I am sure that you have had many responses to your open letter ‘Dear atheist’. I would even wager that the responses have been similar but never the same. I am aware that my letter of response is also self-promoting (i.e. I refer to a lot of posts I have already written), and that, including links, this post will take a long time to read. But I would be willing to engage in this discussion long-term, and in our course perhaps we could stumble onto new ground for me.
Nevertheless, I would like to thank you for compiling the most common arguments in favour of God. As a point of clarity, for all readers, not specifically to you, the arguments are not ‘against atheism’, because they wouldn’t mean anything. You cannot be against my absence of belief, but you can attempt to foster belief.
And that takes us directly to the crux of atheism, for most atheists: belief in God is not fostered by evidence. None of our senses find God. I don’t mean for this to sounds condescending, but it is unavoidable: you are conflating “the easiest answer” with the “sensible answer”; because the God-answer is easy, you feel it is also the answer we would find if sense led us.
We have a name for when a person confuses the easy answer for the right answer, and the word is “intuition”. God is an intuitive answer to questions, but the history of human understanding has been one of proving our intuitions very unreliable indeed. The great thing about a digital letter is I can share links to support my point, and I direct you to this Youtube video to outline some of the failures of human intuition.
The first argument that you put forward is the ‘something from nothing’ dilemma. The problems with this are threefold, and as I’ve talked about them in my blog before I shall only skim over them briefly:
The only nothing we suspect in science is a nothing defined by the absence of energy, matter, space and time—but this still gives us a lot to play with. As Hawking and Mlodinow say ‘forces like gravity are the reason that the universe appeared’, and as Krauss says ‘only the basic principle of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (or something analogous) has to exist for the universe to appear’. (These are not exact quotes.) Any grander definition of nothing is a state we don’t actually know ever was; so to explain how a nothing got from there is not a necessary step.
We don’t know that we have something. I know it looks like I’m beyond clutching at straws when I say that, but for everything in the universe that exists, so does its antithesis. For every something there is an antisomething. The net total mass and energy of a something and its antisomething is nothing. So we may be an odd expression of nothing.
All the data and all the facts are not in. We don’t know. We don’t know. This is an important sentence, and there should not be shame in it. I don’t fear not knowing. But sometimes “I don’t know” is the right answer. It is important to me that I can use that answer instead of clutching at straws when I don’t know.
Morality and justice are the harder ones. I’ve written extensive on this in my 60-odd-post blog. And on the issue of morality I come up against atheists as well. Many atheists will assert that anything that is dependent on the human mind is subjective, however as many things in the human mind can be measured I continue to assert that things that depend on the human mind can be objective. Moral relativists still follow the basic pattern of wanting to keep people happy, and confessing that actions not motivated by that goal are not moral. I argue that the concept of “happy” is measurable, and so is the moral outcome of an action. For my thoughts on this, look here and here. Again, I even argue with atheists about this. More importantly, I am not claiming to be your God by telling you I know something about morality. We know of cultures that cut off the clitoris of new-born girls, are we not all able to say that is immoral?
If I can cast a moral dispersion anywhere, I can cast it everywhere. If morality is universal, then what is wrong somewhere is wrong everywhere. (My universal moral precept is that making more people more sad than you do happy is immoral. It doesn’t have to do with direct commandments, like ‘no killing’.) So, of course I can make moral judgements of God. I shall accept your idea that God knows morality, but that doesn’t make Him bound to it. Despite knowing morality, He might well be evil and heinous. I have made the case that He is here, here and here. The counter of this argument is that a parasite that burrows into the eye of small children is morally good, or that tsunamis are a blessing. Perhaps we need to define ‘moral’ before we move on.
Lastly, Pascal’s Wager. If I am wrong, but you are right, then God will be moral and will not judge me on faith but instead for my actions. If I am wrong, but salvation is right, then my salvation depends on me accepting the sacrifice of a person that didn’t stay dead as so morally good take it makes up for… what? Why am I inherently a sinner? Through no fault of my own, I’m sure. Am I free to believe? Even if I am wrong, I cannot change my mind without more evidence, that’s just how I’m wired up; on the evidence I have I am not convinced. I need to be convinced. If I am not convinced then I would only ever be feigning belief.