
In a nutshell the story they are saying is this:
- A perfect God made imperfect beings, then he made a set of rules that the imperfect beings cannot possibly adhere to. Romans 3:10, James 2:10
- This makes this God very angry, so angry in fact that he wants to destroy the imperfect beings he made because they are imperfect. Romans 3:20
- In order to appease his anger, God sends part of himself down to die a horrible death so that he can convince himself to forgive them. John 3:16-18
- But in order for the imperfect beings to be forgiven they have to believe an incredible story without any proof and without question. Romans 3:28, 14:23
- Otherwise he is still angry and will punish them forever. Matthew 25:46, Mark 16:16
And they think this stuff is reasonable? What do you think?
Geologic Time: Age of the Earth. (July 9, 2007) The U.S. Geological Survey
Ancient rocks exceeding 3.5 billion years in age are found on all of Earth’s continents. The oldest rocks on Earth found so far are the Acasta Gneisses in northwestern Canada near Great Slave Lake (4.03 Ga) and the Isua Supracrustal rocks in West Greenland (3.7 to 3.8 Ga), but well-studied rocks nearly as old are also found in the Minnesota River Valley and northern Michigan (3.5-3.7 billion years), in Swaziland (3.4-3.5 billion years), and in Western Australia (3.4-3.6 billion years).
Finding Evolution in Medicine. (July 28, 2006) The NIH Record
“Overall, the nation has a big problem,” said Alters. “Approximately half of the U.S. population thinks evolution does (or did) not occur. While 99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution.”
Kitzmiller verses Dover School Board. (Filed Dec 20, 2005) Case 4:04-cv-02688-JEJ Document 342. Judges finding page 83.
Before discussing Defendants’ claims about evolution, we initially note that an overwhelming number of scientists, as reflected by every scientific association that has spoken on the matter, have rejected the ID proponents’ challenge to evolution. Moreover, Plaintiffs’ expert in biology, Dr. Miller, a widely-recognized biology professor at Brown University who has written university-level and highschool biology textbooks used prominently throughout the nation, provided unrebutted testimony that evolution, including common descent and natural selection, is “overwhelmingly accepted” by the scientific community and that every major scientific association agrees. (1:94-100 (Miller)). As the court in Selman explained, “evolution is more than a theory of origin in the context of science. To the contrary, evolution is the dominant scientific theory of origin accepted by the majority of scientists.” Selman, 390 F. Supp. 2d at 1309
NTSA Position on Teaching Evolution in Schools. (2008) National Science Teachers Association
As such, evolution is a unifying concept for science. The National Science Education Standards recognizes that conceptual schemes such as evolution “unify science disciplines and provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural world” (p. 104) and recommends evolution as one such scheme. In addition, Benchmarks for Science Literacy from AAAS’s Project 2061, as well as other national calls for science reform, all name evolution as a unifying concept because of its importance across the disciplines of science. Scientific disciplines with a historical component, such as astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology, cannot be taught with integrity if evolution is not emphasized.
There is no longer a debate among scientists about whether evolution has taken place. There is considerable debate about how evolution has taken place: What are the processes and mechanisms producing change, and what has happened specifically during the history of the universe? Scientists often disagree about their explanations. In any science, disagreements are subject to rules of evaluation. Scientific conclusions are tested by experiment and observation, and evolution, as with any aspect of theoretical science, is continually open to and subject to experimental and observational testing.
Beliefs of the U.S. Public about evolution and creation. (Jan 13, 2008) www.religioustolerance.org
According to Newsweek in 1987, “By one count there are some 700 scientists with respectable academic credentials (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists) who give credence to creation-science…” That would make the support for creation science among those branches of science who deal with the earth and its life forms about 0.14% However, the American public thinks very differently.
Redating the NT. (1976) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. PP 536
Tentatively and with the free admission that no certainty is possible (or necessary), we may follow the earliest tradition and date Mark after Peter’s death, ca. A.D. 65-70. Since Matthew and Luke show use of Mark as a source, we must date them later than Mark. A date not later than A.B. 85 may be suggested for Matthew and a date not later than A.D. 80 or 85 for Lukel Acts then may be dated a very few years later than Luke (up to A.D. 85-90). (For an attempt to support early dates for all NT writings see J. A. T. Robinson.
Mack, Burton L. (1996) Who Wrote the New Testament. PP 47
It is also important that the picture of Jesus portrayed in the New Testament gospels be set aside. That portrayal did no occur until Mark wrote his story of Jesus after the Roman-Jewish war [(Approx 67 A.D)].
Gospel. (Jan 13, 2008) New World Encyclopedia.
In Christianity, a gospel is generally one of four canonical books of the New Testament that describe the miraculous birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. These books are the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, written between 65 and 100 C.E. (Quoting Stephen L Harris, Understanding the Bible (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985))
Mack, Burton L. (1996) Who Wrote the New Testament. PP 45
The way Luke tells the story in his two-volume history of Christian origins, for instance, is that after his death but before his ascension Jesus Announced the establishment of the First Christian Church of Jerusalem by means of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the next day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2). We now know that Luke wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in the early second century, seventy-five or more years after the time of Jesus, and that he had his reasons for wanting to imagine things that way.
The Truth Behind Noah’s Flood (2005) Scientific American Frontiers.
In their 1998 book, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History, Ryan and Pitman suggest the Black Sea was once a much smaller, land-locked freshwater lake, fed by ancient rivers, and surrounded by fertile plains. Neolithic people, Ryan and Pitman suppose, would have flocked to farm these Eden-like plains to farm them while supplementing their diets with the lake’s abundant shellfish.
At this time - about 7,500 years ago - the global climate was still rapidly warming following the last Ice Age, causing the seas to rise. Ryan and Pitman hypothesize that, when sea levels rose beyond a critical point, the Mediterranean Sea overflowed, deluging the Black Sea basin with salty water and destroying the fertile plains around the once-shallow freshwater lake.
Any people living on those plains at the time would have witnessed what must have seemed like the wrath of an angry god. Based on the still northern flowing undercurrents of what we call the Bosporus Straits, Ryan and Pitman estimate the water rushed northward through this channel with force many times greater than Niagara Falls. As the waters rose about six inches per day, human settlements would have been washed away or under hundreds of feet of water within a year or so. Traumatized refugees from the flood must have told their story to shocked listeners. Is this the story so many of us still tell our children today?