Pretty Good Reasons Not to Believe in God Watch: God’s Apparent Dilly Dallying in Getting Us Here

As an agnostic, I would offer the following as a pretty good reason not to believe that God exists, and for being an atheist (were I so inclined):

If God exists, and if one of God’s chief purposes for creating the universe was to bring forth life on Earth and beings with minds (that is, us), then that life and those minds have been, to put it politely, rather at their leisure in arriving on the scene. Scientists put the beginning of the known universe at 13.7 billion years ago, and our Earth’s formation at 4.5 billion years ago. The simplest microbial life appears to have started on Earth about 3 billion years ago. In other words, more than 10 billion years passed before life on Earth even got started, and in terms of minds, humans have only been around for about 100,000 years. Isn’t this a rather roundabout way for God to arrive at his chief purposes? If, afterall, a mind with infinite powers is really at work, would that mind be so, well, serendipitous? It’s as if you had access to a hammer to build your house, and knew quite well how to use a hammer, but on a lark you chose to use the tip of your nose to tap in all of the house’s nails (which I presume would make the work proceed very, very slowly, and with a great deal of unnecessary suffering). Given your abilities and tools, it would seem to be a rather messy and superfluous way to achieve your larger purposes and designs. It’s certainly possible that God is an aesthete, devoted to creative whimsy and excess (think the peacock here, and Michael Jackson), but it cannot help but make you wonder and doubt what God is thinking. If an all powerful mind really is actively engaged in directing us into existence at this late and, by all appearances, contingent point and time, one is left puzzling out to what purpose.

It would seem, at minimum, that the relatively late date for the appearance of our Earth, life, and mind in the universe is a perplexity for normal theistic expectations, and certainly poses no perplexity at all for the atheist. Indeed, it’s exactly what an atheist would expect to find in a universe containing life and mind, but is absent intelligent design.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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12 Responses to Pretty Good Reasons Not to Believe in God Watch: God’s Apparent Dilly Dallying in Getting Us Here

  1. Jared K says:

    I don’t know. I get your point here. I’m just not sure that the age of the universe tips evidentially toward atheism or theism. I see it as more of a nuetral fact and, as you say, “puzzling” theologically. But I don’t think that puzzling questions are the same thing as evidence against theism.

    I once heard an atheist make an argument from the fact that men had nipples. How can there be a god in a world where men gratuitously have nipples? Nipples on men are the kind of thing that we would find only in a universe where evolution-without-God would occur. I’m guessing you react to this the same why I did: kind of an interesting theological question (maybe, depending on how much priority one gives to nipples) but it doesn’t really count as evidence for or against theism so far as I can tell.

    If there is something puzzling about a 13.7 billion year old universe, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t be similarly puzzling to have a 6,000 year old universe.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Your points are well taken. I wouldn’t offer this argument as evidence qua evidence, but as something more casual, as a modest reason, an inference—even an intuition. I wouldn’t think it unreasonable for an atheist to say that ONE of the reasons she’s an atheist is because the late appearance in it of life and mind strikes her as fitting an atheist understanding well, and poses perplexities for theism.

    What I’m trying to do here is brainstorm (in a series of posts) the low key, modest reasons that people give for believing (or not believing) in God, and then I’m trying to make those arguments in a sympathetic way. I’m not trying to advance the views as such. In this case, for example, I’m only saying it’s a point for atheism.

    When you have energy, Jared, please critique these posts and point out flaws in arguments. I’m trying to hewn them for thinking about the merits and demerits for God belief from a sympathetic agnostic vantage (that is, sympathetic to both sides, atheism and theism). For me, the God question is kind of like one of those foreground/background images in psychology. Looked at one way, you can see one thing; looked at another way, you see the probability of something else. It’s the perrenial perplexing question, isn’t it?

    Also, if you think of good arguments for/against God that you find especially compelling or interesting, share them, and it might give me the theme for an expanded post.

    I like Terry Eagleton’s recent insistence that the universe is whimsy—that God made the universe for whimsical purposes. So why not male nipples and Duran Duran?

    —Santi

  3. Chris says:

    I agree with Jared.

    I think this is a poor argument because, regardless of how long it took God to make the earth, this same argument could be used. For example…

    Say God chose to make life come about in x amount of years. One could still say, “isn’t this rather odd, that God took x many years to create life?” If he chose otherwise, one could still question the validity of that decision as well. But to what point? If God made life come about in 1 year, what then? What does that prove, beside the fact that he wanted to carry out his plan that way? One could still come along and say, “Why did God make life so quickly? Why not spread it out over billions of years, and allow life to slowly come about from the most basic elements of matter until, ever so slowly and marvelously, protein by proten, an unfathomably complex and unique organism called man – with a will and the ability to reason and appreciate beauty and apprehend truth – came about?”

    Point being, this argument does not really say much, as it is critiquing God’s wishes against… what? Man’s whims, each of which could want any number of things?

  4. Jared K says:

    Santi,
    I agree with Chris above.

    I haven’t read Eagleton’s book yet, but I hope to. I think what you and Eagleton call “whimsy” must be true if theism is true. Clearly if God exists, God must enjoy fashioning the universe in a creative and even odd and playful way. I think this is right. I also think it reveals the nature of the personhood of God, if indeed God exists and is a person. God isn’t just a mechanical metaphysical widget or something, God can be creative and expressive, etc. I think the way you’ve put it is excellent.

    I will look at some of your posts along these lines. I like them. I get what you are saying about intuition instead of evidence. I feel very much like the complexity of nature, for example, stirs my intuition to believe in God. But I also admit that it is extremely difficult to communicate this intuition by argument (I think the design argument can always be dismissed).

    I will think about arguments on both sides that I find convincing. I’m sure different folks find different things persuasive. But then, there are such things as bad reasons and bad arguments.

  5. Heuristics says:

    Keith Ward tends to talk much about this and his point seems to be that the universe was worth bringing into being in it own right, regardless of weather life came about or not. That life came about is nice, but not necessarily the whole point of the universe. The historical reason for believing man to be the centre of it all was not to lift up mans greatness but it came from the observation that man appeared to be at the centre of where all the shit (bad things) gathered together.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Heuristics:

    Your observations are so far out of the box of my own mind and way of thinking that I barely comprehend what you could mean. I don’t know what “point” (for example) things could have short of human consciousness (or God’s consciousness). Atoms rustling in the void do not know that they are doing so (I presume). And I’m not sure that humanity is where the universe’s shit gathers. I think of us as the paragon of animals and the best thing the universe has managed to create (or at least the most interesting thing). Without us, the universe is a desert, even with life in it.

    —Santi

  7. Heuristics says:

    The point of existence for things could be them seeming or being experienced as good to their creator. The universe could have and in my opinion would have this quality without humans, it’s existence is worthwhile in it’s own right without humans.

    As a human you see humanity as the most interesting thing, your bias should be obvious. It would be somewhat remarkable for a collection of atoms (we could call that collection of atoms “human”) to be able to make a value judgement regarding such things as “interesting” or if something is a “paragon”. The possibility for such unexpected magic is clear evidence for a shared property with a creator but is not evidence for the desired non-creation of the universe without them.

  8. santitafarella says:

    Heuristics:

    You said: “It would be somewhat remarkable for a collection of atoms (we could call that collection of atoms “human”) to be able to make a value judgement . . .”

    I like that. I forgot that we ARE atoms rustling in the void, and have consciousness! And it makes sense to say that this very fact may be a shared property with the creator, and what pleased the creator. I think, however, that without human minds or the mind of a creator witnessing, acting as audience, that the stage is dead. Would you agree that an atheist universe devoid of human consciousness is dead?

    —Santi

  9. Heuristics says:

    I would go further, I would say that atoms cannot possibly create value, intentionality, insight or experience (such as pain) nomatter what their configuration would be, this has recently been recognized by reductionistic materialism so that those words instead get reclassified to mean nothing much at all. Atoms creating value would be such a huge unexpected event arising from the four forces, matter and energy. Something very different in kind from emergent properties such as wetness or self-organizing molecules. The recognition of such a thing (value) even existing in it’s own right is an act of ascribing magic to the world. Without these properties the world is as much alive as a thermostat is alive (i.e. not at all). Without it the world is dead, a creator could however think it to be a very beautiful and worthwhile thermostat to construct though.

  10. santitafarella says:

    Heuristics:

    I like the way you put that. Interesting.

    —Santi

  11. Anonymous says:

    this is rubbish it dident give me any of what i needed

  12. The Invisile says:

    Can Christians Answer these questions?

    Why are there terminally ill babies?
    “God has a plan for us all” – why create people of other religions, then send them to kill ‘innocent’ christians (eg children) i.e. suicide bombers?
    Most christians now believe in evolution, so what was god doing for the 3 billion years in which life was evolving, and branched off into humans.? Was he controlling the evolution from microbes to primates, generation by generation, with the knowledge that he has going to create humans?
    And, if you believe in evolution, you probably don’t (can’t!) believe in adam and eve/garden of eden – and “origional sin” – which was supposedly what he sent ‘himself’ (jesus) to earth to die to forgive us.!
    Why are there no miracles happening today?
    What happens to animals when they die? (all animals that have ever lived.Do Bacteria go to bacteria heaven!?)
    Why do non-believers ‘burn eternally in hell’?
    Does a law abiding muslim go to heaven?
    If YOU had been raised by a muslim/hindu family would you be beliving in their religion? Does this just go to show that your religion is just down to what you were told as a child?
    how did your god come into existence? saying he was always there is just the same as saying “I DONT KNOW” – which is what i’d say if asked how the universe came into existence. We are only human!

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