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Austin Cline

Penn Jillette: There Is No God

By December 7, 2006

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Sometimes, people who don't believe in god are told that they must not really believe in anything. I've even had that happen recently on comments here with the blunt statement: "I say you don't have beliefs." To be fair, the label "atheism" does focus on what a person doesn’t believe rather than on what they do believe. That does not mean, though, that atheists don't believe in anything. You just have to ask them rather than assume you already know all you need to about them.

Penn Jillette doesn’t believe in any gods, but at the same time he believes in many other things:

Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Source: National Public Radio

It's common for religious theists to ask me and other atheists why we bother living if we don't believe in a god and heaven. For some reason, they don't understand how anyone could enjoy this life enough to want to live it — if there isn't something much better coming along later, they don’t see what's so great about living now. I find that particularly sad and wonder what's so awful about their lives that they can't appreciate them for what they have here and now. I wonder if perhaps their religious theism is at least partially motivated by a desire to escape the terrible loneliness or suffering which causes them to denigrate living today.

Of course, exactly that is what suggests that the religious theists' question is aimed in the wrong direction. As an atheist who doesn't believe in an afterlife, I know that I only get this one chance — if I don't live now and make the most of it now, that's it for me. Killing myself won't lead to any improvements in my current situation. For the religious theist, however, their belief in a heaven has to make suicide a bit more appealing because at least there's a chance they will go on to something better.

It's no wonder that religions typically treat suicide as a sin: after having set up the conditions for making death especially attractive, they have to do something to ensure that believers stick around for at least a little while. You can't have powerful religious institutions ruling over society when all of your most devout members knock themselves off the first chance they get.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.

People who believe in a god that has everything planned and that will make everything turn out OK in the end have little reason to be too worried about how things are going at the present moment. After all, no matter how bad it may look it must still be part of the "plan" and there's no way that we can irrevocably mess things up. God will ensure that we're taken care of.

People who don't believe in gods know that there is no one who has the course of the universe planned out and that no will make everything better in the end. No matter how bad it looks right now, it could get worse and if we don't do something, it may indeed get worse. We are more than capable of irrevocably messing things up for good and we have nearly done so on more than one occasion. If things are going to go well, it's because we put in the effort to make them go well — no one is going to do it for us.

Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith."

That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.

It's often my experience that when a person believes that they have a god on their side, they really don't have to listen to or seriously consider the viewpoints and ideas expressed by others. Not every religious theist is like this, obviously, and it's also not a simple either/or, black and white matter. Some are more willing to listen and some are less willing to listen.

There is a strong trend against listening, however, and I think that this is because there is a strong connection between the two positions. When you believe that there is a god on your side, that this god has communicated to you (and/or to humanity in general), that this god has made known its wishes, and that you understand what these wishes are (at least generally), then many will conclude from this that they don't have much or anything to learn — at least when it comes to those areas where they believe god has spoken.

If you know that your god is opposed to abortion, then why listen to those who believe abortion should be legal or give serious consideration to young, unwed, pregnant teens who sincerely think that an abortion is best for them right now? If you know your god is opposed to stem-cell research, then why listen to scientists who think that it will help cure diseases or seriously consider the perspectives of people who suffer from potentially curable conditions? If you think your god is a necessary force for morality, then why listen to atheists who manage to be moral without your god?

Sometimes, belief in a god will cause a person to believe that the universe is comprehensible and this inspires them to try to learn about it. Many other times, however, belief in a god causes a person to think that they already know what they need and dismiss attempts to learn more. At best, the two balance each other out in the long run.

Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

People who believe in God and who reject the idea that the existence of suffering and evil in the world suggests that there is no god often do by arguing that this is the "best of all possible worlds." Either God is unable to reduce suffering because they would take away some good like free will, or God is able but this would lead to even worse things down the road. Take a look around at all the suffering and evil in the world: according to many religious theists, this is as good as it gets and as good as their all-powerful, perfectly loving god can make it.

Without their god, though, there's at least the chance that things could be better and, therefore, that we can make things better. We might fail. We might even make things worse. At least we have a chance, though, and we can take personal responsibility for our own fates. Take a look around at all the suffering and evil in the world: according to atheists, this isn't as good as it can get and we should work to make things better.

Comments
December 7, 2006 at 1:21 pm
(1) Phil Anderson says:

I commend you on your ability to articulate an atheistic worldview. It is important for those of us who have a biblical worldview to understand the filter in which you see the world.

Your argument has so many holes and flaws I don’t know where to begin. First, it seems like you believe your worldview is somehow superior to anyone who holds to a religious worldview. This concept is ridiculous. All people are equally religious. Everyone worships something, someone, or many things. As an atheist you simply look at yourself as the final authority. You have put yourself in the place of an external supernatural being. Therefore, it is the whims of society that becomes the final judge for behavior. Scary thought, just ask the millions that were slaughtered by atheistic idealogues in Soviet Gulags or any communistic society where atheism is/was the official “religion” of the country.

Second, you have concluded that because you are somehow so enlightened that a God could not exist. How can you say that? Have you travelled the cosmos? Do you somehow have special powers that allows you to observe the spirit world. The Bible indicates that God is a spirit and those who worship him must do so with their spirits. Perhaps you have failed to explore the spiritual aspects of your being.

If God exists and He created the universe as we know it, then He would by definition be the “First Cause”. How in the world could your little mind and my little mind even begin to understand this being who is so much greater than us. It’s like when my children capture a bug and place it into a jar. That bug has no understanding of the human beings who have placed it into the jar. That bug does not even have the capability of understanding my 401k plan or my car or love or anything else with which humans participate.

The Bible gives us a logical framework with which to do life. It has lasted the test of time and will continue. Dictators and despots have tried to destroy it, highere critics have tried to pass it off as a book of fables but for anyone who has come to this book in humility and asked the question, “God do you exist and can I know you?” Then, God begins a work in that individual whereby He does reveal himself. It is not though the eyes that you see Him. The physical attributes of our existence are part of His creation. Why would He need to limit Himself like his creation (although He did through Jesus). However, it is though the spirt that He reveals Himself. The emperical evidence to this is simply the way He changes an individual’s desires. A person in relatioship with God through Jesus Christ will always become externally motivated. He will begin to think about the needs of others and less about fulfilling his own lusts.

Look around you. Atheism has never dried a tearful eye. It has never tried to take away the pain and suffering of people. In fact, the countries who have turned to a worldview of atheism have brought more pain and suffering to their people (Communists regimes).

Every country on this planet has some type of charitable organization run by those with a biblical worldview. I personally have been on trips to help people who are suffering.

The love of God compels me to want to serve other people. I do not understand everything about God. It is impossible. However, I am committed to learning more about Him and His creation daily. This gives me great impetus for learning and developing as a human.

The Gospel does bring hope to people for the next life but it also brings hope to people for this life. Atheism is a bankrupt religion just as any religion. It is hollow inside and does not have nor seek to have any answers. It cannot lead us into a utopian society. It will only lead to more pain and suffering.

The only way to see clearly is to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. Let Him help you get grounded in the Book of Genesis. Here God clues us into what has happened to the human race – why there is pain and suffering, what our purpose is and why we were created. Then, get grounded in the Ten Commandments. Understand why we can never live up to the moral code that God demands. Then, that will open the doors to your understnding of why we all need a savior (someone who is perfect and would take our punishment for the crime we have committed).

The Bible is a powerful book. For anyone who humbles themselves and seeks God with their whole being, he will reveal Himself.

Many of the United State’s founding fathers understood this. That is why our revolution developed something completely different than the French Revolution.

If you will earnestly study these two revolutions you will see the contrast between an atheistic worldview and a biblical worldview.

Alexis Toquaville, french “atheistic” philosopher, wanted to find out the difference between the revolutions and he said that America is great because America is good and if she ceases to be good she will cease to be great. Toquaville found Americans in churches on Sunday and living out their biblical worldview in the public square during the rest of the week.

It was in the bloody streets of France that Tocaville found the atheistic worldview at work.

Grow up and turn from your pride and arrogance. Repent from the way you are doing life and turn to Christ. He wants to embrace you.

December 7, 2006 at 1:53 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

Your argument has so many holes and flaws I don’t know where to begin.

How about explaining what “argument” you mean? Maybe if you did that you would be able to articulate some actual objections because everything you wrote is incorrect. In fact, I think every single one of your errors is already addressed here among the myths I’ve taken the time to refute.

First, it seems like you believe your worldview is somehow superior to anyone who holds to a religious worldview. This concept is ridiculous.

All people are equally religious. Everyone worships something, someone, or many things.

As an atheist you simply look at yourself as the final authority. You have put yourself in the place of an external supernatural being.

Scary thought, just ask the millions that were slaughtered by atheistic idealogues in Soviet Gulags or any communistic society where atheism is/was the official “religion” of the country.

Second, you have concluded that because you are somehow so enlightened that a God could not exist. How can you say that?

Have you travelled the cosmos? Do you somehow have special powers that allows you to observe the spirit world.

The Bible indicates that God is a spirit and those who worship him must do so with their spirits. Perhaps you have failed to explore the spiritual aspects of your being.

If God exists and He created the universe as we know it, then He would by definition be the “First Cause”.

The Bible gives us a logical framework with which to do life.

Look around you. Atheism has never dried a tearful eye.

The love of God compels me to want to serve other people.

The Gospel does bring hope to people for the next life but it also brings hope to people for this life.

Atheism is a bankrupt religion just as any religion. It is hollow inside and does not have nor seek to have any answers. It cannot lead us into a utopian society. It will only lead to more pain and suffering.

Grow up and turn from your pride and arrogance.

December 7, 2006 at 3:24 pm
(3) Triphesas says:

More links than I’ve ever seen in a comment. :)

Well, I guess it’s kind of sad that all they can do is pull out the same old, refuted arguments, over and over again.

December 7, 2006 at 3:32 pm
(4) Austin Cline says:

More links than I’ve ever seen in a comment.

I actually had to give special permission for the comment to be posted – the system thought it had to be spam, what with all the links. I’ve never seen so many myths packed into such a small area.

December 7, 2006 at 6:32 pm
(5) IsaacJ says:

*”Grow up and turn from your pride and arrogance.”*

Man, back at you, Phil. 949 words of the same old thing we’ve all heard and that Austin has already addressed in other articles, all spoken as if it’s something new and breathtaking. Why assume that none of us, Austin especially, has considered these points? Just because we haven’t come to the same conclusions you have? Maybe some of us our ahead of you on the curve. Maybe you would even learn something from people with another viewpoint if you stop to mull it over a little. Instead, you stomp in with guns-a-blazing and demonstrate the very point that Austin and Penn Jillette were trying to make.

Because our world view isn’t locked up tight in some little box, we can accept the world from all angles until we find the one that makes the most sense. We aren’t trying to make sense of the world from a preexisting ideology, but instead trying to create a point of view from what’s really out there. NOT just the one that “feels best” or that snaps nicely into ideas we’ve already formed. And you’ve just demonstrated the huge limitations that such a narrow world view imposes by proving his whole case. You apparently didn’t even realize that arguing against their point actually serves to reinforce it. I see this so often that I can’t help but feel some pity.

Perhaps it’s time to take your own advice for a change.

December 8, 2006 at 2:54 pm
(6) Kal says:

>Everyone worships something, someone,
>or many things. As an atheist you
>simply look at yourself as the final
>authority. — Phil Anderson

The kettle and the pot are black. You have determined that there is a god, and you have used your own authority to make that determination. *You* decided that the Bible is accurate.

So why is it that when an atheist makes an intellectual choice that he becomes his own God??? That’s just absurd.

December 8, 2006 at 2:00 pm
(7) Jim C. says:

One small question. If this is the best of all worlds and it contains suffering and pain so thar we will know real joy, how is it that we are told heaven will be endless joy without pain and suffering?
Oh hell, a second small question. Did God send himself to Earth sacrifice himself to himself to save sinful creatures he created in the irst place?

December 8, 2006 at 2:30 pm
(8) Austin Cline says:

One small question. If this is the best of all worlds and it contains suffering and pain so that we will know real joy, how is it that we are told heaven will be endless joy without pain and suffering?

To be fair, philosophical discussions about some “best possible world” aren’t references to our “planet,” but the sum total of our existence. This means that the “world” includes the universe as well as heaven.

On the other hand, you raise an important point about heaven which I try to bring up and which religious theists tend to have trouble with. Popular conceptions of heaven are of an existence without sin or evil. Supposedly, sin and evil exist here because without them, we couldn’t have some other good (like free will).

We are thus given three choices: heaven lacks that good (so that evil and sin can be eliminated), or heaven has that good but there is also evil & sin (so popular conceptions of heaven are wrong), or heaven has that good but also doesn’t have evil & sin (thus the theodicy above is wrong).

No matter which choice is picked, it’s a significant problem for traditional religious beliefs.

Oh hell, a second small question. Did God send himself to Earth sacrifice himself to himself to save sinful creatures he created in the irst place?

Yes. And don’t forget: this “sacrifice” meant that an eternal, perfect being “suffered” for less than a blink of an eye (from its perspective).

December 8, 2006 at 4:59 pm
(9) Samantha says:

So theists tell us how arrogant we are for not believing in their god, but I think that the height of arrogance is thinking that a supreme being would be even remotely concerned with the minutiae of our lives.

December 8, 2006 at 5:35 pm
(10) John Hanks says:

All skygods are frauds that are used for social control and extortion. That doesn’t mean that contemplative religions are bogus. They don’t pray. They listen.

December 9, 2006 at 7:56 am
(11) Art Haykin says:

In my view, the TRUE Atheist (one who lives life as though there were no Gods), couldn’t care less if there is a God or Gods or not, as it is wholly irrelevant. There is certainly no credible evidence of any such being or of any supernatural events of any kind. Nature is utterly secular and randomness rules supreme. One simply cannot argue against the believers using reason and logic, for these are rejected out of hand. We are simply told, from the cradle, that we MUST believe, or face dire consequences from a “loving” God. Some God…..some love!!! No one, repeat NO ONE knows the answers to the big questions like “Why are we here,” or How did we get here,” etc. I don’t think we’ll ever know, so we should just make the most of it and stop making up precious little stories, myths, and fables about it. I don’t give a DAMN what anyone else believes, so long as they stay out of my face and space with their banal blather. Religion is a palliative, and humans have always palliated that which they cannot cure of deal with effectively. For some, sugarcoated pills DO seem to work, so spin those prayer wheels, say those novenas,sing those hymns, and put all that money on the plate. Arguing religion with the benighted unwashed is like arguing over a window seat on Flight 91. TheArt@webtv.net

December 10, 2006 at 11:53 pm
(12) Dano says:

>

There are many more arguments to refute Atheism as well. Many books and websites are available for viewing.

Later

December 11, 2006 at 9:53 am
(13) Joseph Kilian says:

There are many more arguments to refute Atheism as well. Many books and websites are available for viewing.

Oh my.. the same can be said for Religion. Tons of Freethought and Atheism pages out there.

whywontgodhealamputees dot com

April 15, 2007 at 1:50 pm
(14) Todd says:

If I’m a nice person for virtue alone and nothing else (ie: Promise of reward or fear of eternal punishment), doesn’t that make me a better person?

June 10, 2008 at 12:34 am
(15) hmm says:

I just want to know if I go to heaven and my best friend goes to hell, then how would heaven be so great when they are not there?

June 13, 2008 at 6:47 pm
(16) Nick4693 says:

“The Bible gives us a logical framework with which to do life. It has lasted the test of time and will continue.”

Phil, have you really read the Bible?
I have, from cover to cover, and I ended up with nightmares.
If I followed every tenet contained in this book of horrors, I would be a serial killer 10 times over, moreover with your god’s blessing.

June 13, 2008 at 7:46 pm
(17) Nick4693 says:

“I just want to know if I go to heaven and my best friend goes to hell, then how would heaven be so great when they are not there?”

You’re worrying over nothing, hmm!
You’re not going to heaven and your friend isn’t going to hell, because neither place exists!
Enjoy your friendship while you can. There’re no second chances!

June 16, 2008 at 11:14 pm
(18) Nate Mullikin says:

“For some, sugarcoated pills DO seem to work, so spin those prayer wheels, say those novenas,sing those hymns, and put all that money on the plate.”

Add to this list of instructions to the faithful religious people of the world…

force polygamy onto young girls,
legislate against medical research,
legislate against scientific research,
make people scoff at cosmology,
beat your children,
prevent longevity research because true life begins at death,
endorse slavery,
invent homophobia,
segregate people as sheep from goats,
support women as chattel,
inquisize,
shun,
kill off whole civilizations,
promote poverty among the peasants,
suicide bomb,
commit desperate resources to missions, and
go to holy war, killing thousands, at the drop of a hat.

The damage to society wrought by religion is hard to fully concieve and hence easy to belittle. If antibiotics are direly needed, pacebos can kill.

October 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm
(19) Donewithgod says:

Sometimes I do hope the christian ‘god’ exists. I’ve seen so much suffering being done by innocent people (children), that I’d love to tell this ‘god’ I’d rather go to his/her/its hell than spend eternity in its presence (I guess I just did if it is an all knowing god as claimed). I’m tired of people glorifying ‘god’ when there is good fortune, then either dismissing him/her/it entirely when something bad happens or saying him/her/it is trying to teach us a lesson.

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