Why I don’t believe in the God you’re probably thinking of

In my last post, I said that the important question wasn’t whether the universe had some kind of creator(s), but whether there existed a God more like our concept of God – i.e., one that takes a personal interest in the actions/beliefs of every member of the human race and has particular wishes concerning our life choices. During my teenage years, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the answer to the latter.

I knew I had to open my mind to God for Him to make Himself known – the books said so. But was I opening my mind sufficiently? Maybe I wasn’t, and that was why I never got anything back that I could convincingly feel wasn’t part of my own thoughts. On the other hand, though, if I opened my mind up too much, tried too hard to feel God’s presence, wasn’t there a real risk that I might convince myself I was feeling something that was really just my own imagination? Or was that just my rationalisation for not trying hard enough? (After all, I wasn’t exactly impartial in this; while there were types of God I would very much have liked to find existed, I wasn’t at all keen on discovering that the Christians were right and that the guy in charge of the universe was someone so hard-hearted he couldn’t manage to forgive even good people their relatively insignificant sins without torturing someone to death in order to do so. There’s no denying that whenever I tried to focus my mind on being open to the will and the word of God, there was a tiny part of my brain that was desperately trying to say “Unless it turns out you’re actually the Christian version of God, in which case, no, please don’t try making yourself known to me!”)

Becoming an agnostic obviously took the pressure off quite a lot as far as all this was concerned, but I still felt that part of being open-minded on the subject had to be the willingness to give God a chance and be open to Him if he wanted to announce His existence to me. Even after I became an atheist, there was still that small, niggling voice wondering whether maybe the problem was with me, whether maybe God was out there and the problem was that I was too stubborn and self-willed to listen properly.

And then I realised something.

I had, at the time, a number of friends and acquaintances whom I knew via the Internet but had never seen or spoken to in real life. Yet, despite that, I was in no doubt at all that they existed. When I read their words posted on the forums we hung out in, I wasn’t torturing myself wondering whether I really was reading those words or whether my desire to convince myself that someone was posting was making me imagine them; I knew I was reading those words. I was experiencing them as something from outside myself, originating in a consciousness other than my own and transmitted via one of my senses, in a way others could likewise experience. I might well disagree with something that someone wrote, or dislike it, or misread it and need to go back and recheck. But I was never in any doubt that I was receiving real communication from real people.

Same when I spoke to people in real life. Disagreements, misunderstandings, enmities, he-said-she-said – sure. But actual disbelief over whether someone I was speaking to actually existed? No. Well, maybe in the realms of abstruse philosophical debate – yeah, technically none of us can actually prove that the world we experience isn’t just an incredibly detailed, consistent and persistent series of hallucinations – but for the purposes of day-to-day life, I knew the people I interacted with existed and they knew I existed.

And if it’s that easy for mere humans to make the fact of their existence unambiguously clear to others… surely an all-powerful deity should be able to do so?

Before anyone gets too absurdly reductionist about that, I wasn’t saying that God should prove His existence by posting on an Internet forum; yes, I too can perfectly well spot the difficulties with that, thanks. But surely, if there really existed an all-powerful divinity who really wanted everyone on earth to get his message in such a way as to be clear on what it was and from Whom it came, then He would be able to figure out a way to do so? Why would he have to rely on communicating with people via subjective internal experiences impossible to distinguish clearly from their own mental processes, or contradiction-riddled nth-hand versions of what some people thousands of years ago said they believed God had said to them? Why would he not do better than that?

Maybe it could be the traditional Voice booming out for everyone to hear, or maybe letters across the sky that everyone could read (though I suppose high illiteracy rates worldwide would mean that that method would have a few glitches to be worked out, so maybe not), or maybe He could give everyone an extra sense for the purposes of experiencing messages from God (a sense that would give us messages that would feel as clearly external to us as the messages from our own eyes and ears, I mean, not just some vague feeling of ‘I know God exists because I feel him in my heart [in a way that just coincidentally happens to correspond closely with the version of divinity that prevails within my culture]’). There are many possible options. But, when you think of how many people interact with each of us in daily life in such a way as to leave us in no doubt of their existence… well, surely a divine being with the powers attributed to the traditional God of the Western world should be able to manage the same thing.

And yet, that doesn’t happen. Ergo, such a God does not exist.

Of course, that still leaves open the possibility of the existence of other potential types of god. Maybe, as I said in my last post, the universe was created by some kind of being(s) whose motives do not include any kind of interest in humanity. Or maybe things are being run by a completely psychopathic bastard who is deliberately trying to stack the deck against us by setting up a hell for unbelievers yet not clearly communicating His existence, all the better to trick people into ending up in Hell. (In fact, I gather that pretty much is what some Christians believe, although they’d probably phrase it differently.) Or maybe God just wants to take a hands-off approach and let us work it out ourselves, and is going to reward independent thought, or loving behaviour, or great prowess at doing handstands, or whatever, rather than blind belief. Personally, just to throw an idea out here, I think the simplest and most obvious explanation is that there isn’t a God. But take your pick.

But I do think that, based on available evidence, we can rule out the existence of the subset of theoretical potential divinities who combine huge powers with a genuine desire for all of humanity to believe in them/hear what they’ve got to say. A god who fitted that description would be doing a vastly better job of communicating with us.

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About Dr Sarah

I'm a GP with a husband and two young children.
This entry was posted in Atheism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why I don’t believe in the God you’re probably thinking of

  1. I think you might like a book called The Owner of All Infernal Names by a friend of mine, John Zande: https://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/

    Like

  2. Pingback: Replies to Matt Slick’s ‘Questions for Atheists’ – Part 1 | Thoughts From An Atheist

  3. Pingback: Answers to Matt Slick’s ‘Questions for Atheists’ – Part 3 | Thoughts From An Atheist

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