January 7, 2003
1 There have been many “proofs” put forth for the existence of God, and just as many rebuttals of why each one is false. While many skeptics have found the proofs for God’s existence to be less than compelling, they have also acknowledged that the nature of God might be such that any evidence of God’s existence might be hidden from us, and because no evidence is possible either way, the proper position to adopt is agnosticism. Others have concluded that in the absence of positive evidence for either side, one must assume the negative and hold that God does not exist. However, I believe that both of these positions are erroneous. If neither side were able to present convincing evidence to God’s existence, then the proper course of actions would be to withhold judgment until convincing evidence for one side is given. However, that is not the case. While we may not have evidence that God does or does not exist, we can conclude that God’s existence would entail a logical contradiction, and thus his existence is not possible.
2 The “burden of proof” principle holds that the burden of proof lies on the side proposing the positive, and in the absence of evidence either way, we must assume the negative. Most scientific disciplines adhere to this principle, and for good reason. If their burden of proof was on the positive, then a scientist could invent any number of theories that would have to be assumed true if they were difficult enough to disprove. For example, an astronomer could invent any number of invisible stellar phenomena, and confound astronomy students with theories that could or could not be true, but must be assumed to be true until man is able to go to the stars and verify them in person. In daily life too, we usually assume the negative. Suppose that we are divided between driving and biking to work, and a stranger tells us to bike. We would take the advice of a health expert, but not an environmentalist, but we do not know which the stranger is. Without evidence either way, we would choose not to take his advice. Thus, given a lack of evidence either way, we will usually assume the negative.
3 However, a lack of evidence does not always prevent us from assuming a certain position. If a friend yells “duck!” during a soccer game, we assume a ball to duck from first, and look for evidence later. However, if someone from the opposing team yells “duck!” it would be reasonable to assume foul motivations and assume the negative. Even though we may lack any direct evidence for it, our trust in teammates and skepticism of opponents is itself evidence of the validity of their claims. Thus, even in cases where there is a lack of evidence for a given claim, it is possible to evaluate its likelihood by considering whether the claim will integrate into the rest of what we know of the world, and assume the negative if the proposed claim does not fit in. For example, should we assume without hearing back from the weapons inspectors that Saddam Hussein is building weapons of mass destruction? Even if we do not have evidence either way, Saddam’s past actions are sufficient evidence to assume the worst when dealing with him. On the other hand, if someone tells us to “watch out for invisible floating pink elephants,” skepticism might be the more appropriate response. The difference is that Saddam’s history of aggression is well known, but everything we know about elephants suggests that the invisible pink variety is quite rare. Thus, the “burden of proof” principle is far from being an absolute rule of logic, and is often substituted for our worldly experience to determine just how likely a certain proposition is. In many fields, the “burden of proof” approach is useful for the purposes of justice, objectivity, or scientific experimentation, but it is not a logical rule, and is not itself a basis for disproving an idea. If we want to disprove that invisible pink elephants exists on earth, it is not sufficient to show that we have no evidence either way: this would only show that there is no positive evidence of the elephant being there. Rather, we must show that the loxodonta africana is not able to turn invisible or float in the air given the nature of reality and the laws that govern it – which is a trivial matter, considering the number of physical laws that such a proposition would violate.
4 If there is indeed a lack of evidence either way, and the “burden of proof” principle does dot apply, then we must examine whether the properties given to God make the existence of such a being a possibility. There are a number of properties that the atheist can dispute, and he only needs to show that one of them is not possible, but he cannot simply prove that all of the rational theist’s proofs are false to make the claim that God does not exist.
5 Because the properties given to God have varied widely between different individuals, it makes sense to present an objection that is as general as possible to cover all the varying views. One claim presented by almost all rational theists is that God is the entity responsible for the creation of the universe. The theist’s argument hinges on the fact that a creator is necessary for the universe to exist. The atheist’s argument can show not only that a creator is not needed, but he is not possible precisely because he is needed.
6 Before proceeding to prove why God is not possible, it is important to prove what God is not. He cannot be a product (or creation) of the universe, because then he would only be a powerful alien being. Furthermore, if humans are limited by the same set of laws are God, then we could one day develop the technology to equal, or even overshadow God. If his only credit is being responsible for putting humans on earth, then surely we could one day travel and populate other planets – and what theist would argue that that would make us gods? God is also not equivalent to being the universe, because that would not only redefine the concept of God as it is traditionally known, but make God a superfluous concept. If the God was equivalent with the universe, then we could gain knowledge of him directly, rather than supernatural events, prayer, and revelation. The term “God” itself would lose its usefulness, since it would refer to the same thing as “universe.”
7 Nor is God the equivalent of the laws governing the universe, because that would once again make God a superfluous concept. The God usually referred to by theists is necessary a supernatural one – that is, a consciousness that answers prayers, makes itself known through revelation, and in general, does not follow normal physical laws. If God were some natural part of the universe, then he could be approached as any other natural phenomenon and validated on the basis of the scientific evidence we have for God, and how it fits in with our understanding of physical laws and the like.
8 Thus, God, if he exists, must have the property of existing independently of our universe and the laws that govern it. Some theists believe that precisely such a God is necessary for the universe as we know it to exist, giving God credit for various aspects of it, such as the existence of time and space, matter, life, morals, and even logic. However, if the existence of any one of those entities requires a creator, then God’s nature must be such that he existed or is able to exist without it. If God created life, then he must not be a living being. If he created morals, then he must be beyond morality. If he created matter, than he must not be made out of matter. If he created time and space, then he must exist independently of time and space. If he created the universe, then he must exist outside and prior to existence, (making his existence non-existent), and finally, if he created logic, than he must exist outside of logic, which – if he were to indeed exist – would make this essay quite pointless.
9 One of the replies given by theists is that the nature of God is that he is beyond the requirements attributed to all other things in the universe, either because he does not follow “normal” rules of logic and matter, or because he is beyond our ability to understand his nature and motives. All theistic attempts to necessitate God’s existence must ultimately fall back on the argument that God is somehow immune to the requirements that impinge on everything else that exists, namely that for something to exist, it, or its antecedent, must be created. However, it is a logical contradiction to claim that while all objects in the natural, logical universe must be created in order to exist, God does not. If God is not a part of a natural universe, then he must exist in a supernatural universe, for which no logical explanation so is possible. However, if God is beyond reason, then he is beyond proof as well, and since the rational theist cannot make a logical argument without using logic, his case falls apart.
10 A rational theist might use a parallel from the movie the “Thirteenth Floor,” in which one of the characters discovers that he is actually an artificial intelligence living within a computer program. The theist might claim that the programmer in control of the simulation is equivalent to our God: he is able to control and create the rules which govern the artificial world, he could set up the simulation so that the “people” in his program are not be able to conceive of it’s true nature, and he may even be able to stop and rewind the simulation, controlling its “time.” However, does that make him their God in the same sense as we conceive of the concept? The answer is no – the entities inside the computer could postulate that their creator operates in a larger meta-universe, with a larger set of meta-laws, of which theirs is a subset. Once they recognize this, they can study the nature and rules of the “outside” world in a rational and scientific manner. Likewise, the rational proponents of God should realize that their notion of God would simply operate within a larger set of physical laws, in a larger universe that includes a being that seems to like deluding humans about reality. The proper approach to such a being however, would be a scientific analysis of its nature (which would show that such a scenario is extremely unlikely), not a priori analysis and mysticism.
11 Thus, while the atheist cannot prove God’s non-existence simply by rejecting the various proofs for God, he can show that a being with the attributes given to God could not exist in reality, since a being limited by natural laws and logic would not be necessary, and a being beyond natural laws and reason would not be logically possible.