hree quarters of Americans are Christian. When people here speak of God, they usually mean the god of the Bible, aka Jehovah or Yahweh.
(In the Bible, Yahweh is called a he, and I will comply with this convention when speaking of this particular deity, with no disrespect meant toward those who prefer to think of Yahweh as a she or as genderless.)
It is often said that no supernatural creature’s existence can be proved or disproved through an examination of physical evidence, because by definition the supernatural is not physical. While Yahweh is safe from science, so are Zeus, Thor, unicorns, and leprechauns. The fact that Yahweh’s existence cannot be disproved scientifically does not make him more believable, but less, because it puts him in league with all the myths and fairy tales that we readily discount.
The list of beings whose existence cannot be disproved scientifically is colossal. In determining whether a proposed being must exist, the inability to disprove the existence of that being is far too low a bar, or else one’s world view would include a superabundance of magical creatures, even mutually exclusive ones. Yahweh, along with every other being on that list, must be assumed not to exist until better proof can be found.
Hume advised us to proportions our beliefs to the evidence. In this same vein, Christopher Hitchens said, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” The point is that the burden of proof is on believers, not on disbelievers.
One is tempted to dismiss primitive notions of the supernatural out of hand, including the anthropomorphic god Yahweh. He is not much different than gods from polytheistic traditions like Zeus or Thor. The transition in ancient times from polytheism to monotheism did nothing to improve the character of deity; it was purely a reduction in head count. It is a bit difficult to get behind the Divine Milliner, the heavenly haberdasher, who created the galactic grandeur of the Milky Way so that he might dictate the headwear of a subset of one species on one planet in one solar system, and then help them in their bloody wars against other types of hats.
In the most fun passage in his best-selling book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins sums up the personality of Yahweh nicely:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
There is one more important point to make about the God of the Bible: He is eerily similar to other gods. The story in the Bible of Jonah and the whale is – prepare yourself for a clever play on words – hard to swallow. So is the story of Noah. The stories are inherently implausible and we find no evidence to support them. But beyond the fact that these stories are unbelievable, when we discover parallels to these stories in other ancient mythologies that pre-date the Jewish versions, we begin to realize that the Bible is a derivative work, and Yahweh is a derivative god.
And so, here we have not just a lack of evidence for Yahweh, but evidence against him. If the Yahweh-concept was clearly pieced together from older gods that even Christians consent are fictional, then mustn’t Yahweh also be fictional? Yahweh has “myth” written all over him. If there is a supreme being who created the universe, Yahweh is at best a fictionalized and highly flawed interpretation of this being.
- According to the AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION SURVEY (ARIS) of 2008, 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, down from 86% in 1990. See http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/weblogs/AmericanReligionSurvey-ARIS/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf↩
- “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.” See http://www.davidhume.org/texts/texts/enquiry1.php↩
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, p51↩