The Case Against God

This is my opening for my debate on the existence of God at tomorrow’s philosophy meetup:


10 minutes is not much time to present an argument against a belief central to the philosophy of the majority of Americans. To show that God isn’t needed, I must not only offer an argument against his existence, but also *for* all the things that God means to people:

  • A guide to morality.
  • A justification for the laws of nature.
  • An explanation for the variety of life on earth.
  • A validation of human knowledge.
  • And optimism for the future of humanity.

My opponent on the other hand, can simply say, “God says it is so, and thus so it is.” But as H.L. Menken said “There is always an easy solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.”

The conclusions we reach about the existence or nonexistence of supernatural entities are not philosophical primaries. Rather, they are derivatives of our premises about the basic nature of the universe and our ability to know it.

To present an alternative to a theistic worldview, I am going to present two opposing positions on what I consider the fundamental question of philosophy. The side you take on this issue (which everyone does, whether they are aware of it or not) plays a critical choice your life.

What is this critically important issue? It is the nature of the relationship between consciousness and reality. The central question on this issue is whether consciousness is the agency of perceiving reality, or the agency of creating reality.

I believe that once you understand that consciousness has the power to perceive and identify, but *not* to create reality, a naturalistic worldview follows automatically. If however, you assume that consciousness is an entity that can create reality, then emotionalism becomes your epistemological method, and no further understanding of reality is possible.

Axioms

Why is the most fundamental issue in philosophy the relationship between consciousness and reality? It is because all knowledge of reality rests on certain premises. Such as: there is a reality to be known; that there is a distinction between consciousness and external reality, that reality has identity, that its identity has a specific nature, so that what you learn today is true tomorrow, that the mind is capable of acquiring knowledge of reality, and that the process is not automatic and infallible, but requires conscious and active direction on our part. Answers to these questions form the basic axioms of philosophy, on which all further human knowledge is built.

Although everyone implicitly assumes these premises from early childhood, very few people name them explicitly, and fewer still practice them consistently. As I will show, a belief in the supernatural violates all the basic axioms.

I will summarize the axioms in this sentence: “I am conscious of something.” Let me break that down:

Axiom 1: Existence exists

“I am *conscious*”: By simply looking at the world, we are immediately aware that there is a reality to be conscious of. In short: Existence exists.

Axiom 2: Consciousness is conscious:

“*I* am conscious”: The second thing we are aware of, is that we have an agency of perceiving reality: our mind. In short: Consciousness is conscious.

Axiom 3: Existence IS identity:

“I am conscious of *something*”: We are conscious of something specific, an entity which we perceive in a particular form, which can be differentiated from other entities by its attributes. Note that entities do not possess identity, as something tacked on to a non-entity. A ball does not posses roundness. A ball is a ball because it *is* round. In short: Existence is identity. Or: To be is to be something.

Putting that statement together again: consciousness is the agency of perceiving reality. Existence has primacy over consciousness, which means: reality is, and the function of the mind is to perceive and identify it. We are aware of reality through our senses, which perceive reality according to their particular nature and the nature of the entities we perceive. Existence exists, Consciousness is conscious, Existence is identity.

Observe that I did not prove that the axioms are valid. Proof is the process of logically reducing a conclusion to sensory data. This process presumes that there is something out there to be proved, that we have an agency of proof, and there is something specific to be proved. Existence, consciousness, identity. Any statement about reality presumes the validity of the axioms, including any attempt to deny them. We cannot prove the axioms – but we can validate that they *are* axioms by observing that they cannot be escaped in any statement about reality, that they are implicit in all knowledge, and that they must be accepted in any attempt to deny them.

Truth

The claim that reality exists, that the mind is a means of perceiving reality, and that entities in reality have attributes do not seem very controversial. Nonetheless, a belief in God contradicts all three axioms.

Before I explain why, I want to define one other concept: truth. If the mind is the agency of perceiving reality, then valid knowledge of reality is only possible by perceiving, identifying, and integrating sensory data into a correct mental model of reality. Truth therefore, is the product of the recognition of the facts of reality. To be certain that all our knowledge is true, we must be objective, which means: to volitionally adherence to reality by the use of logic. Logic is the non-contradictory identification of reality. The method by which we confirm that our abstract ideas correspond to reality is reduction to perception, which means: that ultimately, all our knowledge, from that which is directly observed, to that which is many levels abstracted, can be reduced to sensory evidence. Claims which are not based on sensory evidence are neither true nor false – they are arbitrary and have no bearing on reality.

Let’s apply the principles I have just introduced to the idea of God:

Did God create the universe?

How can a consciousness, which is a means of perception, take action? If the universe is the set of all entities that exist, is God not an entity? If he engages in causal interaction, then he must do so by some specific means according to his own identity. What is that identity? We know what it is not – it is not material or temporal, but what is it? All we are told is what God isn’t. Entities do not exist by the lack of attributes, but as the attributes that define them. To be is to be something.

Is God infinite?

But nothing can be infinite. Everything is something specific, in a specific form and quantity. Infinity is only a potentiality. In every sense, God exists in no specific form or measure. He is defined only in negatives. A non-specific age, size, power, perception and a non-specific means of perceiving him. But if existence is identity, he must exist as something specific, which means: not as something else.

Is God good?

For living things, the concept of good is possible because values are not automatic to them: they must act to stay in existence, and their actions must be in accordance with reality. But how can an immortal, indestructible being have values? What possible motive could it have for action? It has nothing to gain or lose – nothing can threaten its existence or cause it discomfort. What loss could be caused by choosing any activity over any other? And without values, what possible motive could it have for action? A being for which no value is possible has no basis for any action at all.

Is there any proof for God?

Evidence is derived from the interaction of an existent’s attributes with the sensory organs of a conscious being. What attributes of God are we aware of? If there are none, then claims about the supernatural are neither true nor false, but arbitrary emotionalism and must be thrown out of the realm of cognition.

Ayn Rand’s summarizes the supernatural thus:

“To exist is to possess identity. What identity are they able to give to their superior realm? They keep telling you what it is not, but never tell you what it is. All their identifications consist of negating: God is that which no human mind can know, they say—and proceed to demand that you consider it knowledge—God is non-man, heaven is non-earth, soul is non-body,.. A is non-A, perception is non-sensory, knowledge is non-reason. Their definitions are not acts of defining, but of wiping out.”

In short: God is existence without identity, consciousness without perception, action without a means, change without time, virtue without value, facts without evidence. Every one of the attributes ascribed to God not only cannot be proven, but violates all of the axioms.

To conclude:

  • Axiomatic concepts form the foundation of cognition and delimit the field of awareness.
  • Existence is identity, consciousness is identification.
  • Truth is knowledge reached by the use of reason and logic.
  • Reason man’s only means of knowing reality.
  • Knowledge must be validated by being reduced to sensory evidence.
  • Objectivity is volitional adherence to reality.
  • Ethics derive from the requirements of human life.

For rebuttal:

I want to start by identifying the nature of emotions.

An emotion is an automatic response to an external or internal stimulus based upon your subconscious premises and values. It tells you something about the state of your consciousness, not about external reality. By examining the premises that led to a certain emotional evaluation, we can find the causes for our emotions. By changing our values, we can change our emotional responses to the same stimulus. Two people can have totally different responses to the same stimulus if their values are different. For example, to me a sports car driving by elicits feelings of appreciation and desire, to an environmentalist, a hated object of waste, to a caveman, of bewilderment and perhaps fear.

To me, a nature documentary inspires wonder and awe in the potential of simple rules to create amazingly complex creatures; to a creationist it is evidence of supernatural intervention. Our emotions differ because our subconscious mind has automatized premises and assumptions about the nature of the world.

If you never bother to check your premises, if you default on the task of consciously and honestly examining the world with ruthless rationality, honesty, and integrity, you will never know the origin of your ideas and values. Your subconscious mind will be a jumble of hopes and fears masquerading as evidence.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to The Case Against God

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  2. You will lose this debate the instant you step on stage, David.

    You say that you intend to “offer an argument against [God’s] existence.” I’m dying to know how you will pull that off. In all my years of philosophic thinking, I have never encountered such a thing.

    The statements you’ve provided contain many interesting and thought-provoking ideas. But in no way do they prove (or disprove) anything related to the existence of a supernatural deity.

    Debating religion can be tempting, but it’s always a mistake. It’s a mistake because the question of God versus no-God simply does not arise in the minds of rational men.

    When you agree to participate in this sort of debate, you grant religion the greatest victory imaginable: you concede intellectual respectability to the epistemological menace of faith.

  3. madmax

    “But in no way do they prove (or disprove) anything related to the existence of a supernatural deity.”

    This is wrong. David’s Objectivist-based arguments show what the proper context and standards for proof are. And thus, his arguments show that the god concept violates everything we know about human cognition. They show that the god-concept is a violation of the basic rules of epistemology and thus that there is no such thing as “god”.

    Whether or not it is fruitful to debate with theists is a question open for debate. It depends on the nature of the audience. If there are people on the fence in the audience, David’s arguments might influence them to study the subject and thus to abandon supernaturalism.

  4. Pingback: Debate: There is a rational warrant for belief in God. | Truth, Justice, and the American Way

  5. Dahlsson

    “But nothing can be infinite. Everything is something specific, in a specific form and quantity. Infinity is only a potentiality”
    Who stated in that way?
    You send the nature of mind to a passive form. Mind not only is a passive one but also a active one. If you accept the polarity of natural phenomena(man-woman,positive-negative, black-white,cold-heat,etc,etc)then our mind cannot be an exception. Our mind is both active and passive(counscious-uncounscious). I state that mind can create reality because of its dual nature, as everything in the universe that has potencialy to create. Ej. Sheakspeare created Otello but Otello is not Sheakspeare. In the same way: God create humans(multiple forms of live)but a human is not God. We create throught our mind but our mind, of couse, is finite. God create in the same way as human mind but God´s mind is infinite, eternal,endless. Our mind and God´s mind both have the same nature. The human mind is vibrating in some finite level. The theory of Vibration as a four dimension makes you to understand the process of how mind create the universe. As an example I take the nature of polarity heat-cold. There is no possibility to say that heat begins in that level or finish in those levels.
    These explain that energi is vibrating in different levels of existence, if you will. The mind is vibrating in infinite different levels. The higher level of vibrating energi you can ever image people name God. But be aware of that God create not in caotic form. We know every level of existence has their own local laws. Science is dedicated to discover those laws to undestand a little more the mystery of Existence.

  6. I’m not surprised that this argument is still around, it is a very interesting and tempting one to kick around the ol’ ticker. But a person can use as many philosophical, theological and whatever ideas and theories as there are and God will not be proven or dis-proven. People believe what they want to believe all the time; basically what it comes down to is individual faith. If you truly believe that holding your breath cures hiccups, it will. If you truly believe you can pick up a car, you can. Usually the difficult part is the faith, or at least it seems that way because most humans are power hungry and don’t like the idea that they are not in complete control of their lives. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t believe in free will, because I do, but I also believe that we all have a destiny. I know that sounds complicated, but I am working on an essay that will (hopefully) explain that centuries old debate on how free will and destiny co-exist.

    In closing, I will pass on some very good advice I received many years ago: Don’t forget where you came from, and don’t forget God.

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