Why God does not exist Peter Simons given at the Literary and Historical Society University College Dublin 14 October 2009 Before arguing for the nonexistence of God let me say what kind of God I am denying. It is a God as broadly conceived in the Mosaic monotheistic tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as supreme being. This God has two chief characteristics: supreme power and supreme goodness. As powerful, God is the agency responsible for creating and/or sustaining the world. As good, God is the source and supreme exemplar of positive value or goodness. It follows that as a good creator God takes a parental or caring interest in its creations, especially those like ourselves that also have a sense of good and evil. God is therefore worthy of our reverence, worship, and love. I shall argue that there are no good reasons to believe in a creator God, and that we have excellent reasons to disbelieve in a good and caring God. My arguments are not original. There are no good arguments for the existence of God. Such arguments fall into three broad kinds: ontological, cosmological, and design arguments. Ontological arguments try to show God’s existence follows from God’s definition or essence. The most famous are due to Anselm of Canterbury, René Descartes, and
more recently the mathematician Kurt Gödel. None succeeds, and since the time of Hume and Kant we know why: because existence is not a perfection or property like circularity or friendliness. Cosmological arguments start from the true premise that something exists and attempt to show this entails the existence of a supreme being. Thomas Aquinas had five such arguments, and they are all flawed. The best cosmological argument is due to the Bohemian polymath Bernard Bolzano, who in 1834 argued that if anything exists then an unconditioned being exists. With minor repairs his argument is sound. But it does not follow that an unconditioned being is God: it might be the cosmos, or some smaller substance. Having a creator ground the cosmos raises the question as to what grounds the creator. If nothing does, why cannot the cosmos be ungrounded. If the creator is self-grounding, why cannot the cosmos also be, and if something else grounds the creator, what grounds this, and so on. Design arguments say that features of the world show it must have been intentionally designed and created by an outside agency. Most such arguments have been conclusively undermined by the theory of evolution. A modern one argues that the fundamental constants of nature are so delicately balanced to allow stable matter and life to evolve that they must have been set that way by a designer–creator. Many cosmologists counter this by supposing other values of the parameters to exist in other universes of a so-called multiverse, most of them leading to brief or uninteresting cosmoi. There is obviously more to be discovered about the universe before we can make a final decision about this version of the design argument.
The principal argument against a good and caring God is the manifest existence and abundance of undeserved suffering and injustice, the argument from evil. It has rightly worried theologians for millennia. Every second millions of creatures are suffering hellish torments of pain, disease, hunger, terror, loss, and excruciating death. The sheer amount of suffering surpasses our comprehension, and it cannot be the mere absence of good, as Augustine thought: it is something palpably existent. People innocent of any wrongdoing go hungry and thirsty, are tortured, raped, abused, murdered, suffer disease, injury and death, are maimed in accidents, and battered by wars and natural disasters. Murderers, rapists, drug dealers, dictators and other evildoers escape justice to live in luxury and die in bed. Many believers therefore embrace an afterlife in which such manifest injustices are rectified by God. Sadly we have no positive evidence for such an afterlife. The standard reason offered for such suffering is the wickedness of humans who freely choose sin. But even supposing we knew what counts as sinful, which I doubt, the wickedness of sinners can in no way suffice to explain the massive undeserved suffering of innocents, in accidents, epidemics, wars, natural disasters and the like. Every case of undeserved suffering bears witness to the nonexistence of an all-powerful, all caring God. At best we have a being with good intentions but limited powers, or a God who is indifferent or cruel. Like any bully, crime boss or dictator, such a God may inspire fear, but can command neither reverence, nor worship, nor love.
Taken together with the absence of positive proof I conclude that the existence of gratuitous evil makes it rationally compelling to hold that there is no God.