Oftentimes, I encounter people who ask me why I do not believe in god.
My standard reply, annoyingly enough, is “Which god?” As simple a question as this might be, most believers I encounter never actually give this much thought. The most common answers I end up receiving dance around ideas that there IS only one god and/or that it doesn’t really matter which one because they are all, in essence, the same one. Oddly enough, many believers cannot even tell the difference between these two statements before crudely lumping them together into one self contradictory package.
In order to address this issue, let us consider its two parts: First, that there are, in fact, many deities that people believe in, and that these deities are very different from each other. And secondly, that reasons need to be presented in order to establish the existence of something in the first place, not for doubting baseless assertions of existence.
One could grant the assumption of truth to the monotheist proposition that the god of Abraham, who is at the center of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is, in fact, the same deity. That is until we study the various sayings, doings, commandments, tempers, and desires that are attributed to this one deity in the scriptures of the three religions, and discover that the only way the deity at the center of these religions is the same one is if he suffers from an acute case of schizophrenia. Religious apologists might, at this point, rush to the defense of their deity and claim that it is not the deity that is suffering from anything but human beings who might be confused about how to interpret the will of this one deity. But ditch attempts like this to explain away the discrepancies between the religions as human errors, melt away like sugar lumps in hot tea as soon as we consider the actual claims revealed in the scriptures: Did this deity actually mean it when he said that the Hebrews were to be the chosen people for all eternity? Did he actually send himself, in the form of his son, to Palestine in the time of the Romans to be tortured to death and establish a new covenant with new rules? Or does he only want to be propitiated in Arabic, and did he set an even newer covenant with both newer rules, and older retroactive ones regarding Christianity and Judaism? This is not a question of human interpretation of the vagaries of spirituality, it is a simple question as to what did or did not physically happen. If one claim is true, then all others, by definition, can not be. Either that or, as I had mentioned, the deity is suffering from schizophrenia. I say suffering rather than suffered, or changed his mind, because different believers still claim, in real time, that the deity wants very different things from his human creation in the here and now.
And all of this is only within the three main monotheistic religions. Let’s not forget that from Greek mythology to Hinduism, most of the deities out there have nothing to do with the iron aged tribal middle eastern one, or ones.
To come next to the second problem – that evidence needs to be presented in support of a proposition in the first place, rather than for doubting it. It is surprising to discover how many people cannot seem to grasp this simple point. The easiest way to show why this simply must be the case is to consider the alternative. If claims do not need to be justified by reason and evidence, then it will be logical to claim that Zeus and Thor and Santa Claus exist, and that anyone who doubts this must first produce evidence to disprove the existence of any of these characters. As ridiculous as this might sound, I once had the experience of debating a person who thought this way, and even after I had pointed out to him how silly this would be, he still stuck to his guns, claiming that all deities and all legends and ghost stories and fairies and mythical creatures must be granted the assumption of existence until proven otherwise. Needless to say, when the debate reached this point, I had to excuse myself from it because, as Sam Harris points out, philosophical bedrock had been struck with the shovel of a stupid claim. There was simply nowhere to go from there. I will, nevertheless, credit this person with being honest and consistent regarding his beliefs (as ridiculous as they are), most religious people I encounter never seem to truly grasp this point, or keep trying to shuffle and side step its true implications. If one does not have a good enough reason for making a claim, if the claim raises more questions than answers, and if the claim is not backed up by reason and evidence, then it must simply be dismissed. To do otherwise would be to grant Santa Claus and the tooth fairy the assumption of existence.
Lastly, many people seem to think that if there is neither evidence for nor against the existence of something like a deity, then the debate reaches an impasse that might be safe territory for continued belief in the existence of a deity. Here is where I must point out that there is no such thing as evidence against the existence of a thing. Take a moment to think about it if you have never heard this before, and realize that there is never enough information to conclusively prove that a thing does not exist. This is why one of the cornerstones of logic is that proof needs to first be produced for a thing’s existence. Otherwise, once again, we will have to grant Santa Clause and the tooth fairy the assumption of existence, until proven otherwise. Being able to neither prove nor disprove a thing’s existence is, therefore, not an impasse, and is as safe a territory for belief in Yahweh as it is for belief in Santa Claus. If religious believers do not want their deity to be lumped together with Santa Claus then they should assume the burden of proof and produce at least one piece of evidence to distinguish their deity from other man made characters. One would think that producing hard empirical evidence for the mere existence of such an omnipotent omniscient omnipresent creator deity would be quite easy. And yet, the only justification for believing in Yahweh we keep hearing is the exact same one children are told about Santa Claus – “You just have to have faith”.
In that case, Yahweh and all the rest of the deities will continue to enjoy the company of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.