Why be an Atheist – in 400 Words

Introduction

I was recently asked to write a 400 word piece on some arguments one might give to a religious believer to cause them to doubt their beliefs. I’m generally not in the business of trying to dissuade theists from believing in God (though I may try to dissuade them from holding particular beliefs about God), however I am in the business of writing and critiquing  arguments, and so I thought I would give it a go. Here’s what I came up with. Note that the very strict wordcount meant that I could not explain the arguments in nearly enough depth to be properly persuasive, nor could I consider common rejoinders and how I would respond. I do not do any of these arguments justice or engage with them in all their complexity and nuance. Nonetheless, I think very short writing can have value at times, so for what its worth, here it is.

The 400 Words

There are many compelling reasons to believe that an all-powerful, all-good God does not exist:

  1. There is too much suffering. If God exists, he permits plague, war, genocide, natural disasters, mental illness, and much more, all of which he has the power to prevent. Some believers say God must have reasons for allowing such things, even if we don’t know what they are. There is, however, no reason to believe that such reasons exist, and every reason to expect that a world created by an all-powerful and all-loving God would not need to include holocausts and black deaths. Every time another such event takes place, we must believe that God has yet another unknown and inexplicable reason for permitting it. The more such unknown reasons we must accept, the more evidence we gain that such a God does not in fact exist.
  2. Religions are too parochial. Many religions believe that God chose reveal his teachings at a specific time to a specific group of people, thereby leaving large swaths of humanity largely or completely ignorant of him. This is not what we would expect from an all-loving, all-powerful God who wished to draw all humanity to him, but it is what we would expect if each religion is an outgrowth of a particular human culture.
  3. There is too much religious confusion. Believers of many different faiths report similar experiences of God speaking to them, guiding them, and comforting them. If God existed and wanted humans to follow his true path, we would not expect to see so many people experiencing God in such different and conflicting ways. We would expect God would make himself clearer to mankind, rather than providing so many conflicting religious experiences and manifestations. Such a degree of religious confusion is far more understandable if religious feelings and experiences are instead solely the product of human psychology and society.
  4. God is a poor explanation for anything. God cannot explain why the universe exists, but merely pushes back the question, for we can then ask why God himself exists. Likewise, God’s existence cannot explain human consciousness, for any talk of immaterial souls or spirits merely applies a new label without actually saying anything about how or why consciousness arises. The ability of God to provide answers to such questions, therefore, is illusory, leaving us without any strong reason to believe in such a God.
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2 thoughts on “Why be an Atheist – in 400 Words

  1. Your first three explanations are not very reliable, in my opinion.
    1. Just because there is a lot of “suffering”, that does not mean that God does not exist. God may be a being based on allowing suffering, for his own purpose. Just because we do not favor suffering it does not mean God should not favor it either. Besides, what is suffering anyways? If you make your neighbor’s child suffer by stealing from them, so that you can feed your family, is their suffering “good” or “bad”?
    2. Yes, some religions can be self serving by teaching that God reveals himself to specific people at a specific time. But, just because we did not all receive the same kind of revelation does not mean a revelation of some kind does not exist for every single one of us. Besides, if there is a God, why would He be bound to one single religion? Couldn’t he be revealed in different ways?
    3. I agree that religion has brought confusion, not to mention separation and hatred. But this reason does not exclude God from possibly existing. I believe God is greater than any religion.
    4. Your fourth explanation can be valid. Many people have used the mystery of an unknown God to explain the unexplainable (like consciousness). Science has gradually and slowly been able to explain a lot about our universe and existence. Yet, we tend to continue to strive for spiritual growth. Maybe we will eventually learn to know the real God.

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  2. Excellent post; very well written. But I would take a different approach.

    1. I agree with Noel that suffering does not preclude the existence of a God–the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful Christian God, perhaps, but not any god.

    2. The nature of (human) religions suggests that religions (and the gods they are built around) are artifacts of human minds. These have, over time, diverged into thousands of variants just as we should expect–essentially a type of “speciation” by means of memetic mutation and selection. But again, this does not preclude the existence of some god.

    3. Again, we should expect this if (as stated above), religious diversity is merely memetic variation. And again, this does not preclude the existence of a god.

    4. This is the strongest of the four points. But even this, is not strictly incompatible with the existence of a god.

    While none of these four reasons are strictly incompatible with the existence of a god, they are each consistent with there being no god.

    I am an atheist, but not because of any argument that is inconsistent with the existence of a god, for there can be no such argument. (Inconsistent with various religions, sure. Inconsistent with specific Gods, sure. But not inconsistent with _any_ god.) Any deity, any supernatural being, by definition, is not bound by natural constraints. So any obstacle to the existence of a god is easily dismissed by appeal to the supernatural where by any obstacle can be overcome.

    I am an atheist because of Occam’s Razor. But I would become a theist in the face of new (real, tangible, testable, falsifiable) evidence that made accepting the reality of a god part of a simpler, more harmonious world view. This is exactly the same approach the (vast) majority of people take with fairies in the garden.

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