by Wayne Adkins
There is no God. How could I just make an assertion like that? Why wouldn’t I say “I believe there is no God” or “I don’t believe there is a God”? After all, I am making a negative assertion, an assertion that something does not exist. To prove that something does exist, one need only provide a single example of a things existence. But, we are often told, to prove a negative assertion, an assertion that something does not exist, one must conduct an exhaustive search of the universe or have complete knowledge of everything. So to prove that God does not exist, we are often told, one must possess god-like abilities. This is rubbish. A negative assertion can be proven.
Take the case of square circles. Squares and circles are well defined two-dimensional shapes. I can claim with confidence that square circles do not exist. I don’t need to conduct an exhaustive search of the universe or be omniscient to prove this. Just a basic understanding of squares and circles is all that is required. From my basic understanding of squares and circles I can reason that squares and circles are, by definition, contradictory shapes which cannot exist in a single entity. No genius level intellect is required. No omniscience is required. Negative assertions can be proven by demonstrating that whatever is being proposed contains contradictory attributes which cannot exist in the same entity.
The same thing can be done with the existence of the God of the Bible. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” That verse refers to the beginning of the heaven and the earth while God is presupposed by the author and described elsewhere in the Bible as eternal. God is described as having no beginning and the existence of everything else is attributed to God. John 1:3 says “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” So according to the Bible, and just about every other creationist narrative, God has always existed and created everything else that exists. If true, this would mean that at some point, God was the only thing that existed.
I’ll come back to that point in a moment. I want to talk a little about what intelligence is and what is required for thought to occur. I once asked a German woman who had been living in the United States for about twenty years if she now thought in English or if she still thought in German and translated on the fly. She told me that she still thought in German. I think in English, Russians think in Russian, the French think in French etc. We use words, audible sounds, to represent objects, people, places or ideas. We use those words as tools in our heads to form ideas or to solve problems. When I say the word “spoon” an English speaking person conjures up the idea of a spoon in their mind.
Some people have never heard the word spoon before. People who were born deaf rely on imagery for thought the way hearing people rely on audible sounds. They substitute audible sounds with sign language or images of words on a page and perform the same association with an object or idea that the hearing perform when we hear a word. But what of people who were born deaf and blind? Are they not capable of thought? Of course they are. Helen Keller is a remarkable example of that. But she had to be taught to use her other senses to compensate for her lack of vision and hearing. She learned to read Braille and eventually became a more insightful thinker than most.
But what would happen if a person were born with no sensory organs? What if they had a perfectly good brain, but no way to input information from their own bodies or the world around them? What if they couldn’t see, hear, feel, taste or smell? Could they become equipped to think in that condition? Could they learn some kind of language to handle thought with? They would be completely unaware that they or anything else exists. They would be incapable of thought because they would be aware of nothing and they would have no language with which to describe anything whether object, person, place or idea.
Now turn that scenario upside down. What if a being had unlimited abilities to perceive the world around them, but nothing existed? That being would be in exactly the same predicament as the being with no senses. Now we are talking about the position God would be in prior to creating anything else. God could never have seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled anything. God could never have heard someone else speak or spoken to someone else. No one else existed yet. There would be no language to speak with. I will reiterate here that by language I am not only referring to audible, spoken or written formal languages, but anything a being can use to mentally represent a thing or idea. Dogs do not possess a formal language, for instance, but they can understand that what they see or hear can represent objects or ideas. Anyone who has ever grabbed a leash and watched their dog go nuts with excitement can attest to that just as well as Pavlov could. Remember, language describes things and no things yet exist in this scenario. Could a being then think in this scenario? What would He think about if nothing exists? How could language exist if there were nothing to describe and why would one exist with no-one to listen to your description? Without matter there would be no language. Nouns exist to identify people, places and things. But no people, places or things exist in this scenario. Verbs exist to describe actions. But what action can occur when nothing can be done? Without matter there can be no language and without language there can be no thought. Without thought there can be no intelligent beings. Some people assert that matter could not have come into existence without some intelligent being to create it. But the reality is that no intelligence could exist without matter.
There are some minimum requirements for thought to occur and for intelligence to exist. There must at a minimum be a thinker and a subject. I would argue that context is required as well, but at a minimum there must be a thinker and something to think about. In this scenario where God alone exists, what subject is there to think about?
Intelligence, according to Wikipedia, is the ability to perceive and/or retain knowledge or information and apply it to itself or other instances of knowledge or information creating referable understanding models of any size, density, or complexity, due to any conscious or subconscious imposed will or instruction to do so. How could a being posses any intelligence or knowledge if nothing exists? What can one perceive, retain or apply?
Some would say God could think about Himself since He existed. What would He think about Himself? That He is mighty? What does might mean when you are the only being that exists? Mighty compared to whom? Mighty by what standard? God could have done exactly nothing for all of eternity past. After all, what can there possibly be to do if nothing exists and how could a being who had never done anything be described as mighty? Could He consider Himself holy? Again, by what standard? Because He hadn’t sinned? Tell me what sin can be committed when nothing and no-one exists but you? He couldn’t lie or steal or kill or covet. Holiness is meaningless without context because no sin could be committed. Every description of God would have to be made in the context of something else and if there was nothing else then there wasn’t even a sufficient context for a God to think about Himself.
The knee-jerk reaction of most theists is to claim that I am describing the framework with which human beings think and then projecting that onto God who is not bound by such a framework. Our feeble human minds simply cannot approach an understanding of a mind like God’s they would say. But most human minds are fully capable of understanding straightforward logic and that is what I am presenting here. Intelligence requires thought. All thought requires a subject, something to describe and a means for communicating that description. Therefore, intelligence cannot exist without matter. So when someone says that we simply cannot understand how God was capable of thought before the existence of matter because we cannot understand how God’s mind works, what they are really saying is that the idea that any being could be capable of thought before the existence of matter is illogical. I would agree with that. It is completely illogical.
“Hold on!” says the theist. “In addition to being eternal, God is omniscient. God knows everything and He always has. So God never needed sensory input to learn about anything. And since God knows the future, all subjects and languages were available to him to think with. Since God is not bound by time he has always been aware of everything that would eventually exist.” On the surface this appears to be a convenient way out of this hole. However, all it does is demonstrate the lack of thought people really put into the idea of God’s existence. Their first premise is that the existence of the universe is dependent upon the prior existence of an intelligent God. The second premise is that this Gods prior intelligence is dependent upon the subsequent existence of the universe. This is classic circular reasoning. It also leads to other paradoxical problems for the God of the Bible.
When my son was about six years old he was watching a Batman cartoon on television. Whenever Batman got into a bind he would retrieve some gadget concealed in his belt that would allow him to do something he otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. After watching him pull several bulky gadgets out of his thin belt my son remarked that “Batman couldn’t really keep that much stuff in that tiny little belt.” Even at his age he recognized that it just wasn’t possible for all of those items to exist in the same belt. But to advance the plot, the cartoon’s writers kept on imagining more gadgets in Batman’s belt. When monotheists first began describing a single deity to replace the myriad Gods people used to worship, they did the same thing. They kept adding attributes that they thought would ensure that their deity was the greatest deity ever conceived. They made him eternal. After all, if God is to be an acceptable explanation for the existence of the universe, He had to exist before the universe. And of course people would ask who created God, so He had to be uncreated and eternal or people would assume that God’s creator was greater than God Himself. Then they added omnipotence and omniscience. He was all-powerful and all-knowing. But they assert that God was creative; that He designed everything that now exists. The problem is that attributes like creativity and eternal omniscience are contradictory. They cannot exist in the same entity.
If God knew everything and always had for all of eternity, then God could have never had an original thought. My former pastor once asked “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God?” I don’t think he understood the significance of that question when he asked it. Despite what the Discovery Institute, the self-proclaimed leading proponent of intelligent design, would have you believe, a God who has always known everything can’t be credited with designing anything. Everything would have always existed, at least conceptually, in the mind of God for all of eternity past.
I could take raw materials and produce a coffee cup. I could decide what size and color I wanted and what shape the handle would be and I could then use raw materials to make it. But I could not take credit for designing “the coffee cup” because I already have prior knowledge of what a coffee cup is and what it does. I can’t claim the concept as my own original idea because the concept already exists and I knew that. My prior knowledge of coffee cups prevents me from taking credit for the idea. Likewise, if everything always existed in the mind of God, at what point could it be said that God designed anything? For God to take credit for designing something, for creating the concept of something, there would have had to be a point at which that concept did not exist. For an omniscient, eternal God there would have never been a time when the “design” for everything didn’t already exist and God wasn’t already aware of it.
Creativity and eternal omniscience do not mix to make a greater God. They tie His hands and limit His ability to create. They reduce Him to, at best, a kind of information storage system for the future universe, a sort of hard drive to which nothing can be added. God would have been bound to create everything a certain way, that is, He could not create anything differently than His prior knowledge allowed. If He wanted to create something differently than it currently is, then He would have known that for all of eternity past and the current design would have never existed. He would be locked in by His prior knowledge. That does not describe a thinking, creative God. A being who has always known everything cannot consider evidence and make a decision, change His mind or create anything new. Again, what is there for a being like that to think about? Everything would have already been designed, conceived, decided and planned for all of eternity past. Just picture this deity, alone in nothingness, incapable of thought, incapable of learning, incapable of creativity, powerless to change the way things will be without compromising His prior knowledge of how things will be, waiting for all of eternity past to materialize the universe exactly the way it always existed conceptually. Absurd isn’t it?
There is no God. God is a square circle. The existence of matter is not dependant upon the existence of some intelligent designer. The existence of intelligence is dependant upon the existence of matter. Throwing attributes like omniscience at a deity doesn’t resolve the issue. It only creates different and equally disturbing contradictions. Claiming that God is omnipotent doesn’t resolve the issue. Omnipotence itself is a term full of contradiction. Can a single entity have the power to be completely black all the time and completely white all the time? No. Grey is neither black nor white and any combination of black and white would be neither completely black nor completely white. Likewise, a single entity cannot be a thinking, designing, decisive being and be concurrently aware of how everything will ultimately be. His prior knowledge means every thought has already occurred, every design is already completed and every decision has already been made.
So why do so many people believe the notion that the universe must have had a creator? It’s the result of limited observation coupled with a lack of thinking things through. Almost anything that surrounds us in our homes or at work can be traced back to its raw material constituents. Somewhere along the way a person was usually responsible for taking those raw materials and creating something with them. Evangelist Ray Comfort uses this observation to argue that there must be a God who created the universe. He proposes that the existence of a painting is evidence of a painter, the existence of a building is evidence of a builder and the existence of a Coke can is evidence of a Coke can maker. Likewise, he argues, the existence of the universe is evidence of a creator.
Comfort’s argument is a rehash of the watch maker analogy which goes like this: Suppose you are walking down the beach and you find, among the shells and starfish and sand dollars, a watch. The watch has a face with numbers and hands on it and when you wind it up it tells time. You know that the existence of this watch requires the existence of a watch maker because the watch exhibits characteristics of design. Its parts fit together to form a functioning machine. The machine performs a specific task of telling time. Like the painting, the building and the Coke can, the existence of the watch is evidence of someone who created it. But here is where Comfort gets it wrong. He tries to apply the same logic to things like organisms and planets and stars without thinking it through.
We know the watch is designed because its parts do not appear in this form in nature and there is no mechanism for assembling those parts. This simple, two part test goes a long way toward debunking creationists arguments. For instance, the band is made of leather which occurs in nature, but doesn’t fall of the cow in the shape of a watch band. Cotton grows naturally, but there is no mechanism that causes it to form thread and weave itself around the edges of the leather to bind the watch band together. Gold does not come out of the ground in the shape of tiny numbers from 1 to 12 and there is no natural mechanism for ordering them around the face of the watch. Tiny gears are not mined in that configuration and there is no natural mechanism that explains how those gears could be assembled in a configuration that allows them to form a functioning time piece. If you put all of the pieces of a watch in a box and shook it up or applied heat, it would not assemble itself.
The same problem exists for the painting, the building and the Coke can. Canvas does not grow weaved into a pattern and stretch itself around a wood frame. Framing lumber must be milled and sheetrock must be manufactured. Houses are not assembled by some natural attraction of nails to lumber or shingles to roofs. Comfort is correct that the existence of all of these things is evidence of someone who created them. However, his argument falls apart when he tries to claim the same thing for the rest of the universe.
The universe around us and all of its inhabitants are made of atoms. There are several natural mechanisms that bond atoms together to form molecules and bond molecules to one another. There is covalent bonding, ionic bonding, polar bonding and hydrogen bonding to name a few. These atoms are found in nature in their free form and bonded together in various molecular forms. No assembly is required for atoms to form molecules. They form spontaneously because they are attracted to each other by electrical charges. Structures like stars and planets can be explained as the result of natural mechanisms working on materials found in their natural state. Organisms are produced with time and countless repetitions of basic chemical reactions. Organisms are not designed to be a certain way. They are that way because the environment has rewarded some arrangements of molecules with survival and punished others with extinction. No matter how complex an organism, a planet or a star appears, if their existence can be explained by materials in their natural state being assembled by natural mechanisms, then their existence is not evidence of a creator.
There are many variations on the failed watchmaker analogy. Most center on substituting forces at work in nature with chance. I recall one about an explosion in a junkyard producing a working aircraft and another about an explosion in a print shop producing a dictionary. They all fail for the same reason. While the necessary parts for an aircraft may exist in a junkyard, they are not in the needed form and there is no mechanism for assembling them. It would be by sheer chance that an aircraft resulted from that explosion. Wings are not naturally attracted to a fuselage the way molecules are attracted to one another. In the print shop, ink is not attracted to paper and paper is not blown into page sized pieces assembled in a particular order etc. But forces like covalent bonding and polar bonding do bring atoms and molecules together to form specific structures. They are not brought together by chance, but by natural forces at work. Over the long term, natural selection can reward certain configurations of molecules and punish others and incredibly complex, functional structures can emerge without any designer or builder involved. Equating that process to chance is disingenuous and certainly not an argument for a creator.
Some would argue here that while I may have a point about the God of the Bible not existing, the narrow definitions of God given in the Bible wouldn’t necessarily apply to any and all concepts of what a creator could be. What about god as a mysterious force or causal agent? I agree that this idea of a god is not well defined enough to rule out with the arguments above, but I would point out that nobody I know worships such an abstract god. What about the god or gods of some other religion or some god who is unknown to mankind? Why couldn’t that kind of god exist? Well for starters, any god who is described as a thinking creator of all matter would fall under the same constraints mentioned above. Thinking beings are dependant on matter. There could not exist some disembodied mind prior to everything else. But what if god was the very forces of ionic bonding and polar attraction? What if god is the glue that holds nature together? What if god was simply some causal force that set the universe in motion? In that case god is simply reduced to a part of nature which we might know and understand by other terms. Calling the wind god doesn’t prove the existence of god. It is simply the application of a term for something that doesn’t exist to something that does exist. This would certainly not be what most people mean when they use the word god to describe a thoughtful being.