by James A. Haught
This was accepted, but held for lack of space, for publication in the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Vol.
12 No. 3 (Fall 1996).
The following is Jim Haught's entry in The Great American Think-Off, an
annual contest run by a Christian retreat center that challenges people to react
philosophically to "big questions." This year's whopper: "Does God
Exist?" At press time it was unknown whether Haught won any of the $2000 in prize
Is There A God?
Does God exist?
Well, it depends on what you mean by God.
The universe is a maze of mysteries. How can gravity - an invisible, unexplainable
force - pull the Milky Way into a spiral? How can atoms contain such awesome power that a
mere dime-size amount of matter turned into energy in the bomb that killed 100,000
Hiroshima residents? How can the double-helix thread of DNA create all living things, from
bacteria to trees to Beethoven? How can electrons, dormant in every atom of your body,
explode into violent lightning bolts when they're detached? Finally, why does anything
exist, at all?
If you say that the power of gravity, atoms, DNA, lightning and all the rest is God -
that God is e = mc2 - then God exists. Those baffling forces are undeniably real.
But if you mean church-type deities - the three gods of the Christian Trinity, the 330
million gods of Hinduism, the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament, the multitudinous
Greek and Roman gods, the invisible feathered serpent of the Aztecs, etc. - you've entered
the Twilight Zone.
Human logic can find no trustworthy evidence to prove, or disprove, the existence of
unseen spirits. Weeping statues and holy apparitions aren't reliable proof. So the only
truthful answer for an honest person is: I don't know.
But honest people can go farther and speculate intelligently: Do demons exist? Angels?
Leprechauns? Fairies? Vampires? Werewolves? Lack of tangible evidence leads educated
people to laugh off these imaginary beings. It's a small step to apply the same rationale
to holy ghosts, resurrected saviors, blessed virgins, patron saints, etc. You can't prove
they aren't hovering invisible in the room with you - but it's unlikely.
Sigmund Freud said the widespread belief in a father-god arises from psychology. Tiny
children are awed by their fathers as seemingly all-powerful protectors and punishers. As
maturity comes, fathers grow less awesome. But the infantile image remains buried in the
subconscious, and attaches to an omnipotent, supernatural father in an invisible heaven.
Without knowing it, Freud said, believers worship their hidden toddler impression of the
biological father, "clothed in the grandeur ion which he once appeared to the small
That makes sense to me. It says the father-god is just a figment of the imagination.
But you can't prove it's true.
Through logic, you can see that the church concept of an all-loving heavenly creator
doesn't hold water. If a divine Maker fashioned everything that exists, he designed breast
cancer for women, leukemia for children, cerebral palsy, leprosy, AIDS, Alzheimer's
disease, Down's syndrome, etc. He mandated foxes to rip rabbits apart (bunnies emit a
terrible shriek at that moment) and cheetahs to slaughter fawns. No human would be cruel
enough to plan such horrors. If a supernatural being did so, he's a monster, not a
When you get down to it, the only evidence of God's existence is that holy men, past
and present, say he exists. Priests have built world-wide, trillion-dollar empires on
their claim that an unseen deity waits to reward or punish people after death. But such
priests once said that witches exist, and burned thousands of women on charges that they
flew through the sky, copulated with Satan, changed into animals, and so forth. Priests
later dropped this claim (but never apologized for the witch-hunts). If their assertion
about God is as valid as their assertion about witches, their trillion-dollar empires rest
on a fantasy.
The universe is a vast, seething dynamo which has no discernible purpose except to keep
on churning. From quarks to quasars, it's alive with incredible power. But it seems
utterly indifferent to any moral laws. If the sun someday balloons, like other stars in
their death throes, it will incinerate life on Earth. Gurus will say it's retribution for
human sins. But I'm inclined to think they're nutty.
Martin Heidegger said we know only that we exist for a while, and we are doomed to die
without knowing why we are here. If you are scrupulously honest, you can't say much more
Are the profound forces of the universe God? I don't know. Is there a personal God
waiting to reward me in a heaven or punish me in a hell? I don't know - but I doubt it.
James A. Haught is Editor of the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette and
author of the Prometheus books Holy Hatred and Holy Horrors.
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