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Arguments against the existence of God

Many arguments against the existence of gods have been proposed over time, with reference to multiple gods and conceptions of God. This article lists some of the more common ones.


Arguments against specific conceptions of gods

While some theists argue that a god entirely transcends logic and that logical discourse about him is therefore meaningless, others would disagree with the assertion that a god has incompatible or incoherent properties. Each of the following arguments aims at proving that some particular conception of a god either is inherently meaningless, contradictory or contradicts known scientific and historical facts, and that therefore a god thus described cannot exist.

  • The argument from nonbelief contests the existence of an omnipotent god who wants humans to believe in him by arguing that such a god would do a better job of gathering believers.
  • The atheist-existentialist argument for the non-existence of God, if God is supposed to be a perfect sentient being: As presented by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness, it states that since existence precedes essence, it follows from the meaning of the term sentient that a sentient being cannot be complete or perfect. Sartre's phrasing is that God would be a pour-soi [a being-for-itself; a consciousness] who is also an en-soi [a being-in-itself; a thing]: which is a contradiction in terms. The argument is echoed thus in Salman Rushdie's novel Grimus : "That which is complete is also dead."
  • Theological noncognitivism, as used in the literature, usually seeks to disprove the god-concept by showing that it is meaningless in some way.
  • The "chicken or the egg" argument states that if the Universe had to be created by God because it must have a creator, then God, in turn would have had to be created by some other God, and so on.
  • The "no motivation" argument states that if god is omnipotent, then he would not be motivated to act in any way, specifically creating the universe, since God would have anything God wanted in infinite amounts and would have no desires since there is no reason for God to have any. Since the universe exists, there is a contradiction and an omnipotent God cannot exist.

Argument justifying atheism in general

While it may be possible to disprove the existence of some particular God, it is in general impossible to prove the nonexistence of all conceivable Gods. Rather than try to do this, most atheists argue that merely pointing out the flaws or lack of soundness in all arguments for the existence of God is sufficient to show that God's existence is less probable than his nonexistence; by Occam's Razor (principle of parsimony), the burden of proof lies on the advocate of that alternative which is less probable. By this reasoning, an atheist who is able to refute any argument for the existence of God encountered is justified in taking an atheist view; atheism is thus the "default" position, though some argue that it is more proper to consider agnosticism as the default.

The above argument depends on one's ability to disprove arguments for the existence of God. Critiques of some of the more common arguments are found below; more detailed critiques are included within their corresponding articles.

  • The cosmological argument states that nothing arises without a cause, except for one uncaused first cause, which must be God. Critiques of this argument typically argue that it makes no more sense to postulate an uncaused God than it does to postulate an uncaused universe. Since time began at the beginning of the Universe, it does not make sense to demand what happened 'before'.
  • The teleological argument, or argument from design, states that the universe manifests order and complexity which could not have arisen "by chance" and so must have been designed by an intelligent Creator God. Critiques of this argument typically seek to demonstrate that natural laws are sufficient to explain the order and complexity found in nature. The argument from evolution is a specific example of such critiques. Flaws in the structure of the universe have also been used to counter this argument.
  • The ontological argument states that God is defined as the most perfect being, and since existence is more perfect than nonexistence, must exist by definition. Critiques of this argument point out that it is equivalent to trying to define God as a being that exists, which is a logical fallacy, since existence is not the sort of property that arbitrary concepts can be defined to have.

Arguments against the possibility of any proof

Some Christians espouse a theological position called fideism, which holds that the decision to believe in God is one that neither has, nor needs, rational justification. Fideists observe that Christianity teaches that faith is necessary for salvation. But, if God's existence could be logically proven or empirically demonstrated, faith in God's existence would become irrelevant. Therefore, if Christianity is true, it follows that no argument in favour of God's existence can be valid.

Others have suggested that the several logical and philosophical arguments for the existence of God miss the point. The word god has a meaning in human culture and history that does not correspond to the beings whose necessity is proven by such arguments, assuming they are valid proofs. The real question is not whether a "most perfect being" or an "uncaused first cause" exist; the real question is whether Yahweh or Vishnu or Zeus, or some other deity of attested human religion, exists, and if so which deity. The proofs do not resolve that issue. Blaise Pascal suggested this objection in his Pensées when he wrote "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — not the god of the philosophers!"

See also

Last updated: 05-19-2005 01:03:58