The Six Ways of Atheism

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The Six Ways of AtheismThe Six Ways of Atheism
New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God

Geoffrey Berg
ISBN 9780954395667 (0954395662)
Geoffrey Berg, 2009 (175pp)

Category: Doctrine and Theology
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

Every so often a book comes along which has the power to change the way you think. This is not one of them.

It should, however, challenge the way you think — about God, about life, purpose and existence; and that, I think, makes it worth the read. More importantly, however, it’s a book that despite being privately published, Christians (and those of other faiths) will need to engage with as it finds its way into bookshops and libraries courtesy of the author’s decision to send out complimentary copies “not only to many book retailers but also to practically every public library in … the English speaking world”.

Berg sets out to demonstrate that God — or, to be more precise, a particular concept of God which he insists is the only possible concept of God — simply cannot exist if we follow the tenets of Logic (his capitalisation). He presents a fascinating but ultimately futile series of six arguments against God — summarised at — with which I personally cannot but agree: the God whom Berg denies does not exist.

Berg’s God — or, as he prefers, his candidate or potential God — is “eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, consciously controlling, supremely good, our ultimate creator and our purpose giver” (p.14). Having dismissed any other concept of God as not worthy of the designation and certainly not worthy of our worship, he then goes on to argue that since it is impossible for any single entity to exhibit all of these characteristics, God quite simply cannot exist. In a nutshell:

even the greatest conceivable entity in the Universe (let alone the greatest entity that actually does exist in the Universe!) must necessarily fall short of being God. (p.124)

— to which I say a wholehearted  Amen!

Rather than rant Dawkins-style, Berg’s approach is more calm and collected but with a tendency towards petulance as he exalts logic to the status of the godhead that he simultaneously denies:

… I deny that anything can exist contrary to Logic. I doubt anything can exist with that degree of inconsistency. Speaking personally, I also doubt that any real entity can exist completely immaterially. In any case we actually know nothing of the supposed alternative principles upon which God operates. That is merely human conjecture. Indeed it is irrational conjecture devised by the religious to suit the religious without any foundation at all beyond the imagination of some humans. Faith in religious terms is generally only a posh word for the reckless imaginings of ideas that cannot sensibly, let alone rationally, be believed in. (p.69)

Further on, failing to recognise his own reasoning as itself based on “nothing but human conjecture” — and unfortunately coming over rather like a child saying, “So there!” — he asserts:

What is beyond doubt is that I have now provided absolute and indubitable disproof of the existence of a monotheistic God which no objection can overcome. Therefore like it or not, make of it what you will, monotheism is wrong and atheism is right! (p.143)

Putting issues of tone and style aside, however, the question remains: does the cumulative force of Berg’s arguments genuinely represent the decisive proof against God’s existence that he claims?

The answer is, in my view at least, yes; and I also think it matters not one whit. Quite simply because Berg, like Dawkins before him and in common with so many other aggressive atheists, has fallen into the trap of regarding God as an entity within the universe. As he rightly insists, such an entity cannot and does not exist, has never existed beyond the human imagination.

The God who is, however: that’s another story. The God who is, who crosses the gulf between humanity and God in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who dares to take on the impossibility of existence, who walks amongst us and dies at our hands — that God cannot be argued into or out of existence. That God — the living, loving, breathing hot-blooded Word, the Logos, stands for ever against the frozen chill of human logic.

Berg is right in what he affirms: we do indeed know nothing of the alternative principles upon which God operates; but he is wrong in what he denies: the reality of a God who does not exist within the framework of human experience and comprehension but who chooses to enter that framework.

God does not exist: we do — thank God for that!

Phil Groom, June 2009

Phil Groom is this site’s Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He’s a regular contributor to Christian Marketplace magazine and is the manager of London School of Theology Books & Resources. Any opinions expressed here are personal and should not be taken as representing the views of London School of Theology or of any other group or organisation.

Summary of the Universal Uncertainty Argument

Geoffrey Berg


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30 thoughts on “The Six Ways of Atheism

  1. We looked at this title when it arrived yesterday – do you think it’s a spoof – it could be a bluff, or a double bluff, we’re just not sure…

    • I think it’s a genuine attempt to disprove the possibility of God’s existence — and if, like the author, you think of God as a definable object within the universe rather than its source then, of course, it works: as he says,

      even the greatest conceivable entity in the Universe … must necessarily fall short of being God.

      Whether it proves to be as big a seller as Dawkins remains to be seen; but if it’s being sent out to as many shops and libraries as the author claims then I think we need to be aware of it…

      • “… failing to recognize his own reasoning as itself based on “nothing but human conjecture” …”

        … is an oft repeated lie. Reasoning is *not* based on nothing but human conjecture. Reasoning arises from nature and we are evolved to do it. The laws of logic have been taught to us by reality. If you can make 2+2=5, do it with dollars and feed all the poor – oh, and throw some my way.

        “God does not exist: we do — thank God for that!”

        This non-existent “God” is the same one that all strong atheists believe in.

        Why is it that so many Christians talk about “truth” but insist on lying? Making unqualified, baseless, wild avowals is lying.

        This talk of “Jesus of Nazareth”. You have no valid evidence that this person even existed. We have no evidence at all that Nazareth existed at the time that “Jesus of Nazareth” is supposed to have lived.

        Most historians conjecture that there was a Rabbi that ultimately gave rise to the stories but we have no solid evidence.

        If you want to be truthful, how about writing, “`The God I imagine’ who is (I hope). Who, I baselessly conjecture, crosses the gulf between humanity and a wildly conjectured God in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, a man for whom we have no good evidence …”.

        • Presumably if you discount the evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth you also discount the evidence for Julius Caesar?

          Sorry, VeridicusX, but denying the existence of Jesus is pure folly. Deny his significance, deny the miracles and teaching attributed to him, by all means: but deny that the man ever lived? Don’t be silly.

        • Actually, strange as it may seem, I do not deny the existence of “Jesus”, I think that there was a real physical Rabbi who gave rise to Christianity. (Although, it’s possible that the mythical “Jesus” of the Gospels is Midrashic and/or a collage of Rabbis and freedom fighters).

          Nevertheless, neither you nor I have the verifiable evidence to avow the existence of “Jesus” without lying.

          If someone were to deny that “Jesus” ever existed, I do not think that this would be “silly”. There are enough lies, myths and legends surrounding “Jesus” for a reasonable person to strongly doubt his historical reality and many do.

  2. I’m a thomist so the argument won’t disprove anything to me based on the description of God as cited above as it isn’t a thomist view of God to begin with.
    Still would love to read it.

    • In his intro the author says he’s deliberately called it “The Six Ways…” to go one better than Aquinas’ “Five Ways” of proving God — You’ve got five proofs – I’ve got six disproofs!

      Trouble is it’s just another straw God he’s demolishing. Interesting, nonetheless.

  3. Great review. I lost interest in Dawkins somewhere around page 57 of the God Delusion when he declared that it is not the god who sits up in the clouds that he is attempting to disprove as even Christians don’t believe in that god but rather he is attempting to disprove any god that ever existed ever. Well yes, I am with him on that one. But on the God that is beyond existence – has anyone really got anything intelligent to say?

    • Thanks. I think this snippet from Peter Rollins is about right:

      God is not a problem to be solved but rather a mystery to participate in.

      The Fidelity of Betrayal, p.115.

      Rollins makes the same point, that God is not an object in the world that we can analyse and dissect, by comparing life and light:

      No matter how wide we open our eyes or how hard we stare, we cannot see the light that illumines our world. Just as the light in a room is not seen but rather enables us to see, so our life is not experienced but enables us to experience.

      (also p.115)

    • I wholeheartedly agree: there IS a God beyond existence and expression. Unfortunately those who claim they have something intelligent to say about God invariably want to control the rest of us in a God-like fashion. Such people come in the form of absolutely convinced religionists and absolutely convinced atheists. Such people claim that what they have deduced through their chosen scriptures (religious or secular) is so certainly true that the rest of us must follow their chosen belief system. History has shown us that absolute certainty about God’s qualities (religion) and absolute certainty about God’s non-existence (atheism in the form of Communism) can be equally dangerous concepts. When will we learn that God is a personal matter and that we are each to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. This is not a matter for government or societal intervention. When will we learn?

    • When people claim there is a god beyond existence, they’re just guessing.

      They’re defining a being they don’t understand with a property they can’t explain whose realm is a mystery and who interacts with this world in ways unknown, and they necessarily have no explanation for how they know this is true.

      What it represents is the need some people have to believe in god more than anything else, not something people need to make an intelligent case against,as its a conclusion that is by definition supported by nothing.

        • Everyone understands why people accept that conclusion, but it’s a conclusion that is the equivalent of saying “no explanation of how it works will be presented, and no counter arguments count.” No explanation means there’s nothing to argue against, and even if someone comes up with something it doesn’t matter because it “doesn’t count.”

          So it’s kind of silly for apriljayne to wonder if someone will challenge it intelligently when all challenges will “not count.”

      • Most of life is guesswork. We live by faith: by faith I sit here typing into this little box believing somehow that it connects me to the outside world. By faith I climb the stairs in my home, believing they’re really there and that I won’t fall into a bottomless abyss before I reach the top.

        As for defining God: the moment we think we’ve defined God, s/he disappears. All I know for sure, and I’m not even sure about that, is that I think, therefore I am. Perhaps my thought processes are nothing more than the random bumping around of atoms (if atoms exist). Perhaps I am a figment of my own imagination or of someone else’s. What is existence? What is meaning? What is meaninglessness in a meaningless universe?

        I make sense of life in the best way that I can. I may be right, I may be wrong. But I enjoy coffee cake with walnuts and if ever we meet in a branch of Starbucks (does Starbucks exist?) perhaps you’ll allow me to buy you some? No obligation to believe anything, but you will need to trust the chef.

        • Yeah, I think it’s normal for people with faith in god to apply faith to other things as a way of normalizing it.

          The question of uncertainty isn’t the same as requiring faith though. Evidence is what allows us to make the best judgments we can of things we are uncertain of. It’s why you walk up the stairs in your house and not the invisible ones in your yard. I’m assuming you have a yard. If you don’t, please read this paragraph again once you acquire a yard.

          Don’t think I’ve ever had a coffee cake. Next time I go to Starbucks I’ll try one out in your honor.

  4. I work as a librarian in an Australian library and yesterday received a free copy of The Six Ways of Atheism. It is fairly common for authors of self-published books to send free copies to libraries. It is largely ineffective since libraries have collection policies and generally self-published books do not meet the criteria. Most of the books Geoffrey Berg sends to Australian libraries will end up in the rubbish bin.

    Before throwing out my copy I did have a quick look. I was grateful for the three page summary at the end, saved me having to read too much of it. I found it pretty much as you have said here. His whole concept of God was so small to begin with; it wasn’t hard for him to prove (to himself) there is no God.

  5. @spitz: love that idea of an invisible staircase in the yard: thanks. We don’t have a yard, as it happens, but I’ll certainly keep that in mind next time I’m inclined to use a rock for a pillow. Hope you enjoy the coffee cake 🙂

  6. Anyone with a functioning brain can see that faith in God is just wishful thinking. There is no evidence of any kind, and nobody is willing to offer any, except their own personal experience. Saying something is the truth over and over does not make it so. Because something is written in an old book does not make it true. Faith in a mythical being is not the same as sending an email or walking up stairs. It shows how confused you can get when you question if anything exists at all. So you wish that God existed. That doesn’t mean God does exist. So you had an existential moment once. Great, many of us have. Interested in a scientific explanation for these ‘religious’ experiences? Didn’t think so. Have fun in fairie-land. Unless christians can accept the bible as allegory and their concept of god as historical myth and find something redeeming in their philosophy that can be applied to modern life, they will see their religion become less relevant and more extreme until it eventually dies out. Ken Ham and the young earth creationists are accelerating this trend. Believing in a 10,000 year old earth is completely ridiculous, especially when the main motivation is to provide historical legitimacy for an (obviously) allegorical story. It’s a desperate bid for literal interpretation, because without the ‘truth’ of adam and eve there is no original sin and thus no need for sacrifice or salvation. Without sin the entire theology collapses like a house of cards. If people aren’t sick, who’s gonna buy the cure?

    • The primary problem of fundamentalists is their belief that a collection of ancient writings is “inerrant”. This is nothing more than idol worship.

    • @Democritus: An entertaining rant, but hardly the sort of argument that’s going to win anyone over — not that I personally am interested in winning anyone over to any point of view other than mutual respect.

      I’m curious: why do people who deny the concept of God get so worked up over it? I can understand believers getting enthusiastic; but why this passion from non-believers? If God is a myth, why bother?

      Please don’t lump us all together with Ken Ham. Thank you.

      • Most athiests are very happy to live and let live on almost every issue of personal belief. If you want to believe in horoscopes or fairies or unicorns, it really doesn’t hurt anyone. Belief in the bible, on the surface, can be a harmless belief (as long as you don’t actually read it). There are plenty of christians who have their own personal, quiet faith and don’t go around proselytizing or forcing political changes in some kind of a ‘culture war’. But there is a long, long history of christians (and other mono-theistic faiths like islam and judaism) forcing their absolute morals on societies, often in violent ways. To me, there seems to be something inherently tyrannical about judeo-mono-theism – that there is ONE law and ONE god that everyone must obey and worship with fear and trembling. In the current political context, many christians are using their beliefs to attack science and justify discrimination, racism and war. If it was just fringe loonies like Westboro Baptist, we would just laugh it off. But mainstream christian groups like Focus on the Family receive support from millions of christians and spread the same messages of hate and intolerance on radio, TV and the web.
        The bible contains many passages which, if interpreted literally, sanction horrible, horrible behavior. It takes a lot of cherry-picking from the greek philosophy inspired gospels of Paul, some strong mental gymnastics and a blind eye to most of the old testament (and revelations) to excuse away these passages and convince people that the bible is about love, peace and forgiveness, when the main themes seem to be judgment, bondage, racist war and patriarchal authority.

        This is why you will get harsher reactions defending belief in the bible than belief in fairies.
        Believing in fairies never hurt anyone, as far as I know.

        • Thanks, Democritus. That’s interesting… but I thought we were discussing belief in God, not belief in the Bible?

          I agree: plenty of nutters have claimed the Bible as their inspiration; but so have plenty of saints — and by saints I don’t mean the people canonised by the Church, I mean people who have worked and lived as servants of humanity, giving themselves away. I think, on balance, it’s the saints who stand the test of time; but perhaps that’s just selective memory, part of human psychology: we prefer to remember the good.

          And that’s one good thing about the Bible: there’s no pretence that everything’s hunky-dory: ancient Israel is portrayed warts and all and is frequently shouted down by its own prophets. If they were on twitter it’d be #israelfail as a trending topic every day.

          The trouble is that people tend to read the Bible as if it were a coherent whole written by God this morning. It isn’t: it’s a collection of ancient manuscripts written by a multitude of different writers across a time period spanning thousands of years. But you know that, I guess, so there’s no need for me to launch into a mini-lecture about biblical interpretation and hermeneutics or the importance of reading it critically, like any ancient manuscript, in its literary, historical and social context.

          What the Bible offers us is one ethnic group’s emerging concept – or concepts – of God and a whole variety of takes on that which, if we happen to accept the Christian perspective, culminates in Jesus of Nazareth.

          Following Jesus today doesn’t oblige anyone to mindlessly follow the laws of Leviticus let alone follow the example of ancient Israel in all its warmongering and homophobia, though there’s plenty we can learn from them both on how to live and on how not to. On the contrary, it challenges us to live in humility and learn to love our neighbours as ourselves. Personally the more I think about it the more convinced I become that Christians should not be in positions of power — but that’s another story.

          Fundamentalism — whether it’s the kind of atheistic fundamentalism that gave us the worst excesses of Marxism or the religious fundamentalism that gave us the Crusades and 9/11 — is dangerous. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone who follows Jesus is a fundamentalist. Some of us — a lot of us, actually — do think about our faith, and aren’t afraid to question it.

          As you say, believing in fairies never did anyone any harm. But did it ever do anyone any good?

  7. Pingback: Giant Teapots and Other Atheist Myths « Phil’s Boring Blog

  8. Hi Phil,

    I would like to respond to your last comment but it looks like the thread has gone too deep.

    Re-reading your original post I think I see more clearly what you are saying: that (although Berg’s arguments are logically valid) God is outside our comprehension and logic and beyond the bounds of the physical universe, yet (somehow) transcends that impossibility (through Jesus of Nazareth) to interact with our lives personally.

    Aside from the Bible, what reason is there to think that such a supernatural being – we’ll assume it exists for purpose of argument – has any connection to a historical Jesus of Nazareth? Or any of the stories in the Bible? Why not call it ‘the force’? Does it help to personify it in some way? Doesn’t worshiping an infinitely mysterious God in this way (through an image of a man) amount to idol worship? This (as I understand) is one of the main criticisms Jews have about Jesus worship. They believe one should not even speak G-d’s name much less make “graven” images.

    I do agree wholeheartedly with your comments on fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is wrong because it denies that there can be any uncertainty. The man who shot Dr. Tiller was (and is) 100% certain he was doing God’s will. If he was able to entertain any doubts, I’m sure Dr. Tiller would still be alive.

    I am willing to accept the possibility that some type of supreme being or force may exist outside the limits of our understanding. I don’t see any reason to believe that such a being has ever, would ever, or could ever intervene in our lives or would expect us to behave in certain ways, but there’s no harm (and arguably some benefit) in believing in this type of God. This is similar to the ‘deism’ of Thomas Jefferson.

    You admit that Berg’s arguments for atheism are logically valid. You acknowledge that the Bible is “a collection of ancient manuscripts written by a multitude of different writers across a time period spanning thousands of years.” You have distanced yourself from Ken Ham and the young earthers. In general, you have spoken intelligently for your cause and have defended it as well as any I have seen.

    Hovever, you conclude your article with:

    “The God who is, however: that’s another story. The God who is, who crosses the gulf between humanity and God in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who dares to take on the impossibility of existence, who walks amongst us and dies at our hands — that God cannot be argued into or out of existence.”

    So this is a Christian blog and obviously most of your readers are already believers.
    I’m sure reading this affirmation of faith made your Christian readers feel better after all that stuff at the beginning about Berg proving that God doesn’t exist.

    If I may humbly offer a suggestion:

    Rather than offering a feel-good affirmation of faith for the converted, why not acknowledge that Berg’s book and others by Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. DO pose a major threat to the Christian religion. Those who have been quicker to realize this are already moving into the fundamentalist camp and shoring up their defenses (such as Ken Ham, Focus on the Family, Westboro). But these fundamentalists are an even bigger threat to Christianity, representing a post-modern reaction against our entire secular society which is doomed to failure.

    A recent worldnetdaily article looked at why 2/3rds of kids who go to Sunday School end up leaving the church.

    They found that found that regular participants in Sunday School are more likely to:
    * Leave the church
    * Believe that the Bible is less true
    * Defend the legality of abortion and same-sex marriage
    * Defend premarital sex

    I was one of these Sunday school kids – I grew up in the Nazarene church and have read the Bible cover to cover many times. In fact, I was a champion Bible quizzer several years running.

    I don’t want to see Christianity die, but I do believe that it is dying right now.

    The way forward is to transcend. To be a Christian doesn’t mean you have to believe in either God or the Bible, it means you live your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, because by doing so you believe you will lead a better life.

    This is a simple and workable philosophy in the modern world – turn the other cheek, forgive your enemies, love your neighbor. There is no supernatural component required.

    • Democritus: thank you. If more atheists presented their case as coherently as this, I think we could well find a way forward. More later 🙂

  9. You the man Phil!

    Seriously, thanks. You’ve expressed my own thoughts perfectly. I’ve tried giving my opinion on this matter a number of times, but I end up ranting and getting angry.

    I actually think this Berg fella does more harm to the atheist ’cause’, what with him having a crap argument and all. How do people like him and Dawkins get published? It’s a shame C.S.Lewis is dead, he could’ve helped them write their books before writing his own.

  10. Except when we climb the stairs and have “faith” there is something substantial to “step” on is quite a different kind of “experience” than attempting to experience something that is unknowable at all except by mystical faith engendered by fallible human writings. Every description of the supernatural deity called god show that being as unknowable, unseeable, unhearable (for what kind of voice would it have, one like Woody Allen or one like Glen Beck [heaven forbid!] or one like Khomeini, or the Pope?). A being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (especially that last one is rather irrational for if that being were omnipresent the human would have to be able to intuit is somehow then the contradiction sets in) would be a being without any flaws in the least and there would be no way for humans to know if there were any flaws not having any direct experience, and we all know that human knowledge is flawed preventively to attain to knowledge.

    All that notwithstanding, we make the distinction between substance and insubstantiality primarily because we do experience an objective world even though it is processed subjectively. To think there is no objective world, wherein a god would necessarily have to have some characteristic that can be even elementarily be experienced in order to “be” experienced, is to wind oneself up in solipsism in which case the invention of a god was invented by oneself and presents a moot case for a god’s existence. An experiential world would be true even if we “constructed” that objective world, as it is the only way one could even say I think therefore I exist, since from the first one intuits a duality, self and not self, self and a world in which to exist.

    Many of these comments are hearteningly thoughtful.

  11. This book is a joke – the arguments aren’t even coherent. Berg has clearly never studied the ACTUALY discipline of ‘logic’ – he clearly equates the word with ‘what I think’, which is ridiculous. Logic isn’t a point of view, or a basis for a metaphysical argument such as the God argument.

    The claims it makes simply don’t add up – it uses logic as a thin guise for Berg’s fundamentalism. God can’t be ‘logically disproved’ (something hundreds of generations of scholars still haven’t managed) by anybody like Berg (or indeed anybody else), especially if you don’t even have a proper view of what logic actually is.

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