God, a failed hypothesis

God is a hypothesis, one that’s never been confirmed. I’m referring not only to the assumed Jehovah and Allah, but the thousands of supernatural deities humans have invented over the ages.

Uncannily, very little “proof” is enough for believers to call a religious hypothesis “confirmed.” For most of the human race, ancient tales, emotions, and the testimony of authorities are sufficient to support unswerving conviction in the most bizarre of propositions. Unlike our less informed ancestors, a few centuries ago we became far more rigorous in systematizing the separation of truth and fiction—in what came to be called the “scientific method”—so we have less excuse for being mired in superstition as were our ancestors. Contrary to the widespread notion that religious claims are not legitimately subject to scientific inquiry, several of my posts argue that they are (for example, “…but there are some things science can’t explain,” Aug. 1, 2015; and “’You can’t put God in a test tube.’ Why not?” Nov. 19, 2015).

Actually, we do make use of modern epistemological discipline and with it have gained a massive expansion in our understanding of the natural world. Curiously, we make enthusiastic use of rigorous specificity and testing of hypotheses, along with powerful construction of theories. But we fail to do so in dealing with religion. In fact, religions frequently boast that they are based on faith, not scientific inquiry, as if faith—despite its having a few actual advantages—is a trustworthy test of truth. It is the height of arrogance that Christianity makes a shibboleth of Truth (with a capital T), for it cares so little about it, steadfastly protecting theism’s phenomenal claims from the best truth-testing mechanism humans have yet developed.

Lacking a foundation in reason on which to base religious assertions, it is not surprising that religion and other forms of supernaturalism have instead relied on social pressure, attachment to government power, threats of afterlife punishment, intimidation, and physical torture to obtain a free ride to legitimacy. To spread its extolling of belief over evidence as widely as possible, religion brings bankruptcy of thought, rigidity of orthodoxy, and clerical control with predictably deleterious effects on humanity. Its natural tendency is to accept no bounds to its purview, evident in its attempts to control astronomy, geology, paleontology, and other pursuits. Theology can be stretched to cover any topic because it professes to have special knowledge of the cosmos, thereby establishing a kind of universal, holy hegemony. Can we overlook what Catholicism did with respect to Aristotelean pre-science and what current fundamentalist Christianity does with respect to natural selection, gay marriage, birth control, and rules of sexual behavior?

It is common for the faithful to retreat into their commitment to morality and charity when confronted with these accusations, despite the “morality” of Christianity and other religions being a hodge-podge of frequently silly rules that have little to do with how humans treat each other, and despite the lack of data to support believers’ being more lawful or charitable than nonbelievers (see “Morality is too important to be left to religion,” Jan. 2, 2014; and “Believers/unbelievers and charity,” Dec. 24, 2015). However, even if believers could be shown to be more secure, kinder, and happier than nonbelievers, those characteristics have nothing to do with whether there is a god or there is not. They are factors that are simply irrelevant to the search for truth with respect to an authoritative theistic being or force.

(I accept that individual Christians, just as those in other religions, are as truthful, kind, and fulfilled as nonbelievers. My disrespect of the unreason of their religion is an opinion about that religion, not of the individual persons. I have loved many religious persons, still do, and cannot foresee loving them less. But I do not love their religions. Frankly, it is quite possible that my antipathy toward their religion is no greater than their antipathy toward religions that are not theirs. Any specific religion has long had more to fear from other religions than from atheists.)

One can, if one wishes, assume that there is a supernatural being or force that cares about and interacts with humanity, that occasionally suspends natural laws in response to human entreaties, and imposes codes of human behavior. But to do so is to proclaim as truth a hypothesis that has never been confirmed, putting it in the same category as deep faith in a guess. If persons choose to believe there is such a phenomenon and to practice accordingly, they surely have the right to do so. But to use that guesswork, no matter how strong their personal conviction, to influence government toward imposing the rules of this belief on others—as much of Christianity does in America and Islam does elsewhere—is an attack upon the very liberty that supports their right to live according to their guesswork all they wish. (See my posts “Christian bullying (Part 1),” Sep. 4, 2015; “Christian bullying (Part 2),” Sep. 13, 2015; and “Religion in the public square,” Oct. 20, 2015). In America, it is a favorite ploy of Christian groups to mistake religious liberty for the right to tell others what to do (see “Perverting the meaning of freedom of religion,” Apr. 16, 2014).

Of course, as astronomer Carl Sagan was fond of saying, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” or, in this context, there being no evidence for the existence of a god does not constitute evidence that there is not one. I have no more proof that there is no god than theists have that there is one. That is why I never claim that there is no god (except in the informal way most of us would claim there is no real Santa Clause). Philosophers have long known that religionists’ (or anyone’s) argumentum ad ignorantiam proves nothing, for the burden of proof is squarely on the argument for the unseen.

Moreover, another of Sagan’s favorite points is instructive: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The god claim is about as extraordinary as you can get. In fact, given our modern knowledge of the universe, flying reindeer and visitation to billions of homes in a single night is less extraordinary than religions’ claims for their hypothesized supernatural force.

Jehovah, Allah, Zeus, Satan, Thor, and others of their ilk are but failed hypotheses. Religious persons need not mourn their loss, for we’ve actually done without them all along.

About John Bruce Carver

I am a U. S. citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, graduating from Chattanooga High School. I served in the Electronic Security Command of the U. S. Air Force before receiving a B.S. degree in business/economics and an M.Ed. in educational psychology, both at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I then completed a Ph.D. in clinical (and research) psychology at Emory University. I have two daughters and three granddaughters. An ardent international traveller, I have been in over 70 countries for business and pleasure. My reading, other than novels, tends to be in history, philosophy, government, and light science. I identify philosophically as a secular humanist, in complete awe of the universe including my fellows and myself. I am married to my best friend, Miriam, formerly of the United Kingdom and Canada.
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