Last Updated on 2022-01-19 by Joop Beris
It is often said that it is impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist. After all, you can’t prove a negative, right? I think that both those statements aren’t necessarily true. I think it is possible to prove that God doesn’t exist (depending on how you define “God” ) and that it is possible to prove a negative. I’ll explain both below and give you 9 logical reasons why there is no God.
Be sure to also read this article, in which I defend myself against a refutation to this article!
Proving the negative
Let’s start with whether or not it is possible to prove a negative. Religious people, when confronted with a discussion, will often claim that no matter what you do, you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. But is that really true? A little excursion into logic will give us the answer.
The Law of Non-Contradiction
Proving a negative is a foundation of logic. I’ve discussed the Law of Non-Contradiction here before. This is a fundamental law of logic which simply states that two contradicting statements can’t be true at the same time. That itself is a negative statement which we can prove. An object can’t be moving and stationary at the same time. A light can’t be on and off at the same time. Both are examples of negative statements which we can show to be true by simple experiment.
It is also important to be clear about what it means to prove something. The definition of to prove is:
to establish the truth or genuineness of, as by evidence or argumentDictionary.com
We would do well to remember that except for mathematics, you can rarely prove something with 100% certainty. Especially in science, things are never definitively proven. Science will always have an open mind for better explanations and increased understanding. Most people know that vaccines work and that the Earth isn’t flat but there’s still people who doubt those things. Does this mean that the effectiveness of vaccines hasn’t been proven? Does this mean that we don’t know the shape of the Earth? No, they’ve been established to such a degree that reasonable people will accept them as proven.
Evidence of absence
Another way to prove a negative is to show that there is no evidence of something when you’d expect there to be some. People will say that absence of evidence isn’t the same as evidence of absence but this famous saying doesn’t always work. When you’d expect to find evidence of something and yet that evidence isn’t there, you can assume that absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence.
Say that there is a small box in the middle of the road. Someone comes up to you and mentions that there is a bomb in the box. You have no evidence that there is a bomb in the box (absence of evidence). Does that mean there isn’t a bomb in the box? No, not in this case. The person could be correct and the box may contain a bomb.
If there is indeed a bomb in the box, you’d expect to find some evidence. For instance, the box would be somewhat heavy. Also, a dog trained to sniff out explosives may be able to smell the bomb. The bomb may set off a metal detector if it contains metallic components. It would show up on an X-ray.
Let’s assume for argument’s sake that you carry out the above experiments. The dog smells nothing. A metal detector detects nothing. The X-ray machine shows an empty box. And when you carefully pick up the box, it feels about as heavy as an empty box should feel. You still have no evidence there is a bomb in the box (absence of evidence) but does this mean there isn’t a bomb? Yes, at this point you may safely conclude that the person is wrong and the box is empty. You checked for evidence that should be there but isn’t. In such a case, absence of evidence does mean evidence of absence.
There are more ways to prove a negative. For more information about the logical basis for proving negative statements, here’s a comprehensive article on Fact or Myth. I think I have established by now that proving a negative isn’t just possible, it’s actually very doable.
One of the problems we do have with disproving God is not so much that proving a negative is impossible. It’s actually that we don’t quite know what it is we are disproving. There’s no clear definition of the word God. To some, God is an impersonal force, to others God is a magical anthropomorphic immortal. This makes it difficult to know what we should be disproving.
For the sake of argument, I will be using characteristics that theologians of the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) typically ascribe to God. These are:
While this isn’t a proper definition, it gives us enough of a target to aim at. With that out of the way, let’s examine 9 logical reasons why there is no God.
9 logical reasons why there is no God
1. Contradictions between the major religions
There are several contradictions between the major religions that make them incompatible with one another. It’s beyond the scope of this article to do a comparative analysis of the worlds major religions but to name but a few:
- Christianity says that Jesus is God incarnate, a claim which Judaism and Islam do not accept. In Judaism, Jesus is a false prophet, in Islam he’s a prophet but not the final one.
- Islam teaches that the prophet Muhammad provided the world with God’s final revelation, which neither Judaism or Christianity accept.
- Judaism believes that God chose the Jews to be his chosen people. Both Christianity and Islam are more open to others.
There are many more contradictions and incompatibilities between the major religions, not to mention within them. Christianity alone has more than a hundred denominations, all with slightly different ideas and interpretations.
It should make one wonder that if there really is a single omniscient, omnipotent and especially omnipresent deity, how come the world’s religions aren’t more compatible, telling the same story overall? Why don’t we all believe in the same god? The major religions can’t all be true, they are too incompatible. However, logically they could all be false.
2. God isn’t the same to all
I’ve touched upon this above, in the paragraph about defining God. If there is a single omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God, how come “God” means something different to so many believers? Consider for instance the idea of the Trinity entertained by Christians, where God is both three and one at the same time. This notion is rejected by Islam, which holds that Allah is one, a whole. Judaism also does not have this idea of a divided yet whole deity.
In Islam, Allah is considered to be unlike any other being. In Christianity, God is thought to have taken the form of a human (Jesus), born and dying on Earth with the rest of humanity.
There is also the notion of deism, where there is a god but only as a transcendent being. The god of deism is not a person, doesn’t answer prayers and doesn’t interfere in the universe. And what to think of pantheism, where God is the universe (all that exists) and the universe is God?
So to some, God is a personal figure (or several in one) who you can speak to and who interferes in the universe, to others God is an impersonal force who perhaps began the universe and to others still, God is synonymous with the universe. Clearly, these different understandings of God are incompatible with each other. We may argue that this is due to the limitations of our brain and we simply can’t understand God at all and that is why there are such different views. But it can also mean that only one interpretation is correct or we have simply made up the gods that suit us. However, if one of these interpretation is correct, how do figure which one is?
3. Creation isn’t perfect
If the universe was indeed created by an omniscient, omnipotent and especially omnibenevolent deity, I think we could expect it to look somewhat different. Such a creator would logically create perfect beings, or at least beings that were optimally designed for their purpose and be without obvious flaws. That is not the situation we find in the world. We find evidence of sub-optimal design everywhere. So either those things were not designed by God or the God who designed them, was not omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.
Things that can be interpreted as bad design are for instance wings which are present on flightless birds, reducing the number of useful limbs from 4 to 2. Bats have dense bones which are poorly suited for flight. Speaking of bats, bats, moles, whales, dogs and humans share basically the same bones in the forelimbs. This makes perfect sense if you assume these animals have a shared ancestor but much less so if you think there forelimbs were designed. Boa constrictors and pythons have small, vestigial legs that serve no apparent purpose. Or what to think of the Indonesian Babirusa pig that has tusks which can grow to such a length that they pierce the skull of their owner?
Or consider our own species, where the large head of a baby has to pass through a very narrow birth canal, our inability to produce vitamin C while we depend on it for survival (most other mammals can) or the presence of congenital diseases and cancers? How about our jaws which are now too small to house all our teeth?
There are literally hundreds of similar examples I could mention here but if you are interested, you may look these up for yourselves.
Cruelty of nature
As Charles Darwin himself wrote: “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature!” Nature is often horribly cruel and harsh. The struggle for survival is brutal and even a small mistake or imperfection can lead to a swift death. A wildebeest calf just days old being killed by hyenas, cats playing with their terrified prey before finally killing it or parasitic infections like roundworm or the Loa Loa eye worm, don’t speak for a benevolent creator.
I know that interpreting the actions of animals as cruel is looking at them through a human lens. Round worms aren’t cruel themselves, they are simply trying to survive as is the rest of nature. However, it is pretty certain that an omnibenevolent creator would not create things that cause such suffering while trying to survive. Such a creator would not create animals or plants that can only survive through the suffering and death of other beings. The fact that there are creatures like that in abundance, means that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator is highly unlikely.
Apart from apparent poor design and the harsh existence of creatures in nature, natural disasters occur with often devastating effects. Earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires cost the lives of countless plants, animals and people. How this is to be reconciled with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator is unknown. Either you have a God who causes these events for mysterious reasons, a God who allows these events to happen but doesn’t intervene or there is no omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator looking out for us.
None of above, the apparent bad design, the cruelty and harshness of nature or the devastation of natural disasters are a mystery in a universe without such a creator. We don’t need to ask difficult questions about why a benevolent God allows bone cancer in small children, allows someone to go blind due to a Loa Loa eye worm or allows someone to drown in a flood. In a natural universe, such events don’t require mental gymnastics but they can be adequately explained as natural phenomena.
4. God exists before/outside the universe
Most religious people believe that their God is responsible for the creation of the universe. This poses several logical problems for us. For one, when we say universe, we typically mean “everything that exists“. If a god created the universe, which is the set of all that exists, that must mean that this god can not be part of the universe, not part of the set “all that exists”. Logically therefore, this god does not exist. That’s not the conclusion that religious people want to draw.
To get around this problem, Thomas Aquinas postulated that God is both transcendent and immanent. God transcends the universe but he can manifest inside the universe as well. The mechanism of how this could work is unknown. However, even if we assume that this is true for a second, the problems don’t stop there.
If this hypothetical god exists as a transcendent being, outside of space and time, outside of our universe, how do we distinguish this state from not existing at all? There is nothing known to us that has such qualities and nothing that would allow us to find such things either. It’s difficult to imagine how a being so vastly removed from our reality could be the one causing our universe to exist, to actively create it even. Causality only makes sense in the framework of space-time. An action provokes a reaction, cause and effect. You can only have a cause with an effect if there is a spatial and temporal connection between the two.
Time is part of our universe (the set of all that exists). If so, then before there was a universe, there was no passage of time. With no passage of time, nothing can happen because for something to happen time has to pass. If this is so, that means that the hypothetical god outside of our universe is stuck. Without the passage of time, this god is impotent. How is this god going to make a decision to create a universe, let alone create one? To make a decision, you require the passage of time. There has to be a moment before the decision is made, a moment for making the decision and a moment to put the decision into action. Without time, these moments can not occur.
It’s clear that we have many logical problems with a transcendent god being the cause and creator of our universe. A transcendent creator seems a logical impossibility.
5. The problem of evil
The problem of evil directly relates to the characteristics of God as I have listed them above. It may be summarized briefly as “If a good and all-powerful God exists, why is there evil in the world?” All three monotheistic religions hold to the idea of God being omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. This problem is called the Epicurean paradox, after the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, who is often credited for formulating this conundrum first.
There is no easy way out of this paradox if you hold to the premise that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. There have been several answers by apologists but to me, they fail to address the problem. They essentially boil down to “God allows evil for reasons we are too limited to understand” or “the evil in the world is not Gods’ fault” but both of these seem insufficient explanations. If you are an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, everything is essentially your fault or your responsibility.
There’s only one explanation that is at least partly successful and that is the “free will” explanation. God wants us to have free will, which means we have the potential to do evil things. Even this only partially gets around the problem. If we have free will, an omnipotent and benevolent god would find ways to at least lessen the enormous suffering and death in the wars and genocides of the 20th century. Would such a god allow all the earthquakes, tsunami and hurricanes with all the suffering they cause? It’s still hard to reconcile the seeming indifference of the heavens with the characteristics of the god we described earlier.
6. There is no proof for the existence of God
Somewhere in the 16th century, something wonderful happened. There is no specific date to pinpoint but this century saw some of the biggest changes in the field of thought the world had ever seen. It was the start of a new era we now call the Age of Enlightenment. For the first time in over a thousand years, humanity began to value reason over faith. The catalyst for this new era was what we call “the Scientific Revolution“, a series of events that saw the birth of modern science. Fueled by the rediscovery of the works of ancient Greece, scientists changed the way they worked. They started to use observation and experiment, empiricism and reason. Armed with these tools, they developed the Scientific Method as a way to gain knowledge and figure out how the natural world works.
Our modern understanding of the world comes from the work of these pioneers. Wherever they explored, they found natural explanations for the way the world worked. The motion of the heavens, the tides of the sea and the workings of electricity could all be understood by natural means. Suddenly, it was no longer God who made the lightning strike or who made the planets move. These were natural forces that could be understood and predicted.
Less room for a god
This has been the story ever since. As our knowledge expanded, the need for supernatural explanations became less. By contrast, the opposite has never happened. There has never been a field of research where we once had a natural explanation but where we now prefer a supernatural explanation. We need God less and less and with theories like that of Lawrence Krauss, His involvement in the creation of the universe may have been ruled out as well. Invoking God for things we do not understand, is simply a God of the gaps argument. And the gaps are getting ever smaller.
If the universe was the product of divine creation, the result of some miraculous event, could we expect to make sense of it? Would the way the universe worked not exceed our limited mind? Granted, there are things we do not understand. We don’t know how life began, we don’t know the nature of dark matter or dark energy. On the other hand, we have absolutely no indication or valid reason to assume that there are supernatural processes at work.
7. Our knowledge of God isn’t improving
From as far back as we have writing that we’ve been able to read, we see evidence of humanity trying to understand the divine. Theology, the study of the divine, is an academic subject in which people can obtain a degree. Despite thousands of years of effort on the part of theologians, our understanding of the divine and of God has not improved. We are still guessing about Gods motives and his (or her?) nature. To my knowledge theology is the only academic subject where the existence of the subject is assumed rather than established.
If however there really was a God who is omnipresent and who wishes us to know about Him, why has our understanding of this God not improved over time? Why are we still none the wiser about Gods motives? Ever since humanity applied the scientific method to the subject we wish to study, our understanding of it has grown. We now know more than ever before about geography, cosmology, sociology or history. Perhaps that’s because these academic subjects actually exist and don’t have to be assumed to exist.
8. The vastness of the universe
When the holy books of the three major monotheistic religions were written, humanity understood little about the universe and our place in it. To them, the Earth was a great disc, with a heaven above and an underworld below. The sun, moon and stars were simply lights set in the sky. Even to Islam, the youngest of the three, the Earth is flat. In a cosmology so simple, it’s not surprising that the God who created it all, took an interest in the affairs of humans on the great disc-shaped world that He created. It was after all the centrepiece of creation.
The universe is vastly larger than previously thought
However, if we fast forward to today, things are very different. Our understanding of the universe and our place in it has grown a lot and this vastly diminishes the significance of planet Earth and of humanity in the grand scale of things. We now know that our Sun is not a light in the sky but a star. This star is part of our galaxy, which in turn is part of a cluster of “local” galaxies. It is estimated that our galaxy alone may hold as many as 100 billion stars.
We don’t know how many galaxies there are in the observable universe but a conservative estimate would place the number at 10 trillion galaxies. At 100 billion stars per galaxy, that would put the total number of stars in the observable universe at 1.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.000, or a quadrillion stars! Even if not all of these stars have planets, the number of existing planets is even higher than that!
That seems like an awful lot of wasted space for a God to create if all that mattered was us here on planet Earth. Considering the vastness of space, it seems much more logical to conclude there never was a god who created it all for us, with our best interests at heart.
9. Logical problems with the attributes of God
There are logical problems with the attributes of God as well. As you’ll remember, the attributes mostly attributed to God by the three major monotheistic religions are:
The first and mostly minor objection is that some of these attributes are superfluous. For instance, omnipotence actually includes omnipresence. An omnipotent being would be able to be everywhere at the same time. The same can be said for omniscience. So really, the only attributes we would need, are omnipotence and omnibenevolence.
Problems with omniscience
Another problem with these attributes is perhaps more serious. They appear to be logically inconsistent. Take for instance the attribute omniscience. This is usually thought to mean that God knows everything. If God knows everything, that means that he also knows what happens in the future. If that is true, that means that the future is fixed and unchangeable. Not only does this mean that we humans are unable to make our own choices, it also means that God himself can not make his own choices or at least not change the choices he’s going to make.
There are more problems with omniscience. Certain knowledge can only be obtained by experience. For instance, you can only find out what it feels like to commit an evil act by actually committing an evil act. An omnibenevolent god is unable to commit evil acts so by definition, this God would not know what it feels like to commit evil and so can not be omniscient.
Problems with omnipotence
That brings us neatly to omnipotence. If God is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent, is it possible for this God to commit an evil act? If yes, he is not omnibenevolent but if no, he can not be omnipotent. This is similar to the Stone Paradox, where we ask the question “can God create a stone that is so heavy that he can not lift it?” Whatever your answer to this question is, it will mean that there is something God can not do, effectively proving that omnipotence is not possible, at least not any more when you ask this question.
The problems with omnipotence don’t stop there. If we take it to mean that God can do everything he wants to, does that mean he can do the impossible? Can God create a light that is both on and off at the same time? Can he create a stationary moving object? Or can he make it so that 2 + 2 = 5? These are logical impossibilities but are they also impossible for an omnipotent God?
Problem with omnibenevolence
We’ve already touched upon the problems with omnibenevolence above, when speaking about the Problem of Evil. Why would a world created by an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God have so much pain, misery and suffering in it?
While these may appear to be simple questions, they have been a matter of debate for theologians and philosophers for centuries. There are no easy answers to the problems with divine omniscience, omnibenevolence and omnipotence. While on the face of it, it seems that a God would need to have all these traits in order to be God, in practice it appears that these traits are logically inconsistent and in some cases even in conflict with one another.
This concludes my 9 logical reasons why there is no God. I think I have successfully shown that it is possible to prove a negative. Have I also managed to successfully prove that the God of the major monotheistic religions doesn’t exist? Well, that depends on how you interpret the meaning of “prove” and how you define “God”. Did I prove beyond a doubt that a god of some sort doesn’t exist? No, I don’t think I have. However, looking at the logical problems regarding the attributes typically associated with the God of the three major monotheisms, I think that a reasonable person would be justified in concluding that this particular God does not exist, at least not in the way He is generally believed to be. I think that conclusion to be just as solid as the conclusion that unicorns, pixies and Santa Claus don’t exist.
What do you think? Do you agree with my 9 logical reasons why God does not exist? If no, why not? Kindly leave a comment below.