Design or Order?

When people say they see design in the universe, what they are really seeing is order, a very different thing. Order is what you should expect from a world in which A is A, which entails the corollary that what a thing does is determined by what it is. These laws of identity and causality necessarily produce order. And since to exist is to exist as something with a specific nature, no alternative to order is conceivable.
The consequences of this point are significant for the God question. George H. Smith puts it well in Atheism: The Case Against God:
It is a mistake to confuse "order" with "design." If there is design in nature, there must be a designer, but the same is not true of order. Order does not presuppose an orderer; it is simply entailed by the nature of existence itself.

Why Complexity?

A variation of the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is the question, "Why is there complexity rather than simplicity?" Of course the point of the question is that complexity proves God.
No it doesn't.
The question has a hidden expectation: namely, that nature unaided would necessarily be simple. But why would anyone expect that? I've never heard an answer to that question. It's a completely arbitrary expectation, especially in light of the well-established concept of undesigned complex order, or spontaneous order, which is found not only in the natural world but also in the social world. (See the pioneering work of the thinkers who made up the Scottish Enlightenment.)
Regarding unwarranted expectations, Ludwig Wittgenstein once was watching the sun set with a friend, who commented that he could understand why people used to think the sun revolved around the earth. To which Wittgenstein replied: Why? How would you expect things to loo…

Why Something Rather than Nothing?

Many religious believers are hung up on existence. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" they ask, perplexed by the world around them. Here's the odd thing: many atheists are hung up on it too. I don't know how often I've heard hosts of atheist call-in shows say to a theist who raised this question: "The right answer is: I don't know." No it isn't!
If you just stare at it for a bit, you'll see that it's a very bizarre question. I have to wonder why anyone ever thought to ask it. I want to say: what did you expect? Nothing, after all, is no thing. It's not a special sort of thing. It's the void, the absence, the zero. Nothing does not exist, and so nothing can come from nothing. Why should it be thought of as the default? Why does existence itself need explaining?
Of course something exists. It's the only thing that could exist. And yes, it displays order. What would you expect of something that is subject to the laws of…


If we all are the children of God, then God is the greatest child abuser imaginable. I'm not referring only to the countless atrocities "reported" in the Hebrew Bible or the introduction of hell -- the threat of eternal torment -- in the New Testament. I also have in mind the prohibition of doubt. Since God sees and knows all, even a private, never-uttered micro-speck of doubt about God's existence is known to God -- and God regards that as the most egregious of sins, deserving of no less than the maximum punishment, hell for Christians and Muslims, mere annihilation for Jews. 
If that is not the sign of a monster child abuser, what would be? This is what so many people believe is worthy of worship? This is what is said to have created us precisely for the purpose of adoring it?
As someone once put it, even if God walked through the door, I'd still be an atheist.

The Presumption of Atheism

Some years ago, the late philosopher and atheist Antony Flew wrote a paper titled "The Presumption of Atheism," which argued for the proposition clearly stated in the title. His point, of course, is that in considering the God question, the burden of proof ought to be on the theist, that is, the one who maintains the proof of the proposition, just as in a criminal case the burden of proof is on the state prosecutor.
This certainly makes sense. For one thing, all children start life as negative atheists: they lack a belief in God. They can't be said to believe in God until they are able to be convinced (in some way and to some extent) that God exists. At that point they may be regarded as believing that God exists on the same evidentiary basis that they believe, say, that Santa Claus exists: their parents, the most trusted source they know, told them so. For a child, whose knowledge is necessarily meager, this is not irrational. Knowledge is contextual; you can be justifie…

The Unknowable

When the atheist is told that God is unknowable, he may interpret this claim in one of two ways. He may suppose, first, that the theist has acquired knowledge of a being that, by his own admission, cannot possibly be known; or, second, he may assume that the theist simply does not know what he is talking about. If the atheist regards the second assumption as far more likely, if he suspects the theist of uttering nonsense, this is partially because the first assumption is appallingly convenient. The theist, in affirming the existence of an unknowable being, ... [has] an all-purpose excuse for exempting [his] claim[] from the burden of proof and the canons of critical scrutiny.George H. Smith, Why Atheism? (2000)

"What if ...?" Is Not an Argument

The other day I heard a caller to an atheist talk show make this argument for the possibility of a supernatural being: what if a dimension exists that is beyond our ability to know and prove? After all, he said, in Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, Edwin Abbott Abbott described a world in which people could perceive only two dimensions. The third dimension, which we perceive easily, was simply beyond their range of awareness. It was real, but they could never know it. So what if, similarly, a fourth dimension exists that is in principle beyond our rage of awareness.
The first thing to notice is that Abbott's satirical novella is fiction! How can it be used to get to the possibility of God or another dimension?
More important, "What if ...?" is not an argument ... for anything. To turn it into an argument, one would have to show that what was being asserted as possible was in fact coherent and plausible (consistent with other things we know and at least somewhat likel…