Common Sense Atheism

There are atheists out there who have advanced degrees in philosophy and can stand toe-to-toe with professional apologists who attempt use all sorts of subtle logical arguments to prove the existence of some sort of God. I am not one of those atheists (although I do have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and have spent a good amount of time exploring various philosophical arguments for the existence of God).

There are atheists out there with advanced degrees in a variety of different scientific fields, ranging from evolutionary biology to cosmology to quantum physics, who can likewise stand toe-to-toe with theists who claim that God is the only possible explanation for such things as the complexity of design in nature and the origin of the universe itself. I am not one of those atheists, either (although I have tried to keep up with the latest scientific theories regarding evolution, cosmology, physics and other fields).

There are atheists out there who have spent years exploring the history of various world religions and can go toe-to-toe with theists who claim that only those who have studied the original scriptural texts in their original languages and have a deep understanding of the cultural and socioeconomic of the people to whom the scriptures were provided can really understand what any given religion is actually all about, especially when it comes to the nature of the God worshiped by that religion. And, no, I am not one of those atheists either (although I have tried to learn about the history of ancient civilizations where various world religions arose).

So, just what sort of atheist am I? And what makes me feel qualified to talk about the subject of God apart from simply stating that I happen to not believe in Him (or Her or It or Them)? For that matter, what makes me feel that my lack of belief is even rationally justified and not, say, the product of willful ignorance similar to those who refuse to believe that the earth is round, the Holocaust occurred, humans have walked on the Moon, or the universe is many billions of years old, despite all evidence to the contrary?

Well, the one important thing I have come to realize over the years is that one doesn’t actually need to be an expert in philosophy or science or ancient religions or anything else in order to be qualified to talk about the subject of God and to feel rationally justified in not believing in God. All that is really needed is a good solid dose of common sense.

“But wait,” I imagine people saying, “we all know that common sense can lead us astray!” And it’s true that some people deny such things as quantum mechanics, anthropogenic climate change, special and general relativity and many other complex subjects simply because they go against their “common sense” and are either just too hard to understand or lead to results that contradict their expectations. However, one key difference is that, unlike religion, experts in quantum mechanics, anthropogenic climate change, special and general relativity, etc., all tend to agree with each other for the most part. There aren’t, for example, 4000 different competing explanations for quantum physics the way there are over 4000 different competing religions, each with a different understanding of God’s nature and God’s will. Another key difference is that these various scientific theories have allowed scientists to make consistent predictions about the natural world instead of just throwing up their hands and declaring that, say, “relativity works in mysterious ways.”

So, where does common sense lead us when considering the existence of God? Let me enumerate the ways:
  • First and foremost is fact that the God actually worshiped by most people (as opposed to theoretical constructs based solely on philosophical arguments) is supposed to be an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving being who actually wants us to know and follow His will in order to achieve some sort of eternal happiness and avoid eternal torment. This is why He has supposedly provided the holy scriptures that provide the foundation of most world religions, talked to various prophets throughout history, etc. Given all of this, it therefore makes no sense whatsoever to claim that God’s will is so esoteric and difficult to explain that only a select few people can ever really understand it. Nobody ever claimed that quantum mechanics was supposed to be easy to understand, but the same cannot be true of God’s will. For more on this, see The Hypocrisy and Hubris of Biblical Interpretation and Is God’s Will Simple to Understand?

  • Humans are really, really fond of making stuff up and ascribing agency to inanimate forces (see Why Do So Many People Believe in [a] God? for some more thoughts on this). We know that people have been inventing gods to explain natural phenomena, to provide a hope of an afterlife, and to give a sense of fairness in an otherwise unfair world since the dawn of history. Humans have also invented ghosts, fairies, witches, leprechauns, werewolves and all sorts of supernatural beings throughout history. Given this known propensity to make stuff like this up, why should any particular religion’s “God” be an exception? It only makes sense that a God belief is just another superstition.

  • On a similar note, there are literally thousands of different religions currently practiced in the world today (and many more if you count ancient religions that have died out over time), and each religion has a different concept of exactly what God (or gods) is like and what we human need to do in order to please said God (or gods). And, not surprisingly, most people end up believing in the particular God that is worshiped by their family and/or by the culture in which they are born. And yet, despite the fact that most religious belief is purely a matter of when and where somebody happens to be born, believers of all stripes tend to be absolutely sure that their particular religion and their particular concept of God is the “one true” faith. Many will even use various arguments and types of evidence (including personal revelation) to “prove” the truth of their faith, despite the fact that people of other faiths use the same exact arguments and types of evidence to prove their faith. All faiths cannot be true simultaneously, but they can certainly all be false. For more on this, see The issue Isn’t “Theists vs. Atheists” but “Theists vs. Everybody Else”.

  • The various philosophical arguments that try (and fail) to prove the existence of God completely miss the point. Whether they are trying to argue that God is somehow required since the universe needs a “cause” (see The Cosmological Argument), that God must exist since God is defined (by us, of course) as the most perfect being imaginable and existence is more perfect than non-existence (See The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God), that God must exist because the universe is too “finely tuned” for the existence of life for it to have happened purely by chance (see The Fine Tuned Universe), or what have you, none of these arguments actually deal with the sort of God that most people actually worship (the all-loving being who answers prayers, performs miracles, provides us with objective morality, rewards the faithful with eternal life, etc.) And none of these arguments actually provide a scintilla of observable and testable evidence to support their claims. It is just common sense that arguments that eschew actual evidence in favor of clever wordplay and definitional sleight of hand are not worth anything.

  • We know the natural world exists and that there are laws that govern how it operates. And we have learned enough about the natural world that we are now able to explain many, many things that were previously thought to be utterly inexplicable without looking for some some “supernatural” source as an explanation. On the other hand, we have zero evidence whatsoever that anything supernatural either does or even could possibly exist in the first place, and therefore it makes no sense whatsoever to consider it as a possible explanation for anything. As a result, it only makes sense to believe that everything in the universe — including the origins of the universe itself — is governed by natural laws even if we don’t currently know what all those laws are. This point explains why common sense also rules out the possibility of the so-called “Deist God” that created the universe and has just let it run its course ever since without intervening. Sure, such a God is possible and not actually contradicted by any evidence, but it’s also not necessary and there’s no rational reason to believe in it. For more on this, see Which is Easier to Believe, that Life Was created by God or by Chance?, God of the Gaps, The Argument from Design and Why the Word “Supernatural” Is Meaningless).

  • Most religions have very specific descriptions of what God has said and done and what He has promised to do. All of these things are testable claims, and a complete lack of good evidence to support those claims along with mountains of good evidence that refutes those claims is in itself evidence that refutes God’s existence (or, at least, the Gods worshiped by those religions). Young Earth Creationists are fully aware of this fact, which is why they will ignore or reinterpret any evidence that contradicts a literal reading of the Bible. Most theists, however, just ignore the contradictions between observed reality and descriptions of God’s actions and words. Once you’ve refuted all the evidence that supposedly indicates that the God you believe in actually exists in the first place, however, it’s just common sense to abandon that belief. For more on this, see Absence of Evidence IS Evidence of Absence.

  • Finally, it is blindingly obvious that every description of God from every major world religion is the product of primitive and superstitious peoples who knew very little about the world in which they lived. People who thought the earth was flat and covered by a dome. People who thought the stars were holes in the fabric that covered the sky at night. People who thought that gods and angels lived in the sky and demons lived underground. People who had no idea what caused diseases or earthquakes or floods or any other natural phenomena. And every single argument offered by any theist today to try to justify why it’s not wholly irrational to still cling to these ancient superstitious beliefs is nothing more than an attempt to stick a Band-aid on a popped balloon.

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