I have a few more thoughts on atheism and its counter-arguments which didn’t occur to me until after I’d already become an atheist, and which therefore weren’t part of the story of how I became one. This is therefore the first of a few separate posts (three should do it, unless I think of anything else) making some further points on the subject.
One very common line of anti-atheism argument centres on the supposed impossibility of the universe/the world arriving at its present form without a creator being involved in some way. What about the origin of the universe? What about the fine-tuning? What about the development of detailed and diverse life-forms? What about [long list of further things that seem incredibly unlikely to have just happened by chance]? Surely it’s foolish to believe that so many incredibly improbable things just happened without some kind of Creator to make them happen, and surely, therefore, the rational thing to do is to believe in a Creator?
There’s a plethora of webpages and books out there explaining reasons why cosmologists and evolutionary biologists do not, in fact, feel this argument holds up and do not feel that there is any conclusive or compelling evidence to show that any form of divine being or beings was required in the creation of the universe, life on earth, or the world as it now is. I don’t plan to add to them; there are plenty of other people out there doing so with a great deal more expertise (and in a great deal more detail) than I could ever manage to. I wanted to make a rather different point, which is that several years back it occurred to me that, from the point of view of religion, this whole argument is rather moot.
Why do I say this? Well, in general, people who use these arguments for the existence of God are not going to all this trouble just so that they can get us to agree with them that some sort of unspecified divine being(s) were involved in the creation of the universe in some way. They’re doing it as part of an attempt to get us to believe in the existence of the particular concept of god (usually the Christian one) that they believe in.
If you follow those arguments and where they typically lead, you’ll generally find that the people making them have several background assumptions about who this ‘god’ will turn out to be, usually including:
- the assumption that it is a god, rather than multiple gods;
- the assumption that this god cares about humanity and about the actions of every individual human;
- the assumption that this god requires universal worship of some form, and cares if He (another assumption in itself) doesn’t get it;
- the assumption that this god will inflict some sort of harsh penalty on people who don’t act in the way the god feels appropriate.
And, of course, even if science ever did come up with compelling evidence that the world or the universe must have had some sort of creator, absolutely none of the above would automatically follow. We wouldn’t have any basis for concluding that this creator was a single creator rather than a pantheon of deities, or that it/they had any particular plan in mind when creating. Above all, we wouldn’t have any basis for concluding that this creator (or these creators) had any interest in humanity whatsoever. For all we know, something created the universe in the first place but humanity then evolved through sheer happenstance. Maybe the universe’s creators are actually off creating different universes, or creating life on different planets, rather than being interested in this one in particular. Or maybe they created us as some kind of temporary project and had no lasting interest in us following that.
I don’t actually believe any of those scenarios to be the case. But there seems to be no logical reason to see any of them as a less likely explanation for the world’s existence than the idea that it was created by a single god who cares passionately about the beliefs of every individual member of our species. The issue isn’t really whether there’s some kind of creator out there that we can describe as, in some sense, fitting at least some small part of the description of what we mean when we talk about God. The issue is whether there’s a God that takes a particular interest in humanity and in what we believe. And, even if we could prove the former, there wouldn’t be any reason to assume that the latter follows.