Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An evaluation of the abrahamic god hypothesis

Sorry folks, this is going to be longer than usual.  In what follows, I'm going to assume that all three major abrahamic religions (christianity, judaism, and islam) believe in what amounts to the same deity.  They differ with regard to some details about prophets and other trivia, but they all buy into the basic notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent deity.

On the one hand, we have the "god hypothesis" of the believers, and on the other hand, we have the rejection of that hypothesis by atheists (of various flavors).  I want first to consider the case on behalf of the god hypothesis in terms of evidence.

There are extensive accounts of god in the scriptures of these abrahamic religions.  These scriptures were written many centuries ago, long before the rise of empirical science as we now know it.  It's not entirely clear just who the authors of these accounts actually are and it's quite likely that they were not actual witnesses to the events in those scriptures, so their chronicles are what now would be considered hearsay.  In fact, many of the characters and events within the scriptures have not been validated in the historical record, despite their obvious importance, which should have been evident at that time, if the accounts are to be believed.  Within these scriptural accounts (which include outright factual errors about the world and its creation, historical errors, contradictions, and logical dilemmas of all sorts), the case is made that a supernatural deity long ago made his will known directly, at least to his chosen prophets and through them to "his" people, and who performed a variety of acts we would consider to be supernatural by today's scientific standards concerning how the natural world works.  The supernatural deity has not performed similar acts since the time chronicled in scripture, nor is there any credible evidence that this deity has made his wishes known to humans, directly or indirectly, since those times.  There's no scientific evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayers.  This deity has not intervened in any evident and verifiable way in the affairs of humans over the centuries since the scriptures were written, notwithstanding the claims of those who believe the deity is "on their side" in a large number of wars, often between opposing religions.

There are various other arguments alleging to rationalize the faith believers have in the deity described within those scriptural accounts.  Some of them focus on arguments for the development of order out of apparent chaos, claiming that it simply couldn't have happened by chance.  There had to be a "designer" to explain the complexity of the natural world, by this argument.  A similar argument is based on the "beauty" of the natural world.  Beauty is a concept notorious for being relative to the eye of the beholder.  Both of these arguments (and any related derivatives thereof) are fallacious and depend on the scientific ignorance of believers.  The fact that science as yet cannot explain many aspects of the natural world doesn't mean logically that this creates a "gap" within which a creator must be inserted.  Science makes no claim to know everything, but it already has replaced many of the deity-based myths proposed in the pre-scientific era as "explanations".

So the primary case for belief in this deity is based almost totally on an uncritical acceptance of the contents of ancient documents - hearsay accounts apparently plagiarized from earlier religious myths that have precious little historical credibility - and the extremely dubious claims of latter-day charlatans.

The case on behalf of atheism is entirely a negative one:  the total absence of tangible, credible evidence for the existence of a deity as described in the abrahamic religions.  It's fundamentally impossible to prove a negative by logic alone - and there's no need to, since logic puts the burden of proof on the believer, not the skeptic.  It's up to the believer to make a case for accepting the god hypothesis.  An atheist is under no obligation to prove that god does not exist.  In fact, not all atheists actually think they know for absolute certain that god doesn't exist, so asking some atheists to prove this is to require them to prove something to which they don't subscribe.

Understand that rejection of the god hypothesis is not absolute proof there is no god.  Rather, it's based on the notion of the preponderance of evidence, or in this case, the absence of evidence.  Rejecting the god hypothesis is simply a provisional conclusion, forced on us when faced with a gaping hole in the very places where compelling evidence to accept the god hypothesis should be found.  Atheists may be able to reject the god hypothesis with extremely high confidence, but many of them are willing to acknowledge they don’t have absolute proof.  To be a freethinker, one first must accept our human fallibility and the limits on what science can do.  Believers are admitting straightaway they're not freethinkers, but rather are shackled by their faith to an irrational belief.  The god hypothesis has no explanatory power whatsoever and can’t be validated by rational thinking in the absence of evidence.

If this hypothesized deity is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, then believers should be enormously advantaged in this world, and their intercessory prayers should mitigate any harm being visited on them.  That this is not the case should be compellingly obvious - I don’t need to list the vast number of counterexamples.  This then requires apologists to explain away the obvious failures of this aspect of the god hypothesis.  There are various ways to do this but they all boil down to some form of "Our god has his own reasons and we must accept this sorrow as his will, despite the clear failure of our intercessory prayers, because we can’t possibly understand his reasons."  This is nothing more than a convenient way to "save the appearances" of a failed hypothesis - a desperate attempt to explain the otherwise inexplicable contradiction of the evidence, when compared to the hypothesis.  It's a rationalization that explains nothing, if by "explanation" we mean understanding the reasons for something.

What would a universe look like if there was no god?  I propose that it would look exactly as it now looks!  The preponderance of evidence is consistent with the rejection of the god hypothesis.   

There could be another universe somewhere in which a supernatural deity intervenes in the affairs of humans on a routine basis.  Presumably, in such a universe, there would be abundant, tangible evidence of the interference of said deity.  One would need no faith to accept the hypothesis of the existence of this god because the evidence would be all around, all the time.  Intercessory prayers would work or we'd know why not!  Physical laws would be violated on a routine basis wherever and whenever the deity saw fit to interfere with those laws, and it would be clear to all that this was the result of the deity's interference, not a problem with those physical laws that necessitated revising our scientific understanding.  Presumably, in such a universe, we would understand why the omnibenevolent creator did things, because he would explain things to us in terms we could understand, like any good parent would do.  And the deity wouldn't use intermediaries (prophets) to relay information to all of us, so we'd all know exactly and directly what's going on and why.  There would be no reason to threaten us with eternal damnation because believing in him would be a trivial issue, as we now believe in gravity.  There wouldn't be thousands of different religions because it would be clear who the deity is and he would tell us clearly and directly what, if anything, he wants from us, his creations.  And this deity wouldn't be so insecure as to need our worship - if we chose to venerate him for his gifts, it would be in gratitude for his kindness rather than being compelled to do so under the threat of his punishment.  In such a universe, the deity would make sense and be worthy of veneration!

In our universe, the hypothesized "god" of abrahamic religion doesn't make any sense at all.  This supposed deity is not substantially different from all the other mythical gods created by humans before the abrahamic revolution in the Middle East.  The abrahamic deity has a number of human problems: "god" is psychotic (a paranoid schizophrenic with multiple personality disorder), vengeful, bigoted (against his own creations!), a bully and a mass murderer, unworthy of the worship of a single human being.  If a deity worthy of the name "god" exists in this universe, it surely doesn't resemble the abrahamic god-figure at all!

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