God Is Unconvincing To Smart Folks? – Part 4

(This is Part 4 of my response to the article, “God Is Unconvincing To Smart Folks,” by J. H. McKenna. For Part 1, click here. For Part 3, click here.)

Points 12–18 of Dr. McKenna’s article deal with big issues of God’s causative position and beneficial effects on the universe and humanity.

12. God is not a convincing cause of the universe

Under this heading, Dr. McKenna writes:

God is not a solution as to the origin of the universe but only another layer of mystery. What caused God? It’s more believable that a material universe emerged from preexistent matter or energy than from a non-material Mind.

More believable for materialists, yes. Because their basic assumption is that nothing but the material universe exists. It’s not anything they can prove, any more than theists can prove that God exists. On that, see the article, “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

These days, all sorts of wild theories about the physical universe are coming out of science itself, and from philosophers of science. Is the universe a hologram? asks Science Daily. How about a Multiverse—another current theory that is probably unprovable. And if those two aren’t enough for you, see Top 10: Weirdest cosmology theories on New Scientist.

These days, believing that the universe exists out there as a physical entity just as we perceive it requires almost as much faith as believing in God and a spiritual realm.

As for what caused God, that’s an old question that goes back thousands of years, at least to Aristotle’s concept of the unmoved mover. And it has a simple answer: nothing caused God. God is by definition a self-existent being that causes everything else. If anything had “caused” God, then “God” would not be God.

Weird quantum mechanics theories and traditional Christian creatio ex nihilo (“creation from nothing”) theories to the contrary notwithstanding, things don’t just pop into existence from absolute nothingness. Something had to originally exist on its own for anything to exist. That something could be God just as much as it could be the physical universe or the quantum field.

13. God is not a convincing explanation of design in nature

Natural selection explains the appearance of design in nature. Besides, if a complicated thing (nature) needs an explanation in a Designer (God), doesn’t the complicated thing called ‘God’ also need an explanation in a Designer? Who designed the Designer God? Another greater Designer God? And who designed that Designer God?

I dealt with the “infinite regression” idea—that God must have a cause, and that God must have a cause, and so on—under the previous point. Something must have been there in the first place. And whatever that something was, it must have had at least the potential within it to develop all the complexity that we see in the universe today.

Invoking natural selection and other material-world processes as the explanation of the appearance of design in nature doesn’t demonstrate anything except that on its own level, nature operates according to definite, discoverable laws. It doesn’t tell us where those laws came from, nor does it tell us why those laws are what they are instead of being something different.

According to the principle of “correspondence” explained under Point 3 above (in Part 2), the laws of physics and biology are what they are because they reflect and express on the material level of reality the divine laws that are the form and nature of God.

14. God is not a convincing explanation of morality

Moral rules emerged apart from religion and came from our species’ cooperative, altruistic, and inhibitive tendencies, all of which were utilized by natural selection to help our species succeed. No God ever gave humanity a moral rule. Adult humans honed moral laws through trial and error and socialized children into the rules of civilization. Children absorbed the rules as ‘conscience’ and grew up keeping moral rules. Religion simply came along and legitimized morality by claiming the moral rules came from the Gods. ‘Guilt’ attends any action that opposes the socially instilled ‘conscience.’ Also, non-believers in God are as moral as religious people, and some are more moral. Also, highly regarded moralists like Buddha and Aristotle, and all modern secular moralists, offer sophisticated, lofty morality without any appeal to a God.

Now this is a fine example of begging the question. It simply assumes that God and religion are not the source of morality, and attributes all of these to natural phenomenon.

Really, this is just an opinion based on materialists’ view that there is no higher source of morality.

None of today’s atheists or scientists were around when humans first began to develop a moral sense. And as far as I know, modern science has not yet developed a mind-reading machine capable of detecting the thoughts of early humans who lived tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago. Science can’t say whether our moral sense just naturally developed or whether those early humans experienced God’s presence, and were given these moral rules from a higher source. Meanwhile, lower animals cannot be said to have morality. They simply operate by instinct to preserve themselves and perpetuate their species.

In short, there is no scientific basis for atheists’ view that morality developed naturally without any need for God. It is pure speculation based on their assumption that there is no God.

Ancient religious texts from around the world describe God revealing morality to humanity in one way or another. Most of these texts probably originated as stories passed down orally for many generations before they were finally written down. We don’t know how far back into pre-literate and prehistoric times they go. And there’s simply no way to demonstrate, scientifically or otherwise, that these ancient stories do not reflect what actually happened when the early hominid animals first began to become human. Religion and the concept of God have been with humanity since before recorded history began. So it’s impossible to say whether we would have developed morality without God.

And yes, non-believers can be and often are just as moral as religious people—and sometimes more moral. But like it or not, they grew up in societies that came from a history steeped in God and religion. Even if human society becomes completely atheistic in the future (and I think this is very unlikely—see the final point in Part 5), humanity will still have developed in an atmosphere of belief in God and spirit. So it will still be impossible to know whether humanity would have developed morality without God and religion. That just isn’t what happened.

Everything we actually know from ancient texts, and even from archeology and paleontology, suggests that human morality developed in a cultural atmosphere of belief in God and spirit.

Buddha and Aristotle, too, had their minds formed in cultures steeped in religious belief.

From a theistic perspective, the “lofty morality” that modern secular moralists offer without any appeal to God is built on the shoulders of a God- and religion-based morality that developed over many thousands of years of human society and culture. Even if atheists expel God and religion from their moral systems, that does not negate that long history of the moral development of humanity in an atmosphere of belief in God and spirit.

15. The number of believers in God is not a convincing ‘proof’ of God

Millions, even billions, have been wrong before. In ages past, everyone was wrong about many things: the shape of the earth, the causes of disease, slavery. For thousands of years almost everyone was polytheistic.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

That’s why it’s amusing to read skeptics and atheists argue that because atheism is growing, and more and more Smart Folks are becoming atheists, this means that atheism is the wave of the future.

Not necessarily.

It could simply mean that a growing number of people are wrong about God, just as “in ages past, everyone was wrong about many things.” As I said in Part 1 of this article, the truth is not a majority-rule process. And that applies to skeptics and atheists just as much as it applies to religious folks.

16. That God belief has benefited the world is unconvincing

Monotheisms especially have been the animating force behind the death of millions and millions of people, and religion has had psychologically harmful effects, as for instance in the creation of false crimes like masturbation and gay sex.

About masturbation and homosexuality, I agree. Religion in general has been wrong about these things. And it’s about time that was corrected. For a start on these two subjects, please see:

However, saying that religion has been the animating force behind the death of millions and millions of people has no more credibility than saying that science has been the animating force behind the death of millions and millions of people.

Science, after all, gave us hand-wielded rocks, clubs, knives, spears, javelins, bows and arrows, slings, catapults, cannons, muskets, rifles, pistols, semiautomatic and automatic rifles, tanks, artillery, warplanes, rockets, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and nuclear bombs. And it’s still hard at work devising ever more lethal and destructive weapons.

Did science cause all of the death and destruction wreaked by the increasingly sophisticated weapons it has developed for thousands of years, and especially in the last few centuries? Should we abolish science because it is “the animating force behind the death of millions and millions of people”?

And what about the psychologically harmful effects of human and animal experimentation resulting in mental and physical illness, disfigurement, and death for thousands of people and millions of animals? Should we abolish science because of the horrendous things it has done?

The reality is that neither science nor religion does anything. People do things. And unfortunately, when people are animated by a desire for power, wealth, and personal pleasure, and don’t care who they hurt to get it, they will use both science and religion as tools to achieve their nefarious goals.

Science and religion at their best are powerful tools to improve the human condition materially and spiritually. Unfortunately, the best and most powerful tools, when they fall into the hands of corrupt human beings, become the worst and most horrific tools for accomplishing those humans’ evil and destructive goals.

As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Human beings who wield massive power of any kind, whether scientific, political, or religious, can do massive damage if they wield that power for selfish and evil purposes.

Unfortunately, much of humanity’s institutionalized religion, for periods lasting hundreds and even thousands of years, has fallen into the hands of people who wielded it to build up their own wealth and power instead of using it for its true purpose, which is to advance the moral and spiritual state of humanity.

This is not a reason to abolish God and religion any more than the massive destruction that has been wreaked by power-hungry human beings using advanced technology is a reason to abolish science.

What’s needed, instead, is to reform the human mind and heart so that we humans no longer see personal wealth, power, and pleasure as our primary goals in life. And that is precisely what God and religion are supposed to be doing. For more on this, please see:

17. Theists disagree too much with each other (and that makes God unconvincing)

Hundreds (indeed thousands) of theistic sects suggest no one of them is true. If there’s a God and God has spoken, wouldn’t the world be in convinced agreement about God? Instead, we have a cacophony of discordant voices.

See the story of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” mentioned under Point 6 above (in Part 3). Different people see God in different, and sometimes conflicting, ways. That doesn’t mean they’re all completely wrong, and there is no God at all, any more than the fact that scientists often vehemently disagree with one another means that they are all completely wrong, and the material universe that they purport to study and describe doesn’t actually exist.

18. God is not funny (and that makes God unconvincing)

No depiction of God in any religion renders God as having a sense of humor, and humor is a very high virtue that humans prize. God supposedly has all other human virtues to an infinite degree. We are good and God is infinitely good. We are smart and God is infinitely smart. We are kind and God is infinitely kind. We are witty and funny, so why isn’t God infinitely witty and funny? Why can’t God tell the funniest joke anyone has ever heard—a joke so funny that you would literally die laughing at it?

This is so wrong it’s not even funny.

In fact, there are many funny passages in the Bible, not to mention in plenty of other sacred texts.

It doesn’t help that most traditional and popular translations of the Bible use rather old-fashioned, stilted English that doesn’t allow the full liveliness of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts to shine through.

Personally, I think the book of Jonah is hilarious—complete with a final punchline!

Here’s the prophet Jonah, trying his damnedest to get as far away from God as possible because he does not want to go where God told him to go, and he does not want to do what God told him to do.

But no matter how hard he tries to get away from God, everything keeps going wrong!

A raging storm threatens to swamp the boat he took passage on to go in the opposite direction from where God sent him.

His next plan is to get out of the unwanted job by killing himself. He convinces the sailors throw him overboard—which they absolutely do not want to do. But even that foolproof plan backfires because of that @#$% whale! (Really, a big fish.)

So he finally drags his sorry you-know-what to the hated enemy city of Nineveh—and his latest prophecy gig is a huge success! The entire city, from king down to scullery maid, repents of their sins in sackcloth and ashes. It’s a prophet’s greatest dream!

But is Jonah happy?

No, he is not.

In fact, Jonah is hopping mad!

He wants God to destroy the hell out of those horrible Ninevites! They were the ones who oppressed and conquered his people! Fire and brimstone is too good for them! So instead of rejoicing in the fantastic success of his mission, he sits outside the city moping and griping, and wishing God would get off his duff and toast ’em already!

He even gets mad that a gourd vine that grew up overnight and gave him shade from the searing sun withered and died the next night. In fact, he’s so mad about it he wants to die!

This sets God up for the speech that closes the book:

And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left—and also many cattle?” (Jonah 4:10–11)

I love that final line! 120,000 poor slobs who don’t know right from left—and lots of cows, too!

Wow, Jonah. Just wow. You really want me to destroy all those perfectly good cows?!?

The Humor of Christ, by Elton Trueblood

The Humor of Christ, by Elton Trueblood

In the New Testament, Jesus himself has a razor-sharp tongue, and makes regular use of humor and satire in his attacks on the reigning religious authorities. “You blind guides,” he calls them, “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24).

For more of Jesus’ humor, see the classic 1975 book The Humor of Christ, by Elton Trueblood.

If people haven’t seen humor in the Bible it’s because they haven’t been looking for it. There is humor all through the Bible for those who are paying attention.

Points 19–21 make the closing argument, which in a nutshell is this: “There just plain ain’t no God, and if you’re smart, you’ll figure that out!” We’ll take up the final three points in Part 5.

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in All About God, Science Philosophy and History

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