I am an atheist. All my friends know this and I often take the opportunity to tell them why I refuse to believe in a God or gods. However, I think it would be good time to write down my arguments publicly.
I'm well aware that this has been a debatable topic in the discipline of philosophy since the time of it's birth. I don't have formal education in philosophy so many of my arguments may not be of the highest standards. However, as a scientist I believe I should have a personal opinion on the matter and here I lay it down.
Theism vs Atheism
For theism to make sense there has to be a God that can be defined as a being. God needs to hold supreme authority over the universe we live in or at least have some ability to act against the rules of the physical world as our science tells us.
It would be super easy to define the entire universe itself to be the God, as in pantheism, but that would be cheating. There would be no way to differentiate between a universe with a God and a universe without one. It also doesn't make a difference, so it would be reasonable to be in favor of atheism since it would have lesser number of assumptions.
Then again if you say that God exists but he/she doesn't intervene in the natural working of the universe, then I have a problem with that too. What's the use of such a God anyway? If he/she has no say then he/she may as well not exist. Again deciding against the existence of a God is more reasonable here due to lesser number of assumptions.
Now whether a God who holds dominion over the universe truly exists can be up for debate and in this regard I'm a hardcore atheist.
Why Does Theism Even Exist
We humans are obsessed with finding patterns. That's how we became the smartest species on the earth. That's how we created philosophy and science. But that also has a trade off.
There are lots of things in the universe that can't be understood by crude biological senses alone. We need microscopes to see the microbes, we need telescopes to observe the distant galaxies. Even development of proper scientific techniques takes hundreds of years.
The people of the ancient world didn't have that privilege. But they needed to find a cause behind all the natural events that would appear mysterious to them. In such a scenario it would be easy, or even necessary, to bestow the ultimate agency to a fictional being named God.
But that would be okay. After all science makes a lot of mistakes too. Criticism and correction of mistakes is how we do science. The fiction of God would have been discarded too had it not been for the religion.
Religion and God
I would separate God and religion. The existence of one doesn't necessitate the existence of the other.
Now the religious people like to create lots of fancy definitions of religion. But at it's core it's a simple group identity. A bunch of people follow a prophet or religious scripture and they identify themselves as a religious entity. It would be rather harmless if it was simply about following some good samaritan codes and worshipping in private, but it's not.
Religion is a weapon. Religion is a weapon for the powerful people to use. It unifies a group of people and drives them toward a common goal. It's trivial for a prominent religious figure to use this weapon to further strengthen his/her power.
Now the concept of God is a great tool to build a religion. Tell them the God asked to tell everyone to worship him/her and you've got a great following. Also tell them never to question God's will and now you have their unwavering loyalty. It all seems a bit silly to me but it has happened so many times with so many religions so who am I to say otherwise.
So you become part of a religion, you learn never to question religious texts, you've got peer pressure from your fellow religious people, it wouldn't be easy for you to cross that many barriers to actually think critically regarding the existence of God.
So in essence, we created the fiction of a God and then the religion cemented it.
The Burden of Proof
One thing should be clear though, the burden of proof lies with the theists. So if you are a theist, you need to prove that God exists, whereas as an atheist I don't need to prove anything. Why you ask? Read on please.
What if I say there are horses that have horns and can fly? What do you tell me then? Do you travel to every corner of the earth to prove that such a flying horse with horns doesn't exist? Or do you just ask me to take to the place where such a horse can be found? If I were you I'd chose the later option.
It's similar to null hypothesis really. Do I see a God? No. The null hypothesis is that there is no God. Now it's your job to provide enough evidence to reject that null hypothesis. (I think this is not an appropriate use case for the concept of null hypothesis, but I love the analogy)
Arguments for the Existence of God
So naturally it would make sense for me to examine the arguments I could find in favor of the existence of God. If you have one I haven't mentioned, plese post it in the comments.
It's true that we are yet to fully understand the mystery of consciousness. Some would argue that consciousness comes from something separate from the physical world like a soul of some kind.
But that's not necessary in my opinion. Complex properties like consciousness can emerge from the billions of relatively simple neurons in our brain. This is called emergence.
Emergence is the phenomena in which a collective has some properties that components of that collective do not possess. A great example would be snowflakes. They can have beautiful fractal patterns although individual ice molecules do not. Similarly a brain can naturally have consciousness although individual neurons do not. It does not require a God or a soul to be present.
Now of course you could argue that all emergence is the work of God, but then it would no longer be an argument from consciousness but an argument from design.
This is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the existence of a God. It appears that the physical constants of the universe are exactly what is needed for us to exist. If the strength of gravity was slightly different or if the density of the dark energy was different, then our universe as we know could not exist and we wouldn't either.
As far as I know this is an open question for the physics community. Obviously we don't know the answer for certain because we don't yet have a theory that could help us understand the moment of the Big Bang. But we will get there someday.
In the meantime my favorite explanation is this, at the moment of Big Bang there may have been superposition of multiple values for these constants, but we only see the ones that led to the creation of the universe we see today. Other values for those constants would not allow us to exist so we wouldn't be there to see them even if they exist.
It may be argued that since everything that happens appears to have a cause there must be a cause that set everything in motion. That first cause may as well have been the God. In our modern worldview that would equate the cause behind the big bang.
But that makes little sense to me. Of course we don't know what caused the big bang and we may never know it for certain, but the question itself has flaws. Time as we know it started at the moment of the big bang. So if there's no time before the big bang, there may not have been a cause either. Of course that doesn't dissuade people from speculating about it like infinite chain of mother-daughter universes, highly improbable universe scale quantum fluctuation and such. They are far fetched but still appears to be more plausible to me than an omnipotent being constructing an universe for us to live in. It has another major issues though. If we say that everything must have a cause then there has to be a cause for the first cause to exist. In that case we again trapped into the infinite chain of causes with no real meaning.
It is sometimes argued that the presence of beauty in the universe may indicate towards the existence of a creator, but it doesn't convince me as I believe beauty to be a subjective experience.
I do not take the subjective arguments into account as they are not verifiable. Revelations, testaments, prophecies and other non-verifiable sources are not acceptable arguments. I believe that it is unbecoming of a scientist to accept anything without criticism, even from an authoritative figure.
As a disclaimer, I have some personal issues with the existence of God.
If God exists and he/she is omnipotent, then why does he/she let the living things suffer? Is he/she incompetent, careless or just sadistic? If you wanna say it's a "test" or "punishment" or "purification", then I'll say none of this is necessary since he/she is omnipotent and can simply eliminate any "impurities" without letting people suffer. Punishing your creations doesn't make you any less sadistic. Besides he/she himself/herself is responsible for any imperfections in his/her creations and it is his/her job to fix it without tormenting them.
This is why I have come to the conclusion that—
- God cannot exist
- If God exists then he/she is powerless
- If God has power than he/she is evil
- If God is not evil then he/she is incompetent
Back when I was a child I used to be a theist and believed in some sort of pantheism. The belief was that every living being has a soul and the God is nothing but the collection of these souls which makes every living being part of the God itself. Obviously I was a child back then and children are impressionable and not particularly good at critical thinking. I abandoned it during adolescence and became an atheist. I just thought I should mention it to clarify any potential conflict of interest.
So What's My Stance
Can God exist? Yes, of course.
But does God exist? In all likelihood, no.