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Why Do I Doubt Both the Atheists and the Theists?

Posted: 04/12/11 12:35 PM ET

I am more excited about Divinity of Doubt: The God Question than any other book in my entire career, and I've had seven New York Times bestsellers, three of them reaching number one. Why? Apart from the fact we can all agree that there cannot be a more important subject than God, the main reason is that we're talking about a 2,000-year-old conversation to which nothing significant has been brought to the table for a great many years. The religious terrain is so barren that we typically have light-hearted fare like recent books on sex and desire in the bible; Noah's Ark; does our body or soul go to heaven; a 3-year-old boy, during an appendectomy operation, meets Jesus in heaven; and, not too long ago, The Da Vinci Code claiming that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had children.

At such a late date (2,000 years), who would have expected anything game-changing now on God and religion? Frankly, not even yours truly. I had read the Bible and done much thinking about God and religion in earlier years, but I decided to go beyond this, take two years out of my life, and completely immerse myself in the subject seven days a week, approaching it in the same way I did my investigation and prosecution of a major case: objectively look at and draw powerful inferences from the evidence, my only master, to see if almost universally accepted, centuries-old religious beliefs had any merit to them. What I discovered is so startling that if anyone who reads Divinity of Doubt is not stunned, they would be the type who wouldn't be surprised if they saw a man jump away from his own shadow.

Before I get to theism, let me briefly discuss my fine-feathered friends, the atheists, whose arguments have only convinced me of the embarrassing indigence of their thoughts. Atheism is really nothing but a sorry litany of non-sequiturs, e.g., if God existed, why do we have all the evil and horrors in the world? But this presupposes that God is all-good, an obvious non-sequitur. Certain of evolution (that bacteria actually evolved into a Mozart), they then argue that this eliminates God as the creator of the animate world. But this non-sequitur presupposes that God did not create these original life forms, and evolution took over from there. Leading atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris completely embrace the non-sequitur that if they can slay the dragon of organized religion, an unworthy opponent, they have slain God. But the opposite of God is no God, not no religion. Polls have shown that millions of people reject religion but are still firm believers in God. The world's most prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins, actually believes (I am not making this up) that God doesn't exist because the universe is extremely complex, and God, to have created it, would have had to be even more complex, which he finds too "improbable" to believe. You mean you can dispose of God that easily (and vacuously)? My, my.

It may very well be true that there is no God, but atheistic dogma doesn't lead one rationally to this conclusion.

As far as theism is concerned, its fundamental weakness, of course, is that since no one has seen God, a belief in him has to be based on faith, since the very definition of faith is that it is a belief in something without proof. But why should we have so much faith in something for which there is no proof? And why, in so many ways, should we want to see by faith what the eye of reason rejects?

We can know that the Christian God cannot exist. If he is all-powerful and all-good, as Christians maintain, there would not have been, for instance, the Holocaust. This is an inherent self-contradiction. So if Christians insist on having a God, they can do so, but if they have any respect for logic they'll have to redefine who he is.

Because the Christian God cannot exist does not mean, however, that there is no God who created the universe. Although, in Divinity of Doubt, I destroy through simple logic Christianity's main non-biblical support for such a God, Intelligent Design, I conclude that the other principal argument for his existence, First Cause, is very difficult to get around and goes in the direction, though not conclusively, of a Supreme Being.

It is when we look closely at the pillars of theism that Divinity of Doubt literally shakes the very foundations of Christianity. Let me briefly touch upon just a few of the many shattered pillars I discuss in Divinity of Doubt. Without a belief in free will, Christianity (and Judaism) could hardly exist, since God's justice in punishing evildoers could not be explained without it. But contrary to belief, when we look at the bible, not only don't we find any scriptural support for free will, we find, astonishingly, the exact opposite: that the bible supports no free will. For example, Isaiah 63:17 says, "Why, Lord, do you cause us to stray from thy ways?" Romans 11:32 goes so far as to say that "God consigns all men to disobedience so he may have mercy on them."

On the virgin birth of Jesus, in Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah used the word almah to describe the mother of a child Christianity says was the messiah. But almah means "young woman" in Hebrew, not virgin. (The word for virgin in Hebrew is betulah.) Although some biblical scholars have made note of this, they fail to go on and develop the enormous implications of the matter. The notion of a virgin birth first appears in Matthew 1:18, 22-23, where Matthew says the virgin birth was a fulfillment of a prophecy by Isaiah in 7:14. But not only didn't Isaiah, as we have seen, use the word virgin, which all by itself refutes Matthew's virgin birth of Jesus, but the very context in which Isaiah was speaking absolutely precludes the notion of such a prophecy by Isaiah. I elaborate in my book, Isaiah told Ahaz, the king of Judea, that by the time the child of the young woman, a boy, was old enough to know right from wrong, Ahaz's enemies, the kings of Israel and Syria (Pekah and Rezin) would be dead. And the two kings died around 731-732 B.C. So the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in 7:14 took place close to 800 years before Jesus was even born, conclusively negating Matthew's averment that Isaiah's prophecy pertained to the virgin birth of Jesus.

Another shattered pillar is that in view of the physical mortality of the human body, if the soul isn't immortal there is no life after death, and hence, no heaven and hell of Christianity. But, again, astonishingly, there is no scriptural support for the immortality of the soul. It turns out that it all started with Plato who employed four absolutely foundation-less presuppositions to conclude the soul is immortal, and Judaism and Christianity accepted without question this doctrine that has greatly affected the lives of billions of people. How nice.

The destruction of pillars goes on and on in Divinity of Doubt. This is why the consensus of those who have read it is that no one who reads it will ever again feel the same way about God and religion.

Though not being literary, Gertrude Stein described the essence of agnosticism well: "There ain't no answer. There ain't going to be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer."

I believe that the question of the existence of God is an impenetrable mystery and beyond human comprehension. As Einstein, who was an agnostic (so was Darwin), put it: "The problem is too vast for our limited minds." But even if it were not, doubt is divine in that it impels a search for the truth, thereby opening the door to knowledge. Faith puts a lock on the door. And as knowledge increases, faith recedes. Even though I don't feel that a belief in God (theism) or disbelief in him (atheism) is unintelligent, I do feel that a certitude about either of these two positions, even a strong belief in them, which is so extremely common, is, perforce, unintelligent. Put another way, since the depth of a belief should be in proportion to the evidence, no sensible person should be dogmatic about whether there is or is not a God. I have always liked Clarence Darrow's observation about the existence vis-à-vis non-existence of God: "I do not pretend to know what ignorant men are sure of."

The whole matter of God can perhaps be distilled down to this. Is there a God who created the world? Or is God a word we use to explain the world? In either event, God should only be a question.