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Empirical arguments against the existence of God

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Arguments of the indigence of Creation

The argument for the neediness of Creation arises from the following question: How could God, being perfect, have created an imperfect world?

It takes the form of the following contraposition:

  1. If there is a perfect creator of the world (God by definition) then his Creation is perfect
  2. But the world is imperfect (empirical premise)
  3. So there is no such thing as a perfect creator of the world

The argument comes in many forms depending on how one specifies the empirical premise. Is presented here the argument of the existence of the evil and the argument of the existence of the unbelief (the evil and the unbelief being proposed as particular cases of imperfection of the world)

Argument for the existence of evil

This argument is summed up as follows: How can there be an omnipotent and good Creator of the world knowing that evil exists in this world? From the existence of evil on Earth it seems that we can conclude that it was not created by a good and omniscient being. Two divine attributes appear in contradiction.

In its full formulation, given by Lactantius, the problem is: “God either wants to eliminate evil and cannot (vult tollere mala neque potest), or can and does not want to (aut potest et non vult), or neither wants nor can (neque vult neque potest), or wants and can (potest et vult). If he wants to and cannot, he is impotent (inbecillus), which does not befit God (quod in deum non cadit). If he can and does not want to, he is wicked (invidus), which is just as foreign to God (aeque alienum a deo). If he cannot and does not want to, he is both helpless and wicked (inbecillus and invidus), so he is not God. If he wills and can, which befits God, then where does the evil come from or why does he not remove it?”

To solve this question theologians have developed many solutions that are called theodicies. We can take up here a typology of theodicies drawn up by Paul Clavier:

  • Optimistic theodicies
    • The theodicies of compensation, according to which the evil suffered unjustly in this life will be compensated in the hereafter. They lend themselves to the criticism that certain suffering cannot be compensated.
    • The theodicies of the price of freedom. God would have created humans endowed with free will, able to choose for themselves between good and evil, the existence of evil is the necessary consequence of human freedom. This answer is the one adopted by many Christian thinkers, with the concept of original sin. There remains the problem of natural evil, natural disasters such as tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, which can, of course, be interpreted as punishments inflicted on disobedient creatures, but the suffering of even one alone innocent seems intolerable. It must also be defended that freedom is worth such a high price.
    • Negationist theodicies arguing that evil does not exist. Stoicism can correspond to such an answer, according to which the world is perfect, harmonious and the pain is only an illusion. It is enough to suppress this representation, by exercises, to live happily.
  • Tragic theodicies
    • The theodicies of the “made of prince”. Evil is a divine choice whose ins and outs are beyond us. As the hallowed saying goes, “God’s ways are inscrutable.”
    • Negative theodicies: God is not good.
    • Dualist theodicies: God is good but not almighty, he must deal with an evil force external to him. This is the position of Manichaeism.

Another form of contradiction can be noted. If God is almighty, he must be able to destroy himself, and then it is possible that he is no longer and it is no longer necessary for him to be eternal. This argument is quite weak, insofar as this definition of omnipotence, which is an intrinsic formal contradiction, is not that of any religion. And that God does not commit an absurd or illogical act and that it would take a reason for God to destroy himself and that the usual reasons for suicide (lack, suffering, shame…) are unknown to God.

Argument for the existence of disbelief

If God exists why does he tolerate disbelief? Why does he leave some humans unaware of his existence when he could show himself to them for all to believe in him?

Christian theology answers that:

  1. evidence of God is possible by simple reason, Calvin going so far as to say that there is an innate sense of the divine (sensus divinitatis) and
  2. that God created us free to recognize it and that in order to be able to fully enjoy this freedom, he must leave us the possibility of not believing in him. If some do not believe in God it is because sin distorts their judgment. God tolerates disbelief for the same reason he tolerates evil because he created man free.

Argument for the invention of the idea of ​​God

Thesis of Ludwig Feuerbach

This thesis, presented in The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach, proposes as a starting postulate that God is a creation of the human spirit. It therefore invalidates a priori the question of the demonstration of the existence or non-existence of this one, and only proposes to explain and criticize the need of human communities to believe in the existence of a transcendent being. According to Feuerbach, the singularity of human qualities manifestly exceptional compared to the rest of the known world – consciousness, intelligence, creativity, freedom – spontaneously leads human groups to attribute these to a higher power which would be at their origin: “The infinite or divine being is the spiritual being of man, projected by man outside of himself and contemplated as an independent being. God is spirit, that truly means: spirit is God. Such is the subject, such is the object.” He calls this transfer alienation, in the sense that men attribute to an external and transcendent being qualities that are specific to them. This thesis had an important influence on the thought of Karl Marx, who notably extends in the posthumous text Theses on Feuerbach the concept of alienation specific to Christianity to all social relations of production, through work and commodities, by extending and going beyond the materialism of Feuerbach by what will become historical materialism.

Socio-political variant

According to some philosophers, religions were created by minority movements and then imposed by the dominant political powers for the purpose of federating peoples. Faith in the existence of God is linked to trust in the political powers that have instituted the corresponding religions. The philosopher Gilbert Boss said on this subject: “An old opinion presents religions as instruments of political power. On the one hand, power uses existing religions, but on the other, it modifies them according to its needs or invents them. Thus among the Romans, Numa, the successor of Romulus, passed for the founder of their religion, and the awakened spirits thought that he had invented it as an instrument to govern the people. Moses and others have been attributed a similar role. This means that religious invention has always appeared far from appearing as an aberration among lucid minds.”

Neuroscientific and evolutionary variant

For Stephen Jay Gould, science and the existence or not of God are independent and unconnected things. Science can explain how we believe, it can study the phenomenon of belief, but it is not interested in the existence of God. Its existence and the proof of its existence are areas of philosophy and theology. God is not within the scope of analytical science. It is therefore only on the level of philosophy that scientific arguments on the non-existence of God can be put in place.

According to Ludwig Feuerbach’s thesis, “Man created God in his own image”, God is presented by Feuerbach as a projection of man’s desires. For Feuerbach, the idea of ​​the divine is used as a way to transcend psychic issues related to human cognitive abilities. Such projections of an ideal reality fulfill their psychological function of beneficial illusions. Recent studies in neuroscience seem to corroborate Feueubach and would confirm that the idea of ​​God is an emanation of the human brain. In May 2008, Nicholas Epley showed using functional brain imaging that believers attribute their own opinion to God on social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage or the death penalty. Epley’s team found that thinking about God activates the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain known to underlie “self-referential thinking.” This zone is activated when we talk about ourselves, express our opinion or develop our analyses, but remain silent when we talk about others. In the brains of believers, these are the same areas that activate when they think of God or of themselves. Believers therefore create God in their own image. According to anthropologist Dan Sperber, the human brain is predisposed to believe and this permeability to religious ideas comes from the way human thought works, more particularly from the way the brain constructs a representation of the natural world.

Since the end of the 1990s, a great deal of neuroscientific research has been moving in the direction of a physiological explanation for belief in God. This would have been selected during the evolution of living things. The evolutionary advantages of faith would be the cohesion of the group and the reduction of anxiety.

The work of Jacqueline Borg’s team from Karolinska University in Stockholm has shown that religiosity, that is to say the propensity to see the world as inhabited by the divine, would depend on the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter already known to be capable of producing states similar to those produced by certain psychotropic drugs: changes in sensory perception, hallucinations, feeling of oneness with the world. Consider the sensations that mystics experience during their ecstatic states. However, serotonin is not a “molecule of faith”: if belief in God can be favored by the action of a molecule like serotonin, it can in no way be reduced to its exclusive action. Moreover, a German study from 2002 suggests that other neurotransmitters, in particular opioids (known to play an important role in the sensation of pain) could be involved in religious cognition.

In fact, the structure of the brain also programs us to believe: this was demonstrated in a 2001 experiment conducted with eight Tibetan monks immersed in a state of meditation resulting in a feeling of symbiosis. It was noticed that the deeper the meditation seemed, the more the activity of the superior parietal cortex was slowed down. However, it turns out that one of the functions of this cerebral zone makes it possible to distinguish one’s body from the environment and to orient oneself in space. Hence the emergence, in the monks studied, of alterations in perception as well as the sensation of merging with the Universe.

This would not be the only area of ​​the brain affected. Research by American neurobiologist Michael Persinger suggests “that electromagnetic stimulation of the temporal lobes, those areas located at the temples, would trigger the sensation of having a divine presence at one’s side”. These areas could therefore be involved in the ability to feel a divine presence.

The impression of going out of the body is due to the activation of a very restricted area of ​​the temporal cortex, the angular gyrus. The spectacular effect of the impression of leaving the body during the activation of the angular gyrus was highlighted in 2002 by the Swiss neurologist Olaf Blanke.

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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