FAQ articles on this site are collections of questions or arguments that I have seen various people use in regard to scrutiny of religious beliefs. The purpose of these lists is to present my response to these arguments so I can refer people to them any time, or so that anyone interested in these arguments can see another perspective.
Please note that of course not all Theists or people sympathetic to religion share all the same views. My responses here are simply in regard to these arguments themselves. Also, since my purpose is to address people’s actual concerns and arguments, I have no intention to misrepresent any arguments. If you think I have misrepresented or misunderstood a particular arguments, or perhaps think it requires a note about context, then please make a note in the comments, contact us on our Facebook page, or email us using the contact form on this website.
This FAQ looks at Theist questions and arguments about the creation of the universe and life on earth. I will be adding to it periodically.
“You think the universe is a painting that doesn’t have a painter!”
(Alternate wording: “You think the universe is a design that doesn’t have a designer!” or “Something can’t come from nothing!”)
This is a very common, but strange argument creationists use. I say this because a creationist believes that God is a “painting with no painter”. So that argument has no weight. It applies the same to both Theism and Atheism. Whether you are a naturalist or a creationist, either way, you are saying “First, something existed”, regardless of what you think that something was.
Thus it is utterly illogical and pointless to think that the existence of a god would answer the question of how anything exists at all. The fact is that any multitude of things known or yet to be discovered could exist without being caused. What grants the word “god” alone this unique property? Nothing.
So then what is the difference between our beliefs? The difference is fundamental. We know the natural world exists, but we do not know any god exists. Thus a god can only be viewed as an arbitrary and unnecessary extra step in any conception of reality.
“If you saw a house, would you think it had a designer?”
I would follow the evidence.
If I saw an object that was constructed using a combination of materials and physical features that I had only ever seen in designs that I knew were shaped and created by humans, then I would conclude that the object had a designer. Most things we call “houses” would fall under that category.
But for example, if I saw a cave where people were taking shelter, it would be harder to determine. Humans could have carved it out, or perhaps it was created by erosion or other natural factors. Also, parts of the cave, such as statues or paintings on the wall were obviously most likely been caused by humans, while the cave itself could still have been formed naturally.
To learn what the most likely explanation is for the existence or state of anything, we must look at the evidence available. We can compare that information to information we have previously attained by highly reliable methods such as direct observation of an object being formed.
“What came before the Big Bang?”
No one has enough information to know the answer, or if that question even makes sense. Like Stephen Hawking put it, since time itself may have begun at the Big Bang, asking what came before the Big Bang might be like asking where the edge of the Earth is. The question may simply be inapplicable to the nature of the real situation. For example, there is no edge to the Earth, and there may be no “before” the universe, as strange a concept that may be to our intuitions. The concept of time itself is something we often think of as more absolute and consistently “flowing” than it might really be.
It has also been suggested that our universe might be the other end of a black hole in another universe that has eternally existed; or that we are one local universe in a greater multiverse for which there was no beginning.
As stated in the previous answer, we have no way of knowing what can exist without a cause, so there is nothing unique or necessary about the concept of a god. The existence of a god is therefore an arbitrary, baseless assertion.
“Can you believe in the Big Bang without faith?”
Yes. People who ask that question are confused about what the Big Bang theory actually says – and what it does not say.
First, the evidence that the Big Bang occurred is pretty convincing. The theory is the most direct explanation for the evidence of the expanding universe, the microwave background radiation, etc and that is why we believe it is probably true. Our belief is proportional to the evidence. There is no faith involved.
Second, many creationists are confused and think that the Big Bang theory includes a claim that the universe came from literally nothing, However the Big Bang simply describes that the universe expanded from a small point; the theory does not necessitate that the origin of it was necessarily from literally nothing. All we know is that expansion started. But the singularity itself could have had no beginning, or the universe could be cyclical, or our universe could be the other end of a black hole, or one “bubble” within a multiverse, or other possibilities which would simply not be “coming from nothing”.
“How do you explain why physics breaks down at the Big Bang?”
Some religious believers claim that the fact “physics breaks down” at the Big Bang is proof that something like a god “outside of nature” (whatever that means) created the universe. But the laws of physics are actually nothing but our own current descriptions of how nature appears to behave. But we always have, and always will, be learning more. The Big Bang is just another thing we want to learn about. It doesn’t indicate anything about a god.
“Is your brain intelligently designed?”
(This is a creationist argument intended to cleverly portray atheism as self-refuting)
Probably not, and neither is yours.
1) If it was, then we would probably think more similarly from the start, but we don’t.
2) If your brain was designed by another being then you couldn’t trust it. The very way you think, they very thoughts that enter your head, your perception and beliefs about everything could have been set out by the designer. Thus a designed brain is actually even more suspect and less trustworthy.
3) But an evolved brain has simply adapted to understanding the environment in which it exists. This means it may actually have fewer direct biases (but not zero) than if it were designed, yet still has a mix of different features and intuitions. These different features and intuitions can result in either delusion or accurate thinking. Intuition and religion commonly produce unreliable and mistaken beliefs, while the analytical aspects of our minds can produce more accurate beliefs.
4) So is the possibility that our brains were not intentionally designed something that should call our beliefs into question? Yes, absolutely. And that is why we make a genuine attempt to use consistent reasoning and objectively testable, verifiable methodologies in science, rather than using magical beliefs and assumptions like religion.
Now the question creationists need to answer is this:
“Does simply *believing* that your brain was designed and reliable, in fact make it so?”
No, of course not. The fact that there is a possibility that our brains were not intelligently designed means that everyone needs to take that into account when forming their beliefs. Simply believing otherwise, does not make it otherwise. Simply believing that your brain was intelligently designed does not mean it actually was intelligently designed. Simply believing your mind is reliable enough to make assumptions does not mean it really is.
“If God Didn’t Create the Universe, Then What Did?”
This is one of the most common ways Theists try to justify their belief in a god. It is very simple with very basic flaws so it can be refuted with some very brief points:
1) Argument from ignorance fallacy
Since the Theist doesn’t know how our universe came to be, they make an illogical assumption to fit their emotional preference. The evidence does not logically point to their asserted conclusion, so it is an example of an argument from ignorance: choosing a belief which has no evidence for it, simply because they think there is not yet evidence against it.
2) Special pleading fallacy
Theists are exempting God from the same scrutiny which they claim makes a god necessary: “How did it come to exist?” Claiming logical exception for only a specific claim is a special pleading fallacy. This means the argument’s logic is inconsistent and therefore it doesn’t work. The conclusion does not logically follow from the premises.
3) Occam’s razor
If it is true that at some point something must exist by its own nature, then the logic inevitably proceeds like this: We know the universe exists but we do not know any god exists. Now since the same property (exists by its own nature) can apply to either one, this means that “god” is a baseless assumption. It is a pointless concept because it adds an unnecessary step/element to the system being discussed (that system being reality as a whole) so there is no basis upon which to suppose it should exist at all. Therefore the claim that a god exists is as surely wrong as any other un-evidenced mythological creature.
“It takes more faith to believe something came from nothing!”
I agree that it doesn’t make any sense intuitively. But neither does something existing eternally. So either way we’re in a confusing situation.
The evidence indicates that “something from nothing” is actually a possibility. Matter is energy, and since there is both positive and negative energy, the total energy of the universe is supposedly zero according to astrophysicists.
But honestly I don’t have knowledge of that and I don’t rest any of my beliefs on it. It’s irrelevant to my atheism. “Coming from nothing” is only one theory of the origin of the Big Bang. I am just as much an atheist if we assume the natural world is eternal, because as mentioned previously, adding a god into any theory of the universe is arbitrary and unnecessary since anything about “God” that you say is necessary, like being eternal, might as well be said of nature itself.
“Everything happens according to LAW (natural laws, etc), therefore a God must have created that order.”
That is a special pleading fallacy, because the idea of a god provides no unique properties or explanatory power.
The inescapable fact is that if something, anything, existed that could ultimately produce a universe with order, there must have been laws of some sort determining how it operated – whether you think the thing which existed was a “god” or not.
Otherwise you’re saying that God existed in a state of total randomness, that God himself WAS randomness. So that wouldn’t even be “God”. It would just be randomness.
And in such a case there would be nothing to move reality to a state of order – except pure chance, but I doubt many religious people would accept the idea of their god being the result of pure random chance. And even if we assumed such a thing could happen, the same logic could apply to simply saying that instead of the randomness forming god, it formed the fundamental laws of the natural world which eventually resulted in our universe being created.
Either way, you’re starting with some manner or degree of “harmony” and order necessary to produce the universe we see today. And if a god offers no necessary, unique explanatory power, then we have no reason at all to suppose one exists. As always, a ‘god’ is an unnecessary, useless additional assumption.
“The order and complexity of the universe is tremendous evidence that there must be a god who designed it! How else could it happen?”
See my article here.
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed! Therefore something outside the laws of nature had to create energy!”
The Law of the Conservation of Energy simply states that the total sum of energy in a system must remain constant. And since energy can be negative, it’s possible for the total energy in the universe to be zero. Lawrence Krauss explains:
“The total energy of the universe is precisely zero, because gravity can have negative energy. The negative energy of gravity balances out the positive energy of matter. Only such a universe can begin from nothing. The laws of physics allow a universe to begin from nothing. You don’t need a deity. Quantum fluctuations can produce a universe.”
“Only God could create the laws of logic.”
First you need to understand that logic is not an arbitrary set of rules that people invented and just began using. What we call rules of logic and reasoning are based on observations about how the world works and what sort of thought processes can best lead to accurate conclusions. We formulated them to describe experience.
So how does this relate to a god? Well if anything exists in any way at all, then there are observable ways that the reality operates – ie. rules of logic – for that reality regardless of what it was made of or contained. A god would just be a self aware part of that reality.
And so the concept of “logic” has no bearing on whether a god exists or not. The question is simply whether or not anything likely exists that would meet our definition of a “god”.
“If you have a bunch of cut-out letters, and you throw them on the floor, an encyclopedia won’t appear. Therefore randomness cannot produce organized things like people!”
(This argument is also made with reference to dropping puzzle pieces and the pieces all falling into place)
1) The evolution of the universe and life doesn’t happen suddenly.
2) Life and the universe doesn’t occur totally randomly. Gravity is not random, for example. (If you think this means some being created order to start, then please see my article on Order and Complexity)
3) In that analogy, you are expecting a certain result – a collection of the letters ordered in what would form a human language (or puzzle pieces cut in specific ways so that all of them can only fit together one way). But that is not analogous to reality. In reality, we are not made of letters which can only make sense as human language, or puzzle pieces that can only fit together one way. Structures and living beings form as they do in accordance with the existing environment. So in the analogy, the fact that the letters fall would be analogous to the environment; and the resulting arrangement of the letters is what the universe becomes and what sort of life appears. No matter what, you will get something. If the atheist view is correct – that there was no “intelligent designer” – then the natural world doesn’t try to do anything specific. It doesn’t have a “goal”. It simply operates according to the physical structures and forces of its own nature. A religious person could argue the same about a god, but our difference of opinion is simply that as atheists we do not see any logical basis for introducing that step where the original origins or order was a conscious being that intentionally designed and created everything else.
4) There is also the quite likely possibility that there have been many universes which have indeed *not* worked out, and either collapsed in on themselves or never could produce life, or stars, etc.
You are a proof that God exists, because you are perfectly suited for your environment!
This is a useless thing to point out because we would be suited for our environment whether gods exist or not. It cannot possibly be any other way. All creatures must fit their environment to some sufficient degree, otherwise they would not exist there.
Also, it should be noted that we are not “perfectly” suited to our environment. We have adapted to it, but if we were designed from the ground up with the purpose of surviving and thriving in our environment as well as possible, then we would be infinitely better able to naturally withstand disease, prevent and heal broken bones, need little or no food and water, levels of heat and cold that other animals can withstand much better than ourselves, withstand falls from greater heights, perhaps fly and live without air underwater, and so on.
Genesis is not wrong about the creation of the world. It just appears wrong because it was written in a way that would be easier for people to understand. The Bible wasn't meant to teach us science.
(This is an argument often used by Christians who accept the Big Bang and Evolution)
1) Genesis does not provide a simplified description of accurate information such that is “easy to understand”. Its description of events include odd specific details about splitting light and dark and making two original humans and all the animals in present form. It paints a radically incorrect and misleading picture compared to what we have learned about the world’s past. One who reads Genesis does not come away with any better understanding of how the world and animal life came to be. If it did, then it would make a fine replacement for generalized descriptions of the Big Bang and evolution in introductory science books. But it obviously cannot serve such a purpose, because it simply tells a purely invented magical story that does not correspond to the reality, like myriad other ancient cultures. To an unbiased reader this clearly indicates that the authors of Genesis held incorrect beliefs.
2) If the Bible IS accurate, but was NOT meant to teach science, then it would simply have left out descriptions relating to science that would grossly mislead people, or it would have given much more general but not false descriptions.
If one thing with an arrangement has an arranger (like a car), then another thing with an arrangement has an arranger (the natural world).
That is a logical fallacy called a “hasty generalization”. It is like saying “This house is blue, therefore all houses are blue”. The conclusion does not follow from the evidence. Also, the argument must apply to the God hypothesis as well, meaning that since God is a cohesive being of some kind, then in whatever manner in which he exists he must have “an arrangement”, whether it be of a sort that we would consider “material” or not. So your argument offers no support for favoring belief in God over disbelief.
The 'days' in Genesis refer to 'eras', not 24-hour days!
(This argument is used by creationists who accept the Big bang theory, evolution, and an old universe, and believe that Genesis has no conflict with those ideas)
The following passages directly identify the days of creation with the 24-hour days of the week, and even set one of them apart because it was the day God rested from creation:
Genesis 2:3 says, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day. You have six days to do all your work. The seventh day is the day of worship dedicated to Yahweh your God…. In six days the Lord made heaven, earth, and the sea, along with everything in them. He didn’t work on the seventh day. That’s why the Lord blessed the day he stopped his work and set this day apart as holy.”
Exodus 31:14-16 says, “14 ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
Genesis got the order of creation pretty close if you just interpret 'days' as 'eras'.
That is incorrect. Genesis still gets several things grossly wrong even if we assumed “days” meant “eras”.
1) Genesis begins with an ocean before there the Earth had any solid form. It says “the earth was without form” and that “darkness was upon the face of the deep”. Genesis tells us that God moved upon the “face of the waters” thus indicating that it is speaking about a genuine ocean with a surface, not just water particles scattered throughout the universe. This is referring to a watery ocean, not the solid planet which in reality formed before the oceans. This is incorrect, since the Earth actually formed its shape prior to the existence of a solid body of water.
2) The light is called “day” and the darkness is called “night” prior to the Sun being created, when in reality the Sun is the source of light during the period we call “day”.
3) Plants come into being on the day – or “era” – prior to the Sun coming into existence, which is incorrect.
4) Fish, birds, and whales come into being in the same “era”, while land animals and insects come into being in the following era. With today’s understanding of evolution, we know that Genesis is completely wrong even if “day” were interpreted to mean an “era”. Also, Genesis implies that all these creatures are coming into existence in the form we see them in today. And in chapter 2 of Genesis, a different order of creation is given, with humans preceding all animals including birds.
Note: Even if Genesis had gotten the order of creation of broad categories of things right, that does not mean that they had any remarkable knowledge. Many religious traditions have ideas about how the universe was created that all will line up with some aspects of what science indicates really occurred. In fact, it is expected that they would get the overall order close because a creation story a inclined to begin with the most fundamental, overarching aspects of nature like the earth, sky, and light, then describe the more specific parts coming later, like animals. What would be remarkable would be information about the development of the universe in a holy text that was much more specific and almost impossible to have arrived at other than by having knowledge of explicit details.
A rock doesn't suddenly change from being a rock into say an ax head unless acted upon by something else. For matter and energy to change and form something new, they must be acted upon from the outside.
That claim is making the common mistake of misunderstanding the relationship between objects within the universe, as well as the relationship between the universe to a possible god. The argument asserts meaningless boundaries within reality.
The rock and the person who shapes it are not part of different realities where one is “outside” the other. They are part of the same system of causation (and possibly some randomness as we infer from QM). We, and all our actions, seem to ultimately be the result of prior causes and intermixing bits of the cosmos.
Far enough back in time, the bits that comprise the rock and the person were all mixed together. The arrangement of those bits changed over time due to the forces of physics. And part of the result was a human acting upon a rock to make an ax head. So nothing happened from the outside at all. A single system transforms the rock into the ax head through its own internal forces.
My point is that whether there is a god or not, then by definition there is necessarily just one total system of causation for any things which interact in any way. It means nothing to say there is something “outside” of it. There are only parts of the whole.
The exact same principles would apply to a god if one existed. A god would necessarily exist as the whole or part of a particular system of operations, like the physics of our own universe, that are integral and necessary aspects of anything for it to be coherent, distinct, and definable.
So the god would simply be part of – or the entire – system of causation of our universe. I merely apply the principle of Occam’s Razor to the ‘god’ hypothesis and view a god as unlikely to exist since it is an unnecessary addition to a system of causation that would function the same whether it contained, or was itself, a god.
The Argument from Design cannot be used to claim that there must be an infinite regression of designers because God does not bear signs of design. As Aquinas argued, God is infinitely simple. God is indivisible and unchangeable.
(Note that this argument does not refute the notion of a god. It merely questions the particular notion of a god being maximally simple and indivisible)
1. Same Argument Problem
Even if Aquinas’s concept of divine simplicity were logically sound, then I could simply make the same claim about a non-god origin or foundation of the universe. In that case, Occam’s Razor would cut out the unnecessary assumption of a god because we already know the natural world exists. So the notion of God being simple and indivisible would not help support Theism even if it made sense.
2. Indivisible and Immaterial?
If God is “immaterial”, then what does it even mean to be “divisible” or “indivisible”? Those terms refer to material objects being broken down into their components, or being unable to be broken down that way, respectively. It would be incoherent and inapplicable to use it in reference to something “immaterial” because there would be no parts – not even one – to for the thing to be broken down to.
3. Static and Without Function
This is the main point against the notion of God being infinitely simple, indivisible, and unchangeable. A thing which is indivisible and unchangeable – and existed alone or is everything – would static and without function. Something with any sort of ability to act, such as to think or use speech, could not be indivisibly simple. Such a notion is illogical because the ability to do anything we have ever known necessitates a multiplicity of parts that interrelate.
Consider any action you perform such as thinking or moving your arm. These are in fact defined by the way parts interact.
We have no evidence that something which consists of one part can behave in such a way. For the notion of divine simplicity to be valid, one must offer evidence for it even being a coherent concept. Then one must provide evidence on top of that for why a simple god probably exists.