For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing the text of a presentation in which I debate with myself about whether a personal God exists. In the previous installment, the theist, “Pastor Chris,” concluded by saying that “Dr. Schriner”
“never denies that the vast majority of people have sensed the presence of this sturdy support [theistic religion]. The overwhelming testimony of this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ speaks far more eloquently than the outdated arguments of atheism.”
Now the atheist, Dr. Schriner, replies:
That “great cloud of witnesses” is a whole lot smaller than Pastor Chris thinks. I realize that the vast majority of Americans believe in God. However in Canada around 20 or 30% are atheists or agnostics. In the U.K. it’s 30-45%, and 65% in Japan.* Besides, he is supposed to prove there’s a personal God. But in a survey of sixty countries, only 45% thought a personal God exists, so those who believe in a personal deity are actually in the minority.**
My opponent never responded to the idea that there could be an infinite number of universes, many of which could not support life. He only says, “Gee, there are still gaps in our knowledge.” Of course there are, but the overall trend toward more and more knowledge is crystal-clear.
The pastor’s claim that God created the universe is based on flimsy speculation and taking the word of assorted mystics about highly ambiguous religious experiences. It’s ironic that mystics often say they can’t even begin to put their spiritual experiences into words, and then they turn around and draw all sorts of specific theological conclusions from those experiences.
I admit that religion does some people some good, and probably belief in leprechauns was helpful to some of the ancient Irish. But if religious people were in touch with a supreme goodness, they would tend as a general rule to be morally superior to us “heathens,” and they are not. Philosopher Daniel Dennett reports that believers are just as likely as unbelievers “to kill, rape, rob, or break their promises.”
Dennett is an atheist, so he does have a horse in this race, but he cites compelling data. American prisons include Christians, Jews, Muslims, and the non-religious, “represented about as they are in the general population.” And unbelievers “have the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again Christians the highest.”***
And of course, believers are still committing hideous atrocities in the name of God. Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg’s comment rings true: Without religion you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. “But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”****
Thank you for listening. I hope you will agree with me that there is very little evidence that a personal God created the universe.
* Phil Zukerman in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. Michael Martin, p. 109.
*** Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell, pp. 279-80.
Next, Pastor Chris’ final rebuttal.
Roger Christan Schriner
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