Hypothesis 1: A magical supernatural creator, who exists outside of space and time, created himself, and then subsequently created the universe via supernatural methods
Hypothesis 2: The universe, via a collection of *natural* mechanisms, came to exist around 13.7 billion years ago.
Hypothesis 1 is appealing to a lot of people, I suspect, because it provides a clear answer. No more thought is involved if you accept hypothesis 1. It can be your answer for everything, and it’s particularly useful when you’re responding to questions to which you do not have a quality answer. God did it, don’t you know?
There are philosophical, logical, and psychological challenges when you try to traverse the problem of how a universe might have come to exist via natural mechanisms. Hypothesis 2 is, after all, not very well answered. When you look at the observations humans have collected to support hypothesis 2, you’ll find compelling evidence that gives rise to a much deeper understanding of how the universe works. But, at the end of the day, all hypothesis 2 can give is a natural explanation for what we’ve been able to collect so far, which is a small fraction of the whole story.
But make no mistake, hypothesis 1 (the god hypothesis) commits the special pleading fallacy. Why? Because we don’t observe supernatural phenomena…ever. Magic is never the answer to any problem. So, when we say “oh, it was just that one time that a supernatural creator intervened to create the universe,” we engage in the special pleading that took me the better part of a decade to work through – Antony Flew was never able to put that behind him, despite a lifetime of trying.
The enlightenment and post-enlightenment brought with it a new pragmatism that had been absent from European culture for the better part of a millennium. The magnificent philosophy worked out by Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, and the rest of the Greek gang during pre-Christianity was almost entirely lost by the west due to economic and geographic isolation from the east.
So, it’s no wonder that Christianity was able to thrive during a time of otherwise significant political and cultural upheaval across the vestiges of the Roman empire – there was no philosophical counterpoint that had the freedom to ask questions like “hey, who are Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke, and how the hell do we know they’re telling the truth?” The legacy left over from hundreds of years of intellectual isolation is still felt today, because people indeed feel the need to argue for Hypothesis 1, despite the fact that it is illogical, and is entirely lacking evidence.
Religion’s supporters might ask, “what about the appearance of intelligent design across the universe?”
My response to this notion is a counter-question: what would a universe created by an intelligent designer look like? Contrast that with what a universe that was created without intelligent intervention look like?
Personally, I think an undesigned universe would be big, with a lot of wasted space, with very little life, and a preponderance of misfortune and struggle for the life that does exist. Consider how many animals and human beings starve to death every single day, and how many choke to death, or die from dental problems, or harsh weather patterns, or germs they can’t even see.
In contrast, consider a designed universe. I’d expect a designed universe to be small, absent of many existential problems, where the creator of the universe takes special interest in their creation. Indeed, this is a fundamental concern for many of the bible’s authors, as evidenced by all the revelation in it. Yet, now that we can record audio and video, these revelations are entirely absent. I wonder why that is.
We can follow the evidence, and see, over and over again, that the world is simply not guided by supernatural intervention, despite the human tenacity to claim it is.
But, as I’ve said before, we know what humans do when they don’t have an answer and have no way to get it: they make stuff up.
So the fact that we’ve got a lot of stories surrounding the bible is no more compelling to me than the fact that there are a lot of stories surrounding Zeus, Thor, or any of the other thousands of gods humans have invented.
Humans have a tendency to put trust into people who are charismatic, even if they are demonstrably wrong. In light of this, it’s interesting, and completely expected, that the most popular and compelling religious leaders often have a high level of charisma. Attach a narrative to the charisma, throw in some carrots and sticks, and an aggressive marketing campaign, and you’ve got yourself a cult.
Here we arrive at the psychological shortcoming of atheism – atheism doesn’t have cheap hope to offer, or much advise to give about what it means to exist without post-life existence. There’s no promise of celestial fairy tales or infinite life as a trade-off for permanent reverence to the invisible god who somehow manages to exist outside of space and time. The universe we see is what we get, and there is no permanent fairy tale or reverence to a dear leader.
Atheism, to me, is simply a pragmatic viewpoint that tentatively rejects (or at least, it should) claims made without evidence. To put it another way, becoming an atheist is about the psychological process of rejecting answers that lack evidence and plausibility, even if it means that the fairy tales you were told as a child are irreconcilably violated.
Yes, Hypothesis 1 is good to use for bedtime stories, provided that you omit the horrendous crimes of the dear leader, but at the end of the day, after the kids have gone to bed and you crack open that beer and take a few minutes to use some of the grand technology that was bankrolled by evidence-based observations, hypothesis 1 is just fiction