You are on page 1of 7


Alex Kollar
Diane Hernandez
Mike Joyce
October 19, 2016
Case Study 2

Why There IS a God: A Discussion of Penn Jillette’s Anti-Religion Arguments

Penn Jillette is best known as the “taller, louder half” of the magic and comedy duo, Penn

and Teller. He is also known as one of the most famous atheists of our time. He openly discusses

his views on religion and is unapologetic in his arguments. In 2005 he released an article titled,

“There is No God” explaining exactly why he does not believe in God. He claims that choosing

to not believe in a higher power allows him to live a completely fulfilling life free of any

limitations. In this paper, we set out to refute Jillette’s claims and provide evidence as to why

disregarding any inclination of God’s existence is not freeing, but limiting.

Jillette is willing to take a step farther than most atheists with regard to his views on God.

He asserts that atheism in a broad sense is a lack of belief in a God, while he takes the position of

what he calls being, “beyond atheism.” He believes that God does not exist. Jillette follows this

by postulating that his disbelief in God informs every aspect of his life. With respect to this

point, Jillette argues that he is not greedy and that he has, “love, blue skies, rainbows, and

Hallmark cards.” With this point Jillette is coming to the conclusion that he has enough in this

world, and thinks, “It would just rude to beg the invisible for more.” He further illustrates this

point by describing the wonderful life he has with his loving family and that because of this he

does not need heaven. His heaven is living a joyful life everyday with the family.

Jillette next uses his disbelief in God to illustrate how it affects his relationships with

others and his general philosophy of life. He believes that he cannot be forgiven unless it

through, “kindness or faulty memories.” Regarding this, he is asserting that he has no higher

power to answer too with respect to forgiveness. Jillette contends that since he is not a religious

man that he does not have a way to easily escape situations where he has committed a

wrongdoing. He is pointing out that when religious people make a mistake or commit a

wrongdoing that they can simply ask for forgiveness from God and it will be granted to them.

Jillette believes that since he is an atheist, he must approach each situation with more care due to

the fact that he can only be forgiven through legitimate acts of kindness or a lapse in someone’s

memory. Jillette maintains that this is a better, more wholesome way to approach life since it

forces individuals to commit themselves more fully to developing relationships and more

reluctant to commit wrongful acts.

Next, Jillette uses his disbelief in God to explicate his worldview. He contends that

disbelief in God, “stops him from being solipsistic.” Solipsism is the belief that one can only be

sure of the mind’s existence. Following this he maintains that people of religion allow their belief

in God to distort their perception of reality and tilt their worldview in a negative way. He backs

up this claim with the quote, ““I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or

do can shake my faith.”” That’s just a long-winded religious way to say, “shut up,” or another

two words that the FCC likes less.” Jillette further supports his claims by contending that belief

in an “imaginary friend” means more to people of religion than those around them. From this he

concludes that disbelief in God allows for him to be corrected and more open to new ideas

around him. This leads him to conclude that belief in a higher power leads people to live life

dogmatically and with less understanding of those around them.

Finally, Jillette addresses the suffering in the world. He claims that his disbelief in God

has allowed him to ascertain a more clear view on suffering. If the suffering in the world was

caused by an omnipotent being, there would be no way for man to ever combat the suffering in

the world. According to Jillette, since there is no God, the suffering in the world is not the will of

an all-powerful being. This means that humanity can help fight the suffering in the world

because it is not the will of man against the will of God. From this he concludes that disbelief in

God allows for the possibility of less suffering in the future. In addition to less suffering,

disbelief in God allows for more of what one deems to be the more important things in life.

Jillette believes that these things are what makes life so great.

Now in order to address, Jillette’s case, we must look at the underlying philosophical

issues, first is the question of creation and second free will. First off, He does not believe that

there is anything bigger than him, “I won the huge genetic lottery” but how? how can you win

the lottery without getting a ticket? This being said, everything had to come from somewhere.

Humans are in fact reproducing, where did the first person come from, or the first animal? The

first human, animals, etc had to have had a creator of some sort in order to begin reproduction

line. How did the world come into being? He believes that the entire universe – with its

enormous planets and their own suns and moons, the earth, the amazing animals – with male and

female, the beautiful flowers, the marvels of the fearfully and wonderfully made human body,

including male and female, as well as millions of other marvels of nature happened because

absolutely nothing created it. While he has no difficulty in showing the faith needed for a theistic

worldview, his argument also begins with an acknowledgment of his own leap of faith. That kind

of belief takes huge faith; it denies all logic, reason and common sense. If belief in God is

unreasonable because one must include faith in their stance, then believing in the non-existence

of God is also unreasonable.

The second philosophical issue that comes into questioning is that of free will, Jillette

says, “believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and the suffering in

the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to

help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help other with in the future.

No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.” We cannot deny that suffering does

not in fact exist, there is in fact two different kinds of suffering; suffering that comes from

disasters and suffering that comes from “human made disasters”. Often times we tend to talk

about human made events and natural made events in the same category. We cannot understand

everything that happens. God does have the ultimate power but he has also give us “free will”,

which is where human made events come about. While God does have the control, he gives us

the freedom to make choices in our life. Sometimes choices that people make lead to human

made evil. Take for example, no one taught little Johnny (or any child) to hit his little sister, but

rather he chose to do that action. Free will, is that of which one has the choice to make his/her

own decision, here in God has no control over or else it would not be free will. The existence of

God therefore then has no connection to the suffering in the world, due to the fact that other

factors also come into play.

All of Jillette’s arguments seem to stem from his statement about truth. He says, “anyone

with a love for truth outside herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence

of God.” With this, he claims that God exists outside our understanding of truth and only with

explicit evidence supporting His existence should we believe in Him. This core concept is where

we begin to take issue with his reasoning. Rejecting the existence of a higher being because we

do not have tangible evidence we can comprehend, is equivalent to a field mouse rejecting the

existence of humans because he has never seen one before. Just because the mouse does not have

any concept of what a human being is, and my never have any contact with humans, does not

mean that we (humans) do not exist. Though this may be a simplified way to understand our

counterargument, it paints the picture all the same: no evidence is not, in fact, evidence.

Continuing with the conversation of evidence brings us to William Paley’s argument of

design. In his work, “The Argument from Design” he claims that fact the universe exists is

evidence of a Divine Creator. He offers the illustration of a watch, an intricately designed item

that could have only been created by the hands of an intelligent creator. He parallels this watch to

the vastness of the universe and claims that this is evidence enough a Creator. When thinking

about how complex and grand the universe is, it seems unlikely that all of existence was a simple

accident. Paley’s reasoning, that all of humanity stands as proof of an intelligent Creator, seems

to answer Jillette’s desire for evidence of God.

Another argument that Jillette uses to defend his unbelief in God, is the subject of

suffering. He argues that having a non-religious perspective of the world allows him to

rationalize evil and unfortunate events in a way that is not based on an omnipresent being “that

isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us.” He states, “No God means the possibility of less

suffering in the future.” This is point can be countered with John Hick’s “soul-making”

argument. Hick’s basic claim is that the evil that we encounter in this life is meant to shape us

into who God intends us to be. Hick claims that the suffering humanity experiences is not

pointless and that “evil is a necessary byproduct of the laws of nature” (123). Jillette makes it

sound like believing in God means always being let down in times of suffering, but Hick presents

having faith in a higher power allows for hope to eclipse the evil of the world.

Many of Jillette’s claims seem to be rooted in the belief that Christianity (or any religion)

is based on illogical and unnecessary reasoning. Both William James and Blaise Pascal would

argue differently. James claims that any rational choice made is based on the foundation of the

three characteristics of human decision: forced option (having to choose between only 2 options),

living option (relevancy), and momentous option (will it change a life). Basing the decision to

follow Christ on this criteria shows that there is logic behind it. Even Pascal, who would perhaps

disagree with a few of James’ points, argues that there is a rational allure to choosing to follow

Jesus Christ. He claims that there really is no visible “loss” for Christians because there’s a fifty-

fifty chance that (1) Jesus’ teachings are true and we are called up to heaven, or (2) our God

doesn’t actually exist, but we still lived out our lives in a pretty morally sound way (depending

on your perspective).

Penn Jillette offers up some very interesting points about how his disbelief in God has

changed his life for the better. Jillette believes that disbelief in God allows him to focus on things

he deems as more important, approach situations from a more unbiased perspective, and respond

to the suffering of the world in a more pragmatic fashion. Jillette’s statements bring about

philosophical questions regarding free will and creation. We contend that John Hick’s “soul-

making argument, William Paley’s “Argument from Design,” Blaise Pascal’s “The Wager,” and

William James’s “The Will to Believe” provide logical responses to each one of Jillette’s points.

When we met: Friday, October 21st

After class, in Blanchard