The Summary Case For Atheism
This page contains my short summary of why I am an atheist. I think it is important to be able to convey in a straightforward manner what I believe and why. Obviously, this summary isn’t a complete argument in and of itself; that’s why in each section you’ll find hyperlinks that will take you to a page or pages that examine the subject matter in more detail, like an FAQ. Those pages are part of the ongoing project that is Evaluating Christianity.
What Does It Mean To Be An Atheist?
When I say I am an atheist, I mean it in the same sense that I believe any proposition; that is, I assert it tentatively and subject to the best knowledge that I have know. For example: I also believe that there are no magic pixies on the surface of planet Pluto. If at some point in the future NASA sends a spacecraft to Pluto that photographs sprite-like figures waving magic wands, well, I would revisit that belief. But until I see those photos, I am justified in believing that there are no magic pixies on Pluto. In the same vein, I am currently justified in believing that there is no God.
Think about what it means to claim that something ‘exists.’ That claim generally indicates that something manifests to one or more of our senses; we can see, touch, hear, smell, and/or feel it. Puppies exist. So too, do the wind and the warming infrared rays from the sun – even though they’re invisible, we can nevertheless feel them. Indeed, even things that are too small for us to observe directly (such as molecules) or too far away (such as black holes) are nevertheless detectable by equipment that amplifies our senses. With a powerful telescope, I can tell you if a black hole is in a particular region of space; with a powerful microscope, I can tell you how many molecules of carbon are in a particular sample. Because we have direct evidence for all of those things, we’re justified in claiming that they all “exist.”
On the other hand, we have no such direct evidence of God. He does not make himself manifest to us; we cannot see, touch, hear, smell, or feel him. We cannot amplify our senses to detect God in any way. Thus, if you’re asking whether God is more like (a) puppies, the wind, and black holes on the one hand, or (b) magic pixies, we have to conclude at this stage that God does not “exist” in the same way that puppies, the wind, and black holes all exist. On face, God is more like magic pixies than he is like puppies. This is the prima facie case for atheism.
Against this prima facie case, Christians generally offer five different types of arguments:
1. First, Christians often argue that God does manifest himself to us in the form of visions, inspiration, personal feelings — what evangelicals call “the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.” These arguments aren’t sufficient justification for those who don’t share in the underlying belief, and even Christians admit this to be so.
2. Second, some Christians argue that we have secondary, hearsay evidence for God as recorded in the Bible. Thus, even if God does not deign to manifest himself to us (for whatever reason), he has manifested to other people in the past – Abraham, David, the Apostles, Saul of Tarsus, and so on – and that evidence is preserved in the Bible. But the Bible isn’t a reliable source of secondary evidence, even on its own terms.
3. Third, many Christians claim that even without the hearsay evidence of the Bible, we have indirect manifestational evidence for God by examining the world around us. Because only a God could create living things, the Earth, the Universe, and so on, the fact that those things exist is in and of itself an argument that God also exists necessarily. This argument is embodied in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”). I contend that the exact opposite is the case — the Heavens declare that the God of the Bible probably doesn’t exist and certainly did not create this Universe with humans in mind.
4. Fourth, Christians argue that other non-material things exist, such as love, mathematics, morality, and the like, and that therefore it is reasonable to place God in the same category of “existing, non-material things.” In many cases, this argument is phrased as a clash of “worldviews” with the argument that the atheist has an inherent bias against the supernatural. I show that atheism isn’t a worldview, and that my arguments survive the shared worldview both of the atheist and the theist. I also address presuppositionalist arguments and find them wanting.
5. Fifth and finally, Christians often argue that God is necessary for absolute morality to exist. I show that this argument is packed with untenable assertions that do not provide an independent argument for Christian theism.
On the pages linked above (and at the right), I argue that each of these counter-arguments is insufficient to refute the prima facie case for atheism. Therefore, belief in God is not warranted.