Humanist perspective: Gods What does the word god mean? You are not allowed to use the word god in your answer. Does a god exist? What different reasons do people give for believing in god? What different reasons do people give for not believing in god? Do you believe in ghosts? Ive seen a ghost.
Lots of people believe in ghosts so they must exist. Ive read about ghosts in books. I just know ghosts exist. My friend told me there are ghosts and I believe him. Ghosts help us to explain lots of things we dont understand.
Do you believe in a god or gods? I hear gods voice talking to me. Lots of people believe in a god so one must exist. My holy book tells me god exists. I just know god exists. Faith is enough for me. My friend told me god exists and I believe her. There are too many
things we cant explain without a god. Humanist responses 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) Hearing gods voice could be a hallucination or just our conscience. This could be something perfectly natural that psychology and neuroscience can explain. Why should we trust one holy book over the others? There are many contradictions between them and even within them. They are wrong about many other things. We can learn from other people, but they can be mistaken. People can also lie to us. Lots of people believe in different gods. They cant all be right. And many people dont believe in a god at all.
Most people used to think the Earth was flat and at the centre of the universe, but we now know they were wrong. For humanists, faith is not good evidence. Simply believing or wanting something to be true does not make it true. Just because we cant answer questions now does not mean that we wont ever be able to answer them in the future. There are many things we were not previously able to explain but now can thanks to the development of our scientific understanding. There may also be questions we can never explain, but that is not a reason to suppose that the explanation is something supernatural. Humanists accept that these are not the only reasons why people believe in a god or gods, but they do not think that any of the arguments put forward for the existence of a god or gods provide good enough evidence to persuade them to believe. What do you think about these humanist responses? Certain, definite, probable, possible What do these words mean? 1) Certain
2) Definite 3) Probable 4) Possible Can you think of sentences that use each word? Belief in god scale I am 100% certain that a god exists. I am completely undecided. Atheist I believe it is highly unlikely that a god exists and live my life as though there are no gods.
I am uncertain but feel that it is more likely a god does exist than one doesnt. I am uncertain but feel that it is more likely that a god doesnt exist than one does. I am 100% certain that there is no god. Place the boxes on the scale I believe it is highly likely that a god exists and live my life as though there is a god.
Theist Atheism and agnosticism Agnostic (without knowledge) Cannot know for sure whether a god exists or not Atheist (without god) Doesnt believe in a god or gods Lives life as though there is no god or gods Agnosticism An agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable. He may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism. Bertrand Russell (18721970) Agnosticism as a term is not quite as vague and non-committal as generally thought it is the belief that one cannot have certain knowledge about things for which there can be no
evidence. T. H. Huxley (18251895) Humanists Humanists are atheists or agnostics. They dont see any good evidence for the existence of a god or gods and live their lives as though there are no gods. Humanism involves more than just the absence of belief in a god: We can use reason and evidence to answer questions about the world This world and life are the only world and life we know we have and we should therefore make the most of them Human beings should try to live full and happy lives, and help others do the same We can create our own meaning and purpose in life Atheism
Theism Belief in god I believe in a god but cant say for certain one exists. I believe in a god and am certain one exists. I dont believe in a god but cant say for certain one does not exist.
I dont believe in a god and am certain no gods exist. Uncertain Certain Is it still possible? If the following events happened a) Is it still possible that a god exists? b) Is it still possible that a god doesnt exist? 1) The prime minister announces that he believes in god 2) An earthquake kills thousands of people 3) Someone in your family is cured of a serious illness that you did not think she would recover from
4) You pray, asking for a sign that god is truly there, and nothing happens 5) A friend tells you they can hear god talking to them inside their head 6) We discover an alien species on another planet and they tell us they used to believe in gods but no longer do Extension questions: Would any event make it certain a god exists? Would any event make it certain a god does not exist? Is it possible to be certain about the existence or non-existence of god? Would it affect your belief? Would the following events make it more or less likely that a god or gods exist? Would it affect your belief or non-belief in a god or gods? 1) A celebrity that you respect and admire says that she is thankful to god for her success 2) An earthquake kills thousands of people 3) Someone in your family is cured of a serious illness that you did not think she would recover from 4) You pray, asking for a sign that god is truly there, and nothing happens 5) We discover an alien species on another planet and they tell us they used to believe in
a god, but no longer do 6) You feel a warm glow of happiness inside you and feel that everything is going to be OK 7) Archaeologists discover a historic text that contains evidence that contradicts what it says in the Bible 8) Everyone else in the world stops believing in a god or gods The invisible pencil-eating monster At the end of a lesson you notice that your pencil is missing. It must have been eaten by the pencil-eating monster, says your friend. When you say you have never heard of a pencil-eating monster, your friend explains that pencil-eating monsters sneak into school classrooms and eat any pencils they can find. You say to your friend that you did not see a monster in the classroom. That is because the pencil-eating monster is invisible, says your friend. When you explain that you didnt hear one either, your friend tells you that it is also silent. You then point out that the door and windows have remained closed throughout the lesson and ask your friend how the monster got in and out. Your friend says that pencileating arethe
intangible (they monster can pass exists? thoughWhy doors 1) Do monsters you believe pencil-eating orand whywalls not?and nobody can feelIsthem). 2) it possible to prove that your friend is wrong? 3) If you found your pencil or discovered someone else had stolen it, would that prove the pencil-eating monster did not exist?
4) Even if you cant prove your friend wrong, does that make it reasonable to believe them? The invisible gardener You arrive at school one day and notice a small, new plant growing in a patch of dirt in the corner of the schoolyard. It must have been planted by a gardener, says your friend. But when you ask your teacher, she tells you the school has no gardener. Your friend says, There must be a gardener or where did the flower come from? When you say that perhaps the flower just grew on its own, your friend replies that it must have had a gardener to help it. The next morning you notice that the flower has grown a little bigger and there is a second flower in the dirt. You see, says your friend, there must be a gardener! He must visit in the middle of the night. You still dont believe your friend so you decide to stay up all night and watch the patch of dirt. You see no gardener, but the following morning the first plant has grown some more and there are several other flowers. The gardener is invisible, says your friend. You tell your friend that you didnt hear anything either, but your friend replies that the gardener must work silently. When you ask if its possible to smell the gardener, your friend says no. The next night, you stay awake again and you stand in front of the patch of dirt so that if there is a gardener you can feel him walking past. You feel nothing all night, but in the morning the flowers have all grown some more. Your 1) Do you believe the gardener exists? Why or why not?
friend tells you that the gardener must be invisible, inaudible (you cant hear him), and intangible (you cant feel 2) him).Is it possible to prove to your friend that the gardener does not exist? 3) Even if you cant prove that your friend is wrong, does that make it reasonable to believe them? 4) Is it possible that the gardener exists and does not exist? 5) Is an invisible, inaudible, intangible gardener different from no gardener at all? The invisible teapot The philosopher Bertrand Russell proposed a thought experiment to illustrate the burden of proof. Imagine you were told that there was a teapot floating in space. Then imagine you were told that this teapot was always located on the exact opposite side of the sun from the Earth so that we would never be able to detect it with our telescopes or in any other way.
1) 2) 3) 4) 5) Would you believe such a teapot existed? Could you prove that it didnt exist? Is it possible to prove that a god doesnt exist? Is it possible to prove anything doesnt exist? If we cant prove something doesnt exist, does that make it reasonable to believe it does exist? 6) Should the responsibility be on the religious believer to prove that there is a god or gods, or on the atheist to prove that there arent any? The burden of proof Even though theres no scientific evidence at all for Gods existence, its also impossible to prove
that God doesnt exist (or that anything doesnt). Ariane Sherine, writer and patron of the British Humanist Association Humanists accept that it would be impossible to prove that something invisible, inaudible, and intangible does not exist (its impossible to believe anything does not exist) but believe it would be perfectly reasonable to doubt it and to be suspicious of those who claim it exists. Humanists believe that the responsibility should lie on those believing in something to prove it does exist, not on those who doubt it to prove that it doesnt exist. The important question for a humanist would be: is there any good evidence that such a thing exists? Questions about the nature of god The omnipotence paradox: If god is omnipotent (can do anything), can he create a stone so big that he cannot move it? Can he create a god greater than himself? Can he make 2 + 2 = 5? Omniscience and free will:
If god is omniscient (knows everything), then does he know the future, including the results of all our actions? If so, then can we have free will? What is the point in rewarding or punishing us, if everything is predestined? What is the point of praying if the outcome is already decided? The problem of evil: If god is omnipotent and benevolent, then why does he let evil and suffering exist? Humanists For humanists the most important thing is not whether you believe in a god or not, but how you live your life. Humanists believe we can all live ethical, happy, and meaningful lives whether we believe in a god or gods or not.
Humanist responses How might a humanist respond to these questions and statements about death? 1) Agnostics just cant make up their minds 2) You cant be certain there isnt a god 3) A humanist is just somebody who doesnt believe in god The teleological argument Surely the regular, ordered movement of the planets, the complexity of the cosmos, and the way living things are perfectly suited to their environment is proof of an intelligent designer? It is just as easy to argue that the universe is violent, ugly, and chaotic as it is to say it is beautiful and ordered.
Darwins theory of evolution by natural selection explains why animals appear designed to fit their environments. Ordered things can occur naturally. For example, a shaken jar of soil and water settles into an ordered pattern. Many features of the natural world do not appear to have been designed particularly well (e.g. the human appendix, our eyes blind spot). Even if there is a creator, this argument says nothing about what that creator is like. The teleological argument The argument from design
If you feel this argument gives evidence for a creator, what kind of creator does it provide evidence of? An omnipotent, benevolent god An evil god An advanced civilisation A supercomputer Something else The ontological argument If you are able to think of a perfect being, you must believe in his existence, because if he didnt exist, he wouldnt be perfect.
Does that mean all sorts of other perfect things must exist? A perfect island, a perfect human, a perfect bacon sandwich? Existence is not a feature of something. You dont add anything to the description of something when you say and it exists. This argument says nothing more than: if a perfect being exists, then it necessarily exists. It does not prove that such a being exists in the first place. The cosmological argument Everything that happens has a cause. But something must have happened in the first place to start the chain of causation moving. This first cause is what we call god.
We cant say for certain that the universe had a beginning. It may have existed forever. If god does not need a cause, then perhaps the universe doesnt need one either. If everything has a cause, then what caused god? Just because we cant yet fully explain the beginning of the universe does not mean we wont find a natural explanation in the future. We previously werent able to explain diseases or bad weather, but we can now.
Even if there is a creator, this argument says nothing about what that creator is like or that it still exists today. Revelation: The personal argument How would a humanist explain the following? I hear god talking to me. I feel the presence of something bigger and more powerful than me. I feel such awe and wonder when I look at the natural world.
I saw a beautiful vision that I could not explain. I often feel like god is near. I had a near-death experience. The personal argument: Humanist responses Revelations lead to predictions that are consistently wrong.
Awe and wonder do not require a supernatural explanation. Science has revealed that manipulation of certain areas of the brain can trigger religious experiences. Revelation Wishful thinking can make us more
likely to experience things we want to experience. Religious experiences could be hallucinations. We feel part of something bigger because we are: humanity, the natural world, and the cosmos. What does the word miracle
mean? You are not allowed to use the words miracle or miraculous in your answer. Miracles? Look at the events below: a) Do you think they are miracles? b) If so, what kinds of miracles are they? c) How might a humanist explain such events? 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7)
While most people die in a plane crash, a few survive A statue of the Virgin Mary weeps A parachutists parachute does not work, but he lands in a tree and survives Someone walks over hot coals in bare feet Someone says a prayer for somebody who is ill and they get better Someone appears to turn water into wine Someone claims somebody was raised from the dead Miracles questions 1) What is the difference between a miracle and a coincidence? 2) Can there ever be sufficient evidence for a miracle to outweigh the overwhelming evidence for the laws of nature? What would be good evidence for a miracle? 3) Would it be possible for a miracle to be scientifically confirmed? 4) Why are gods used to explain happy coincidences but not unhappy coincidences? 5) Why would a god intervene in the laws of nature to make a statue weep but not to save people from a tsunami? 6) Why would a god save some from a natural disaster but not others, or everyone?
7) Even if miracles that broke the laws of nature did happen, how would we know they were caused by a particular god and not by something else? Would they tell us anything about the nature of a god? 8) Given that many religions claim miracles as evidence for the truth of their beliefs, how would we know which was true? Pascals wager The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal put forward an argument for why we should believe in a god: Either god exists or doesnt exist. If god exists and we believe, we will be rewarded with infinite happiness (an infinite gain) If god exists and we dont believe, we will be punished with infinite pain (an infinite loss) If god does not exist and we believe, we will miss out on some finite pleasure (a finite loss) If god does not exist and we dont believe, we will gain some finite pleasure (a finite gain) Believe in god Dont believe in god
God exists Eternal happiness Eternal punishment God does not exist A small loss A small gain The rational choice, according to Pascal, was therefore to believe in god: if you are right you gain much, and if you are wrong you lose little. An alternative wager Pascals wager suffers from a number of flaws: 1) 2) 3) 4)
The many different religions propose many different gods. What if we choose to believe in the wrong one? What if the real god is not one of those worshipped by religious believers? Would a god be happy that we believed based only on a calculation or a gamble? We cant all simply choose to believe in something. We cant switch our beliefs on or off. We either believe or we dont. Would a god be happy if we simply feigned a belief? The argument only analyses whether we should believe: it says nothing about whether a god actually exists. The Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius proposes an alternative gamble: Live a good life. If there are gods and they are good, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you because of the values you have lived by. If there are gods that are not good, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods at all, then you will be gone, but you will have lived a noble life that will continue in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid. Deism Deism is the belief in a god who does not interfere in the world. Such a god merely started
the world off but then played no further role. Which of the arguments for the existence of god say anything about what that god is like? Which of the arguments for the existence of god are arguments only for a god of deism? Many humanists accept that it is possible that such a god may well exist, but believe such a god would be of no practical importance to our daily lives and so we can live our lives without concern for it. Some people in history who identified themselves as humanists also claimed to be deists. However, many modern humanists believe that if these people lived today, aware of our current scientific understanding of the universe, they would instead be atheists. Questions Arguments for the existence of god: 1) Do any of the arguments for the existence of god convince you? Why or why not? 2) If none of the arguments is convincing, does that mean you cant believe in god? 3) How might a humanist respond to each of the arguments for the existence of god?
4) Which of the arguments are arguments for a god with all the features of the Christian god? 5) Which of the arguments are only arguments for a god of deism? 6) If each of these arguments proves the existence of god, what does it tell us about that god? Why do bad things happen? God is punishing us for things we have done wrong. We could not be as kind or brave if there were no suffering or danger in the world. God is testing our faith.
We cant understand gods mysterious plan. This is the best possible world. God allows bad things to happen to build our character and help us learn to appreciate the good things in life. There is no god. Bad things just happen because that is the way the world is. What does the word evil mean?
You are not allowed to use the word evil in your answer. The why? game Look at this headline: Earthquake kills 500 people in China 1) Why do you think this happened? 2) When you have thought of an answer, ask why again. 3) See how many times you can ask why and give another reason until you cant explain any further. 4) Are your answers scientific explanations or non-scientific explanations? Try the activity again with these headlines: Gunman shoots dead 30 people in Texas shopping centre Drought in Ethiopia responsible for the deaths of thousands Terrorist sets off bomb on Spanish train Nature: Red in tooth and claw I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent god
would have designed parasitic wasps with the express intention of feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars. Charles Darwin (18091882) I think of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy living in West Africa, a worm thats going to make him blind. Are you telling me that the God you say is an all-merciful God, that cares for each of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent childs eyeball? Because that doesnt seem to me to coincide with a God thats full of mercy. David Attenborough The Epicurean paradox Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then where does evil come from?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god? What would the world be like if...? What would the world be like and how would it differ if there were... 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) An omnipotent, benevolent god? A benevolent but not omnipotent god? An omnipotent but not benevolent god? An omnipotent, malevolent god? No god?
Questions about the problem of evil 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) Is evil the best word to use to describe natural disasters? Is evil the best word to use to describe human cruelty? Can evil exist detached from people or actions? Are there evil people, or just evil actions?
Is the belief that there is no god, the simplest way to explain the fact that evil and suffering exist? Even if the existence of evil and suffering does not prove the absence of an omnipotent benevolent god, does it make ones existence less likely? Would there be any disadvantages or advantages to limited free will? Is this the best of all possible worlds? How easy is it to imagine one better? If you can imagine a better one, does that mean this is not the best? Does it make it less likely this is the best? If an evil god is unlikely due to all the good in the world, does that mean all the evil in the world makes a good god equally unlikely? Does a belief in a god or gods make any difference to ones ability to cope with suffering? understandinghumanism.org.uk Understanding Humanism 39 Moreland Street London EC1V 8BB
British Humanist Association (registered charity 285987) 2015
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