Pastor and internet celebrity Joshua Feuerstein has issued what he calls a $100,000 challenge to atheists. He asks them to provide “proof or evidence” that God does not exist. If they can do it, he will give them $100,000.
I doubt that he has any intention of honoring it – although he would certainly earn a lot of respect from me if he did – but the argument he tries to make is quite common among Theists so we should address it.
In Mr. Feuerstein’s video, he argues that no one has a rational justification to disbelieve in God because anyone’s knowledge and experience only includes a small amount of knowledge in comparison to the total collection of facts and information that exist and could potentially be known.
He depicts this visually with a large circle to represent the total of all possible facts and knowledge, and then he includes a very small circle somewhere within the larger one to represent the comparatively small body of evidence we humans actually have on which to base our opinions.
He then tells us that it is absurd for people who only have access to that small circle of knowledge to believe that there is no God anywhere in the larger circle.
My response to Mr. Feuerstein will be structured as a logical proof to make my argument explicitly clear.
P1) The winning conditions. Mr. Feuerstein’s challenge has explicitly requested either “proof or evidence that God does not exist”. We do not need to provide both. So if we can show that there is proof or evidence that God does not exist, then the winning conditions of the Challenge have been satisfied.
P2) Definition of God. What qualifies as evidence that God does not exist is dependent on the particular definition of God in question. Since Joshua Feuerstein is a Christian, we know that the definition of God he is challenging us to provide evidence against is the Christian concept of God. This means that the concept of God in question will have these characteristics:
Property 1. A conscious entity
Property 2. Completely benevolent. It desires to bring happiness and reduce suffering as much as possible.
Property 3. All-powerful. It can, at will, do anything that is not logically incoherent.
Property 4. Knows everything past, present, and future
Property 5. Created the world and everything but himself
So instead my goal is to address the concept of God as defined by Christians themselves – Feuerstein specifically. And while he does not specifically define “God” in his video, others do, and complete benevolence is one of its properties that they seem to all agree on (in addition to omnipotence, etc).
P3) Implications of omnipotence. An omnipotent being would have the ability to prevent suffering to all living beings.
P4) Proof by Contradiction. We can disprove a proposition with a Proof by Contradiction. This relates to my main argument in that we can use a Proof by Contradiction to disprove that at least one or more of the effects which would occur if God exists actually occurs. If we can show that events and conditions exist in our knowledge and experience that are contrary to one or more of the effects which would occur if God exists, then we have provided evidence that God does not exist.
P5) An atheist’s experience would include the effects of God’s existence. The properties listed above that define the Christian concept of God necessarily involve effects that would overlap in multiple ways with current human knowledge and experience if that God existed – even regardless of whether you believe in God or not.
In other words, if God existed, certain effects of God’s existence would be apparent and observable to atheists. This can be represented visually by creating a third circle in the above graphic to represent where the effects of the Christian God’s existence would occur if it were real. Due to the nature of Christian beliefs about God listed in P3, this circle would necessarily overlap the small circle representing our current knowledge and experience, as shown below.
And because of P4, if the small circle does not have any green area within it then that necessarily means that the being which defines the area covered by the green circle could not exist, period.
With regard to my main argument, this means that if the effects of God’s existence do not occur within an atheist’s sphere of knowledge and experience then either the god Christians believe in does not exist or we would be speaking about a fundamentally different god, i.e. one with very different properties that is irrelevant to this challenge.
P6) The existence of suffering would contradict the existence of God. Because of P4 and P5, if suffering exists, then the being defined in P2 could not exist.
P7) Suffering exists. The effects of God’s existence indeed are not apparent in our available sphere of knowledge and experience. However, our observations do match what would be expected if the Christian god did not exist. Below is the most clear and obvious example of a way that our knowledge observes effects contrary to the effects which would occur if God exists:
If an all-benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient being had created the world then there should be no suffering in it whatsoever. But suffering indeed exists.
If one has objections to the validity of this point then to complete this premise it will be necessary to read my article Is The Problem Of Evil A Valid Argument? where I elaborate on my reasons for why this is a valid point.
Other points can be made including false claims in the Bible, the efficacy of prayer, and more. I may add these to the article at a later time, but the Problem of Evil is so clear and simple that I will focus on it exclusively for now.
P8) Suffering contradicts what would be the effects of God’s existence. Because of P6, P7 proves that God, as defined in P2, does not exist.
P9) Definition of Evidence. Some people may object that we do not, and cannot, know for certain that, if God exists, God thinks or works in some way that is indeed moral but is incomprehensible to our human minds. But such a claim fails to challenge my argument, because evidence is defined as “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.” (Emphasis mine. Source: oxforddictionaries.com) So information that is not available and cannot be presumed to exist is irrelevent to the question of whether the existence of suffering qualifies as evidence indicating that it is most likely that God does not exist. So we must concede that at least evidence has been provided by this argument to support the proposition that God does not exist.
C) Conclusion. Therefore the winning conditions of the challenge defined in P1 have been satisfied.