Why aren't the best reasons to believe in God convincing to atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, Humanists, or even Buddhists?

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1.   God as an old white man in the sky is unconvincing. Depictions of God as a human-like (called ‘anthropo-morphism’  = in human form), both in physical shape and in emotional dispositions, have been considered incredible since ancient times. Rendering God as a male humanoid replete with human emotions, even the bad emotions like anger and envy and jealousy, is not credible to skeptics. Does this male God have internal organs like a lung, a kidney, and a prostate gland? Does he have genitals, a deep voice, facial hair, and fingernails that grow? It is curious that God resembles whoever it is who is depicting God—and that’s men. Men made God in their own image and likeness.  

2. God as a ‘immaterial’ being with biological functions is unconvincing.  In any list of God’s attributes the word  ‘immaterial’  always appears. God is immaterial. But it is self-contradictory to say God is ‘immaterial’ and in the same breath say God “sees, hears, speaks, and feels”—all of which are functions of biological material organisms. What does God see with if not a material eye? Hear with if not a material ear? Speak without a material mouth?  These descriptions of God are self-contradictory and nonsensical. 

3. God as all-knowing is unconvincing. Does God know terror, worry, fear, pain, indigestion, menstruation pains, sexual attraction, sexual climax, and pregnancy? Does God know the last number? No one is all-knowing. A nonsensical claim.

4. God as all-good while presiding over a vast theater of pain is unconvincing. God is all-good and yet made a world that is bloody red in tooth and claw? God is all good and made a world of predators and prey. God is all-good and compassionate and made the talon, the fang, and the claw. God is all good and made 10,000 pathogens that are trying to kill the animals and us. God is all good and made thousands of diseases? What about all this suffering of animals and humans? Would we ourselves call a person  ‘good’ who sits idly by as a six-year-old boy beats a two-year-old girl and her pet kitten to death with a club? No, any good person would intervene to stop the boy. And yet God sits by to allow a near infinity of pain and suffering to exist. God always seems to favor the free will of the murderer over the life of the victim, the free will of the Nazis over the lives of Jewish victims. This God seems to exalt human freewill above life itself so that he would do nothing to intervene if someone attempted to detonate a hydrogen bomb and kill ten million people. To God, the freewill of the mass murderer is more important than the lives of ten million people. That’s not a ‘good’ God.  [This is the ancient and perduring ‘problem of evil.’]

5. God as all-powerful is unconvincing. Would we call a person  ‘powerfully strong’  who sits by as a six-year-old boy beats a two-year-old girl and her pet kitten to death with a club?  No, if you are powerfully strong (and decent),  you stop the boy killer.  And yet the all-powerful God has sat idly by and allowed a near infinity of animal and human pain and suffering to exist. Either God is not all-powerful (or not all good) or God does not exist: these are the only explanations for the high degree of animal and human suffering on earth. Also, to point out the contradiction of saying God possesses  ‘all-power,’  skeptics ask: Can God make a rock so heavy that God cannot lift it?  No?  Can God compose a sentence that is so complex that he cannot understand it? No? Can God make black snow?  No?  Can God eat himself?  No? Again, ‘all-powerful’ is a nonsensical claim. 

 6. Personal testimonies of God are unconvincing. People who testify that they experience God in some way are found in every religion under the sun during the entire span of human history. And so personal testimonies end up  ‘confirming’  opposing views. Does the personal testimony of an ancient polytheist convince you that all those ancient Gods existed? Does the personal testimony of a Voodooist convince you of the truth of the Voodoo religion? Does the personal testimony of a Caodaist convince you of the truth of Caodai? All these people have had  ‘an experience,’ which is really a sensation or a special feeling. But it wasn’t God they experienced: it was a feeling triggered by the very idea of God. It’s just like when someone who believes in ghosts feels the presence of ghosts in their home: the idea of ghosts produces the phantom feeling of the presence of ghosts that do not exist.

 7. The ‘heart of hearts’ appeal is unconvincing. “I just know in my heart of hearts that God exists”  can be used to prove anything. “I just know in my heart of hearts that God does not exist” is just as valid. Or, “I just know in my heart of hearts that many Gods exist.” Or, “I just know in my heart of hearts that a pink teacup orbits the moon.” All these are valid if any one of them is valid.

 8. Answered prayers are unconvincing. All religions claim answered prayers. Do the answered prayers of all the various religions prove to you that those religions are true? Ancient people had their prayers answered by Zeus and many other Gods. More likely, odds are, things just go a petitioner’s way every now and then. You prayed for rain, but rain was in the forecast anyway. Also, there are billions and billions more unanswered prayers than answered prayers. Shouldn’t unanswered prayers count in the ledger against God?

9. Religious virtuosos, people who say they saw and heard God, like saints, prophets, and mystics, are unconvincing. Religious virtuosos are in all religions. Does this legitimize all religions? Plus, virtuosos disagree with each other about what exactly they experienced. And they disagree about the messages God gives. And, by the way, temporal lobe epilepsy or schizophrenia can account for visual and audio hallucinations.

10. Miracles are unconvincing. All ancient religions have miracle stories. Are all ancient religions therefore true that have miracle stories? Do you believe in many Gods?—because polytheistic religions have many miracle stories. Miracles are fiction in all religions. As to present-day claims that God heals bodily diseases, why doesn’t God heal amputations by growing limbs back? Is that too hard for God to do? Why don’t we see discarded prosthetic limbs alongside discarded crutches at ‘faith healing’ events? Why doesn’t God replace a missing adult tooth now and then?  Miracles do not occur, and anything that can occur is no miracle.

11. Revealed holy books are unconvincing. Though many holy books have literary merit, none of the books are conspicuously divine. Human authorship can explain them all. Religious people in one religion do not acknowledge the divine status of any other religion’s holy book, and skeptics simply doubt them all. Plus, some of the material in any ancient holy book is factually untrue and also sub-ethical by present-day standards. Some people claim their ancient holy book contained 20th-century science, proving the book has a supernatural source. Really? Then tell us where in the ancient holy book we can find 25thcentury science? Point out those passages to us. Why don’t scientists rush to holy books to discover new science? Some people say their holy books predicted future events, but usually, such passages are so poetic they’re susceptible to any kind of interpretation. No holy book predicted the future with the following kind of specificity: “In a year that will come to be called 1963 a man named Kennedy will be assassinated in a city called Dallas.”

12. God is not a convincing explanation of the universe. To say everything must have a cause, even the universe, and then offer God as a solution, is contradictory. You can’t say everything must have a cause and then offer a solution (God) that itself has no cause. What caused God? Another greater God? And who caused that God? Yet another even greater God?  God is not a solution as to the origin of everything: ‘God’ only adds another layer of mystery. God does not ‘solve’ the problem of the infinite regress of causation because God himself requires a cause. The word ‘God’ is simply saying ‘something always existed without a cause.’ Atheists say matter or energy always existed. It’s more believable that a material universe emerged from preexistent matter or energy than that it emerged from a non-material Mind. 

13. A ‘designer’ God is not a convincing explanation of orderliness in nature.  If a complicated thing like the universe needs an explanation in a designer, then doesn’t the complicated thing called ‘God’ also need an explanation in a designer? Who designed God? Another greater Designer God? And who designed that Designer God? An even greater Designer God?  If the theist says God doesn’t need a designer, then the atheist can say the universe doesn’t need a designer either. And on earth, natural selection explains orderliness in nature without the need for a Designer God. And by the way, is the Designer God also responsible for ‘design flaws’ in nature—like thousands of diseases that plague animals and humans, for instance?

14. God is not a convincing explanation of morality and conscience. Moral rules emerged apart from religion and came from our species’ cooperative, altruistic, and inhibitive tendencies, all of which were utilized by natural selection to help our species succeed. No God ever gave humanity a moral rule. Adult humans honed moral laws through trial and error, and adults socialized children into the rules of civilization. Children absorbed the rules as ‘conscience’ and grew up keeping moral rules. Religion simply came along and legitimized morality by claiming the moral rules came from the Gods. ‘Guilt’ attends to any action that opposes the socially instilled conscience. Even some animals have a conscience: dogs and monkeys evince guilt when they’re caught doing something they know they shouldn’t have done. Also: the conscience is hardly the ‘uniform voice of God’ because the human conscience differs from place to place and time to time. And there was a long period when ALL consciences thought slavery was okay. Also, non-believers in God are as moral as religious people, and some nonbelievers in God are more moral. Also, highly regarded moralists like Buddha and Confucius and Aristotle, and all modern secular moral philosophers teaching at the best universities in the world, offer lofty and sophisticated moral theories without any appeal to a God.

15. That a few billion people believe in God is not a convincing ‘proof’ of God. A lot of people have been wrong before. In ages past, everyone was wrong about many things: the shape of the earth, the causes of disease, the morality of slavery. For thousands of years almost everyone was polytheistic. Does that mean polytheism was right for those thousands of years? Even monotheists think billions of people are wrong who disagree with their form of monotheism. Besides, we don’t judge anything to be true based on the number of people believing it.

16. To say belief in God benefits society is unconvincing. Some say a society cannot endure without religion. But monotheisms especially have been the animating force behind the death of millions of people and have caused great social harm. Religion has also had psychologically harmful effects in the creation of false ‘sins’ like masturbation and homosexuality, or even the false ‘sin’ of unbelief. Also, the least religious societies in the world—Scandinavia and Japan—are among the most civil and safe societies anywhere, proving that a lack of religion does not prevent a society from becoming civil and moral. Meanwhile, some of the most religious societies are the most dangerous, like Honduras.

17. Disagreements among theists make God unconvincing. Thousands of theistic sects suggest no one of them is true. If there is a God and God has spoken, wouldn’t the world be in convinced agreement about God? Instead, we have a cacophony of discordant voices. There is no similar array of sects in geometry.

18. God isn’t funny, and that makes God unconvincing. No depiction of God in any religion portrays God with a sense of humor. Humor is a very high virtue that humans prize. Humans give God all other human virtues to an infinite degree: We are good and God is infinitely good. We are smart and God is infinitely smart. We are kind and God is infinitely kind. We are witty and funny. So why isn’t God infinitely witty and funny? Can God tell the funniest joke anyone has ever heard—a joke so funny that you would literally die laughing at it? The fact that God lacks humor is a big strike against the God idea.

19. God belief can be explained naturally, and that makes God unconvincing. Modern university disciplines like anthropology, psychology, sociology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and the hard sciences adequately explain the rise and success of religion and God belief. In prehistoric times, simple ignorance of natural causes led people to suppose there were supernatural causes for things. And when the natural causes were eventually discovered by a new science, some part of the supernatural God dissolved.  It was thought for thousands of years that a God dragged the sun across the daytime sky in a chariot. Then came astronomy and cosmology and astrophysics to explain the real reason the sun appears to move across the sky. It was thought for thousands of years that God or demons cause diseases. Then medical science and biology uncovered germs. It was thought that God hand-painted rainbows. Then came meteorology and optics with the true explanation. Psychology came along with credible ideas about mental illness (it’s not demon possession). And psychiatry offered views about the human attraction to the ‘father-figure’ God. Nowadays, cognitive science offers credible ideas about the early architecture of evolving human brains and the brain’s susceptibility to God belief.

20. God is not ‘certain’ when many competent thinkers doubt God, and that makes God unconvincing.  Maybe a billion people on planet earth lack God belief. That is a not a trivial number of people. Tens of millions of Americans and Europeans doubt God. And that’s not a trivial number either. And the quality of the minds doubting God must be noticed, because many are highly educated and some are even geniuses. For a thousand years, ALL the intellectuals and geniuses in the West (probably) believed in God. Nowadays, most of our intellectuals and geniuses (Nobel Laureates and top scientists) do not believe in God. Though these people are not infallible and they could be wrong, they are not evil and are not disbelieving in God as an excuse to ‘disobey God’ and act immorally. These skeptics have real problems believing in the idea of God, as shown by this list of 21.

21. God belief is unconvincing in that it may be an early phase of human evolution, to be outgrown in a later epoch. Cro-Magnon peoples thought they were at the height of the human ascendancy (and they were). They had their well-appointed grottoes, their cave drawings, their tattered clothing, their grunts and flailing gestures, their ability to count to five. But 30,000 years have passed since Cro-Magnons and homo sapiens have become quite a bit more sophisticated since then. What will another 30,000 years bring to the human race? And another 30,000 years after that? And another 30,000 after that? We have not arrived late to the story of humanity. We are still in our infancy. Our story is fresh with morning dew. We’ve been here less than a million years. The dinosaurs lasted 150 million years and died out 60 million years ago. We humans have much evolving to do yet. None of today’s religions will survive to the distant future. Religion itself won’t survive either. God belief will be seen as a human-contrived idea that humans outgrew as a child outgrows a pacifier or a toy. God belief is not innate to human beings, nor is God belief necessary for human well-being, and the proof of this is the billion people who do not believe in God and feel nothing is lacking in their lives without God. The most secular nations in the world are the most civil societies and the happiest in the world, as in Scandinavian countries. That’s our future. In 30,000 years, no one will believe in God, just as no one now believes in the Gods of ancient Greece and Rome. As someone said,  “One epoch’s religion is the next epoch’s literary entertainment.”  We call ancient people’s religions ‘mythology’ (but they didn’t). We enjoy ancient religious writings as a literary event we call mythos.  Future humanity will call our religions ‘mythology’ as well. In the far distant future, if the far distant future retains any knowledge of us at all, they will speak of Jewish Mythology and Christian Mythology and Islamic Mythology, and so on.

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religius ideas since 1992 at various colleges and since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic...