5 Reasons not to believe in God – Fr Stephen Wang

June 12th, 2017

5 Reasons not to believe in God – Fr Stephen Wang

Did you missed the last session of Philosophy on Tap? Do you want to go through what was discussed that night? Here is a summary of Fr Stephen Wang’s main ideas.


Fr Stephen Wang

At the Turk’s Head, Wapping

Monday 5th June

I checked with our speaker, Fr Stephen Wang, that I had got the title of the talk right, not wanting to lead people astray both in what was to be presented and in terms of their faith and practice!  Fr. Stephen made it quite clear that the title was deliberately provocative.  Indeed strong interest and involvement were then forthcoming from the participants gathered.

The five reasons were memorable for all starting with the letter ‘S’:  Science, Suffering, Sin, Superficiality, Silence

The discussion was started among the group in pairs categorising their top 3 reasons for i) what people reason people give for not believing in God; and then, subtly different, their top 3 reasons for ii) why people actually do not believe in God.

  1. In the first category were: ‘bad things happen’; ‘religion is a crutch’; ‘no evidence’; ‘false image of God with a white beard’; disunity among Christians; science
  2. And contrastingly in the second category: they are not convinced; not liking church; if God exists then they might have to change; they believe but they don’t know it; they grew up atheist

Stephen noted that a longer discussion would need more clarity with definitions.  However, for the sake of the evening he noted that ‘God’ is a ‘holding’ word which covers a spectrum of meaning:  pure cause, transcendent being, necessary being, etc.  Then in running through the 5 reasons, Stephen gave both the common reasons people give for the lack of faith in God and points to comment on these positions.

The idea that Science either now or in the future explains, or will explain everything is a persistent suggestion of a Dawkins approach to faith and is quite common today.  (The previous philosophy-on-Tap talk by Fr. Andrew Pinsent covered this subject in some detail – see the report).  This idea that it has to be Science or Religion is not reasonable.  Of course, religious people can hold superstitious beliefs, but that does not validate that Science answers every type of question.  There is the danger that people of a simplistic faith can hold to scientific views and only ascribe God to what they cannot explain, i.e. the ‘God of the Gaps’.  This is not a philosophically sound position.  The Christian question is different:  ‘What is beyond all knowledge?’  There is the wonder of – why anything does exists at all! and, ‘Why are there laws/patterns in nature?’

The issue of Suffering raises the difference between ‘natural’ evil and ‘moral’ evil.  The study of theodicy addresses questions like the one of ‘Why does God allow suffering?’  The human cry from loved ones suffering can seem to shatter faith.  However, Stephen noted that there are possible reasons for suffering that could be put forward.  The existence of suffering by itself does not rationally argue well against the existence of God.  While not offering any of the other reasons for suffering as convincing, they could be rational explanations:  suffering teaches what is good; suffering is something that came into the world; suffering causes harm but it will be put right.  Many of those who have felt suffering causing loss of faith cannot be convinced otherwise by reason.  Showing love and solidarity with the suffering is often a much more helpful stance.

The sin of Christians is another reason put forward for not believing; ‘they are hypocrites’, the injustices done in the past (burning of witches, etc.), the abuse by Religious in recent times, violence associated with religion.  However, all these reasons given do not eliminate the question, ‘What about the existence of God?’  Sometimes people resist the question because if God does exist I may have to address some of my own issues and perhaps change my life.

Superficiality, living on the surface, can lead to a stated lack of belief in God.  Some people are too busy to believe, never stopping to ask and answer the important questions in life!  There are so many distractions, c.f. the parable of the sower; the seed falling among thorns.  It’s a contemporary issue but also perennial.  The media literally mediates ideas and may not give the space for serious discourse.  Philosophically modern culture questions suspiciously deep truths (c.f. ‘post truth’).

God’s silence has been headlined in the recent Scorsese film, Silence, about the Christian martyrs in Japan; why did God not speak to those who wanted to make sense of their situation?  In prayer, we as Christians know the frustration of God apparently not speaking to us.  It is a mystery why God does not ‘speak’ more.  However, there is the proposition also that God is revealed in the signs in everyday life and in everyday events but we cannot or do not recognise them.  Perhaps God wants us to search harder?  God invites people to faith and certainly does not force it.  For the Christian of course there is the preeminent sign of a loving God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thanks to Stephen Wang whose presentation was much more informative and engaging than this short summary can describe.

Stephen Power SJ