Why Did God Create Atheists?
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Why did God create atheists?
This is a question I always want to ask religious believers. (One of many questions, actually. " What evidence do you have that God is real?" and "Why are religious beliefs so different and so contradictory?" are also high on the list.)
If God is real, and religious believers are perceiving a real entity... why is anyone an atheist? Why don't we all perceive him? If God is powerful enough to reach out to believers just by sending out his thoughts or love or whatever... why isn't he powerful enough to reach all of us? Why is there anyone who doesn't believe in him?
It seems to be a question that troubles many believers as well. At least, it troubles them enough that they feel compelled to respond. And as atheism becomes more common and more vocal, this compulsion to respond seems to be getting more common and more vocal as well.
I've seen a couple of religious responses to this question. Neither of which is very satisfactory. But they keep coming up... so today, I want to take them on.
Open Your Heart To Me, Baby
For more traditional believers, the answer to why atheists exist is simple: Atheists have closed our hearts to God. God has reached out to atheists -- but we don't want to believe. We want to pursue a selfish and sybaritic life, and don't want to obey God's laws (so say the real hard-liners)... or we've been hurt by life or by religion, and we're rejecting God out of anger (so say the marginally more compassionate believers). But it's important that we have free will -- so we have to be free to reject God as well as to accept him. God can't force us to believe. That would be cheating.
See, here's the problem with that.
Or rather, here's a whole set of problems.
For starters: This idea is totally unfalsifiable. There's no way to prove that you honestly gave religion a chance. Until we develop the technology to accurately record the inside of somebody's head and play it back in somebody else's, there's no way to prove that atheists are sincerely open-minded and willing to consider religion.
Atheists can say a hundred times, "Really, I'm telling you, I've looked at this carefully, I've meditated on it, I've examined the evidence, I've studied lots of different religions... and I just don't find any of it convincing." We can ask believers to give us good evidence or arguments for God. We can point out the pain and distress many of us went through when we let go of our beliefs -- pain and distress that this "You've just closed your heart to God" trope seriously trivializes. We can even go out on a limb and point to the kinds of evidence that would convince us we were mistaken (something just about no religious believers are willing to do). But since we can't demonstrate the state of our minds and hearts, believers can always say, "You aren't sincere. Your mind and heart are closed."
There's no way to prove that they're wrong. It's an unfalsifiable hypothesis.
Which makes it an entirely useless one. If there's no possible way to show that your hypothesis is false, there's no way to know whether it's true.
What's more, the "You've hardened your heart against God" trope is a perfect example of moving the goalposts. No matter how many times we gave God the old college try... we clearly haven't tried hard enough. I mean -- we don't believe! If we'd tried hard enough, then obviously we'd believe! The fact that we don't believe is proof that we haven't tried hard enough. Q.E.D. (It's a fairly entertaining logical fallacy, actually: a unique blend of moving goalposts and circular reasoning. I'm kind of impressed.)