Peter Singer on why the Christian God doesn’t exist

Reader Mizrob sent this 13-minute video in which philosopher Peter Singer dismisses the notion of the Christian god simply by showing that “the world around us” doesn’t comport with such a God. (His debate opponent is a mustachioed Dinesh D’Souza.) The most obvious stumbling block to such a god is the suffering in the world, but Singer dismisses the typical Christian response to suffering: it’s an inevitable result of god-given free will.

Many of us know these arguments and counterarguments, but it’s still salubrious to hear a smart person address them. The issue of suffering, both produced by natural disasters and in non-“fallen” animals, is the Achilles Heel of any religion that espouses a beneficent God.

Finally, he takes up the Biblical assertion that Jesus would return during the lifetime of those who heard him preach. Even if you’re a literalist about just the New Testament, this is a problem.

If you have some spare time on your hands, here’s a different debate, two hours long, between D’Souza and Singer, on the topic “Can there be morality without God?

26 Comments

  1. Posted April 28, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Of course God exists. Each believer has their own God who lives between their ears. The basis for belief in God is believers think they are special and will not really die. We need to grow up and accept the finality of death. End the Delusion

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    There is a whole lot of superstition and ignorance in the world and where ever you find it, religion will be close by. So close that often there is nothing between the religion and the ignorance.

  3. bjornove
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    As a Norwegian I find that the constant debates about god, jesus and the basis for morality which we see in countries like the US quite bisarre.
    As has been shown again and again, there’s far less violence, crime and other things which can be considered “bad morale” in countries where non-belief are common
    In Norway, where I live, here’s been a lot of debate the last years about the rise of violence in some schools in Norway.
    Nothing compared to the US, of course (we have strict gun laws), but nevertheless, the trend is worrying. Who are the people responsible for this increase of violence? Religious people mostly, belonging to “the religion of peace” (guess which religion that is)
    It’s sad really, I have lots of muslim friends, and some of my pupils are muslims and they are decent and kind people.
    But it’s a fact that people responsible for the increased crime in Norway (not to talk about Sweden which is far worse) are god fearing people. And it not all muslims either, there’s a lot of Christians among these criminals. This is not to say that believing in god or allah or (pick your god here) makes you a morally corrupt person ( my mother is a decent Pentecostal) but at least it shows that there can be god morale among people hostile or indifferent to religion, like most people now are in Scandinavia

    • Mike
      Posted April 29, 2018 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      +

  4. Posted April 28, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    🐜

  5. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Since D’Souza is nominally Roman Catholic (although his views are more in line with Evangelical Protestantism), he should be aware that Catholics believe Christianity necessites a modification and shift in priority of the morals of pagan Greece and Rome, but that the latter still has a lot going for it.
    Catholics hold that 1) God grounds our concept of goodness and that 2) God imparts the ability to do good through grace, but that frequently non-believers actually DO get it right.
    The high regard of Catholic theologians for Aristotle and Cicero (the latter not especially theistic) would imply that the answer to “Can there be morality without God?” is “up to a point, yes”.
    But as I say, DD often thinks more like an evangelical than a Catholic.

    D’Souza is occasionally a clever (though shallow IMO) presenter of philosophical arguments, but as an ethical thinker I find him contemptible.

    I said this at least twice before here at WEIT, but I still think that just about the weirdest thing Christopher Hitchens ever said was that Dinesh D’Souza was one of his best debaters.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 28, 2018 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      ” … the weirdest thing Christopher Hitchens ever said was that Dinesh D’Souza was one of his best debaters.”

      That would be true if the definition of “best” was saying something over and over and louder and louder.

    • r.marshall
      Posted April 29, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      As someone from a Catholic family, I can tell you that Catholics are generally a pretty open minded bunch. They accept Evolution. They accept scientific facts. And yet they do it while still maintaining traditionalist beliefs. They are experts at this because they’ve been doing it for a couple thousand years. Though I am an atheist, I can appreciate the Catholic viewpoint on a lot of things.

  6. Posted April 28, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Without first a demonstration of ‘duality’ and how this state could influence physical existence then there is no need to consider any of religions other claims.

    rz

    • Joser
      Posted April 28, 2018 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      Difference infers two and autonomy.

  7. sang1ee
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Love Singer. Dinesh is insufferable. His elocution drips with derision and sanctimoniousness.

    • AC Harper
      Posted April 29, 2018 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      Thought experiment:

      *If* there is a god, who has a spare thunderbolt, which mortal would he smite (Singer or D’Souza), and why?

      • sang1ee
        Posted April 29, 2018 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        The Judeo-Christian God would definitely smite down Singer for his plethora of unpardonable sins, not the least of which is his advocacy of rights for soulless animals, and elevate D’Souza to heaven as the court philosopher.

  8. Posted April 28, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    There is not one good reason for their god to have created carnivores. If there were no carnivores, there would be no predators and no prey. If you have ever seen an animal being eaten while it is still alive, you will realize that any god that would create things that way is one sick fuck.

    • Posted April 29, 2018 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      Agreed but please leave out the curses as this is a family friendly site.

    • Posted April 29, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      No, no! It’s not sadistic, agonizing gore! It’s drama! The wonderful dramatic drama of natural selection. Of course an aesthete like god would create in this manner! Or so says John Haught.

      • Doug
        Posted April 30, 2018 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        What pushed me toward atheism was a medical book I came across when I was around 20. It was filled with page after page of photos of babies with hideous deformities and people with horrible diseases. Seeing all these photos in one place shook my faith and it never recovered; I realized that if God existed, then he devoted a lot of thought toward coming up with tortures to inflict on people. In other words, He was a sadist and could not be good, if “good” has any meaning [if you say “Whatever God does is automatically good” then it is pointless to praise him for being good]. I did not become an atheist right then, but I decided that God exists, but he isn’t good [it doesn’t follow that just because God is powerful that he must be good–the Greek gods, for example, were no better morally than humans, committing rape, murder and so on]. It was a few years before the last embers of faith died and I accepted atheism.

  9. nicky
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Peter Singer sums it up quite nicely. and so polite, nearly deferent.
    As much as I like him, he cant replace the Hitch, but then, he’s not pretending to. (I’ve just been watching some Hitch, hence my unfair comparison)
    Thumbs up for Singer. The less said about Mr D’Souza, the better.

  10. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, Singer mentioned animals starving etc. One could argue that that’s kinda unavoidable from time to time in a natural ecology. But what he omitted to mention was the number of quite unnecessary and sadistic ways in which animals are killed by other animals. It’s only a very lucky animal that gets killed by a fatal bite to the neck from a lion. Someone on this list a few weeks ago mentioned a couple of monitor lizards feeding on an injured deer – they didn’t kill it, just munched their way up from its hindquarters. Even more telling are parasitic wasps which paralyse caterpillars so their grubs can eat them alive. What possible excuse is there for those? I’m sure the ecosystem wouldn’t suffer at all if they didn’t exist. If one believes G*d created all things, then He created those horrors – what sort of painstakingly sadistic, ingeniously perverse, horrifically twisted mentality does it take to think of that?

    cr

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 29, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Even more telling are parasitic wasps which paralyse caterpillars so their grubs can eat them alive. What possible excuse is there for those?

      Quoth Chuck (letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 July [1856]) :

      What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!

  11. Merilee
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Makes sense

  12. Nell Whiteside
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I have spent years trying to fathom how/why some people believe in the Christian god or any god for that matter.

    I suggest that low intelligence/education plays a role as does the cultural milieu but the promise of an after-life seems to magnify self-interest and self importance. It seems that people will believe anything, no matter how irrational, on the promise of ‘eternal life’ – no matter how empty that promise.

    I encounter people on a daily basis who know nothing about the world in which we live,who have lived complacent, conformist, boring lives and yet they KNOW they are going to heaven because they believe in god/Jesus, etc. UGH!

  13. Jim Ritchey
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never heard the argument for instincts as a way that an omniscient god could have solved the evil/free will problem. The good god could have installed all with instincts against committing evil acts. This would be no more a violation of our free will than it is when one is sickened by the thought of having sex with their child or by the idea of eating feces.

  14. Adam M.
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I have to run and didn’t hear Singer’s argument, but the “sin is an inevitable result of free will” is so easy to dispose of. If true, we’d either be sinning in heaven or have no free will in heaven, both of which are unpleasant conclusions for Christians. Also, does God have free will, and does God sin?

    I’m not an especially smart person, but I wonder how arguments like that survive in such unsophisticated forms for so long… Ultimately they’d have to admit that God could have given us free will without a sin impulse and then the question is “why didn’t he?” Of course, “God works in mysterious ways”…

  15. r.marshall
    Posted April 29, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    You guys should really check out Neil Carter’s brilliant blog:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/

    He writes so many engaging, well-crafted articles that deconstruct Christianity in a really easy to understand and scholarly manner.

  16. Dave Lush
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Jesus wasn’t mistaken about the Second Coming. He said the Son of Man was going to come with an army and encircle Jerusalem and lay it low. He stands in the temple complex and says it is all going to be taken down. About 40 years after this ostensible prophecy, Titus Flavius arrives and does just that. The temple was taken down; only a part of one wall remains today. That seems like a pretty accurate prophecy to me, and an important lesson about what Christianity is really all about. Especially, it is about supplanting messianic Judaism and its associated Jewish rebellion with a docile belief system that would render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s. And there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, as thousands were crucified.


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