Not only can one go over the hundreds of mistakes the bible makes (when debating christians), or explain how the human mind works, or how immoral and hateful religion is at its roots, but you can counter every argument they have, and still they just move goalposts and debate in what I call the pigeon playing chess fashion: They have no idea of the rules, so they just knock over the peices, crap all over the board, and fly back to their flock and proclaim victory. Forgetting that they never once actually make any sense, let alone any compelling arguments. Aftr all, if there was anything that was actually compelling, do you think there would be over 38,000 different versions of christianity out there, let alone the thousands of different non-christian religions?
Heck, even things like the correlation between low intelligence and religiosity doesn't phase them. And as ALWAYS, there are apologists for anything that one brings up. Never mind that these arguments are weak, and generally incomplete (and in some cases totally fabricated), but that they are even needed as an apology doesn't phase them. Heck, just look at the name; APOLOGIST! Yeah, they have a lot to apologize for! So I may get mean from time to time, but this is my blog. Even the name calling and hateful language they use is no excuse for getting so mean, but arguing with simpletons is frustrating! So if I offend theists here, it's not out of spite, so much as to keep from beating you over the head with the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Now, someone else has written up their top ten reasons. They coincide pretty good with my own (although I would have put #10 as #1, but that's just me), but are only ten out of hundreds and thousands. Let's just say that they are only a start. Again, I need to point out, what is written below is not my work, but someone elses. I just find it entertaining and realtively well thought out. Sure a whole lot more consistent than the bible or any other holy book!
So why -- exactly -- do I not believe in God?
In many of my writings about religion, I take my atheism as a given. When I critique religion, or gas on about atheist philosophy, I generally start with the assumption that religion is a mistaken idea about the world and that atheism is a correct one, and go from there.
Which is generally fine with me. If I always had to start with first principles -- on any topic -- I'd get nothing written. (Nothing interesting, anyway.)
But it occurred to me recently that a newcomer to my blog might think that I hadn't carefully considered the question of God's existence. My arguments against God and religion are scattered all over my blog, and I don't expect even my most devoted readers to read every single piece of my Atheism archives just to dig them all up.
So here -- largely for my own convenience, and hopefully for the convenience of readers both atheist and not -- is a summary of the Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God. Or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s). Something I can point to, and that maybe other atheists can point to, when theists ask, "But have you considered...?" (And since I've probably missed some good ones, I'll be asking for your own favorite arguments at the end of the piece.)
A couple of quick disclaimers first. This is really just a summary: a summary of ideas that I, and other atheist writers, have gone into in greater detail elsewhere. People have written entire books on this topic, and this post isn't an entire book... nor is it meant to be. If you're going to critique me for oversimplifying, please bear that in mind: It's a summary. It's meant to be somewhat simple. (I'm giving links to my own writing and to other people's that go into the ideas in more detail.)
And no, I don't think any of these arguments provide a 100% conclusive airtight case against God. Not even all of them together do that. And I don't think they have to. I'm not trying to show that belief in God's existence is absolutely impossible. I'm trying to show that it's implausible. I'm trying to show that it is -- by far -- the least likely hypothesis for how the world works and why it is the way it is.
Oh -- and for the sake of brevity, I'm generally going to say "God" when I mean "God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s)." I don't feel like getting into "Well, I don't believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe..." discussions. It's not just the man in the white beard that I don't believe in. I don't believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn't the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.
And here's why. (Divided into two parts, to keep it from being insanely long.)
1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a very noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller.
Why the sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.
All of these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the religious explanations were replaced by physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural or religious explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.
Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural or religious one? The number of times humankind has said, "We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it's actually caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul"?
Sure, people come up with new supernatural explanations for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources?
Again -- exactly zero.
Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don't have a thorough explanation -- human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the universe -- will be best explained by the supernatural?
Given this pattern, it seems clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can comfortably discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn't understand the world as well as we do now... but that, on more careful examination, has never -- not once -- been shown to be correct.
If I see any solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of a phenomenon, I'll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I'll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.
The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely
2: The inconsistency of world religions.
When different people look at, say, a tree, we more or less agree about what we're looking at: what size it is, what shape, whether it currently has leaves or not and what color those leaves are, etc. We may have disagreements regarding the tree -- what other plants it's most closely related to, where it stands in the evolutionary tree, should it be cut down to make way for a new sports stadium, etc. But unless one of us is hallucinating or deranged or literally unable to see, we can all agree on the tree's basic existence, and the basic facts about it.
This is blatantly not the case for God. Even among people who do believe in God, there is no agreement whatsoever as to what God is, what God does, what God wants from us, how he acts or does not act upon the world, whether he's a he, whether there's one or more of him, whether he's a personal being or a diffuse metaphysical substance. And this is among smart, thoughtful, sane people. What's more, many smart, thoughtful, sane people don't even think that God exists... and the number of those people is going up all the time.
And if God existed, he'd be a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, with a whole lot more effect in the world, than a tree. Why is it that we can all see a tree in more or less the same way, but we don't see God in even remotely the same way whatsoever?
The explanation, of course, is that God does not really exist. We disagree so radically over what he is because we aren't actually perceiving anything that's real. We're "perceiving" something we made up; something we were taught to believe; something that the part of our brains that's wired to see pattern and intention (even when none exists) is wired to see and believe.
3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
The argument from authority. (Example: "God exists because the Bible says God exists.")
The argument from personal experience. (Example: "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.")
The argument that religion shouldn't have to logically defend its claims. (Example: "God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.")
Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle -- so abstract that it can't be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: "God is love.")
And all these arguments are incredibly weak.
Sacred books and authorities can be mistaken. I have yet to see a sacred book that doesn't have any mistakes. (The Bible, for just one example, is shot full of them.) And the feelings in people's hearts can definitely be mistaken. They are mistaken, demonstrably so, much of the time. Instinct and intuition play an important part of human understanding and experience... but they should never be treated as the final word on a subject.
I mean, if I told you, "The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves," and offered as a defense, "I know this is true because my mother/ preacher/ sacred book tells me so"... or "I know this is true because I feel it in my heart"... would you take me seriously?
Some people do still try to point to evidence in the world that God exists. But that evidence is inevitably terrible. Pointing to the perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic document, for instance, when it so blatantly is nothing of the kind. Or pointing to the complexity of life and the world and insisting that it must have been designed... when the sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what looks, at first glance, like design.
As to the "We don't got to show you no stinking reason or evidence" argument... that's just conceding the game before you've even begun. It's basically saying, "I know I can't make my case, therefore I'm going to concentrate my arguments on why I don't have to make my case in the first place." It's like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, and thus tries to get the case thrown out on a technicality.
Ditto with the "redefining God out of existence" argument. If what you believe in isn't a supernatural being(s) or substance(s) that currently has, or at one time had, some sort of effect on the world... well, your philosophy might be a dandy and clever one, but it is not, by any useful definition of the word, religion.
Again: If I tried to argue, "The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves -- and the height and color of trees is a question that is best answered with personal faith and feeling, not with reason or evidence"... or, "I know this is true because I am defining '500 feet tall and hot pink' as the essential nature of tree-ness, regardless of its outward appearance"... would you take me seriously?
Oh, all over the place. But probably most succinctly:
A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside
The Argument From Design, Part One and Part Two
"A Different Way of Knowing": The Uses of Irrationality... and its Limitations
4: The increasing diminishment of God.
When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God himself, among believers themselves, has been diminishing. As our understanding of the natural, physical world has increased -- and our ability to test theories and claims has improved -- the domain of God's miracles (or other purported supernatural/ metaphysical phenomena) has consistently shifted, away from the phenomena that are now understood as physical cause and effect, and onto the increasingly shrinking area of phenomena that we still don't understand.
Examples: We stopped needing God to explain floods, but we still needed him to explain sickness and health. Then we didn't need him to explain sickness and health any more... but we still needed him to explain consciousness. Now we're beginning to get a grip on consciousness, so we'll soon need God to explain... what, exactly?
Or, as Ebon Muse so eloquently put it, ""Where the Bible tells us God once shaped worlds out of the void and parted great seas with the power of his word, today his most impressive acts seem to be shaping sticky buns into the likenesses of saints and conferring vaguely-defined warm feelings on his believers' hearts when they attend church."
This is what atheists call the "God of the gaps." Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that's what God is responsible for. Wherever the empty spaces are in our coloring book, that's what gets filled in with the blue crayon called God.
But the blue crayon is worn down to a nub. And it's never proven to be the right color. And over and over again, throughout history, we have had to go to great trouble to scrape the blue crayon out of people's minds and replace it with the right color. Given this pattern, doesn't it seem that we should stop reaching for the blue crayon every time we see an empty space in the coloring book?
5: The fact that religion runs in families.
Very, very few people carefully examine all the religious beliefs currently being followed -- or even some of those beliefs -- and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children.
Now, we don't do this with, for instance, science. We don't hold on to the Steady State theory of the universe, or geocentrism, or the four bodily humours theory of illness, simply because it's what we were taught as children. We believe whatever scientific understanding is best supported by the best available evidence at the time. And if the evidence changes, the understanding changes. (Unless, of course, it's a scientific understanding that our religion teaches is wrong...)
Even political opinions don't run in families as stubbornly as religion. Witness the opinion polls that consistently show support of same-sex marriage increasing with each younger generation. Even political beliefs learned from youth can and do break down in the face of the reality that people see and live with every day. And scientific theories absolutely do this, all the time, on a regular basis.
Once again, this leads me to the conclusion that religion is not a perception of a real entity. If it were, people wouldn't just believe whatever religious belief they were taught as children, simply because it was what they were taught as children. The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of anything real. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure -- and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.
I haven't written about the "religion running in families" argument at length before, and while I'm sure it must have been addressed in the atheosphere, offhand I don't know where. But Richard Dawkins addresses it in The God Delusion. You can look it up there if you like.
I have, however, discussed religion as an idea perpetuated largely by fear, intimidation, tradition, and social pressure... and the ways religion armors itself, not only against criticism, but against the very idea that religion is a legitimate target for criticism. That discussion: Does The Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions.
6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
The science of neuropsychology is still very much in its infancy. But there are a few things that we know about it. And one of the things we know is that everything we think of as the soul -- consciousness, identity, character, free will -- all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Drugs and medicines, injury, illness, sleep deprivation, etc.... all of these can make changes to the "soul." In some cases, they can make changes so drastic, they render a person's personality and character completely unrecognizable.
And death, of course, is a physical change that renders a person's personality and character, not only unrecognizable, but non-existent.
So given that this is true, doesn't it seem far more likely that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are some sort of product of the physical brain and body?
With any other phenomenon, if we can show that physical forces and actions produce observable effects, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Why should the soul be any different? Whatever consciousness and selfhood and the rest of it turn out to be, doesn't it seem overwhelmingly likely that they are, in some way, a biological process, governed by laws of physical cause and effect?
Why I Don't Believe in the Soul
"A Relationship Between Physical Things": Yet Another Rant on What Consciousness and Selfhood Might Be
A Ghost in the Machine, again by Ebon Muse on the Ebon Musings website. I know, I keep citing the Ebon Musings website. What can I say? Dude can write. Dude can think. Dude has a really well-organized site map that makes it easy to look stuff up.
7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.
Whether it's the power of prayer, or faith healing, or astrology, or life after death: the same pattern is consistently seen. Whenever religious and supernatural beliefs have made testable claims, and those claims have been tested -- not half-assedly tested, but really tested, using careful, rigorous, double-blind, placebo- controlled, replicated, etc. etc. etc. testing methods -- the claims have consistently fallen apart.
I'm not going to cite every one of these tests, or even most of them. This piece is already ridiculously long as it is. Instead, I'll encourage you to spend a little time on the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer websites. You'll see a pattern so consistent it boggles the mind: Claimants insist that Supernatural Claim X is real. Supernatural Claim X is subjected to careful testing, applying the standard scientific methods commonly used to screen out both bias and fraud. Supernatural Claim X is found to hold about as much water as a sieve.
(And claimants, having agreed beforehand that the testing method is valid, afterwards insist that it wasn't fair.)
And don't say, "Oh, the testers were biased." That's the great thing about the scientific method. It is designed to screen out bias, as much as is humanly possible. When done right, it will give you the right answer, regardless of the bias of the people doing the testing.
Plus, here's a point that defenders of the supernatural never effectively address when they accuse scientists of anti-religion bias: In the early days of science and the scientific method, most scientists did believe in God, and the soul, and the metaphysical. In fact, many early science experiments were attempts to prove the existence of these things, and discover their true natures, and resolve the squabbles about them once and for all. (Not God so much, but the soul and the supernatural.) It was only after decades upon decades of these experiments failing to turn up anything at all that the scientific community began -- gradually, and painfully -- to give up on the idea.
Supernatural claims only hold up under careless, casual examination. They are supported by confirmation bias (i.e., our tendency to overemphasize evidence that supports what we believe and discard evidence that contradicts it), and wishful thinking, and our poor understanding and instincts when it comes to probability, and our tendency to see pattern and intention even when none exists, and a dozen other forms of weird human brain wiring. When studied carefully under conditions specifically designed to screen these things out, they vanish like the insubstantial imaginings that they are.
8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more "saved if we do, saved if we don't" quality. If things go the believer's way, it's a sign of God's grace and intervention; if they don't, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don't understand, and it's not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right.
That is a sure sign of a bad, bad argument.
Here's the thing. It is a well-established principle in the philosophy of science that, if a theory can be supported no matter what possible evidence comes down the pike, it is a completely useless theory. It has no power to explain what's already happened, or predict what will happen in the future. The theory of gravity, for instance, could be disproven by things suddenly falling up; the theory of evolution could be disproven by finding rabbits in the pre-Cambrian fossil layer. These theories predict that these things will not happen; if they do, then the theories go poof. But if your theory of God's existence holds up no matter what happens -- whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns -- then it is an utterly useless theory, with no power to either predict or explain anything.
What's more, when atheists challenge theists on their beliefs, the theists' arguments shift and slip around in an unbelievably annoying "moving the goalposts" way. Hard-line fundamentalists, for instance, will insist on the unchangeable perfect truth of the Bible; but when challenged on its specific historical/ scientific errors and moral atrocities, they insist that you're not interpreting those passages correctly. (If the book needs interpreting, then how perfect can it be?)
And progressive ecumenical believers can be unbelievably slippery on the subject of what they really do and do not believe. Is God real, or a metaphor? Does God intervene in the world, or doesn't he? Do they actually even believe in God, or do they just choose to act is if they believe in God because they find it useful? Debating with a progressive believer is like wrestling with a fish: the arguments aren't very powerful, but they don't give you anything firm to grab onto.
Once again, that's a sure sign of a bad, bad argument. If you can't just make your case and then stick by it, or genuinely modify it, or let it go... then you don't have a very good case. (And if you're making any version of the "Shut up, that's why" argument -- arguing that it's rude and intolerant to question religious beliefs, or that letting go of doubts and questions about faith makes you a better person, or that doubting faith will get you tortured in Hell forever, or any of the other classic arguments intended to silence the debate rather than address it -- then that's a sure sign that your argument is totally in the toilet.)
A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside
Why Religion Is Like Fanfic
What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith
The Problem of Unfishiness: Religion, Science, and Unanswered Questions
9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
Over the years and decades and centuries, our understanding of the physical world has grown and clarified by a ridiculous amount. We understand things about the world and the universe that we couldn't even have imagined a thousand years ago, or a hundred, or even ten. Things that make your mouth gape open with astonishment and wonder just to think about.
And the reason for this is that we came up with a really good method for sorting out the good ideas from the bad ones, the more accurate theories from the less accurate ones. We came up with the scientific method: a self-correcting method for understanding the physical world, which -- over time, and with the many fits and starts and setbacks that accompany any human endeavor -- has done, and continues to do, an astonishingly good job of helping us perceive and understand the world, predict it and shape it, in ways we could not have possibly imagined a thousand, or a hundred, or even ten years ago.
(And the scientific method itself is self-correcting. Not only has our understanding of the world improved by ridiculous leaps and bounds; our method for understanding it is improving as well.)
But our understanding of the metaphysical world?
Not so much.
Our understanding of the metaphysical world is exactly in the place it's always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred text and which set of spiritual intuitions is the right one. We haven't come to any sort of consensus about which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. We haven't even come up with a method of deciding which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. All anyone can do is point to their own sacred text and their own spiritual intuition. And around in the squabbling circle we go.
All of which clearly points to religion, not as a perception of a real being or substance, but as an idea we made up and are clinging to. If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined. We would have improved prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies, something. Anything but people squabbling with greater or lesser degrees of rancor, and nothing to actually back up their belief.
10: The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.
There's just no evidence for it.
No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn't just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I've been talking about for the last two days.
And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn't have had to spend the last month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don't believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
As thousands of atheists before me have pointed out: It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does.
In a comment on this blog, arensb made a point on this topic that was so ridiculously insightful, I'm still smacking myself on the head for not having thought of it myself. I was writing about how theists get upset at atheists for rejecting religion after hearing 876,362 arguments for it, saying, "But you haven't considered Argument #876,363! How can you be so close-minded?" And here's what arensb said:
"If, in fact, it turns out that argument #876,364 is the one that will convince you, WTF didn't the apologists put it in the top 10?"
If there's an argument for religion that's convincing -- actually convincing, convincing by means of something other than authority/ tradition, personal intuition, confirmation bias, fear and intimidation, wishful thinking, or some combination of the above -- wouldn't we all know about it?
Wouldn't it have spread like wildfire? Wouldn't it be the Meme of All Memes? I mean, we all saw that video of the cat trying to wake its owner up within about two weeks of it hitting the Internet. Don't you think that the Truly Excellent Argument/ Evidence for God's Existence would have spread even faster, and wider, than some silly cartoon video?
If the arguments for religion are so wonderful, why are they so unconvincing to anyone who doesn't already believe?
And why does God need arguments, anyway? Why does God need people to make his arguments for him? Why can't he just reveal his true self, clearly and unequivocally, and settle the question once and for all? If God existed, why wouldn't it just be obvious? (See #2 above.)It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does. And in the absence of any genuinely good, solid evidence or arguments in favor of God's existence -- and in the presence of a whole lot of very solid arguments against it -- I am going to continue to hold the null hypothesis of atheism: that God almost certainly does not exist, and that it is completely reasonable to act as if he does not exist.