Opening Statement

Vic Stenger

 

There Is No God

Aloha. It's wonderful to be back in Hawaii where Phylliss and I spent so many happy years. Our two children were born in Hawaii and both graduated from the University of Hawaii. I would like to express my thanks to Keli'i and the other organizers and sponsors for inviting me.

It's certainly an honor to share the platform with William Lane Craig. I've read that he is one of the world's foremost Christian apologists.

In his opening remarks, Dr, Craig has appealed to your common sense. You know what common sense is. It's the human faculty that tells us that Earth is flat. Objective observation, on the other hand, tells us that Earth is round.

In tonight's debate, I will be defending the view that the universe, life, and mind are purely material. I will argue that objective observation as well as reason and logic lead to the conclusion that a God with the traditional attributes of the Christian God does not exist, beyond the shadow of a doubt..

I will give four arguments to support my position.

1. Attributes are self-contradictory

The attributes of the Christian God are self-contradictory. They are like a square circle.

2.  Attributes incompatible with what is known

The attributes of the Christian God are inconsistent with what we know about the world.

3. Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism

Supernatural explanations for events in the universe are unnecessary. Natural explanations are simpler, are based on objective observations, and are fully consistent with all we know about the world.

4.  God's actions should be observable but are not

The attributes of the Christian God imply actions that should be objectively observable. But they are not observed.


Attributes of God

Let me list a set of attributes that are traditionally associated with the God of the monotheistic religions, particularly Christianity.

1)       He is the creator of the universe.

2)       He is an immaterial being who transcends the physical world.

3)       He is all-powerful all-knowing, all-good.

4)       He is perfect in every way.

5)       He is a person. He loves humans and wishes us to know him.

6)       He is forgiving and merciful.

7)       He speaks to humans, revealing truths to us that we would not otherwise know.

8)       He answers our prayers, as he sees fit.

9)       He performs miracles, violating natural laws.


Incompatible attributes

Many philosophers have argued that the traditional attributes of God are logically incompatible. Here are just a few of these:

1)       Perfect v. creator. If God is perfect, then he has no needs or wants. This is incompatible with the notion that God created the universe for some divine purpose. Divine purpose implies that God wants something he doesn't already have, which makes him imperfect.

2)       Transcendent v. Omnipresent. How can God be beyond space and time and everywhere within space and time­at the same time?

3)       Just v. merciful. To be just means to treat a person exactly as they deserve. To be merciful means to treat a person better than they deserve. You can't do both.

4)       Immaterial v. personal. To be a person is to have a material body.

So a God with these attributes cannot exist.


Existence of nonbelief

The God of monotheism also has attributes that are inconsistent with what we see in the world. For example, an all-powerful, all-knowing God who also has the attribute of wanting all humans to know and love him is inconsistent with the fact that there are nonbelievers in the world.

The Problem of Evil

Perhaps the most ancient and strongest of the arguments for God's nonexistence is the problem of evil. An all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God is inconsistent with the fact of evil and gratuitous suffering in the world.

God's reasons for evil and suffering

 Theologians have, of course, grappled with the problem of evil for centuries, and still do. For example, Richard Swinburne says of the problem of evil,

"If the world was without any natural evil and suffering we wouldn't have the opportunity . . . to show courage, patience and sympathy."


But . . . is so much suffering necessary?

Certainly, pain has a role in warning us of illness or injury. But does God really need so much suffering to achieve his ends? Is there any good purpose behind so many children dying every day of starvation and disease? How are they helped by the rest of us becoming more sympathetic?

 Logically consistent gods

 Dr. Craig and many other theologians have spent their lives building models of God that are logically consistent and at the same time in broad agreement with the traditional teachings of Christianity.

This has mainly consisted in trimming off God's characteristics one by one until he is defined mostly in the negative: not-material, not in space or time, not seen or heard. Apologists have reduced God to an almost undetectable background -something like what we physicists used to call "the aether" until we found the aether didn't exist either.

I have no doubt that a logically consistent picture of some kind of God can be devised. But I have considerable doubt that this God can be made consistent with Christianity.

Computer games

These theologians remind me of the creators of computer games. Programmers invent whole new universes in which the characters have all kinds of superhuman powers and many of our familiar laws of physics are violated. Yet the rules of the games are logically consistent. They wouldn't run on a computer if they weren't. But the computer game universes have little connection to the universe we see around us. They exist in what is called "virtual reality."

God's actions should be observable, but are not

Just because something is logically consistent, it doesn't necessarily follow that it exists. For the theologians' logically consistent God to actually exist, he must have something to do with the observed universe, some attributes that can be objectively observed. Otherwise God is as useless as the aether.

Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism

Even if a God can be devised who is consistent with logic and observations, natural explanations for phenomena are better than supernatural ones. They better explain why nonbelievers, evil, and gratuitous suffering exist. They better explain the origin and structure of the universe, life, and mind. They are based on objective observations and theories that are testable.

Supernaturalism offers no explanation for these except "God did it," which coveys no more information than "Santa Claus did it."

Most scientists do not believe

Only seven percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in the personal God worshipped by perhaps 90 percent of other Americans. Most scientists don't believe in God because they don't see any objective evidence for him! When they look at the world around them, they see no sign of God. They don't see God when they peer through their most powerful telescopes. They don't detect God with their most sophisticated microscopes and other instruments. Furthermore, scientists find no need to introduce God or the supernatural into any of their explanatory theories.

Here are a few of the famous scientists who have been outspoken in their nonbelief: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Francis Crick, and Carl Sagan. Let me add that all of these great scientists would have become believers had they been shown sufficient evidence.

Objectively observable actions of God

A God with the attributes I have listed implies phenomena that should have been easily observable by now. For example, let us consider revelation, prayers, and miracles.

Revelation

Most people believe in a God who has a substantial, and detectable, role in the universe and in human affairs. One common characteristic attributed to this God is that he communicates with humans and provides them with verifiable new knowledge.

The theistic religions have traditionally taught that God speaks to humanity. Their scriptures are widely assumed to be the word of God and he's believed to have revealed knowledge to religious leaders in the past that they would otherwise not have known. Many believe God continues to do this today, speaking even to common people.

Revelation Is verifiable

Surprisingly, these claims can be easily verified­­if they are true. All we have to do is find some fact supposedly gained by divine revelation that was unknown at the time of the revelation, and then confirm this fact at a later time.

For example, suppose the Bible had predicted that men would walk on the moon in two thousand years. Then we would have a rational basis to take seriously what else is written in the Bible.

No revelations

Unfortunately, no revelation of previously unknown knowledge has ever been empirically validated.

The scriptures contain nothing that could not have been known to or imagined by the ancients who wrote them. The Bible reads exactly as we would expect it to read, based on existing knowledge at the time it was composed.

Failed revelations

There are many examples of the failure to confirm of Biblical revelations. Consider the failed prophecy of the Second Coming:

"They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Mat 24:30)

"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (Mat 24:34)

We're still waiting. It was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago. It's time to give up and move on.


All in the head

Those who have claimed to talk to God have provided no knowledge that was not already in their heads. Many people have claimed religious experiences in which they felt the presence of God, but they never return from those experiences with any exceptional knowledge that would easily validate their claim.

Furthermore, religious experiences can be induced in the brain by drugs, electromagnetic pulses, and oxygen deprivation. Consider the example of pilots undergoing high-g in a centrifuge. They experience a tunneling of their vision, with the "light at the end of the tunnel" characteristic of the near-death experience.

Does God choose to hide?

In Rom. 1:20 St. Paul says:

"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made."

In other words, God may be invisible but his actions are visible.

Theists may respond that God's actions are obvious to those who wish to see them. Well, I would love to see them, but they are not obvious to me, or to the millions of other nonbelievers in the world.


Prayers and miracles

Another commonly believed attribute of God is that he listens to entreaties from humans to change the natural course of events. He can be expected to grant a sufficient number of these requests so that the results should be observable. Otherwise, what's the point in praying?

Many people will testify that they've had prayers answered. But personal testimony is insufficient since it doesn't rule out other more mundane explanations. For example, if someone is ill and recovers after praying, it could be that the prayers had nothing to do with it. After all, the body, sometimes with medical help, does a pretty good job of healing itself. In fact, it works every time­except the last time.

If prayer had value in healing we'd have doctors prescribing Prayer Aspirin. "Say three Our Fathers and four Hail Mary's and call me in the morning."

Convincing evidence for a God who answers prayers can, in principle, be scientifically demonstrated with high probability­if he really exists. Well-designed experiments on intercessory prayer should turn up solid, statistically significant results on the success of prayer in healing.


In fact, some studies claiming positive effects of prayer have been published in refereed medical journals to great media hoopla. However, you can't rely on media reports but need to look at the actual published papers. Applying the same criteria that are used in conventional science when testing extraordinary claims, you'll find that none of the reported effects is significant. Furthermore, most of these experiments are severely flawed and none of the claimed positive effects have been successfully replicated.

Mayo Clinic study

The best study published so far was done at the Mayo Clinic. Here is the summary:

"The results of 26 weeks of intercessory prayer, a widely practiced complementary therapy, were studied in 799 patients randomized to an intercessory prayer group or to a control group after discharge from a coronary care unit. As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on specifically defined medical outcomes, regardless of risk status." (2001)


Summary

1. The traditional attributes of God are self-contradictory. Such a God cannot exist.

2. The traditional attributes of God are incompatible with objective facts about the world. Such a God cannot exist.

3. Natural explanations are superior to supernatural explanations. No basis exists for anything supernatural.

4. The traditional attributes of God imply actions that should be objectively observed, but are not.

 It is possible to hypothesize a God whose attributes are logically compatible with each other. But, it does not follow that such a God exists unless it has objectively observable consequences. No such consequences have been observed.

If God exists, where is he?