The case for atheism (4)

on   /   in Sunday Perspectives 12:03 am   /   Comments

By Douglas Anele

On a general note, the fact that prominent scientists and intellectuals believe in God does not constitute a valid proof of His existence. Indeed, those who argue this way, aside from downplaying or ignoring completely the inherent fallibility of human beings also commit the fallacy of appeal to wrong authority (argumentum ad verecundiam, not argumentum ad hominem, as I mistakenly stated last week). Some believers think that Pascal’s wager is a good reason for believing that God exists.

According to the French mathematician, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), it is more prudent to believe in the existence of God than to be an atheist. According to him, if you believe in God and you turn out to be right, you will enjoy everlasting bliss in heaven, but if you are wrong you lose nothing.

On the other hand, if you are an atheist and on the last day it turns out that God exists you will be condemned to eternal damnation, whereas if you are right it makes no difference.Over the centuries commentators have exposed the vacuity of Pascal’s wager.

Keep in mind that a brilliant mathematician-scientist like Pascal formulated the wager that bears his name after a profound “religious” experience he had at the age of thirty-one, in 1654. That said, his wager is based on the fallacious assumption that God considers belief in His existence extremely important. (Remember, I have been using the masculine pronoun for God out of linguistic convenience.

If there is God, the deity would be either a female or, more likely, a hermaphrodite) But supposing that the Christian God Pascal was interested in does not exist, and the God which actually exists prefers advocates of reasoned courageous unbelief and scientific curiosity to religious bigots, of what use is Pascal’s wager? Bertrand Russell, when asked what his response would be if he died and came face to face with God, demanding to know why he (Russell) did not believe in Him, replied “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.”

Moreover, the notion that it does not make any difference if one believes in the existence of God, such that if it eventually turns out that God does not exist the believer loses nothing is, to put it mildly, false. All theistic religions require that believers should worship, sacrifice and even die for God, hoping to be rewarded in heaven. Consider the enormous amount of time, energy and material resources devoteesof various deities have expended on worshipping and trying to please God since religion was invented.

Therefore, there is a reverse Pascal’s wager, for it is much better to deploy one’s productive powers as a human being to lead a more fulfilling and adventurous life than wasting precious time, emotional energy and scarce resources propitiating God. Ishudder whenever I think of the utter uselessness of believing in the existence of an alleged divine creator of heaven and hell fire, and of the almost unimaginable amount of human and material resources which have been wasted (and are still being wasted) in the name of God since the emergence of religion at the dawn of civilisation.

In my view, those resources could have been far better utilised to promote scientific understanding of nature, society and humans. In the preceding discussion, we have looked critically at some of the most important reasons why people believe that God exists.

We have seen that none of those reasons is satisfactory, especially if one examines the issue with open-mindedness and scientific objectivity. Of course, die-hard believers would always retort that religion is a matter of faith and has little or nothing to do with science or reason. Such immunising stratagem is dishonest. That God exists is an empirical assertion, irrespective of how He is conceived.

Consequently, the best way to establish the veracity of the claim is to carry out the necessary investigation. I completely agree with Richard Dawkins that the theories of natural selection and big bang singularity render the God hypothesis superfluous. Recourse to the cliché that “belief in God is a matter of faith, not a matter for science,” as theologians and religious devotees are wont to do, is of little use in deciding the question concerning God’s existence or non-existence.

Some readers who accept the correctness of my arguments thus far might still maintain that belief in God is useful and important because of the role it plays in human life. Specifically, people cling to God because He inspires and consoles them in times of adversity.

Now religion, historically speaking, offered explanations of the origin and nature of human beings and the universe in general. Again, it contains moral prescriptions by which believers are expected to pattern their lives in the hope of achieving blissful post mortem existence.

In the first role, science has completely superseded religion; in the second, our sense of morality can be completely accounted for by a comprehensive analysis of the human and environmental conditions under which people live, move about and actualise their potentials without reference to a supernatural moral law giver. Still people find consolation in the idea of God as a merciful loving father. But that in itself does not prove that God exists. We all need consolation to cope with the vicissitudes of life.

However, consolation based on false belief, such as dogmatic belief in the existence of God, is illusory and positively harmful. Scholars such as Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris to mention just a few, have persuasively demonstrated that human beings can cope very well by relying on their latent productive powers, not on a despotic, irascible, jealous deity up in the sky.

Indeed, Russell was right when he recommended in his book, A Free Man’s Worship, that the best consolation is to look the universe squarely in the face, courageously accepting both its good and bad sides without being intimidated by the irrational cosmic forces that have shaped our evolution, while still retaining the passion to contemplate objectively The True, The Good, and The Beautiful.

We do not need a God to handle life’s challenges. What we need most are knowledge, good health and kindness towards one another as members of one human family. With respect to inspiration, there is no doubt that belief in God has inspired great art and science, and motivated humanitarian activities around the globe.

Still, the amazing discoveries of science especially in the last two hundred years are vastly superior to the superstitions contained in all holy books combined. Just think of the amazing discoveries spawned by the theory of relativity and quantum physics. Imagine the awe-inspiring world of organisms made transparent by the biological sciences through evolution, not to talk of the majestic universe revealed by contemporary cosmology and astronomy.  To be continued

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