The Dutch Atheist

Is there evidence for the existence of a god?

24 September 2016.Wesley.1 Like.7 Comments

Is there evidence for the existence of a god?

A debate with James Bishop

Theists often reach out to our Facebook page ‘The Dutch Atheist’ to criticize and ridicule what it is we do. We often get bombarded by cheap and weak remarks such as ‘how can you hate something that you don’t believe in, clearly shows that you do believe’ or ‘how can nothingness have created everything, it takes more faith to believe in the big bang than it does in god’. Only every now and then do we find ourselves debating a theist who is both intelligent and eloquent in defending his beliefs. This is certainly the case with James Bishop. Debating him is equally frustrating as it is a pleasure. James must have contributed us the same status as in the last week of August he reached out to us to invite us to a debate. James posed the idea to debate three topics: ‘does God exist?’, ‘is a belief in a god reasonable’ and ‘is there any evidence for the existence of a god’. We considered for a while and came to the conclusion that all the questions essentially came down to the latter and that we would be willing to debate that.

James Bishop has his own blog called ‘James Bishop’s Theology and Apologetics’ on which he writes about a wide variety of topics. He defends the existence of Jesus, tries to reconcile our knowledge of historical events with those described in the Bible (think of Genesis and Exodus stories) and opposes common atheistic arguments.

In our debate we will start with both posting our opening remarks on the question ‘Is there any evidence for the existence of a god?’. These are limited to 5000 words. James will post his on his blog, you can find ours below. We will examine each other’s remarks and respond with our rebuttal in a week, after which we will post our final conclusions. We hope this is the beginning of many such debates and look forward to what James has to say. So…:

Read James' arguments

Burden of Proof

One often tries to dodge a bullet in proving a god exists by stating that the burden of proof is with us, the unbelievers. But if one makes a positive claim, say ‘leprechauns exist’, it is reasonable to expect that he must deliver the evidence to support the claim. He would be ridiculed and deemed unreasonable if he was to say ‘you can’t disprove their existence, therefore they must exist’. But so we find ourselves in a difficult position to write this openings statement: it would have made more sense to respond to whatever claims James will make in his opening remarks and to take it from there. We don’t believe for we haven’t seen any evidence pointing towards the existence of a god or gods, so what’s there to write about? However, we expect a few fallacies and standard arguments to be made by James, which we can discuss.

We hope you do take the time to also read James’ take on this, but as you do, keep in mind the following quote by famous astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace: 

The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.Pierre-Simon Laplace

The definition of god

Firstly we must consider what ‘god’ actually stands for. How do we define god? Dutch professor of philosophy and analytic philosopher Herman Philipse says: “Some people argue that the earth, in its totality, is god. Then I would say god exists. If I were to say my ballpoint is god, then god would also exist. But if I say that god is an omnipotent, omniscient, purely spiritual being, then I would say that god certainly does not exist.” So you see how important it is to define god properly before we can actually write something sensible about the possible existence of such deity.

When we talk about the omnipotent, omniscient creator deity and the stories often contributed to such a deity we must consider how  bizarre the claims being made are. Omnipotence, the capability to do everything and omniscience, the capability to know everything brings forth a series of paradoxical issues that simply cannot be resolved, thus logic dictates those are definitions that cannot be contributed to a thing in existence. Such an issue would be: can god create a finite rock so heavy that he himself cannot lift it? Another type of definition of god one comes across a lot is the “god as a bodiless mind” definition. It is highly unlikely that such a being can exist since the mind is dependent on matter. Herman Philipse wrote in his book ‘God in the age of science’: “Theism is the thesis that God exists and God is defined as a bodiless spirit. However, both research in animal biology and advances in the neurosciences have shown ever more convincingly that the mental life of animals and of men depends on brain pocesses. Although perhaps we can not always claim that our mental life has been explained by neural research, all empirical investigations suggest that mental phenomena cannot exist without neural substrata.” So it’s highly unlikely such a being can exist. If one thinks it can and does exist, I would very much like to know which method is being used in order to establish this. But at the end of the day a god needs to be demonstrated and this is where all religions fail miserably. Like AnticitizenX once said: “A god that can only be concluded through argument rather than demonstrated through sense experience is functionally equivalent to no god at all.” So in order for us to answer whether or not there is evidence for the existence of a god we need to know what it is we are talking about.

When we look at the stories contributed to such omnipotent and omniscient divine creator they are often of the category ‘miracle’: things that violate the laws of nature and cannot be explained by science such as; Muhammad splitting the moon (Quran chapter 54:1); Enoch being picked up by horses on fire (Genesis 5:24); the virgin birth (Matthew 1:18); Jesus turning water to wine (John 2:1-11); the resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24); Muhammad creating water out of thin air (Sahih Bukhari, volume 1, Book 4, Number 170). British philosopher David Hume once wrote “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.” Hume, whom certainly had a way with words, undeniably has a point. How likely is it that the laws of nature by which we all abide and that hold the universe intact, are temporarily dismissed in a way that suits us? These seem to be claims which can only be covered up with more stories of a miraculous status such as “This is the Book about which there is no doubt” (Quran 2:1).

We are very curious to see how James defines god and how he will arrive at the conclusion that that is the form of god that must be discussed here. We are also anxious to see that, if James reasons that the Christian god is the one god, how he manages to dissipate all the other gods that have been imagined by mankind. Why doesn’t he defend the more humanlike gods Zeus or Uranus? Why not Thor, Odin, Raor Wotan?

The origins of religion

We are of the opinion that religious believes in creator deities can be explained, fully secular, from an evolutionary standpoint. We may not yet have done so conclusively but there are hypotheses that do make a lot of sense. One such hypothesis is the hyperactive agency detection device.

Imagine yourself as a human being that lived 100.000 years ago. Your knowledge of how the world functions would be essentially zero in comparison to what you know today. You find yourself amongst predators that would love to have you for dinner. Every time you’d see a shadow shoot by in the corner of your eye you would have to consider two options: 1. It was nothing or 2. It is a predator that is after me.  If you settle for option one, but you were mistaken, you would die. If you chose option two, you flee the scene increasing your survival chance. Thus we can conclude that nature would prefer a higher functioning ‘agent detection’ system as it would increase your survival chance. Scientists believe a by product of this agent detection system to be god or gods. Imagine you have gone with option two, but nothing followed you when you fled the scene. Your curiosity may drive you to return and inspect the place where you spotted the shadow, but you may find nothing. In all your ignorance and our instinctive desire for answers you may claim a magical, invisible being may have gone by. By this line of reasoning it seems god does not exist but is merely a by product of human evolution.

Atheism is not a religion

We’ve read on James’ blog that he thinks atheism is a religion of its own and thus we expect him to make some sort of remark on this in his statement. Perhaps this deviates from the topic a little but I wanted to address it anyways as it clarifies our stance on the subject.

I’ll pay James the compliment to assume he is intelligent enough not to believe in fairies. Is that an active believe or is it the lack of believe? If someone was to say to you: ‘I believe unicorns roam a planet in the Andromeda galaxy’, would you say ‘I believe they do not exist’ or would you say ‘I don’t believe the claims you make, provide evidence.’ We look at the god claim (dependent on how this god is defined that is) the same way. We do not believe the claims made and wish to be presented with evidence. It is important to clarify our position here: we are agnostic atheists. We don’t think it can ever be determined whether or not a god exists, but we do not believe the claims that are being made because no subsequent evidence has been provided. This view does not only apply to the Abrahamic god, it also applies to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for example. Furthermore we find it irrational to believe something on faith and bad arguments alone.

Refuting arguments in favour of the motion

We dare state, without knowing for sure, that James will argue for the existence of god using some of the traditional arguments. We are sure that he will present them in a elegant and eloquent fashion and thus look forward to reading his version of them. However most of these arguments are presented as ‘a priori’ arguments- that which can be known through reasoning alone (example: all bachelors are unmarried). However I argue that most of these are in fact ‘a posteriori’ arguments. Arguments that make claims that need to be supported by empirical evidence and can only then be known (example: the sun produces heat  through nuclear fusion). If no sufficient empirical evidence is presented to support said claims, we must suspend our judgement and thus dare say “we don’t know” which would render a believe in such claim illogical but perhaps understandable. If no empirical evidence is presented at all we might even argue that the belief in such claim would be unreasonable.
We hope to dismiss some of the arguments presented by James in advance. There is however a slight chance that we predict this completely wrong and he tries to prove the existence of a god through different arguments, which would blow our socks off. But here, quite like James, I have faith and believe that I am correct in my assumptions. However, unlike James, our faith has a basis in reality: we’ve inspected his blog rather thoroughly.

Fine tuning argument

Mankind thinks himself a great work, worthy the interposition of a deity.

Carl Sagan

In a nutshell what this claim implies is that the universe is so well balanced in many aspects that it forms the perfect environment for us to live in. It states that the parameters of our universe, such as the strength of gravity and of dark energy is so precise, if they were slightly off, life could have never arisen.  From there it concludes that we are the pinnacle of creation and that everything is made and adapted to suit us.

One of my first reactions to the arguments is usually: “fine-tuned for what exactly?”. The universe is also fine-tuned so black holes can exists. Physicist Robert Park says the following about the fine tuning argument: “If the universe was designed for life, it must be said that it is a shockingly inefficient design. There are vast reaches of the universe in which life as we know it is clearly impossible: gravitational forces would be crushing, or radiation levels are too high for complex molecules to exist, or temperatures would make the formation of stable chemical bonds impossible… Fine-tuned for life? It would make more sense to ask why God designed a universe so inhospitable to life.” Take for example empty space, this takes up 94% of our universe. It’s a place so inhospitable to us, if we were to find ourselves there without a proper suit, it would kill us within 60 seconds. And rather brutally, too, one may add.

The idea that the universe could not be if some fundamental parameters were slightly different is a misunderstanding. In fact, it is a cosmic misunderstanding. But even if it were so, to argue that this determines the existence of a god seems to me rather far fetched. As professor in astronomy Lawrence Krauss well phrases: “we would be quite surprised to find ourselves living in a universe in which we could not live. In fact” he mockingly concludes, “that might be evidence for god.” By a way of cosmic natural selection things have adapted to their surroundings, not the other way about.

Darwin learned, while visiting the Galapagos islands and studying finches, that it is not the universe that is designed for us, it is us that have adapted to the universe. Whatever change took place on earth, albeit millennia of ice ages, those lifeforms that were able to adapt to this gradual change, survived. This I why I often correct people who try to summarise Darwin’s theory of evolution to ‘survival of the fittest’. It should be ‘survival of the most adapt’ or ‘survival of the one who was able to reproduce’. Also, if the universe and the earth was created with us humans in mind, how come that bacteria are the most successful in terms of number, longevity, variation of habitats, total biomass and seniority? One would think the universe/earth was created with bacteria in mind, not us humans.

The core issue with this argument is that it uses our human experience as the only reference frame, it looks at the course of events the wrong way around.  Taking us, humans, to be the pinnacle of creation, looking back you would say: my, my, everything to this point has worked so perfectly, it must have been coordinated by a god. But if you look at it from the big bang up to now one would appreciate the randomness that was involved in the process. We are not here because of a divine plan, we are here by chance. “We (mankind) seem compelled to project our own nature onto nature.” Carl Sagan once wrote.

Objective Morality

This argument, like many others often presented for the existence of a god is what is known as a deductive syllogism. A series of premises is presented from which a conclusion follows. If all premises are sound and then it is likely (but not guaranteed) that the conclusion is sound as well. Thus it logically follows that if one of the premises is incorrect, it is likely that the conclusion is incorrect. For the argument for objective morality the following is stated:

  1. If a god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefor: god exists.

For everyone who thinks this argument is convincing, I would like to pose the following challenge. If you think objective moral values and duties do exist, prove it.

1. Name one objective moral value or duty.
2. Prove it

One would think this is an easy challenge if one believes in moral realism, but I have posed this challenge before and it’s like pulling teeth to get a straight answer.

In order to prove objective morality some people jump to murder for example. Murder is bad, surely we can agree on that? Yet we find there are plenty of people who think differently of this. Take Islamic State for example. They seem to think that the killing of those who oppose Allah and his messenger deserve death. Also Anders Behring Breivik, the Utoya murderer, who was acknowledged to be sane, thought murder was a moral duty.

Now you may argue for whichever reason that we have the moral high ground to these people and that god will punish them. Then I would like to argue the following scenario. Imagine yourself in 1941. Hitler has initiated World War 2 two years earlier and is responsible for the butchering of many, many people. If you were to find yourself in a position where you would be able to kill him, wouldn’t this be justified? Isn’t 2 lives more valuable than 1? Or 1000 more than 1? And if you were to commit such an act, would god send you to hell for it? So we can easily see that every moral claim is absolutely subjective and depends not only on cultural values and education, it may differ from day to day.

Furthermore, to justify this claim, you cannot once imply god somehow holds true morality for this syllogism is used to prove the existence of god through claiming objective morality exists. If you use god to then prove this syllogism you have landed in circular reasoning, which is rather silly to be honest. Since god is both in the first premise and the conclusion one could argue that this is circular reasoning anyways.

The ontological argument

There are several versions of this deductive syllogism, but the most common goes as follows:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

Before we dive into the argument, I need to make something clear:

“Definitional truth is not the same thing as descriptive truth, and different rules govern the validity of each category. But the moment I try to claim that something exists, I’m crossing over into a descriptive statement of reality where the epistemic rules are now totally different. So while philosophers may continually debate over what exactly all those rules are, at least some rules are pretty well established. Good descriptive statements must be coherent, consistent, and inductive; Good descriptive statements must have the power to explain a given phenomenon simply and effectively; and good descriptive statements must allow me to exercise some physical choice in the real world that leads to a desirable outcome.” – AnticitizenX – Word Games

In other words, you can’t just define things into existence and the Ontological Argument is actually nothing more than the idea that you can somehow “prove” synthetic propositions just by sitting in an armchair and thinking really hard about them. It’s a desperate attempt to conclude God with words rather than demonstrating him.

Just because I can define all the properties of a unicorn, doesn’t mean one actually exists in the real world. I still need to demonstrate that it does. The same of course goes for God. Under absolutely no circumstances will mere definition alone itself into physical presence in the actual world.

Now let’s have a look at the first premise:

“1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.”

‘Greatness’ is not an inherent physical property of things that we can objectively verify, so it’s absolute nonsense to say that there can be such a thing as a ‘maximally great’ being, because we have no means of objectively verifying such a being would we ever come across one. It’s like asking someone to come up with the biggest conceivable number. The second you think you’ve found it, all I have to do is add 1 to you number you have found and I have immediately found a bigger number. The second you think you came up with a maximally great being, all I have to do is come up with a being that has the same properties, plus the ability to beat yours with a stick.

The main purpose of course of the first premise is trying to show you that existence is greater than non-existence because contained within the very idea of God himself is the requirement that he must exist. As if the mere virtue of being incredibly awesome automatically implies physical presence in the real world. So the argument basically boils down to the following two premises:

  1. God exists necessarily.
  2. Therefore God exists.

How is this any different from saying: “the bible is true, because it says that it’s true”? It’s not. It’s a logical fallacy called ‘begging the question’. Claim X assumes X is true. Therefore, claim X is true.

A predicate is a feature or a characteristic of an object. It gives us information about an object. Existence tells us nothing about the characteristics of an object so it must not be a predicate. If I was to tell you a “boozy woozy” exists, you wouldn’t be able to recognize one when you see one. If I was to say that a “boozy woozy” is purple and has hair on it’s back, you’d have a better idea of how to recognize one when confronted with one.

Another example would be the one Immanuel Kant uses. 100 gold coins have the same predicates whether the exist in intellectu (in our mind) or in re (the actual world). The concept of 100 gold coins doesn’t change regardless of where they exist.

Treating existence as a predicate leaves us with a paradox. If I was to say that a “boozy woozy” exists, I am giving the “boozy woozy” the predicate of existence. If I was to say a “boozy woozy” does not exist, I am telling you that it lacks the predicate of existence. This of course is highly problematic for a thing must exist to do any lacking. A “boozy woozy” can only lack a predicate if it exists in order to lack it.

Statements like “god exists” don’t tell us anything new about god, therefor existence can not be part of god’s essence. Kant therefore says that the statement “god exists” can never be treated as an analytic statement. Analytic statements can only describe ideas and not reality. It should therefore be treated as a synthetic statement for which we would require evidence of course.

Famous philosopher Bertrand Russell said that if existence could be treated as a predicate the following argument would be sound and logical.

  1. Men exist.
  2. Santa Claus is a man.
  3. Therefore Santa Claus exists.

This of course is absurd.

Cosmological Argument and the Kalam Argument

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
  2. The universe began to exist;


3. The universe has a cause.

Firstly, one must take notice of the fact that this deductive syllogism does not conclude a god exists. Here again the definition of ‘god’ is quite important. Would everything that we find is the actual ’cause’ be considered god? Then it could well be that we find that literally nothing is god. Or that the multiverse is god.* If one was to argue that the outcome would be sound, he would still have a long way to go to prove this to be in the form of an intelligent creator deity such as the Abrahamic god.

Secondly, by this line of reasoning, if we were to conclude god was the cause of our universe, we must then ask ‘where did god come from’? If you apply the same logic to the cause of our universe you would fall into a regressive argument ad infinitum following the Munchausen Trilemma, for which each and every following regressive step would require ever more evidence. Theists are often keen to dismiss this issue by stating ‘god is eternal’. This of course is a logical fallacy known as ‘special pleading’. You first present the case that everything that is had a cause but then exempt god from this logic because it suits you.

Thirdly, premise one is argued from ignorance. We simply do not know the origins of our universe. We do not know what happened before T=0.  We would be silly to draw conclusions from ignorance, wouldn’t you agree? To argue that “ex nihilo nihil fit” as Parmenides put it, or ‘from nothing nothing comes’ is simply not true. Quantum mechanics have clearly shown us that particles pop in and out of existence from nothing all of the time. Via this fact it is reasonable to assume that nothing is unstable. As said, nothing may well be the cause of our universe, but we simply don’t know. As Lawrence Krauss, the proposer of the ‘universe from nothing’ hypothesis put it: “A truly open mind means forcing our imaginations to conform to the evidence of reality, and not vice versa, whether or not we like the implications.”

A fourth issue I may have with argument is that it seems to be insensible to ask what was before our universe as time only came into existence after the big bang.

*These are two hypotheses that attempt to explain the origins of our universe. Our knowledge is insufficient to extensively write about this.


Over the course of history mankind has made many attempts to reconcile theism with reason which have all failed. ‘God’ has always been placed in an ever receding pocket of ignorance. When mankind did not know where the sun went at night, some believed human offers had to be made in order to return it the following morning. Through our sceptic inquiry, overcoming our instinctive attitude to accept pleasing answers we have learned that all these claims are simply not true. So science has buried nearly every god mankind has imagined, yet a few vague intangible versions of the claim still remain. Most arguments today used to prove the existence of a god are exactly that: vague notions that are often presented as conclusive evidence but they often have no basis in reality.

Even if you think any of these arguments we have tried to oppose make any sense and may in fact be true you will have to acknowledge that they are philosophical notions or metaphysics at best and thus present us with no evidence at all.

Thus we can conclude: no, there is no evidence that a god or gods exist.

Read James' arguments

If you enjoyed reading this, please help us reach more people by sharing this article. We will give you god’s blessing if you do.

Categories: Debates
Knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Follow us on Facebook.