June 2005 Religious Studies A2 question 5

(a) Analyse the key concepts of either arguments for the non-existence of God or critiques of religious belief. [12]

(b) Discuss the contributions of a study of religious language to the topic selected in part (a) [8]

 

(a) Key arguments for the non-existence of God have, in more recent times, revolved around the facts of modern science. Galileo, among others, helped to undermine the previous Ptolemaic view of an earth centred universe and since then physics and astronomy have gone on to give more evidence of the insignificance of man’s place in the universe with the founding of the Big Bang idea.

Genetics, too, has had a hand in producing arguments against the existence of God. Ever since the discovery of the double helix and the effort to codify the human genome there has been increased speculation along Darwinian lines that evolution is more than just survival of the fittest by natural selection of the genes but even less of God’s handiwork. Richard Dawkins (1) has spearheaded a whole new area in modern genetics in which he has argued that we are as much a product of our ideas or memes which collectively collude to ensure survival as we are of just our genes. He wholeheartedly throws God out of the equation as he asks ‘Is technology just what our genes want, or is it a cultural conspiracy of our genes and memes? Does human DNA control the technosphere we’ve created and live in and around?(2) He suggests that the watchmaker of Paley’s theory must have been blind: ‘the analogy is false. Natural selection, the unconscious, automatic, blind yet essentially non-random process that Darwin discovered, has no purpose in mind. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.’ (3)

In other words many scientists believe that the universe has been shown to be a self-contained entity and self-creating too that does not need supernatural or supranatural explanations for its existence.

Another argument for the non-existence of god comes from the classic problem for religious believers – why does a supposedly ‘good’ god allow evil and suffering to exist? God is regarded as having three classical properties: omniscience, omnipotence and omni benevolence and a number of other qualities like eternal, personal, infinite, flawless etc but to each of these the objection can be raised – so why does He allow suffering? The classical theodicies have all tried to justify both God’s existence and the existence of evil and have either succeeded in changing the nature of God to fit in with their theories or concluded that our human understanding is limited and therefore we cannot hope to really understand why God should allow evil to exist. However as an argument for the non-existence of God however it fails to puncture a believer’s faith; the believer will continue to believe probably come what may though it can be instrumental in preventing someone who doesn’t already believe in coming to faith. God is also defined as ineffable and transcendent and within these definitions lies the idea that we cannot possibly fully comprehend God and maybe this is one of those times. Though Hume and other atheists would argue since there is no God there is no problem evil just is, maybe even a non-believer would agree that suffering and evil do allow for the development of higher traits like altruism, selflessness, loyalty and self-sacrifice.

A further argument for the non-existence of God is the idea that religious belief is just a meme, a unit of culture which is passed on from generation to generation and that what passes for religious experience can be explained as a neurological reflex. Recent biological research has ‘discovered’ a religious gene; this turns out to be a predisposition to ‘religious experience’. It is a gene which can be ‘turned on’; the so-called religious experience that people have is something which can be induced under the right ritual or meditative conditions and therefore is not a real religious experience and as a result Dawkins, again, suggests that the only reality of God’s existence is the idea that God exists.

Finally, the charge levelled at religious belief that it inhibits human development is a serious one.

 

(1) and (2) – http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Biography/bio.shtml

(3) http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Books/blind.shtml#quotes

 


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