Arguments for Atheism
Though the history of the philosophy of religion has been dominated by attempts to prove the existence of God, there also exist a number of arguments that seek to disprove theism. These range from a priori arguments that the concept of God is logically incoherent, to a posteriori arguments that the world is not the way that it would be if God existed. The atheistic proofs section surveys these arguments for atheism.
Arguments for Atheism
Within the Arguments for Atheism section, the arguments are arranged under the following headings: The Presumption of Atheism, The Problem of Evil, Problems with Divine Omnipotence (including the paradox of the stone), Problems with Divine Omniscience, Problems with Divine Justice, Problems with Immortality, Problems with Original Sin, Problems with Petitionary Prayer, The Argument from Autonomy, The Psychogenesis of Religion, and Religion and Memetics.
The Presumption of Atheism
Atheists often suggest that theirs is the default position, that there is a presumption of atheism. This places the burden of proof on the theist; if the theist is unable to make a persuasive case for the existence of God, then the atheist is justified in his atheism. The case for the presumption of atheism may be made in two ways, one resulting in a presumption of weak atheism, and the other in a presumption of strong atheism.
The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil is the problem of reconciling the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God with the existence of a world full of evil and suffering. If God is omniscient then he knows how to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering. If God is omnipotent then he is able to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering. If God is benevolent then he wants to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering. But if God knows how to, is able to and wants to bring it about that there is neither evil nor suffering, then why does he not do so? The simplest answer is that God does not do so because he does not exist. This is by far the most popular argument for atheism.
Problems With Divine Omnipotence
The doctrine of divine omnipotence is the doctrine that God is all-powerful. It is sometimes argued, however, that the concept of omnipotence is paradoxical, logically incoherent, and so that it is logically impossible that there be any being that is omnipotent. This position, if it can be sustained, precludes the existence of God.
Problems with Divine Omniscience
The doctrine of divine omniscience is the doctrine that God is all-knowing. The doctrine of divine omniscience, though, faces several objections; there are a number of philosophical arguments that purport to demonstrate that God cannot possibly know everything. These include arguments that the doctrine of divine omniscience is logically incoherent, that it is inconsistent with the further Christian doctrine of divine impeccability (i.e. the doctrine that God cannot sin), and that it is refuted by the fact of human freedom. If any of these arguments is successful, then there can be no omniscient God.
Problems with Divine Justice
The doctrine of divine justice is also subject to criticism. First of all, it appears to conflict with the idea that God is forgiving. A just God sees that each person gets what he or she deserves; a forgiving God sees that some people’s sins go unpunished, that some people don’t get what they deserve. Second, the Christian view of heaven and hell appear in many ways to be unjust. Hell, for instance, appears to inflict an infinitely great punishment upon those who are sent there. How, though, can any finite sin deserve infinite punishment? Just punishments and rewards are proportionate to the badness or goodness of the person that deserves them. Heaven and hell though, are all or nothing, and so cannot be just.
Problems with Immortality
Even if we can make sense of the justice of heaven and hell, there remains a further problem: immortality. Death, by definition, involves the destruction of a person; if a person is not destroyed by death then they did not die. Once destroyed, though, it is unclear whether a person can be recreated. It is possible, no doubt, for there to be a subsequent person, like them in every respect, but there is no reason to think that that will be the very same person that died, rather than merely a replica of them.
Problems with Petitionary Prayer
A further doctrinal problem with Christianity concerns petitionary prayer, prayer in which we request (petition) that God do something for us. God’s omniscience implies that he will already have taken all of the information about our needs and desires into account when deciding what to do. His benevolence implies that he will act in our best interests unless there is a good reason not to (and if there is such a reason, our prayers will not remove it). Prayer, then, should never change God’s mind; petitionary prayer should never work.
The Argument from Autonomy
The argument from autonomy is the argument that the existence of morally autonomous agents is inconsistent with the existence of God, and so that the fact that morally autonomous agents do exist disproves the existence of God. God, if he exists, is worthy of worship. If a being is truly worthy of worship, though, then he is entitled to our unconditional obedience. Moral agents, however, cannot be required to give unconditional obedience to any agent. Moral agency requires autonomy, and so the idea of a moral duty to give up one’s autonomy is incoherent; in giving up one’s autonomy one would cease to be a moral agent so would cease to have moral duties at all. We cannot, therefore, have a duty of unconditional obedience to any agent, and there therefore cannot be any agent that worthy of worship. There can therefore be no God.
The Psychogenesis of Religion
The psychology of religion seeks to explain how patterns of thought in the human mind give rise to religious belief, to give a naturalistic account of religion based on human psychology. Psychology is thus used to explain away religious belief. The most influential critics of religion to have used this approach are Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud.
Religion and Memetics
A final critique of religion comes from the field of memetics, and the suggestion that there is a God meme. Memetics seeks to apply the theory of evolution not to biological organisms but to ideas. Ideas, like animals, replicate themselves and compete for survival. The same process of natural selection that ensures that only the fittest animals survive will therefore also ensure that only the fittest ideas survive. Fitness of ideas, though, need not be a guide to truth; fitness is simply the ability to survive and reproduce. If the memetic critique of religion is right, then the success of religion can be fully explained by its preference of faith to reason, and its emphasis on evangelism.