'Atheism' - Science and Philosophy of God's Nonexistence
The existence of a God has often been widely debated. As a nonbeliever of any Supreme Being or creator God, I will attempt to bring the scientific evidence against the possibility of a God or transcendental form of consciousness beyond the limits of neurological processes. Do note that this post is only a brief summary.
Before I begin discussing about the various evidences for the nonexistence of God, I will first discuss about the fundamental philosophy regarding the debate. First of all, the existence or nonexistence of a God cannot be proven. If a God does not exist, then obviously its nonexistence can never be proven. As an analogy, if I say that there is a Chinese teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars (Russel's teapot), can anyone disprove me? Of course not. Likewise, no one can prove if it exists. Of course, we know that it does not exist because nothing proves its existence. On the other hand, if a God exists, we can never prove it unless the God decides to show itself to the world. Despite this impossibility of proving or disproving God, it is still possible to provide evidence for and against each side to add to the argument. Like the Chinese teapot analogy, an absence of empirical observation would mean that its nonexistence would be accepted unless proved otherwise.
However, the important thing to note at this juncture is that the debate revolves around evidence that shows how probable or improbable God’s existence is. It is in this post that I will give evidence for the latter in the form of scientific evidence and logical reasoning.
Part 1: The Origin of the Universe
One of the most important arguments put up by theists is the concept of the first mover, or primum movens. The idea is based on the axiom of causality which would logically indicate that a set of causes for the universe’s existence would extend to infinity, which is impossible. In order to solve the problem, theists would invoke the idea of a God. This idea is augmented by the law of conservation of energy, which states that energy in a closed system can never be created nor destroyed.
However, an important philosophical argument would render this concept false. Since the laws of physics, as well as the axiom of causality, was created at the time of the big bang, it is perfectly possible for energy to be created out of nothing and spontaneous creation to take place without the need for physical laws to be fulfilled. It is the nonexistence of causality and physical laws before the big bang that permits spontaneous creation to occur. Presently, it is thought that a hyperspace exists to allow such spontaneous creation of an infinite number of Universes. I will discuss this in more detail later on.
Part 2: The complexity of the Universe
For most people, space is simply the black sky that hovers over their heads every night. In the past century, however, the magnificence of our universe has started to reveal itself to science. To put things into perspective, the observable universe is calculated to be 93 billion light years across (one light year is equivalent to 9.46 trillion kilometres), with the Earth being at the centre (since the calculation of the horizon is based on Earth’s perspective). In the observable universe, there are approximately 8 quintillion stars, with the sun being just one of many. I derived this number from the calculation of the number of galaxies observed by the Hubble ultra deep field, multiplying that value to the area of the night sky, and multiplying that number to the number of stars in one galaxy. This is a staggering number indeed, and it shows that Earth, being only a tiny speck of dust in the great cosmic depths, is not as special as it was once thought to be.
The universe has a beautiful set of physical laws in terms of mathematical aesthetics. Equations are always symmetrical in terms of the values on both sides, the golden ratio is found naturally in organic life, and the precise arbitrary constants of the standard model allow the existence of stable matter for life to exist. I have realised that many theists enjoy using the complexity of the universe as evidence for intelligent design. Of course, all becomes clear when the anthropic principle is understood.
First of all, the laws of the universe are undoubtedly perfect for life to form. Should the mass of the proton change by a tiny fraction, stable matter would not exist. The Earth has a perfect atmosphere and temperature for life to evolve, and the laws of physics and chemistry drives evolution in a positive direction. However, this apparent coincidence is actually based on a sort of observation-selection bias. If the conditions of the universe (and Earth) were not perfect, there is absolutely no way that life could exist. If life did not exist, we wouldn’t even be here to ponder about our existence. In today, modern physics has begun to unravel a world that is much stranger than we thought. Most scientists now believe that there is more than just the three dimensions we know today. In total, eleven dimensions are thought to exist, with only the limits of sensory perception limited to the familiar three causing the illusion that higher dimensions do not exist. With this, it is also thought that an infinite number of parallel universes exist alongside ours; each with a different set of physical laws that determine how the universe works. Using the anthropic principle, we would then realise that only habitable universes can contain life. Since life is indeed formed upon rare chance, we would assume most universes to be devoid of life, or even stars. Likewise, it is only through habitable conditions of Earth that life could exist here.
Another argument related to the anthropic principle on a planetary scale is the low probability of abiogenesis. According to creationist statistics, the probability of a protein molecule forming by itself is less than that of a hurricane sweeping through a metal scrap yard and assembling a working Boeing 747 (Hoyle’s fallacy). However, when we look at the staggering number of stars in the universe, it is obvious that this probability is overcome easily. Furthermore, the 15 billion-year old universe would have provided sufficient time for this to occur. Most importantly, however, the autosynthesis of liposomes and microspheres (membrane-bound RNA, believed to the earliest form of life on Earth) has been performed in the laboratory. This shows that the probability calculated by the creationists is not accurate in the first place.
Another argument that is often put up by theists is the apparent beauty of nature. To them, the grandeur of the sunset and breathtaking views of Earth from atop a mountain is due to the work of intelligent design. However, what they fail to take into account is the fact that our brains are adapted to the Earth and universe that we inhabit after four billion years of constant evolution. As an analogy, us humans would often feel repulsed at the sight of a female cockroach. To a male cockroach, however, the structure of a female cockroach is perfectly and beautifully designed. This was a requirement for reproduction and their survival as a species. The most important thing about this analogy, however, is that it shows how beauty is only the result of adapted psychology. This means that the mathematical and aesthetic beauty of the universe is the byproduct of evolution and not a creator. This brings me to my next point on evolution.
Part 3: Evolution
The theory of evolution is often one of the most widely-debated topics as it directly challenges the claims made by the Christian genesis. Although evolution is described as a ‘theory’, it has as much doubt in biology as quantum physics had in physics. This is important to note as many creationists argue that evolution is ‘only a theory’. By their definition, atomic theory and the theory of relativity would be only theories. As an analogy of scientific theories and facts, the constant rising of the sun in the East everyday is now established as a fact since all observational evidence proves it. If, however, the sun rises in the West one day, the theory would be proved wrong. The same goes for evolution: to date, all scientific data supports it. However, it is very susceptible to being disproven because a single evidence against it would render it untrue. In fact, the theory is supported by a massive amount of evidence which I will now put forward. At the same time, I will also clarify some of the misconceptions about evolution based on the people who argue against it.
First of all, what exactly is evolution? Evolution is actually the process whereby small changes in the form of genetic mutation occur along every generation that produces a substantial shift in genetic composition of an organism from its distant ancestors and is naturally selected due to its chances of survival. Evolution is a gradual process that occurs in every generation. While the genetic composition of the offspring is almost genetically identical to that of the parents, small changes in genes over hundreds or thousands of generations would eventually cause a significant change in the observed characteristics that differentiate the descendent species from the ancestral species. Traits that are beneficial for an organism’s survival is selected preferentially due to the fact that organisms with beneficial traits would survive better and hence be able to reproduce. Over time, constant sexual reproduction would cause beneficial genes to be spread across the entire population of a species, causing a shift in the genetic composition.
It is important to note that all organisms are transitional species between two others. Due to the fact that evolution is a gradual process, transitional fossils exist to show the smooth transition of one species to the next. In the case of humans, the chimpanzee-like australopithecines evolved to species with the genus homo, such as Homo erectus and Homo habilis right up to homo sapiens as shown by fossil evidence. Although many creationists maintain that evolution is false because humans evolved from monkeys, it is important to note that modern species do not evolve from modern species. Rather, humans and monkeys share a common ape-like ancestor. In fact, all organisms share a common ancestor with one another. The only difference is, the greater the difference in genetic composition, the more distant that common ancestor is.
Another important evidence for evolution, besides the transitional fossils, is the experimental observations of evolution occurring in the laboratory. Known as the Escherichia Coli Long term evolution experiment, twelve containers of the bacteria are allowed to grow in a nutrient broth of glucose and citric acid. Due to the rapid rate of reproduction, a small sample of the bacteria would be extracted from each container daily and allowed to reproduce to the original amount on the next day. The rest of the bacteria would be frozen for observational analysis. The experiment has been going on for over twenty years, and has recently reached the 50,000th generation early this year. The significance of this experiment is that the results showed ongoing evolution in all of the different containers. The bacteria in each different container would take a different evolutionary path due to random mutations. The results were indeed stunning. At first, the original bacteria sample could only thrive on glucose as the source of food. However, one sample suddenly managed to evolve and utilise the citric acid mixed with the glucose in the nutrient broth, resulting in a sudden surge in bacteria count for that particular flask. This shows that ongoing evolution can and has been observed, and the fact that it is done based on empirical methods would mean that evolution can be directly verified.
Intelligent design, besides having only a few arguments, has much evidence to disprove it. In human males, the vas deferens (the tube carrying semen from the testes) loops over the ureter before making its way down to the penis. This is unintelligent design as the looping of the vas deferens requires the wasting and channelling of more resources to the building of the extended tube. From an ecological perspective, this is a detriment to the survival of the organism as the resources used could be channelled to other areas that would have otherwise improved other aspects of survival. From an evolutionary point of view, however, all becomes clear. In our ancestors, the scrotum was located above the bladder. After millions of years of evolution, the location of the scrotum ‘moved’ downwards to its present position due to the benefits of having it exposed to the ambient air which is of a lower temperature. During this process, the vas deferens would have to loop over the ureter by that path.
Another evidence of unintelligent design is from the ecological perspective of a forest. In forests, and especially in tropical rainforests, trees compete for sunlight by growing taller than the other trees. Although resources are wasted to increase the tree’s height, the benefits of gaining more sunlight for photosynthesis outweighs the extra resources used. From the perspective of a single tree, this is a requirement for competition. From the perspective of the entire forest, however, large amounts of resources are wasted: if all the trees did not compete with one another, the resultant intensity of sunlight falling on the surface of the trees would still be the same. As an analogy, spectators from a concert might start to stand to get a better view of the performance. However, since their act of standing up would block the view of the people behind that person, the people sitting behind would thus stand up to prevent the person from blocking their view. Over time, everyone would be standing up and the result would still be the same. From an evolutionary point of view, the wastage of resources is due to the fact that evolution occurs on an individual basis and not as a whole.
Part 4: Morality
Many theists disregard the study of science as they think that it is the work of a devil. This is an extremely closed-minded thought. Good and evil do not exist: They are concepts created by us humans. Good usually refers to morally upright acts, or acts that seem ethical. There is no clear distinction between good and evil, as changing circumstances would change what defines both. Furthermore, behaviour is the result of both our psychology (i.e. greed, sex drive), and the living environment (e.g. bad childhood). All people are created with a somewhat similar psychology (with slight variation as a result of genetic mutation), but different living environment. Personality is determined by experiences and not the existence of a soul.
Yet, why do we stand up against injustice? The answer does not lie in a god, but with evolution once again. By feeling pity for another member of the same species, we are increasing our chances of survival. Of course, you might argue that animal-lovers are common and this would contradict evolution. However, evolution does have an explanation for it. It is known as reciprocal altruism (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours). Reciprocal altruism refers to the apparent non-selfish act involving first helping another organism at the expense of one’s own survival. This is evident in symbiotic relationships between species. Within a single species, each organism has ideal behavioural characteristics that lie somewhere in between all-greedy and all-giving. This ensures that while an organism would aid and cooperate with other members of the species, a form of selfishness must exist to ensure the survival of itself.
Evolution cares nothing for the comfort of any organism. The many wasps sting an insect prey as a host for reproduction. By strategically stinging the ganglia of the host prey, the prey would be paralysed, thereby enabling the wasp to inject its eggs into the body of the insect. Throughout this process, the host insect is kept alive, only paralysed. The larvae hatched from the eggs would then move on to devour the meat of the host insect while it is still alive. This is indeed a traumatising death for the host insect. Yet, this is important for the survival of the wasp as it ensures that the meat is kept fresh. This is a fact of evolution, and nature does not care whether the host insect suffers a traumatising death. Justice often fails to be done. That is a fact of life that has to be accepted. Morality is merely an illusion created by reciprocal altruism. Does this mean that the theory of evolution would cause chaos in society? Perhaps it will. Theists often use this argument that by accepting Darwinism into society, injustice would pervade. This argument is also known as argumentum ad consequentiam. However, our preferences do not decide how nature works. Whether we like it or not, evolution is still true. Per contra, even if Darwinism is accepted by the scientific community, it does not mean that society would function based on its principle. This, however, is beyond the scope of this post.
Part 5: Are humans the only species to qualify the entry to heaven?
This is perhaps one of the most direct evidence against the existence of a God. Many religions assume that only humans would go to heaven. However, fossil evidence shows that there is no clear distinction between humans and apes. Transitional fossils exist with a smooth transition until the human species. If this is the case, how do we define what a human is? Humans are continually evolving, and because the process is so gradual there each successive generation can be considered genetically identical from the previous one. Yet, there exists a slight change in DNA from one generation to the other. This amounts to large scale changes over millions of years. This also means, however, that there is a loss of clear definition of a human, and thus who goes to heaven. The idea of hell is also based on a fallacy. How do we define good and bad? There is no common consensus that clearly defines the two.
Even if all creatures go to heaven, how do you differentiate conscious life from non-conscious life? You might say that this lies in the presence of a brain. However, there is also no clear distinction between what is considered as a brain. For one, some organisms contain a centralised and complex network of nervous tissue but lack what we would consider as a brain. Like I mentioned previously, evolution is a gradual process and no clear distinctions can be made. If a conscious organism is but a smooth transition from an unconscious one (as proven in fossil record), how do we define what can transcend physical death? It is unlikely that a benevolent and omnipotent God would favour a certain group of organisms over another.
Even assuming that all creatures, both conscious and unconscious, would transcend death and go to heaven (or hell), how do we define life and non-life? Viruses show characteristics of both, and the first organisms were just a clump of membrane-bounded RNA. From all the evidence above, it is thus obvious to note that it is unlikely that a God could exist. The absence of any clear distinction between all forms of life, as well as life and non-life, would indicate that it is impossible for any afterlife to exist.
Part 6: The Paranormal
Paranormal activities in the form of haunting by entities returning from the afterlife have been reported in most, if not all cultures across the globe. These cultures exist independently from one another. It is possible, however, that the idea of the supernatural has existed in the very first humans who originated in Africa. For the benefit of the doubt, however, I will assume that the ideas of ghosts were created independently from the different cultures.
If the idea of supernatural forces influencing human lives were created independently across the world, does this mean that ghosts really do exist? The answer is a vehement ‘no’. Reports of paranormal activities are more likely to be the side effect of an evolutionary byproduct. First of all, our natural curiosity towards the universe (which has benefited us by enabling us to develop technology that started in primitive humans) results in a tendency to attribute unknown gaps in information to an unknown force. For example, our distant ancestors believed that fire was the result of a God and required the adding of firewood as a way to appease it and continue producing fire. This characteristic of the human mind has far-reaching consequences that resulted in many theists arguing about gaps in science through an argument from ignorance, or argumentum ad ignoratiam.
The second cause of supernatural beliefs is the result of the psychological need to believe in the continuation of consciousness beyond death. When organisms evolved from non-conscious life to conscious life, the need for survival is transferred from a physical level to a psychological level. This results in us not being able to perceive a time when conscious activity ceases. As a result, we would tend to think that some sort of continuation of one’s self and mind would transcend beyond physical death, resulting in a belief that dead ancestors would manifest in a ghost-like entity capable of returning from the dead.
Most paranormal encounters are the result of psychological activities that stem from psychological inadequacies prevalent in all humans, such as paraedolia, or the natural tendency to look for patterns. Hallucinations are also a common cause, and are often augmented by one’s belief system. Experiments in virtual reality have proven that whenever a person enters a place believed by that person to be haunted, he or she would observe entities or objects that are not really there. This effect can be increased by the addition of electromagnetic fields and infrasound.
Reports of paranormal activity observed by more than one person simultaneously cannot be attributed to psychological effects. However, they too, can be explained by physical effects not quite understood. Human emotions are extremely powerful energies that can leave a signature at a certain location. This is often the cause of residual haunting. Although the neurological model of consciousness and emotions is not yet completely understood, biochemical reactions occurring as a result of powerful emotions such as a traumatic death might release vast amounts of energy, possibly electromagnetic in nature. If the energy is powerful enough, local conditions such as the presence of material in soil that can be easily magnetised might act as some sort of natural recorder. This energy can be replayed continuously for centuries when the electromagnetic fields interact with the brain of the visitor. Note, however, that this is only a theory and that a diverse range of scientific phenomena can account for this. The growing field of Quantum mechanics might also provide another explanation for such paranormal activity.
In a nutshell, the existence of a God is highly unlikely. Given all the scientific evidence, rational thinkers would easily assume that the existence of a God is highly improbable. While there is still the possibility that a God exists, our current understanding of the universe shows that it is highly unlikely that there is such a possibility. For one, a God is not required for all that we see today, and closer observation of life and the universe indicates that God does not exist.