I was asked to work up a new translation of Faure’s well-known text for a forthcoming collection, Godless: 150 Years of Disbelief, that Chaz Bufe is editing for publication with PM Press. Although I’ve translated quite a bit of Faure’s work in recent years, I found the voice here both rather different and a bit more difficult to render, but I think I’ve been able to capture both the details and the tone of the thing fairly well.
Twelve Proofs of the Non-Existence of God
There are two ways to examine and resolve the problem of the non-existence of God.
The first involves eliminating the hypothesis of God from the field of plausible or necessary conjectures, through a clear and precise analysis, through the presentation of a positive system of the Universe, of its origins, successive developments and ends.
This account would make the idea of God useless and would destroy in advance all the metaphysical scaffolding with which the spiritualist philosophers and the theological scholars have propped it up.
Now, in the present state of human knowledge,—limiting ourselves, as is proper, to what is demonstrated or demonstrable, verified or verifiable,—that analysis is missing and the positive system of the Universe is lacking. Of course, there are some ingenious hypotheses, which in no way shock the reason. There exist some more or less plausible systems, which rest on a mass of observations and draw from those abundant observations an impressive degree of probability. We can boldly assert that these systems and suppositions compare favorably with the assertions of the deists, but, in truth, they are only theories, still not possessing scientific certainty. Each individual remaining free, in the end, to give preference to any given system—or to any other that is opposed to it—the solution of the problem would appear, at least from this point of view and at present, necessarily elusive.
The followers of all the religions so clear grasp the advantage conferred upon them by the study of the problem when posed in this way, that they all constantly attempt to bring it back to that position; and if, even on that terrain—the only terrain on which they can still maintain their composure—they do not leave the encounter with the honors of battle—not by a long shot,—it is still possible for them to perpetuate doubt in the minds of their coreligionists. And, for them, that is the essential point.
In this combat, where the two opposing theses grapple and strive to lay each other low, the deists receive some hard blows, but they also give them. For better or worse, they defend themselves and, the outcome of this duel remaining uncertain in the eyes of the crowd, the believers, even when they seem to have been defeated, can cry victory.
They do not hesitate to do so with that impudence that is the public sign of their piety; and that comedy manages to keep the vast majority of the flock under the crook of the pastor.
That is all these “bad shepherds” desire.
The Problem Posed in Precise Terms
However, comrades, there is a second way of examining and attempting to resolve the problem of the non-existence of God.
That involves examining the existence of the God whom religions offer for our adoration.
Can any sensible and thoughtful man be found who could accept the existence of this God—of whom we speak as if he was not shrouded in any mystery, as if we were ignorant of nothing about him, as if we had penetrated all his thought and as if we had received all his confidences: “He has done this and done that, and then this and then that. He has said this and that, and then again that. He has acted and spoken with this aim and for that reason. He desires this thing, but he forbids this other thing. He will reward these actions and punish those others. And he has done this and wants that because he is infinitely wise, infinitely just, infinitely powerful, infinitely good”?
Just think of it! Here is a God who makes himself known! He abandons the realm of the inaccessible, clears away the clouds that surround him, descends from the heights, converses with mortals, confides his thought to them, reveals his will to them and charges some privileged few to spread his Doctrine, to communicate his Law and—let’s be clear—to represent him here below, with full powers to bind and release, in heaven and on the earth!
This God is not a God of Force, Intelligence, Will and Energy, which, like everything that is composed of Energy, Will, Intelligence and Force, can be in turn, according to the circumstance and consequently indifferently, good or bad, useful or harmful, just or unjust, merciful or cruel. This god is the God in whom everything is perfection and whose existence is and can only be compatible—since he is perfectly just, wise, powerful, good and merciful—with a state of things of which he would be the author and through which he would affirm his infinite Justice, his infinite Wisdom, his infinite Power, his infinite Goodness and his infinite Mercy.
You will recognize this God. He is the one who is taught, through the catechism, to the children. He is the living and personal God, the one to whom we raise temples, towards whom prayer mounts, in honor of whom we make sacrifices and the one whom all the clergy, all the priestly castes claim to represent on the earth.
He is not an “Unknown,” an enigmatic Force, impenetrable Power, incomprehensible Intelligence, unknowable Energy or mysterious Principle. He is not a hypothesis that the mind of man, in its continuing powerlessness to explain the how and why of things, is happy to employ. He is not the speculative God of the metaphysicians, but a God abundantly described to us, in luminous detail, by his representatives.
He is, I repeat, the God of Religion, and, since we are in France, the God of the Religion that has dominated our history for fifteen centuries: the Christian religion.
This is that God that I deny, and it is only this God that I wish to discuss and this God that you must study, if you wish to draw from this lecture a positive profit and a practical result.
What is this God?
Since those who manage his business here below have been good enough to describe him to us in lavish detail, let us profit from the graciousness of his duly authorized representatives; let us examine him up close; let us go over him with a magnifying glass. In order to discuss him well, we must know him well.
This God is the one who, with a powerful and life-giving gesture, has made all things from nothing, the one who has called the void to being, who has, by his will alone, substituted movement for inertia, universal life for universal death: he is the Creator!
This God is the one who, having accomplished this act of creation, far from returning to his age-old inaction and remaining indifferent to the thing created, concerns himself with his work, takes an interest in it, intervenes when he judges it appropriate, manages, administers and governs it: he is the Governor or Providence.
This God is the one who, as Supreme Tribunal, summons each of us after our deaths, judges us according to the acts of our lives, determines the balance of our good and bad actions and pronounces, in the last resort and without appeal, the judgment that will make us, for all the centuries to come, the most fortunate or unfortunate of beings: he is the Justice-Bringer or Magistrate.
It goes without saying that this God possesses all attributes and that he does not just possess them to an exceptional degree; he possesses them all to an infinite degree.
Thus, he is not only just: he is Infinite Justice; he is not only good: he is Infinite Goodness; he is not only merciful: he is Infinite Mercy; he is not only powerful: he is Infinite Power; he is not only learned: he is Infinite Science.
This, I repeat, is the God whom I deny and whose impossibility I will demonstrate by twelve different proofs (although, strictly speaking, just one would suffice.)
Division of the subject
Here is in the order in which I will present my arguments. They form three groups: the first of these groups will most specifically apply to the Creator-God and will include six arguments; the second will most specifically concern the Governor-God or Providence and will encompass four arguments; finally, the third and last of these groups will focus on the Justice-Bringer-God or Magistrate and will be composed of two arguments. Thus: six arguments against the Creator-God; four arguments against the Governor-God; two arguments against the Justice-Bringer-God. That will make twelve proofs of the nonexistence of God. The plan of my demonstration being known to you, you can better and more easily follow its development.
first series of arguments
AGAINST THE CREATOR GOD
The Creative Act is inadmissible
What does it mean to create?
What is creation?
Is it to take scattered, separate, but existing materials and then, making use of certain tested principles, applying certain known rules, to bring together, group, classify, combine and modify these materials, in order to make something of them?
No! That is not creation. Examples: Can we say of a house that it has been created? — No! It has been constructed. Can we say that a piece of furniture has been created? — No! It has been manufactured. Can we say that a book has been created? — No! It has been composed, printed.
Thus, to take existing materials and make something of them is not to create.
What, then, is creation?
To create… My word! I am embarrassed attempting to explain the inexplicable, to define the indefinable. I will, nonetheless, attempt to make myself understood.
To create is to draw something out of nothing; it is to make something with nothing at all; it is to call the void to be something.
Now, I imagine that not a single reasonable person will be found who could imagine or accept that something could be drawn from nothing, that it would be possible to make something with nothing.
Imagine a mathematician; choose the most experienced calculator and place before them a gigantic blackboard; ask them to draw on that blackboard zeros and more zeros; they will add and multiply in vain; they may engage in all the operations of mathematics, but they will never succeed in extracting a single unity from the accumulation of these zeros.
With nothing, we make nothing; with nothing, we can make nothing and the famous aphorism of Lucretius, ex nihilo nihil, remains the expression of a self-evident certainty.
The act of creation is an act that is impossible to accept, an absurdity.
To create is thus a mystical, religious expression, which may possess some value in the eyes of persons happy to believe what they do not understand and for whom faith is that much more necessary the less they understand; but to create is an expression void of sense for every astute, attentive man, in the eyes of those for whom words only have value to the extent that they represent a reality or possibility.
Consequently, the hypothesis of a truly creative Being is a hypothesis that reason rejects.
The Creator Being does not exist, and cannot exist.
The “pure Spirit” could not have determined the Universe
To the believers who, in defiance of all reason, persist in accepting the possibility of creation, I would say that it is, in any case, impossible to attribute that creation to their God.
Their God is pure Spirit. And I say that the pure Spirit, the Immaterial, cannot have determined the Universe, the Material. Here is why:
Pure Spirit is not separated from the Universe by a difference in degree, in quantity, but by a difference in nature, in quality. So that the pure Spirit is not and cannot be an amplification of the Universe, any more than the Universe is or can be a reduction of pure Spirit. The difference here is not only a distinction, but an opposition—and an opposition of an essential, fundamental, irreducible and absolute nature.
Between pure Spirit and the Universe, there is not just a gap, more or less wide and deep, which it would be, in a pinch, possible to fill or cross; there is a veritable abyss, of such depth and expanse that, whatever they might try, no one could fill or bridge it.
And I challenge the most astute philosopher or the most consummate mathematician to build a bridge, to establish a relation of any kind—(and particularly a relation as direct and close as that which links the cause to the effect) between pure Spirit and the Universe.
Pure spirit accepts no material alloy; it assumes no form, body, line, material, proportion, extent, duration, depth, surface, volume, color tone or density.
Now, in the Universe, everything is, on the contrary, form, body, line, material, proportion, extent, duration, depth, surface, volume, color, tone and density.
How could we accept that the latter was determined by the former?
It is impossible.
Having reached this point in my demonstration, I firmly plant the following conclusion atop the two arguments that have preceded it:
We have seen, first, that the hypothesis of a truly creative Power is inadmissible; we have seen, secondly, that even if one persists in believing in that Power, one could not accept that the essentially material Universe had been produced by an essentially immaterial pure Spirit;
If, despite it all, you persist, believers, in maintaining that it is your God that has created the Universe, the moment has come to ask you where, given your theory of God, we are to find Matter at the origin, at the commencement.
Well! One of two things must be true: either the Matter was outside of God or else it was within God (You could not assign it a third place.) In the first case, if it was outside of God, God had no need to create it, since it already existed; it coexisted with God, was concomitant with him and, therefore, your God is not a creator;
In the second case, if it was not outside of God, it was within God; and, in this case, I conclude:
1)o That God is not pure Spirit, since he bears within him a bit of matter—and what a bit: the totality of the material Worlds!
2)o That God, bearing matter within him, has not had to create it, since it existed; he had only to bring it forth; and, thus, the creation ceases to be an act of true creation and is reduced to an act of externalization.
In both cases, there is no creation.
The Perfect cannot produce the imperfect
I am certain that if I asked a believer this question: “Can the imperfect produce the perfect?” that believer would respond to me without the least hesitation and without fear of being mistaken: The imperfect cannot produce the perfect.
Now I say: The perfect cannot produce the imperfect and I maintain that my proposition possesses the same force and the same exactitude as the previous one, and for the same reasons.
Here again, between the perfect and the imperfect there is not only a difference of degree, of quantity, but a difference of quality, of nature, an essential, fundamental, irreducible, absolute opposition.
Here again, between the perfect and the imperfect, there is not only a ditch, more or less deep and wide, but an abyss so immense and so deep that nothing could cross over, nor fill it.
The perfect is the absolute; the imperfect is the relative. Compared to the perfect, which is everything, the relative, the contingent, is nothing. Compared with the perfect, the relative is without value; it does not exist, and it is not within the power of any mathematician or philosopher to establish a relation—of any sort whatever—between the relative and the absolute; a fortiori, this relation is impossible when it is a question of a relation as rigorous and precise as the one that must necessarily unite Cause and Effect.
So it is impossible the perfect could have produced the imperfect.
There exists, however, a direct, inevitable and, in some sense, mathematical relation between the work and the one who is its author. The work is only as good as the worker and the worker is only as good as the work. It is by the work that we recognize the worker, as it is by the fruit that we recognize the tree.
If I examine an essay that has been written badly,—where errors in French abound, where the sentences are constructed badly, where the style is poor and careless, where the ideas are scarce and banal, where the knowledge is inexact,—I could not think of attributing this page of bad French to a sculptor of phrases, to one of the masters of literature.
If I look at a poorly executed picture, where the lines are badly drawn, the rules of perspective and proportion violated, I would never think to attribute that rudimentary sketch to a teacher, to a master, to an artist. Without the least hesitation, I would say: it is the work of a student, of an apprentice, of a child. And I am certain of not having committed an error, so true is it that the work bears the mark of the worker and that through the work we can appraise its author.
Now, Nature is beautiful; the Universe is magnificent and I passionately admire, as much as anyone, the incessant spectacle of splendor and magnificence that it offers us. However, as enthusiastic as I am about the beauties of Nature and whatever homage I may render them, I cannot say that the Universe is a work without defects, irreproachable and perfect. And no one would dare to maintain such an opinion.
So the Universe is an imperfect work.
Consequently, I say:
Between the work and its author there is always a strict, close, mathematical relation; now, the Universe is an imperfect work; thus, the author of that work can only be imperfect.
As a result of this syllogism, the God of the believers is stamped with imperfection and, consequently, denied.
I can then reason as follows:
Either it is not God who is the author of the Universe (I express thus my conviction).
Or else, if you persist in claiming that he is its author, the Universe being an imperfect work, your God is himself imperfect.
Syllogism or dilemma, the conclusion of the reasoning remains the same:
The perfect cannot produce the imperfect.
The eternal, active, necessary Being cannot, at any moment, have been inactive or useless
If God exists, he is eternal, active and necessary.
Eternal? He is eternal by definition. It is his reason for being. We cannot conceive of him confined within the limits of time; we cannot imagine him beginning or ending; he can neither appear nor disappear. He exists at all times.
Active? He is and cannot not be active, since it is his activity that has produced everything, since his activity is affirmed, say the believers, by the most colossal, the most majestic of acts: the Creation of Worlds.
Necessary? He is and cannot not be necessary, since without him nothing would be; since he is the author of all things; since he is the original source from which everything has flowed; since, alone, sufficient unto himself, it is his will alone that has determined whether there is something or nothing. He is thus eternal, active and necessary.
I maintain and I will demonstrate that, if he is eternal, active and necessary, he must be eternally active and eternally necessary; that, as a consequence, he cannot, at any moment, be inactive or useless; that, as a further consequence, he has never created.
To say that God is not eternally active, is to admit that he has not always been active, that he has become active, that he has commenced to be active, that before being active, he was not; and, since it is through creation that his activity is manifested, it is to admit at the same time that, during the billions and billions of centuries that, perhaps, preceded the creative action, God was inactive.
To say that God is not eternally necessary, is to admit that he has not always been necessary, that he has become necessary, that he has commenced to be necessary, that before being necessary, he was not and, since it is the Creation that proclaims and attests to the necessity of God, it is to admit at the same time that, during the billions and billions of centuries that perhaps preceded the creative action, God was useless.
God idle and lazy!
God useless and superfluous!
What a position for the essentially active and essentially necessary Being!
So it is necessary to confess that God is at all times active and necessary.
But then, he cannot be responsible for the Creation; for the idea of creation implies, absolutely, the idea of commencement, of origin. A thing that commences cannot have existed at all times. There was necessarily a time when, before being, it did not yet exist. As short or as long as that time may have been preceding the thing created, nothing can eliminate it; in any case, it exists.
It follows that:
God is not eternally active and eternally necessary; and, in this case, he has become active and necessary through creation. If this is the case, then, before the creation, God lacked the two attributes of activity and necessity. This God was incomplete; he was a portion of God and no more; and he needed to create in order to become active and necessary, in order to complete himself.
Or else God is eternally active and necessary; and, in this case, he has created eternally; the creation is eternal; the Universe has never commenced; it has existed at all time; it is eternal, like God; it is God himself and becomes mixed up with him.
In this case, the Universe has had no commencement; it has not been created.
Thus: in the first case, God, before the creation, was neither active nor necessary, was incomplete, which is to say imperfect; and, thus, he did not exist; in the second case, God being eternally active and eternally necessary, he cannot have become active and necessary; and, thus, he has not created.
There is no escape from that.
The immutable being cannot have created
If God exists, he is immutable. He does not change; he cannot change. While, in Nature, everything changes, is metamorphosed and transformed, while nothing is once and for all, and everything becomes, God, a fixed point, immobile in time and space, is subject to no modification, does not know and could not know any change.
He is today as he was yesterday; he will be tomorrow as he was today. If we envisage God in the distance of the centuries passed or in that of the centuries to come, he is constantly identical to himself.
God is immutable.
I maintain that, if he has created, he is not immutable, because, in this case, he has changed twice.
To make up one’s mind to want, is to change. Quite obviously, there is a change between the being who does not yet desire and the being who wants.
If I desire today what I did not want, what I had not even dreamed of, forty-eight hours ago, it is because there have been produced in me or around me one or more circumstances that have determined my desire. This new desire constitutes a modification: there is no room to doubt it: it is indisputable.
Similarly: to decide to act, or to act, is to be change.
It is, furthermore, certain that this double modification—to want and to act—is that much more considerable and marked, as it is a question of a more serious resolution and a more important action.
God has created, you say? — So be it. Then he has changed twice: the first time, when he resolved to create; the second time, when, executing that determination, he accomplished the act of creation.
If he has changed twice, he is not immutable.
And if he is not immutable, he is not God; he does not exist.
The immutable Being cannot have created.
God cannot have created without motive; now, it is impossible to discern a single one
However we consider it, the Creation remains inexplicable, enigmatic, void of sense.
It is blindingly obvious that if God has created, it is impossible to accept that he has accomplished this grandiose act, the consequences of which must inevitably be proportionate to the act itself and, consequently, incalculable, without being set on that course by a motive of the highest importance.
Well! What can that motive be? For what reason has God been able to resolve to create? What cause has impelled him? What desire has gripped him? What plan has he formed? What aim has he pursued? What end has he proposed?
Multiply, in that order of ideas, questions upon questions: turn the problem over and over; consider it from all sides; examine it in every way; and I challenge you to resolve it, other than by quips or quibbles.
Look: here is a child raised in the Christian religion. His catechism tells him, his teachers teach him that it is God who has created him and put him in the world. Suppose that he asks himself this question: Why has God created me and put me in the world? And suppose that he wishes to find a serious, reasonable response. He will not succeed. Now suppose that, confident in the experience and knowledge of his educators, persuaded that, through the sacred character with which they, priests or pastors, are clothed, they possess special insights and particular graces, convinced that, through their sanctity, they are closer to God than him and more fully initiated into revealed truths, suppose that this child was curious enough to ask his masters why God had created him and put him in the world—I maintain that they could make no plausible, sensible response to that simple question.
In truth, there is none.
Let us examine question up close, look deeply into the problem.
Through thought, let us examine God before the creation. Let us take him in his absolute sense. He is all alone; he is self-sufficient. He is perfectly wise, perfectly happy, perfectly powerful. Nothing can increase his wisdom; nothing can augment his happiness; nothing can bolster his power.
This God can feel no desire, since his happiness is infinite; he can pursue no goal, since his perfection lacks nothing; he can form no plan, since nothing can extend his power; he cannot resolve to want anything, since he feels no needs.
Come now! Profound philosophers, subtle thinkers, prestigious theologians, respond to this child who questions you, asking why God has created him and placed him in the world.
I am confident that you cannot respond, unless you say, “The plans of God are impenetrable.” And you cannot consider that response sufficient.
And you would be wise to abstain from answering, for every response—I warn you charitably—would be the ruin of your system, the collapse of your God.
The conclusion, logical and pitiless, imposes itself: God, if he has created, has created without a motive, without knowing why, without an aim.
Do you know, comrades, where we would inevitably be led by the consequences of such a conclusion?
You will see.
What differentiates the acts of a man endowed with reason from the acts of a man afflicted with madness, what makes the one responsible and the other not, is that a reasonable man always knows, or in any event can know, the motives that have motivated him when he has acted, the reasons that have caused him to act. When it is a question of an important action, the consequences of which can seriously engage his sense of responsibility, it is enough for the man in possession of his reason to withdraw within himself, to give himself up to a serious, persistent and impartial examination of conscience; it suffices for him to reconstruct, in memory, the framework within which events have enclosed him; in short, he need only relive the hour that has passed, in order for him to discern the mechanism of the movements that have led him to act.
He is not always very proud of the reasons that have motivated him; he often blushes at the motive that have caused him to act; but whether these motives are noble or vile, generous or cheap, he always manages to uncover them.
A lunatic, on the contrary, acts without knowing why. Question him when his act accomplished; interrogate him; press him with questions; insist; badger him. Even when the act is one most laden with consequences, the poor madman will stammer out some extravagance and you will not draw him out of his delirium.
Thus, what differentiates the acts of a sensible man from one who is insane is that the acts of the first are explicable. They exist for a reason and we can distinguish their cause and their aim, their origin and their end. The acts of a man deprived of reason are inexplicable and he is himself incapable of discerning their cause and aim; they have no reason to exist.
Well! If God has created without an aim, without motive, he has acted in the manner of a lunatic and the Creation would appear to be an act of insanity.
Two crucial objections
In order to finish with the God of Creation, it appears indispensable to examine two objections.
You can be certain that, here, objections abound, so when I speak of two objections to study, I talking about two crucial, conventional objections.
These two objections are that much more important since we can, with the tools of debate, reduce all the others to these:
“God eludes you”
Someone says to me:
“You have no right to speak of God as you have. You present to us a caricature of God, systematically shrunken to the proportions that you understanding deigns to grant him. That is not our God. Our God could not be conceived by you, for he surpasses you; he slips from your grasp. Know that what would be fabulous for the most powerful of men, the men most endowed with strength, wisdom and knowledge, is for God only child’s play. Do no forget that Humanity cannot move on the same plane as Divinity. Do not lose sight of the fact that it is as impossible for man to understand the ways in which God operates as it is for minerals to imagine the modes of action of animals, and for animals to understand the actions of men.
“God soars in heights that you can never attain; he occupies summits that remain inaccessible to you.
“Know that however magnificence a human intelligence may be, no matter the effort achieved by that intelligence, whatever the persistence of that effort, human intelligence can never raise itself up to God. Consider, finally, that, as vast as it might be, the brain of man is still finite and, consequently, cannot conceive of the infinite.
“So be faithful and modest enough to confess that it is not possible for you to understand or explain God. And what you can neither understand nor explain, you have no right to deny.”
And I respond to the deists:
Gentlemen, with your recommendations of faithfulness I am entirely disposed to comply. You remind me of the legitimate modesty that befits the humble mortal that I am. I have no desire to stray from it.
You say that God surpasses me, that he eludes me? So be it. I agree to recognize this fact and affirm that the finite can neither understand nor explain the Infinite. This is a truth so certain, and even obvious, that I haven’t the slightest urge to oppose it. We are, thus far, very much in agreement and I hope you are quite happy.
But, gentlemen, allow me, in my turn, to urge the same faithfulness; permit me, in my turn, to recall you to the same modesty. Are not you men, as I am? Does not God surpass you, as he surpasses me? Does he not elude you, just as he eludes me? Would you pretend to move on the same plane as the Divinity? Would you have the impudence to think and the foolishness to declare that, with a stroke of your wings, you have climbed to the summits that God occupies? Would you be presumptuous enough to say that your finite brain has embraced the Infinite?
I will not insult you, Gentlemen, and believe you stricken with such extravagant vanity.
So, like me, be faithful and modest enough to confess that if it is impossible for me to understand and explain God, you meet with the same impossibility. Have the integrity to recognize that if I am not allowed to deny God, because I can neither understand nor explain him, you, who likewise are unable to understand or explain him, are not allowed to affirm his existence.
And do not imagine, gentlemen, that we are, from now on, in the same boat. It is you who first affirmed the existence of God, so it is you who must first put an end to your affirmations. Would I have ever thought to deny God, if, when I was very small, belief in him had not been imposed on me? If, as an adult, I had not heard his existence declared all around me? If, having become a man, I had not constantly observed Churches and Temples raised to God?
It is your affirmations that provoke and justify my negations.
Stop affirming and I will stop denying.
“There is no effect without a cause”
The second objection would appear as formidable. Many still consider it as without reply. It comes to us from the spiritualist philosophers.
These gentlemen say to us, sententiously: “There is no effect without a cause; now, the Universe is an effect; thus, that effect has a cause, which we call God.”
The argument is well presented; it appears well constructed and seems solidly framed.
The whole question is to know if this is truly the case.
This form of reasoning is what is called, in logic, a syllogism. A syllogism is an argument composed of three propositions: the major, the minor and the consequence; and including two parts: the premises, made up of the first two propositions, and the conclusion, represented by the third.
In order for a syllogism to be unassailable, it is necessary: 1) that the major and minor propositions be exact; 2) that the third flow logically from the first two.
If the syllogism of the spiritualist philosophers meets these two conditions, it is irrefutable and I can only bow; but if one of these two conditions is lacking, it is null and void, without value, and the argument falls apart completely.
In order to know its value, let us examine the three propositions of which it is composed.
First, major proposition:
“There is no effect without a cause.”
Philosophers, you are correct. There is no effect without a cause; nothing is more precise. There is not, and cannot be, an effect without a cause. The effect is only the consequence, the extension, the outcome of the cause. Whoever says effect says cause; the idea of effect necessarily and immediately calls for the idea of cause. If it was otherwise, the without cause would be an effect of nothing, which would be absurd.
Thus, on this first proposition, we are in agreement.
Second, minor proposition:
“Now, the Universe is an effect.”
Ah! Here I demand reflection and call for explanations. What is the basis of such a flat, peremptory affirmation? What is the phenomenon or collection of phenomena, what is the observation or collection of observations that allows you to express yourself in such an unequivocal tone?
First of all, do we have sufficient knowledge of the Universe? Have we studied, examined, searched and understood it well enough that we can be so positive? Have we penetrated its inner workings? Have we explored its immeasurable spaces? Have we descended into the depths of the oceans? Have we scaled all the heights? Do we know everything to be found in the domain of the Universe? Has it delivered up all its secrets? Have we stripped away all the veils, penetrated all the mysteries and solved all the riddles? Have we seen everything, heard everything, touched everything, smelled everything, observed everything, and noted everything? Do we no longer have anything to learn? Does there remain nothing for us to discover? In short, are we in a position to make a positive appraisal, a definitive judgment or an incontrovertible decision regarding the Universe?
No one could answer in the affirmative to all these questions and we would feel deeply sorry for the reckless fool, we could say the madman, who would pretend that they know the Universe.
The Universe!—we mean by that not only this tiny planet that we inhabit and over which we drag around our miserable carcasses, not only the millions of stars and planets that we know, which are part of our solar system or which we will discover in the fullness of time, but also those worlds upon worlds of whose existence we know or suspect, but whose number, expanse and distance remain incalculable!
If I say that the Universe is a cause, I am certain that I would spontaneously unleash the hoots and protests of the believers; and, yet, my assertion would be no more ridiculous than their own.
My temerity would be equal to their own; that is all.
If I study the Universe, if I observe the known facts, to the extent allowed to the man of today, I note an incredibly complex and involved ensemble, an inextricable and colossal tangle of causes and effects, which determine, enchain, succeed, repeat and penetrate one another. I perceive that the whole is formed like an endless chain, the links of which are unbreakably connected, and I note that each of these links is at once cause and effect: the effect of the cause that has determined it, the cause of the effect that follows.
Who can say: “Here is the first link, the link called Cause?” Who can say: “Here is the last link, the link called Effect?” And who can say: “There is necessarily a cause we can number the first, there is necessarily an effect we can number the last?”
Thus, the second proposition—“Now, the Universe is an effect”—lacks the indispensible condition of precision.
Consequently, the famous syllogism is worth nothing.
I add that, even in a case where the second proposition was exact, in order for the conclusion to be accepted, it would still have to be established that the Universe is the effect of a unique Cause, of a first Cause, of the Cause of Causes, of a Causeless Cause, of the eternal Cause.
I await that demonstration without distress, without worry. It is one of those that has been attempted many times, but has never been made. It is one of those of which we can say, without being too rash, that it will never be seriously, positively, scientifically established.
I add, finally, that even in a case where the entire syllogism was flawless, it would be easy to turn against it, and in favor of my demonstration, the thesis of the Creator-God.
Let us try: There are no effects without a cause? — So be it. Now, the Universe is an effect? — Okay. So that effect is a cause and it is the cause that we call God? — Again, okay.
Do not be in a hurry to triumph, deists, and hear me well.
If it is obvious that there is no effect without a cause, it is as completely obvious that there is no cause without an effect. There is not, and there cannot be, a cause without an effect. Whoever says cause says effect; the idea of cause necessarily implies and immediately calls to mind the idea of effect; if it was otherwise, the cause without an effect would be a cause of nothing, which would be as absurd as an effect of nothing.
So it is well understood that there is no cause without an effect.
Now, you say that the Universe has God as a cause. So it would be appropriate to say that the God-Cause has the Universe as an effect.
It is impossible to separate the effect from the cause; but it is equally impossible to separate the cause from the effect.
You maintain, finally, that the God-Cause is eternal. I conclude from this that the Universe-Effect is equally eternal, since to an eternal cause there must inescapably correspond an eternal effect.
If it was otherwise, if the Universe had commenced, during the billions and billions of centuries that have perhaps preceded the creation of the Universe, God would have been a cause without effect, which is impossible, a cause of nothing, which would be absurd.
Consequently, God being eternal, the Universe is also eternal, and if the Universe is eternal, it is because it has never commenced, because it has not been created.
Is this clear?
second series of arguments
AGAINST THE GOVERNOR-GOD OR PROVIDENCE
The Governor denies the Creator
There are those—and they are legion—who, despite everything, persist in believing. I understand that, strictly speaking, one can believe in the existence of a perfect Creator; I understand that, strictly speaking, one can believe in the existence of a necessary Governor; but it seems impossible to me that one can reasonably believe in both at the same time. These two perfect beings categorically exclude one another: to affirm one is to deny the other; to proclaim the perfection of the first is to admit the uselessness of the second; to proclaim the necessity of the second is to deny the perfection of the first.
In other words, we can believe in the perfection of one and the necessity of the other; but it is unreasonable to believe in the perfection of both: we must choose.
If the Universe created by God had been a perfect work; if, in the ensemble and it the least details, this work had been without defect; if the mechanism of this gigantic creation had been flawless; if, in addition, its arrangement had been so perfect that there was no fear that it would produce a single derangement or a single bit of damage; if, in short, the work had been worthy of that brilliant worker, that incomparable artist and wonderful builder whom we call God, the need of a Governor would never have been felt.
The initial helping hand once given, the formidable machine once set in motion, there would be nothing to do but to leave it to itself, without fear of any possible accident.
What need for this engineer, this mechanic, whose role is to monitor the machine, direct it, intervene when it is necessary and provide the necessary modifications and successive repairs to the machine in motion? This engineer would be useless and this mechanic without purpose.
In this case, there is no place for a Governor.
If the Governor exists, it is because his presence, supervision and intervention are indispensable. The necessity of the Governor is like an insult, a challenge hurled at the Creator; his intervention attests to the clumsiness, incompetence and powerlessness of the Creator. The Governor denies the perfection of the Creator.
The multiplicity of the Gods demonstrates that no Gods exist
The Governor-God is and must be powerful and just, infinitely powerful and infinitely just.
I claim that the multiplicity of religions testifies to his lack of power and justice.
Let us ignore the dead gods, the abolished cults and extinct religions. Those will number in the thousands. We speak only of the current religions.
According to the best estimates, there are presently eight hundred religions that fight for control of the sixteen hundred millions of consciences that occupy our planet. There is no doubt that each imagines and proclaims that it alone is in possession of the true, authentic, indisputable and unique God, and that all the other Gods are laughable, false Gods, cheap, contraband Gods, whom it is a pious work to battle and crush.
I add that, if there were only a hundred religions instead of eight hundred, if there were only ten, if there were only two, my argument would retain the same force.
Well! I claim that the multiplicity of these Gods demonstrates that none exist, because it certifies that God lacks power or justice.
Powerful, he could have spoken to all as easily as to some. Powerful, he could have shown himself, revealed himself to all with no more effort than would have been required to reveal himself to a few.
A man — whoever he may be — can only show himself, can only speak to a limited number of men; his vocal cords have a power that cannot exceed certain limits; but God…!
God can speak to all — however great the multitude — as easily as to a small number. When it is raised, the voice of God can and must resound to the four cardinal points. The divine word knows neither distance, nor obstacles. It crosses the oceans, scales the summits and traverses spaces without the least difficulty.
Since he has seen fit — as Religion affirms — to speak to men, to reveal himself to them, to confide his plans to them, to indicate his will and make known his Law, he could have spoken to all without any more effort than to a handful of the privileged.
He has not done this, since some deny him, since others are unaware of him and since others, finally, oppose this God to some one of his competitors.
In these conditions, isn’t it wise to think that he has not spoken to any and that the multiple revelations are only multiples imposture; or else that, if he has spoken to some, it is because he could not speak to all?
If this is the case, I accuse him of powerlessness.
And, if I do not accuse him of powerlessness, I accuse him of injustice.
What, indeed, are we to think of this God who shows himself to some and hides himself from others? What are we to think of this God who speaks to some and, to others, maintains his silence?
Do not forget that the representatives of this God maintain that he is the Father and that we are all, by the same title and to the same degree, the well-loved children of the Father who reigns in the heavens.
Well! What do you think of this father who, full of sympathy for a privileged few, snatches them, by revealing himself to them, from the anguish of doubt and the tortures of hesitation, while he intentionally condemns the immense majority of his children to the torments of uncertainty? What do you think of this father who shows himself to some of his children in the dazzling radiance of His Majesty, while, for the others, he remains shrouded in darkness? What do you think of this father who, demanding a cult, respect and worship from his children, calls a few elect to hear the word of Truth, while he deliberately refuses that singular favor to the others?
If you reckon that this father is just and good, you will not be surprised that my judgment is different.
So the multiplicity of religions proclaims that God lacks power or justice. Now, God must be infinitely powerful and infinitely just; the believers affirm it; if he lacks one of these two attributes, power or justice, he is not perfect; if he is not perfect, he does not exist.
The multiplicity of Gods demonstrates that no gods exist.
God is not infinitely good: Hell demonstrates it
The Governor-God Providence is and must be infinitely good, infinitely merciful. The existence of Hell proves that he is not.
Follow my reasoning closely: God could — since he is free — refrain from creating us; he has created us.
God could — since he is all-powerful — make us entirely good; he has created the good and the wicked.
God could — since he is good — allow us all into his paradise after our deaths, contenting himself with the times of trials and tribulations through which we have passed on the earth.
God could, finally — since he is just — allow into his paradise only the good and refuse access to the wicked, but destroy the latter at their time of death, rather than condemn them to hell.
For he who can create can also destroy; he who has the power to give live also has the power to destroy it.
Let us see: you are not Gods. You are not infinitely good, nor infinitely merciful. I am, however, certain, without attributing qualities to you that you perhaps do not possess, that, if it was in your power, without costing you a painful effort, without the chance of it causing you material harm or moral injury, if, I say, it was in your power, under the conditions that I have just indicated, to prevent one tear, one pain, one hardship for your brothers in humanity, I am certain that you would do it. And yet you are neither infinitely good, nor infinitely merciful!
Would you be better and more merciful than the God of the Christians?
For, in the end, hell exists. The Church teaches it; it is the horrific vision with the aid of which they terrify the children, old folks and timid spirits; it is the specter installed at the bedsides of the dying, in the hour when death’s approach robs them of all energy and lucidity.
Well! The God of the Christians, a God known as a being of pity, pardon, indulgence, goodness and mercy, casts some of his children — forever — into this place occupied by the cruelest tortures, the most unspeakable ordeals.
How good his is! How merciful!
You know that line from the scriptures: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” That phrase means, if I am not mistaken, that the number of elect will be tiny and the number of damned considerable. This affirmation is so monstrously cruel that some have attempted to give it another meaning.
It matters little: hell exists and it is obvious that the damned — in large or small number — will endure the most agonizing torments there.
Let us ask ourselves who can profit from the torments of the damned.
Would it be the elect? — Obviously not! By definition, the elect will be the most just, the virtuous, the fraternal and the compassionate, and we could not imagine that their bliss, already inexpressible, would be increased by the spectacle of their tortured brethren.
Would it be the damned themselves? — Again, no, since the Church maintains that the torture of these wretches will never end and that, in billions and billions of centuries, their torments will be as intolerable as on the first day.
So, apart from the elect and the damned, there is only God; there can only be God.
Is it then God who would profit from the sufferings of the damned? Is it this infinitely good, infinitely merciful father who would revel sadistically in the sorrows to which he has deliberately condemned his children?
Ah! If that is the case, then God appears to me as the most savage executioner, the most implacable torturer that one could imagine.
Hell proves that God is neither good, nor merciful. The existence of a good God is incompatible with that of Hell.
Either there is no Hell, or God is not infinitely good.
The Problem of Evil
It is the problem of Evil that presents me with my fourth and final argument against the Governor-God, as well as my first argument against the Magistrate-God. I do not claim that the existence of evil, physical or moral evil, is incompatible with the existence of God; but I do claim that it is incompatible with the existence of a God who is infinitely powerful and infinitely good.
The reasoning is known, if only by the multiple refutations — always powerless, however — that have been opposed to it.
It can be traced back to Epicurus. So it has already been in existence for more than twenty centuries; but no matter its age, it still maintains all of its vigor.
Here it is:
Evil exists. All beings capable of feeling know suffering. God, who knows all, cannot be unaware of this. Well! One of two things must be true:
Either God would like to eliminate evil, but he cannot;
Or else God could eliminate evil, but he does not wish to.
In the first case, God would like to eliminate evil; he is good and sympathizes with the suffering that oppresses us, with the evil we endure. Ah! If it only depended on him! Evil would be wiped out and good would flourish on the earth. Once more, he is good; but he cannot eliminate evil and, thus, he is not all-powerful.
In the second case, God could eliminate evil. He need only wish it for evil to be abolished, as he is all-powerful, but he does not wish to eliminate it; and, therefore, he is not infinitely good.
Here, God is powerful, but he is not good; there, God is good, but he is not powerful.
Now, in order for God to exist, it is not enough that he possesses one of these perfections: power or goodness. It is indispensable that he possesses both.
This reasoning has never been refuted.
Now, listen: I do not claim that no one has ever attempted to refute it; I say that no one has every succeeded.
The best-known attempt at refutation is this:
“You pose the problem of evil in an entirely erroneous manner. You are quite wrong to hold God responsible. Yes, certainly, evil exists and it is undeniable; but it is man who should be held responsible for it. God did not want man to be an automaton, a machine, whose actions are inevitable. In creating man, he gave him his liberty; he made him an entirely free being. In every circumstance, God has left him the ability to make whatever use he wishes of the liberty that he has generously granted him; and if it should please man, instead of making a judicious and noble use of that inestimable good, to make an odious and criminal use, it is not God that we must accuse. That would be unjust; it would be equitable to accuse man.”
That is the objection; it is classic.
What is it worth? Nothing.
I will explain:
Let us first distinguish physical from moral evil.
Physical evil is sickness, suffering, accident and old age, with its process of flaws and infirmities; it is death, the cruel loss of those we love, of children born who die some few days afterward, without having known anything but suffering; it is a host of human beings for whom existence is only a long series of sorrows and afflictions, so that it would be better if they had never been born; it is, in the domain of nature, the plagues, cataclysms, fires, droughts, famines, floods, tempests, and the whole sum of tragic inevitabilities that are measured in sadness and death.
Who would dare say, regarding this physical evil, that man must be held responsible for it?
Who does not understand that, if God has created the Universe, if it is he who has endowed it with the formidable laws that rule it and if physical evil is the ensemble of these inevitabilities that result from the normal play of the forces of Nature, who does not understand that the author responsible for these calamities, is, in all certainty, the one who has created this Universe, the one who governs it?
I suppose that, on this point no dispute is possible.
The God who governs the Universe is thus responsible for physical evil.
That alone would be sufficient, and my response could stop there.
But I maintain that moral evil is imputable to God by the same title as physical evil, since, if he exists, he has presided over the organization of the moral world, just like that of the physical world, and, consequently, man, victim of moral and physical evil alike, is no more responsible for one than for the other.
But I must connect what I have to say regarding moral evil to the third and last series of my arguments.
third group of arguments
AGAINST THE GOD OF JUSTICE
Being Irresponsible, Man Can Be Neither Punished nor Rewarded
What are we?
Have we presided over the conditions of our birth? Have we been consulted on the simple question of whether we would like to be born? Have we been called to settle our own destines? Have we, on a single point, had a say in the matter?
If we had had a say, each of us would have been, from the cradle, furnished with all the advantages: health, strength, beauty, intelligence, courage, generosity, etc., etc. Each of us would have been a living summary of all the perfections, a sort of God in miniature.
What are we?
Are we what we wish to be?
Supposing there is a God, we are, since he has created us, what he wanted us to be.
God, since he is free, could have chosen to not create us.
He could have made us less wicked, since he is good.
He could have made us virtuous, healthy and splendid. He could have lavished upon us all sorts of physical, intellectual and moral gifts, since he is all-powerful.
For the third time, what are we?
We are what God has wanted us to be. He has created us as he pleased, according to his whim.
There is no other response to that question—what are we?—if we accept that God exists and that we are his creatures.
It is God who has given us our senses, our capacity for understanding, our sensibility, our means of perceiving, feeling, reasoning and acting. He has anticipated, willed and determined our conditions of life: he has conditioned our needs, our desires, our passions, our fears, our hopes, our hatreds, our tender feelings and our aspirations. The whole human machine corresponds to his wishes. He has designed and arranged all aspects of the environment in which we live; he has prepared all the circumstances that, in each moment, will mount an attack on our will and determine our actions.
Before this formidably armed God, man is irresponsible.
The individual who is dependent on no one is entirely free; the one who is slightly dependent on another is slightly enslaved, and is free in other respects; the one who is largely dependent on another is largely enslaved, and is only free in a few respects; finally, the one who is entirely dependent on another is entirely enslaved and enjoys no liberty.
If God exists it is in this last position, that of slavery, that the individual finds himself in relation to God, and his slavery is that much more complete as there is a greater distance between him and the Master.
If God exists, he alone knows and wills; he alone is capable and free. Man knows nothing, wants nothing and can nothing; his dependence is complete.
If God exists, then he is everything and man is nothing.
The man thus held in slavery, placed in full and complete dependence on God, can bear no responsibility.
And if he is irresponsible, he cannot be judged.
Every judgment entails a punishment or a reward; and the acts of an irresponsible being, having no moral value, are subject to no judgment.
The acts of the irresponsible can be useful or harmful; morally, they are neither good nor bad, neither meritorious not reprehensible; they could not be equitably rewarded or punished.
In setting himself up as a Judge, by punishing or rewarding the irresponsible man, God is only a usurper; he has assumed an arbitrary right and has used it in ways contrary to all justice.
From what I have just said, I conclude:
a) That the responsibility for moral evil is imputable to God, like the responsibility for physical evil;
b) That God is an unworthy Magistrate, because, being irresponsible, man can neither be rewarded nor punished.
God violates the fundamental rules of equity
Let us concede, for a moment, that man is responsible and we will see that, even in this case, Divine Justice violates the most elementary rules of equity.
If we admit that the practice of Justice could not be exercised without involving a sanction and that it is the mandate of the magistrate to establish that sanction, there is a rule regarding which our sentiments are and must be unanimous: just as there is a scale of merit and culpability, there must be a scale of rewards and punishments.
According to this principle, the magistrate who best practices justice will be the one who most exactly makes reward proportionate to merit and punishment proportionate to guilt; and the ideal, impeccable, perfect magistrate will be the one who establishes with a mathematical rigor the relation between the act and the sanction.
I think that this elementary rule of justice is accepted by all.
Well! God, though heaven and through hell, misjudges that rule and violates it.
Whatever the merit of man, it is limited (like man himself) and yet the sanction of reward:—heaven is without bounds—is such only through its character of perpetuity.
Whatever the culpability of man, it is limited (like man himself) and yet the sanction of punishment—hell is without limits—is such only through its character of perpetuity.
There is thus a disproportion between the virtue and the recompense, a disproportion between the fault and the punishment. There is disproportion everywhere. Thus, God violates the fundamental rules of equity.
My thesis is completed; nothing remains for me but to sum up and conclude.
Comrades, I had promised you a tightly argued, substantial, decisive demonstration of the nonexistence of God. I believe I can say that I have kept that promise.
Keep in mind that I have not proposed to provide you a system of the Universe that renders useless any recourse to the hypothesis of a supernatural Force, of an otherworldly Energy or Power, of a Principle superior or prior to the Universe. I have had the fidelity, as I should, to tell you that, considered in this way, the problem does not entail, in the present state of human knowledge, any definitive solution and that the only attitude appropriate for cautious and reasonable minds is uncertainty.
The God whose impossibility I wished to establish, whose impossibility I can now say that I have established, is the God of the religions, God as Creator, Governor and Magistrate, God infinitely wise, powerful, just and good, the God whom the clergy claim to represent on earth and whom they attempt to set up for our veneration.
There is not, there can be no ambiguity. It is this God whom I deny; and, if one wants to debate usefully, it is this God who must be defended against my attacks.
Every debate on another terrain will be, — I warn you of it, for you must be on guard against the ruses of the enemy — every debate on another terrain will be a diversion and will be, moreover, a proof that the God of the religions cannot be defended or justified.
I have proven that, as Creator, he would be inadmissible, imperfect, inexplicable; I have established, that, as Governor, he would be useless, powerless, cruel, horrible, despotic; I have shown that, as a Justice-bringer, he would be an unworthy magistrate, violating the essential rules of the most elementary equity.
Such is, however, the God who, since time immemorial, has been taught and in our days is still taught to a multitude of children, in so many families and schools. What crimes have been committed in his name!
What hatreds, wars and calamities have been furiously unleashed by his representatives! Of what sufferings has this God been the source! What evils he still engenders!
For centuries, Religion has held humanity bowed in fear, wallowing in superstition, prostrate in resignation.
Will the day never come when, ceasing to believe in eternal Justice, in its imaginary judgments and questionable reparations, humans will work with tireless ardor for the advent, on earth, of an immediate, positive and fraternal Justice?
Will the hour never strike when, disillusioned with the consolations and fallacious hopes suggested by the belief in a compensatory paradise, humans will make our planet an Eden of abundance, peace and liberty, whose doors will be fraternally open to all?
For too long, the social contract has been inspired by a God without justice; it is time that it is inspired by a justice without God. For too long, the relations between nations and individuals have stemmed from a God without philosophy; it is time that they proceeded from a philosophy without God. For centuries, monarchs, rulers, castes and clergy, conductors of people and directors of consciences, have treated humanity like the vile flock, good only to be shorn, devoured, cast into abattoirs.
For centuries, the disinherited passively endured poverty and servitude, thanks to the deceptive mirage of Heaven and the horrific vision of Hell. We must put an end to this horrible enchantment, to this abominable trickery.
O, you who hear me, open your eyes and look, observe, understand. The heaven of which you speak endlessly, the heaven with the aid of which they try to numb your misery, anesthetize your suffering and stifle the groan that, despite it all, rises from your chest, that heaven is unreal and deserted. Only your hell is peopled and positive.
Enough lamentations: the lamentations are in vain.
Enough prostrations: the prostrations are pointless.
Enough prayers: the prayers are powerless.
Stand up, o man! And, upright, trembling, rebellious, declare an implacable war on the God whose mind-numbing veneration has for so long been imposed on you and your brethren.
Rid yourself of this imaginary tyrant and shake off the yoke of those who claim to be his deputies here below.
But remember that, this first act of liberation accomplished, you have completed only a part of the task that falls to you.
Do not forget that it will do you no good to break the chains that the imaginary, celestial and eternal Gods have forged for you, if you do not also break those forged for you by the passing, positive Gods of the earth.
These Gods prowl around you, seeking to starve and enslave you. These Gods are only men like you.
Rich men and rulers, these earthly Gods have peopled the earth with countless victims, with unspeakable torments.
May the damned of the earth finally rebel against these villains and found a City where these monsters will be, forever, rendered impossible!
When you have chased the Gods from heaven and earth, when you have rid yourselves of the Masters from above and the Masters from below, when you have accomplished this double act of deliverance, then, but only then, O my brother, you will escape from your hell and you will achieve your heaven!