The argument that brought me out of my faith

63


Discussion by: stewman_phil
Hello,

 My ultimate objective here is to obtain constructive criticism and likely religious counter arguments to the argument that brought me out of my Christian faith. The following paragraph gives a bit of my history. If one wishes, it may not be necessary or useful to read that, and so, you may find it more beneficial to skip to paragraph three.

 I am new to this foundation. My wife and I have very recently abandoned our Christian faith. We were not simply bystanders in our faith either. I have evangelized many times. I have even evangelized right on the street. I am a first rate student in engineering about to start graduate school, and so I have some scientific background. I was raised with very common evangelical beliefs such as the Earth is ~10,000 years old, the Bible is literally true, evolution is nonsense, etc. I have never trusted myself a great deal, and as I progressed in my career and education I became astounded by the sheer number of very intelligent people who held orthogonal beliefs. This frightened me. For why should I be so lucky as to be the one person who actually had it right? This led me to delve more sincerely than ever into questioning the beliefs I had been raised to believe. I am very familiar with apologists such as Dr. William Lane Craig, C. S. Lewis, and N. T. White. I watched atheistic scientists debate creationists. I am well versed in a wide range of topics, but I can’t be an expert in biology, archaeology, physics, biblical history, ancient history, and philosophy. Despite some of my ignorance, it didn’t take much sincere searching to conclude that the Bible was not literally true, but becoming convinced that Yaweh is not god was much harder. Let me give you the argument that broke my religious convictions, and see problems or weaknesses in it. I ask you this, because I am tied in emotional and financial ways to intelligent religious persons who will relentlessly assault my abandonment of Christianity. Here is the argument.

 No evidence can exist to indicate the existence of only any one specific god. This is because any evidence that supports the existence of any one god is also evidence that supports an infinite number of other gods. Take this for example. Let us imagine that there is a god called Joe. This god is sort of like a psychotic artist. Joe just likes messing with people. He performs some miracles at will, and he gave all world religions their start. He actually does create Jesus, and he is born by the Virgin Mary. Joe raises Jesus back to life. He also creates an angel to talk to Mohammed, and he gives golden plates to Joseph Smith, etc. Oh and by the way Joe is going to send us all to hell regardless of how we live our lives.

 Any evidence that applies to Jesus, or Mohammed, or any other religion is also evidence for my made-up god, Joe. In fact, there are an infinite number of gods for which the evidence from any religion could fit. One may be inclined to say:  “That is absurd! Such a god is very unlikely.” But why? There is no reason why such a god cannot exist. We cannot even make a statement of the probability of such a being. 

Here’s why this broke down my Christian beliefs. This argument avoids the problem of finding out who’s right and who’s wrong about evidence. It proves, as far as I can see, that there cannot exist evidence for only any one specific god, and therefore, belief in any one specific god cannot be based on evidence, and it is therefore based solely on faith. 

This was problematic for me, because suicide bombers also live their lives based on faith. In fact, suicide bombers are some of the most faith-filled people who have ever lived. I had always fancied that my beliefs had more going for them than the suicide bomber’s, but they didn’t. This life that I have, the way I treated others, the way I raise my family, and the way I vote were all determined by pure faith despite there being objective facts regarding the welfare of others and society (I’m thinking of Sam Harris’s work here). 

My own counter argument to this at first was to say: “Well, everything is based on some faith, even science”. But this is incorrect because science simply describes, predicts, and models reality. That is, the things that each of us really experience. This is not based on faith. There is no faith needed to know that if I drop a pencil it will fall toward the Earth. If the current laws of physics did change with time or space, then that would still not require faith, science would simply give the laws of physics as functions of time and space. Therefore I concluded, rightly I hope, that there cannot be evidence for God and that faith forces me to act in a way which gives no regard to objective facts about the well-being of myself and others.

Thanks for making it through that mini-book, if you did! Sorry for how long it is, but I think it’s all necessary. I intend living this life as a promoter of scientific education and as an aggressive opponent to religious beliefs deciding morality and public policy.  

-Thanks, Stewman
    

63 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, science is based on faith to some extent.  In principle you could repeat any experiment and verify the truth of its conclusions.  But not all of us have the cash to build the Large Hadron Collider (for example), so we must trust that the people working on that have done a good job in their analysis.  Mostly this works well, though, and a creative scientist with a suspicion that something is wrong can upset the apple cart with a well-designed experiment providing hard evidence to contradict the consensus.

    The difference to religion is that almost no-one has direct experience of the spiritual realities that they believe in.  If direct experience was common, then faith would be unnecessary, because the experience would be right there to check personally.  I think faith should only be a temporary state until evidence is verified personally.  With science that means doing a few experiments (or watching them done) and checking that everything seems valid as presented.

    I personally (provisionally) believe in some spiritual realities that I’ve perceived, but they are not really much like what is described by religions.  If no-one can verify anything then religion can invent stuff purely to manipulate the faithful.  This has nothing to do with spiritual reality.  This is pure physical-world power and control of the masses, bending their beliefs and lives to fit the needs of the church. This makes a large part of religion a huge lie, not at all what it claims to be.  Once you can see that large parts are manipulative lies, you’re in a better place to never go back to believing them.  Who can knowingly believe a lie when they see it for what it is?  Who can trust an organization that manipulates innocent people so blatantly?

  2. I like your argument about the suicide bomber. I’ve used the same argument myself.  When you read articles in the main stream media its often just taken for granted that faith in itself is a good thing. But if by faith we mean belief without evidence then faith is in reality a bad thing because it can just as easily support flying planes into buildings as good will toward all humans.

    I think you might find some of the anthropological research into religion interesting. I’m thinking of books by people like Dennet, Scott Atran, and Robet Wright that investigate the anthropological and evolutionary benefits of religion.  There is still a lot to learn but even now we have some decent theories that explain how religion helped people form more cohesive societies and establish norms for moral behavior. Some atheists discount this type of research because they want to simply demonize religion, anything that proposes some societal benefit from religion they don’t like because for them religion is pure evil. This is not only illogical from a scientific standpoint it undercuts one of our strongest arguments. We can use tools like anthropology and evolutionary biology to analyze how religion helped human society develop. That provides a perfectly rational explanation for why people came to believe such irrational things without requiring any supernatural explanation. 

  3. Aguazul, the main difference between religion and science,from a “believer in science” point of view, is that scientists are in competition with each other whereas theologians are in concensus with each other. Scientists try to prove other scientists are wrong ; theologians try to prove other theologians are right. I can’t build a LHC in my kitchen, true enough, and I understand physics up to boucing balls high-school exercices. But when CERN scientists observed neutrinos that seemed to go faster than light, even Einstein was not respected as a prophet and could have fallen from grace, but scientists from all over the world tried and proved the mesurements were wrong. Free competition is what makes science accurate. Concensus and fear of heresy are what make religions categorical.

  4. Other religions are a great way of demonstrating how feeble most of the arguments in favor of faith really are. If the same arguments can apply to those as well, how then to  determine the ‘right’ one?

    The ‘null set’ argument works pretty well too. Basically, it means lay out your hard evidence or go away. Protests such as “You can’t prove there isn’t a god!” are nonsense – nothing can be proven or disproven, so we can only go on the weight of the evidence. And the evidence for any given religion is generally a collection of ancient scripture that is haphazard, incorrect in countless details, and doesn’t make sense. Every argument to try and counter these is a) a dodge, and b) entirely made up. Claims that the creation accounts in genesis are metaphorical fail to consider that this is completely pointless, unsupported by any scholarly means, and the biggest fail, was misinterpreted for centuries.

    Further along those lines, you can examine the history of scripture, noting that it is plagiarized, modified, and full of omissions, all rather arbitrarily. Or, even if one wants to accept that it is wholly accurate, there’s the numerous issues of it contradicting itself.

    Every god ever proposed is emotional, petty, insecure, and in most cases, a bit despotic. Think about how little sense this actually makes. Why would any deity even need emotions, much less so many of the detrimental ones?

    Punishments and rewards are only useful as influences on future behavior – they accomplish nothing by being perpetual, or even (if you buy the various ‘purgatory’ scenarios) coming before an infinite afterlife. “Okay, little soul, you’ve learned how bad it was to sin – now go forever into a realm where it has no meaning anymore.”

    And finally, once one looks at how the world works, there really isn’t anything for a god to do. While at one time superbeings were a working hypothesis to explain the curious things that we saw, eventually we found out how these worked through much simpler forces. Nowadays, religion serves only to appease emotional insecurity, very often in incredibly selfish manners. When disaster strikes, we can pray for those involved, or we can send money, volunteer time, etc. Both can appease our feelings of sympathy and helplessness, but which one has more useful effect?

  5. I’m going to disagree with your stand on faith and science, to some extent. First off, science itself isn’t a matter of faith – far from it. The scientific method includes countless ways of ruling out mistakes, interpretations, emotional desires, and so on. People trusting to some aspect of science, such as the acceleration of gravity due to mass, is the only place where any form of faith comes in, and that’s individual, not inherent. I may trust that it’s correct, but you may have demonstrated it quite well to your own satisfaction. And in fact, our trust very often only extends as far as it does because science relies on those tests – we don’t trust the pronouncement, we trust the structure underlying it. Notice the difference between our reactions to the Higgs Boson, or the various cold fusion breakthroughs in the past two decades. We don’t have equal ‘faith’ in these.

    And then, there’s the significant difference in application. We are never asked to simply accept whatever scientific principle has been proposed – we can pursue the experiments as far as we desire. ‘Faith’ in any aspect of science is simply a shortcut, but we cannot use it to pursue a career in any sciences – we’d damn well better have a good understanding of our chosen field. Contrast this with religion, which uses faith to excuse why no one is able to demonstrate, pursue, or predict any aspect within. Theology is entirely preoccupied with finding ways to avoid evidence. Faith is only considered a virtue by those that have nothing else to show – science considers faith a crutch.

  6.   My own counter argument to this at first was to say: “Well, everything is based on some faith, even science”. But this is incorrect because science simply describes, predicts, and models reality. That is, the things that each of us really experience. This is not based on faith.

    Science is based on CONFIDENCE in scientific methods of peer supervised reports of investigations and repeat critical testing. Unlike “faith”, this confidence has to be earned and individuals can easily destroy confidence in their work if they are incompetent, careless or dishonest.  Faith has no such checks or verifications.

    There is no faith needed to know that if I drop a pencil it will fall toward the Earth.

     In that example on Earth, Newton’s Laws are 99.9999999% accurate before Einstein introduced a 0.0000001% upgrade.
    Scientific statements are graded by probability – Laws, Theories, Hypotheses, speculations etc.

    It proves, as far as I can see, that there cannot exist evidence for only any one specific god, and therefore, belief in any one specific god cannot be based on evidence, and it is therefore based solely on faith.

    Theists often take belief in their pet god for granted, but history indeed reinforces your point, as this list shows: – 
    List of deities –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L

    My ultimate objective here is to obtain constructive criticism and
    likely religious counter arguments to the argument that brought me out
    of my Christian faith.

     
    I think you will have a problem with that, as there are nearly as many theist viewpoints as there are theists, – and many of them disagree with each other. 
    You will frequently encounter who use the term “religion” is if theirs was the only one in existence.  
    You will also encounter a vast majority of them who are painfully ignorant not only of science and history, but also of their own religion, and of biblical history – but who are confident that they know all about it!  
    (So ignorant that they are ignorant of their own ignorance, –  and of the scope of the subject matter!)

    Finally:  You can read some of the discussions here and look at the viewpoints of theists who post here. 
    Many of them come with the intention of  informing “ignorant atheists” about “THE bible” ( –  http://old.richarddawkins.net/… ) of which they often know little – and are then  shocked when their ignorance is exposed by some of the more expert atheists.

    Theists often use fallacious thinking as I showed here: – http://richarddawkins.net/disc

  7. Mark Twain wrote something along the lines of “when you work out why you reject the beliefs of millions of worshippers of other gods, you will work out why I reject yours.” This also avoids the ‘no evidence of non existence’ argument. It’s up to Christians to explain why Shiva, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster aren’t the true faith.

  8. Firstly,
                You need to be aware of how willing you are to maintain a relationship with whomever you are arguing.  My instinct is to argue forcefully but I have to hold myself back at work.  This is because they will take offence more easily than I will.  I’ll turn on a pin if the evidence is there (I’m very confident it isn’t), however religious people are trying very hard to hold on to something very hard to believe.  This makes them take offence very easily.  They have to consign you as other.  They need to be imagine you going to hell.  They take no care to how they may be offending you. 

    The other tactic will be to give personal revelation.  “I had this experience so I KNOW it is true”.  This also gives them the leverage to get you to offend them by saying something like you’ve said already “How do account for people who KNOW they have been abducted by aliens or visited by another god etc.”.  You will then find them scoffing at others beliefs.

  9. To the OP, congratulations.  Your god “Joe” looks convincing enough to shake my faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Actually, I think your argument is pretty good, speaking as it does mostly in terms that religious people can grasp (if they choose to).

    For me, the two sides (religion is true, religion is false) are both trumped by the view from those in power: religion is useful.

    Religions are human inventions, institutions whose daily business is exerting power and influence over the many, for the benefit of a few.  There’s no need to go all theological and nitpick the details of ancient forays into the art of writing in order to see this.

  10. In a way, to make it easier for religious people to drop their fantasies ,they first must admit they are ONLY developed animals, but animals at the end.
    Thus explain that humans are extremely social animals (with proof, like why we always need bosses, officers, presidents), although we can develop ourselves to be independent.
    People need to drop off their noses a bit and notice how god damn stupid they are and being led like a flock of madly running sheep who eventually think they will fly!

  11. Hail Satan!

    Joe is the ultimate deceiver, and by way of your argument you have come into the principle of my argument against religion, that it is unquestioning faith in one’s self, not any god. Can God/Jesus lie? The common response is ‘no’. That’s a very strange idea. By following god, a person believes they are right, and they are right about god because they are following god. Others denominations and worshipers of other gods have been deceived, but the individual excludes this possibility for themselves, because they are special. They also don’t think they could be reading the Bible wrong, because they are following god. This is just worship of the self, made even more grand by humbling themselves to the status of a proxy to the most powerful and important entity.

    By some fluke I never believed in god (my culture said god was Jesus, and Jesus could fly, so I never thought anyone truly believed, that it was just a story). From being a kind of agnostic I became an apatheist from studying Indian logic and Buddhism, and from there I became a firm denier of the logical possibility of god from reading Spinoza.

    I’m very curious about the process others go through, so much thanks for sharing your experience.

  12. Mrkimbo
    Mark Twain wrote something along the lines of “when you work out why you reject the beliefs of millions of worshippers of other gods, you will work out why I reject yours.” This also avoids the ‘no evidence of non existence’ argument. It’s up to Christians to explain why Shiva, Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster aren’t the true faith.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the deity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarianism, a satirical movement that promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools.[3] Although adherents state that Pastafarianism is a genuine religion,[3] it is generally recognized by the media as a parody religion.

    What????? –   You claim the Flying Spaghetti monster is not the one true faith??????

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi

    OHooligan

    To the OP, congratulations. Your god “Joe” looks convincing enough to shake my faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Heretic! !

  13. Welcome to sanity.

     Therefore I concluded, rightly I hope …

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. If I may conjecture, what would be the consequence of being wrong about Christian faith and what ‘punishment’ it entails? Think about it, and how ridiculous the alternative is. Would you pitch with such unethical nonsense?

    And here lies the hypocrisy of religion. Well, a good portion of them. Guilt-tripping you to make a choice between a carrot or a stick, no evidence required, all you need is ‘faith’. Beautiful.

  14. It occurs to me that ‘faith’ has another meaning for religious people and that is “faith in God” which loosely translates as “maintaining a positive attitude”.  In other words it is relatively easy to translate into a non-religious form, so long as you can successfully replace your trust in an external deity with an internal optimism that things will work out okay.

  15. There are many different ways that people come to question their faith in religion. I am sure that we are all very happy to welcome you to the atheist community.

    Your post brings some really good thought processes to the discussion. Firstly, you are correct in pointing out that there is no evidence for God. Secondly, there is no evidence that you are believing in the right God. The next question that anyone should ask is what evidence is there that ANY God is deserving of worship? Since your background is Christianity I would point out that the God of the Bible is genocidal, sadomasachistic, cheuvanistic, malevolent, along with many other negative attributes.

    As far as your argument about faith in science, this is a misnomer. We do not have faith in science. We have ‘faith’ that the results of an action are predictable and constant ceteris paribus (with other things being the same). For example, I do not have faith in gravity. I do have faith that when I wake up tomorrow I will not be sleeping on the ceiling. This is because all evidence points to this being true. If by chance I wake up on the ceiling tomorrow, I will question what paramaters of the world changed. Does it mean that the laws of gravity changed? Or, does it mean an external force outside of gravity has a greater exertion upon my body.

    I hope this explains science does not require faith. It requires repeatable evidence, observed by multiple people. When something changes the expected results, science questions why.

    If you are to argue your points with friends, family, or strangers beware of the argument towards solupsism. Solupsism basically states the only thing that you can truly know exists in the world is your own conciousness. There are many inherent flaws in this discussion. But, it will certainly throw you for a loop if you are not prepared to debunk it when demanding evidence for a deity to a believer.

  16. Just watched the first episode of Prof Dawkins’ “Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life” in which he puts forward a scientific improvement, if you will, to the morality imposed on us by religion

    However, there is a fundamental error in Dawkins’ research, one which perhaps Julian Hart (the program editor) may have alluded to in the opening frames of the program summary, showing scenes of people bathing and children playing in the river Ganges

    The Professor presents us with a case that religious ‘sin’ and a fear of what may happen to us when we die has had a negative impact on our world. It breeds a culture of lies, as we are torn between our spiritual path and the society we live in – this was excellently delivered by the example of Algerian immigrant women in Paris undergoing hymen restorative plastic surgery before marriage (to paraphrase: “a lie to a future husband is worth doing to save the image of an entire family and, that they are prepared to admit the lie before God, answering for it when judgement comes”); or perhaps in a less extreme case, the statistics that prove masturbation is more prevalent in American Bible Belt states than in less religious areas of the US

    Stephen Pinker of Harvard University makes the point that; as the world moves toward a more secular state, we become more tolerant and understanding of each other, therefore making the world more peaceful as we become more humanist in our approach to the world around us. Indeed, Dawkins says in his segue to his interview with Pinker, “Our capacity for empathy, together with a more rational, tolerant society is, I believe, making us more moral than ever before”

    Here is my antithesis…

    The move away from religion and toward a more scientific approach to our world is not a modern concept. This path is older than Christianity or perhaps even older than Judaism, depending on interpretation and, of course, dating of the Hindu Upanishads. Some scholars suggest that the Brihadaranyaka was among those taken from the earliest of the Vedas some 6000BCE. These Upanishads were perhaps scribed in rebellion to the prevalence of Brahminism, whereby a higher caste was beginning to abuse its power to the detriment of wider society, whilst ‘sacred knowledge’ was becoming more widespread, diluted and misinterpreted by the uninitiated. The overall point of them is to remind mankind that we do not need religious rites and rituals; that all we need do is explore the worlds within us, expand our minds, open our hearts and respect everything around us because it is all temporary

    Science has given us unarguable facts that matter and energy is finite; that to every cause there is an effect; that the world, the universe and whatever lies outside it is far older than 10,000 years; that order must dissipate into disorder; that everything in existence and has ever existed is unified through the frequencies that hold atoms together. To me, entropy, chaos and particle physics are simply refinements to a primordial belief system, inherent in each of us and equally as unique. That’s the mystery and the magic of faith, it can even subtly drive the most clinically minded of scientists in the search for truth. Long may they continue to do so, unhindered by the oh-so-wrong ‘Religious Right’

    I put it to you that it is not God who should be questioned, nor the rejection of religion. I suggest that it is world around you which should be questioned. Only by logical and rational dissection of the beliefs put upon us, the study of the impacts they have had on our lives and the research into the roots of those beliefs, can we really find our own Self. When we find it, all religion becomes insignificant because our connection with creation is so glaringly obvious and we realise that each and every one of us are equal. To realise this as a species would unlock our potential, end all wars and enable us to explore the farthest reaches of our galaxy. Unfortunately though, there will always be a need for government, commerce, religion and the military. To think otherwise would be naïve. However, morality and law should not be driven by religion. Instead we should consider underlying philosophies, carefully consider our ethics and simply accept one another regardless of faith or any secular beliefs

  17. Promoting what the scientific method is, is certainly well worth while.   There are a huge number of people out there that pick the “scientist” or the study that seems to support their position and ignore peer review all together.

  18. Phil,
    I come from a very different background from yours, but perhaps my observation may offer some different perspective.

    Religion was never forced on me in my childhood, although it was made available. I grew up having a positive attitude towards Christianity, since the religious usually kept it a private matter and were generally nice and well behaved people. And nobody, not even the religious, would ever insult other people by claiming that ethics or morality are products of their religion. So there was no practical conflict.

    I was familiar with a vague idea of some supernatural protector somehow watching over us and encouraging us to be good to each other. But then, as an adolescent, I talked to a few religious people about what they actually believe. I was horrified. It was scary that these decent people could actually believe such things. I had always assumed everybody considered the Bible just as a collection of mythical old stories. But no, some people really, really thought the creator and ruler of the immense universe dictated them and all these magic tricks of Jesus were real. How could I ever trust an adult, who had abandoned logic and reality and believed in such nonsensical witchcraft? It was like realizing my dear old aunt actually believed that somewhere in the USA there really lives a talking bipedal mouse called Mickey, who wears red shorts and gets into all kinds of real adventures.

    So in my case, I have been somewhat an atheist since my childhood, though I didn’t even know the word then. In a way, the idea that we are all actually just a creation of some magic man in the sky was a new concept to me. And there was never, ever a way I could buy it. I simply weighed the two alternative explanations, my old naturalistic world view and this newly offered “God did it”-theory. And it was clear the new “theory of god” had very little, if anything going for it. I chuckled, shook my head and continued my life.

    Do a thought experiment. Pretend that you have never been indoctrinated into your religion in your childhood. Then someone comes up to you and offers this magical explanation of the reality as a new groundbreaking theory, “The Theory of God”. Now, would you as a reasonable adult ever start to believe in such silly things?

  19. Hi Phil

    “No evidence can exist to indicate the existence of only any one specific god.”

    I would disagree in principle with that statement. I would agree that no evidence DOES exist for one specific god (at least, no such evidence has been submitted yet), but that is not to say that no evidence may ever arise. If a big face appeared in the sky and started talking to us, that could be considered evidence for one specific god – specifically the one that we are looking at and listening to and no other!

    What I would say, and this is contrary to what a lot of atheists argue, is that there is evidence to disprove specific gods. For example, the existence of the literal god of the Bible that you used to believe in is disproven by the evidence for evolution, which shows there could have been no Adam and Eve. There’s an infinite number of other gods that could – and maybe have been – dreamt up but which could not exist because their attributes are contrary to the evidence around us.

  20. Stewman – Mrkimbo’s Mark Twain reference leads to a better version of your argument. One god among 10,000 would have to have something very special to support belief.

    You wrote: “No evidence can exist to indicate the existence of only any one specific god. This is because any evidence that supports the existence of any one god is also evidence that supports an infinite number of other gods.”

    That I don’t understand. The Book of Mormon was based on some real golden tablets or it wasn’t. The evidence, if real, would support Mormon faith and invalidate Islamic faith. (Similar arguments apply to other alleged miracles and revelations.) So I guess you reached a good place by a bad route.

    However, don’t forget the liberating benefits of atheism. If you feel your family, friends or colleagues are beyond re-education, then there is no point in offending, antagonising and alienating them. There’s no god to condemn you for living in peace with your neighbours.

    Also, as Aguazul suggests (and Sam Harris would agree) there may be some real sense in which we have a spiritual life, even though the traditional God idea is unworkable in many ways. Your religious friends have got the wrong end of the stick, but maybe there is a stick.

  21. All,

      Thank you so much for your comments. I was unaware of the similarity between Mark Twain’s and my own views.  I wanted to address a couple of points.

      Some people seem to have misunderstood what I was saying about science. My whole point is that science is not based on faith (once you assume that we exist and very basic things like that). Science is based on objective facts.

      By contrast, I am attempting to point out that religion of any sort can only be based on faith. The reason for this is that there cannot exist evidence for any one god. The reason for this is that there could be any number of possible gods or creators that could result in that same evidence. Since those gods cannot be disproved, there is no way to single out evidence for a specific god. 

      I find this argument elegant because it completely bypasses all of the debate regarding facts. (There shouldn’t be debate regarding facts, but there is.) My religious friends don’t have the time or notion to seriously look into facts, and so they will argue that evolution is a conspiracy theory, etc, etc ,etc. So, I like this argument because it bypasses all the pointless debate over facts and science.

      Another point, I do not think that there actually is evidence for any religion. This was key to me doubting my faith, but the argument I gave here finished off the debate in my mind.

    Thanks again for the welcome and your inputs.

       

  22. What I mean is this: there are any number of gods that could provide the same evidence as we have for Christianity (if you assume there is evidence). So, there can’t exist evidence for only a specific religion’s god. 

  23. Thanks for the reply. Here’s a quick reiteration of what I was trying to say. I hope this will help you understand what I was trying to say.

    Suppose that Joseph Smith, really did get golden plates. Does this prove that Mohammed wasn’t visited by an angel? Why can’t there exist some strange god that gives Joseph Smith golden plates and sends an angel to Mohammed just to observe the fall out? Neither religion is true. This strange god just performs the miracle, sits back, and watches what happens next. A god like this and similar gods can never be disproved. 

    Since all these types of gods can’t be disproved, there cannot exist evidence for any one specific god.

    I hope that helps clarify what I meant.

  24. Hi Phil,

    I’m not a biologist or a scientist of any kind , neither am I a psychologist. I have though read a bit on all these subjects , coupled with my own life experiences heres my two cents. It is painfully obvious that religion as we know it , all religion in fact is man made, written through subjective experiences. I would say most of it are lies and the rest are experiences that man tries to make sense out of. The ship has long sailed as to whether religion as we know it is true. If there is a god , man can only assume and order his experiences to what makes sense to him,he will never know. Science , history , sociology , psychology tells us that we wish to make sense out of our lives , it will go on and on.  Ideas such as karma are builty around the concept that everyone gets their come uppance , they dont. In England a well know TV celebrity sexually abused children for 50 years and he was in a public media position , existing in a 24hour media erra with the most intrussive underregulated tabloid press to exist anywhere in the planet. He did kids shows , charity shows , pop music shows and other popular culure slots. It turned out he used his work place and media centers as his abusing chambers. And guess what he got away with it , died an old man , without one criminal offence coming before the judicary. It is only after his death that the offences are now coming to light. The police are persuing 300 seperate lines of enquiry. Many would respond to the above ‘but he will get his come uppins in the next life’. Who says , and who told them. We will always look for signs of natural justice and divine intervention but where there are none we make sense of that too. If there is a god his modus operandi is evolution or if not that, at the very least based on evolutionary principles. What made the TV personality so successful in his sexual abuse was his complete unerring calmness , his duplicitous nature and his uncanny ability to deceive and divert. These are psychological traits and have little to do with mythical evil.

  25. Stewman,
    I often find it amusing to mess with believers heads in the following way:  You take their claims about god and apply them back to the person themselves.  Allow me to try to explain.  I recently had a discussion with a devout believer who claimed that Jesus was 100% god and 100% man.  I called her on her logical misstep.  When I asked her if that meant that “I could be 100% italian and 100% irish?” her answer provided me with excellent ammunition for the conversation as it unfolded.

    She answered by saying “He is god, he can do  anything.  He can be anything.”  I filed it away.  Here’s how to use it later.  After the conversation went a couple more rounds I told her that her view of god tells more about her own psychology than it does about any feature of god.  I told her that we were no longer talking about whether god existed or not, but rather we were exploring the underlying psychology that would not allow her to be wrong about god.  She could not be wrong!!!  I then asked her if her god could do anything, could he create a rock so heavy that he could not lift it?

    She abruptly ended the conversation.

  26. First time commenter here… but your points are all valid ones.  I reached a similar conclusion.  It started at first with a disgust at the Catholic Church over the abuse scandals and the subsequent cover up.  My conclusion was, if God sees and knows all, what is the point of a Catholic priest trying to cover anything up?  I began doubt the faith of the very people at the top of the Catholic totem pole, I began to doubt mine quickly after.

  27. As Dawkins says, we’re all victims of our upbringing, which is why most people in India are Hindus and most in USA are Christians, etc… “learned behavior”… I think the argument against religion is as simple as that… I applaud you for looking outside of your box…

  28. “The reason for this is that there could be any number of possible gods or creators that could result in that same evidence.”

    I think I see what you mean. Even if something that is plainly a god of sorts landed in your lap, you could not say it is not the Christian god or it is not the Islamic god. It could be any one of many gods that might have been proposed.

    I think what you are saying in essence is that the gods that have been proposed are very vaguely described! It’s almost as if that has been done deliberately to prevent anyone from being able to disprove them!

  29. I think we make a mistake in concentrating on scientific “proof” of religions falseness. Faith almost by definition doesnt believe in scientific proof. They believe in authority . Which really  boils down to “most people around me say its true so it must be” The authority of parents or local society. Therefore we have to first convince them that authority alone  is not good enough . People around you in Riyadh will say Islam is true ; In Delhi, Hinduism etc.

  30. @rdfrs-1ebe9ef81c526d79357e34efb873bdcf:disqus   
    This exact thing has been discussed previously.  The salient facts that I walked away with from discussion of your point were:1.  When a person is convinced that they are  100% correct and have placed themselves above logic, reason, facts, evidence, and outcomes; it is futile to even engage them.2.  “proof” doesn’t really work to disprove things.  What we do is use “proof” to prove things.  Proof is not a negative commodity.  The famous celestial teapot is a great example of this.
    3.  Science has proof without certainty while religion has certainty without any proof.

  31. Faith is very important as part of learning. We need to operate without evidence most of the time. If we had to question everything our parents and other apparent experts led us to believe and learn then we wouldn’t get too far. E.g. Every new generation seems to have to relearn the lesson that drunk and reckless driving may have costs that exceed benefits. Most kids will absorb this information from knowledgeable adults. The more scientific kids will likely need to run the experiment for themselves.

    Fortunately most similar religious nonsense is relatively harmless. If it weren’t then we probably wouldn’t have religious nonsense to contend with today.

    We are born to absorb and learn various beliefs as children. It is this predisposition that is exploited by religions. Though in mature adults it only tends to work effectively when anxiety is combined with perceptions of expert authority. Which might be why religious activities and rituals need to cultivate anxiety and to prominently display reassuring expertise and social proof.

    Unless one is applying scientific methods or working as a scientist to resolve problems then I don’t think the quality of evidence is important. The belief that there is evidence somewhere, despite one not being aware of its details but ‘evidenced’ by the social proof provided by the acquiescence of many others, or relevant apparent experts, is probably sufficient for most people. Most of the time this shortcut is extremely effective and will save a huge amount of effort and time. You might just have been lucky to notice some of the social proof running the other way.

    A better argument against religious nonsense might be found in the mechanisms by which beliefs are maintained. Rational argument is probably irrelevant. It might provide retrospective justification for beliefs, but it isn’t the actual belief. An emotional commitment and repetition is required to form a belief, or to over-write and so unlearn a previously established thought pattern or skill. (Plus nutrition and exercise to stimulate the associated neuron growth and myelination.) This is more important than the logic. People aren’t rational, including scientists. The value of the scientific method is that scientists accept that they otherwise might be unaware of their potential irrationality. 

    Essentially the argument is that there obviously exist mechanisms by which false, but not too damaging, beliefs can be indoctrinated and maintained, along with the more regular important stuff: don’t run with scissors etc. And that most people will be susceptible to them. Often the more intelligent and creative the person, the more effectively they can become indoctrinated. Just as they more readily learn any other interesting skill or knowledge. So the argument is basically that either these not particularly complex mental mechanisms really do exist, or that the otherwise ridiculous beliefs are actually true. You don’t need to fail to disprove specific ridiculous beliefs in order to establish that one of these options is significantly more probable than the other.

    If it is accepted that biological evolution and geology is ridiculous, then it isn’t too much of a step to see that alternative beliefs might be equally ridiculous. Ignoring for the moment that one set of beliefs is so obviously true that belief is generally unquestioned. Once both beliefs are on this more ore less equal footing then it can be seen that simply possessing 1 or other sets of beliefs is not sufficient evidence to discriminate. Perhaps both beliefs are wrong. Evidence is only relevant when this degree of equality is accepted. Evidence and crucial experiments are only useful to discriminate among alternatives. But you need the alternatives. And there’s no guarantee that either are certainly true. Religious indoctrination is designed to impede this relative equality, e.g. by claiming satanic influences etc.

    A useful source to try is Keith Henson’s article on memes and cults:

    http://human-nature.com/nibbs/

    He argues that some religions should be identified as toxic and eradicated. Most administrators in other large religions are at least partially aware of their own parasitic toxicity, and so will fight to prevent any precedent. Which may be why some of the worst kinds of cults remain in operation.

    Henson is an internationally famous terrorist and criminal, sentenced to prison for ‘interfering with a religion’. I’ve forgotten the details, but I think he may have been involved with the development of of the Tom Cruise Missile. Being a WMD this resulted in terrorism charges and associated legal manoeuvres such as police terrorist manhunts and international extradition.

    It might have been a threat made in a tapped phone conversation or intercepted email that revealed his 
    intentions to launch a Tom Cruise Missile that resulted in his bankruptcy and fugitive status.

    His story highlights the important fact that reality and truth have virtually nothing in common with either religious or legal institutions. Plus that religious organisations are often closely entwined with law enforcement and security agencies, at least in North America. And that people who speak out without relying on widespread support are potentially at risk of being picked off and eliminated.

    Suffice to say, he sounds like an interesting guy. I found this article quite relevant to explaining things like suicide bombers, gambling addiction etc. He has gone a little further than many by incurring prison time for criticising religion. So he probably knows what he’s talking about.

  32. Nicely done, I enjoyed reading throught the text. And is that mr. Sam Harrises argument? It certently appears so.  It can be suspected even without you writing his name somewhere in there.

  33. Yes it is POSSIBLE for evidence to exist that favours one specific religion, for example, if some specific religion’s text out-did all the other religions on successful prediction of the future and such, then this is evidence that this particular religion’s text is somehow more favoured than the others.  It would not be PROOF (you could still say Joe did it), but it would be evidence that favours some more than others, in the same manner that scientific evidence favours different scientific models unequally.  If such evidence weighs in favour of several then you could start asking “who had it FIRST” (as copying isn’t impressive) or even “which theory is simpler”.

    However, just because it’s POSSIBLE for such evidence to exist, doesn’t mean any of the arguments we’ve heard are it.  If any religion does have it right then it’s probably a minority one; my bets would be on the ones that stay out of politics, don’t try to change school curriculums, don’t believe in hell, don’t fight wars, etc.  But most religious people’s specific choice of religion is more to do with social inertia than a real attempt to find a least-bad one.

  34. “No evidence can exist to indicate the existence of only any one specific god.”

    I would disagree in principle with that statement.

    Me too.

    I would agree that
    no evidence DOES exist for one specific god (at least, no such evidence
    has been submitted yet), but that is not to say that no evidence may
    ever arise. If a big face appeared in the sky and started talking to us,
    that could be considered evidence for one specific god – specifically
    the one that we are looking at and listening to and no other!

    What I would say, and this is contrary to what a lot of atheists
    argue, is that there is evidence to disprove specific gods.

     

    I don’t agree. Though I’m happy with Occam’s razor applied to the absence of evidence. We don’t have any problem not believing in Zeus or Loki.

    For example,
    the existence of the literal god of the Bible that you used to believe
    in is disproven by the evidence for evolution, which shows there could
    have been no Adam and Eve. There’s an infinite number of other gods that
    could – and maybe have been – dreamt up but which could not exist
    because their attributes are contrary to the evidence around us.

     

    I’d ague that was evidence against particular Biblical tales rather then god himself.

  35. <snip>

      Some people seem to have misunderstood what I was saying about
    science. My whole point is that science is not based on faith (once you
    assume that we exist and very basic things like that). Science is based
    on objective facts.

    yes.  Though I’d say the main premise is that the universe that appears to exist actually exists. Science is then a process of building parsimonious (Occam compliant) models of that universe (hypotheses, theories and laws). And then testing them with carefully structured observations (experiments)

      By contrast, I am attempting to point out that religion of any sort
    can only be based on faith.

     

    is that because you define religion that way?

    The reason for this is that there cannot
    exist evidence for any one god. The reason for this is that there could
    be any number of possible gods or creators that could result in that
    same evidence.

     

    the same applies to any other evidence. There is always an infinite number of explanations.

    distant galaxies appear red shifted.
         – the universe is expanding
        – space-time is expanding
        – light wears out as it travels
       – we’re surrounded by a giant holo screen
       – the atoms of distant stars are different
      –  distant stars are heavier
     – we’re surrounded by a big block of glass
    - we’re at the top of a space-time hill
    - fairies are riding the photons
    etc.

    most of these lack any evidence and can be discarded on parsimonious grounds

    Since those gods cannot be disproved, there is no way to
    single out evidence for a specific god.

      I find this argument elegant because it completely bypasses all of
    the debate regarding facts.

     

    and I think you’re wrong

    (There shouldn’t be debate regarding facts,
    but there is.) My religious friends don’t have the time or notion to
    seriously look into facts, and so they will argue that evolution is a
    conspiracy theory, etc, etc ,etc. So, I like this argument because it
    bypasses all the pointless debate over facts and science.

      Another point, I do not think that there actually is evidence for
    any religion. This was key to me doubting my faith, but the argument I
    gave here finished off the debate in my mind.

    Thanks again for the welcome and your inputs.</snip>

  36. I would like to add to the statement “In principle you could repeat any experiment and verify the truth of its conclusions”.

    It’s worth noting that some of the most remarkable science is continually being verified in our everyday engineering  applications of science. For example, GPS devices used every day in smartphones depend on General Relativistic calculations to get our positions accurately.

    When you have evidence like that for a theory, it ceases to be anything like the faith of those whose supposed last message from God was hundreds, if not thousands, or years ago.

  37.  “People trusting to some aspect of science, such as the acceleration of
    gravity due to mass, is the only place where any form of faith comes in,
    and that’s individual, not inherent.”

    A good example of this sort of reasoning is in the Dark Matter debate. Some physicists are proposing radical new models which suggest that over Large (i.e. Galactic) distances the very  laws of gravity and motion don’t follow the existing ones, but that they are modified by new and unknown factors.

    I think that demonstrates admirably how flexible and willing to innovate the scientific community really is. However, I think its also s important to stress that it’s not “any wacko  theory gets a hearing” – any new model’s success depends on quantitatively predicting what actually happens.

  38.  I understand there’s now more evidence for DM other than anomalous galactic motion. For instance DM bends light and there are patches of something that bends light that aren’t associated with visible matter. This might make the “gravity works differently at large distances” hypotheses unworkable.

  39. I’d ague that was evidence against particular Biblical tales rather then god himself.

    I didn’t mean to say that evidence that there was no Adam & Eve is evidence against a god or even one that may have some of the characteristics of the god of the Bible, but it is evidence against the literal god of the Bible, as depicted in its entirety from Genesis to Revelations (though, to be fair, the Bible does a pretty good job itself of proving it is not talking about the same character all the time).

  40. nick keighley
     I understand there’s now more evidence for DM other than anomalous
    galactic motion. For instance DM bends light and there are patches of something that bends light that aren’t associated with visible matter.
    This might make the “gravity works differently at large distances” hypotheses unworkable.

    The bending of light which is used in “gravitational lensing”,  is simply light rays being bent by gravity (from any sources). 

    There could be various explanations of this.

    For example as telescopes have improved, we have discovered there is much more normal matter in galaxies (and solar systems), than previously thought.

    Spiral galaxies (like the ours) are disks of orbiting matter, but the visible spiral “arms” are lit up areas of star-formation while the “spaces” between them are more evenly distributed matter, which is not clumping into stars, and therefore not so visible.

  41. What most touches me about your post is that you and your wife were able to make the transition at the same time. You may not have been correct about your beliefs straight off the bat, but you sure got something at least equally fundamental right and that’s more than a lot of people can say.     

  42. Actually Mod, it had everything to do with the original post. I was simply using the latest TV series as a basis for the reply. In my post I suggested to Stewman that he challenges those that have turned him away from his faith, rather than rejecting faith itself

    There is more than enough room in this world for faith in whatever lies outside of our intellectual grasp and the world of awe that draws us closer to it courtesy of science

  43. This issue is not the proving/disproving of any particular God, it is mankind’s failure to understand the simple concept of metaphor

    As a kid, I was raised by devout Catholic parents and from an early age it was clear to me that Genesis was just a story to explain our mortality and thus separation from God. In fact at one point I had a Jewish RE teacher who said straight up “It’s just a story for the kids… a metaphor… Not the literal history of humankind”

    When we begin to understand religious texts in the context they were meant, in the time they were presented, it becomes far clearer that science is right and religion is wrong; simply because religion turns poetic license into dogma

  44. I’m kinda lost as to which religions you’re referring to. The religions I’m aware of all root in the same God, it’s just that different groups of people have different ways of worshipping or expressing that energy

    Ultimately everything boils down to that initial moment when nothing became something. The metaphorical vehicle used to explain it defines the religion, not the ‘God’

    Science can only explain the *what happened*, not the *why it happened*. The closest I’ve come in my understanding is that the Singularity was simply in a state of perfect order and that the laws of thermodynamics explain that order must descend into disorder. But… If there is only a Singularity, surely the laws governing it are unwritten? Or it ‘exists’ in a space outside of our scientific/mathematical knowledge and other laws, unknown or irrelevant to us in this universe caused the event to happen

  45. “Science can only explain the *what happened*, not the *why it happened*”

    But. perhaps the why? question is meaningless. It’s certainly not one that any religion has been able to answer in any meaningful way. And it’s hard to imagine what would constitute an ultimate answer to the why? question on the scale of the universe, since you could always ask why that way and not some other? Maybe it is just turtles all the way down, at least then we would never lack a proximate meaning and scientists would never need welfare benefits.

  46. Sapiotone
     In my post I suggested to Stewman that he challenges those that have turned him away from his faith, rather than rejecting faith itself

    Challenges them to do what exactly?  Re-indoctrinate him?

    There is more than enough room in this world for faith in whatever lies outside of our intellectual grasp and the world of awe that draws us closer to it courtesy of science

     

    Information and understanding “beyond our grasp” is unknown.  –
    That is unknown to everybody, so it is not possible for anyone (past or present)  to make ANY valid claim as to what it is.
    Claims to know the unknown are either delusion or dishonesty.

    The honest answer in such circumstances is,
    “We do not know” – and that leaves a whole range of possibilities.

    Science can only explain the *what happened*, not the *why it happened

    You can ask “Why?” but science will only tell you “how?”.
    “Why” is simply humans attributing their own objectives and desires.

    The closest I’ve come in my understanding is that the Singularity was simply in a state of perfect order

    We do not know that a “singularity” existed.  It is simply a mathematical projection back from the inflation of the big-bang.

    The word “perfect” in this context is bandied around in religious discussions, but is meaningless. 
    Perfection is meeting the criteria of some objective, envisioned by the observer. 

    Unless some gods are simply assumed, there were no observers of the big-bang.

    I’m kinda lost as to which religions you’re referring to. The religions I’m aware of all root in the same God, it’s just that different groups of people have different ways of worshipping or expressing that energy

     

    Not really!  There’s a whole list of gods with a multiplicity of characteristics:-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L… 

    Here is just one example:

    The image here illustrates the Hindu belief that each part of the cow embodies a particular deity. For example, Brahma (the creator of the Universe in Hinduism) is her back, while Lord Vishnu is her throat. To the right, a man is seen as protecting the cow from being slaughthered by the demon Kali.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi

  47. The bending of light which is used in “gravitational lensing”,  is simply light rays being bent by gravity (from any sources).

    There could be various explanations of this.

    there could be but the options are narrowing

    For example as telescopes have improved, we have discovered there is
    much more normal matter in galaxies (and solar systems), than previously
    thought. 

    I don’t think DM can be explained by normal matter. There’s simply too much of it

    Spiral galaxies (like the ours) are disks of orbiting matter, but the
    visible spiral “arms” are lit up areas of star-formation while the
    “spaces” between them are more evenly distributed matter, which is not
    clumping into stars, and therefore not so visible.

    not /so/ visible. DM makes up 80% of the matter in the universe. It can’t be ordinary matter or we’d see it – if only for the light it blocked

  48. @rdfrs-89d74a7c4fec57173075b4d6139bb02f:disqus  – I don’t think DM can be explained by normal matter. There’s simply too much of it

    I agree it can’t all be normal matter.  I quoted the “unilluminated “normal matter as an example of some of the large variables which we have difficulty measuring.

    not /so/ visible. DM makes up 80% of the matter in the universe. It can’t be ordinary matter or we’d see it – if only for the light it blocked

    We have enough difficulty detecting planet-sized objects at stellar distances, let alone small widely separated particles at galactic distances.  There is a whole load of matter very much nearer home in the Solar System not yet mapped.

    That is not to say that DM is not on the agenda.  It just puts some question marks over measurements. 

    There is a lot we just don’t know, but the “gapologists” like such places to hide their deities.

  49. Stewman, I would like to welcome you to the wonderful world of Realism and Humanism!  The argument that delivered you from mental and psychological slavery is spot on, and I believe there is no rational counter argument. I am gladdened that you where open minded enough to take it to heart.
    The life of the self defined is a wonderful one, I wish you all the luck. 

  50. It’s evolution at play again. Apologies if I’m wrong, but it’s sounds like an American environment with the mention of the earth being 10,000 years old. I was raised in a British environment which is generally agnostic, so the argument that brought you out of your faith is so logical to the average Brit it needs no speculation. The premise of which, I base on the fact that if you ask the average Brit “Do you believe in god?” their initial response will be “Ermmm”. The lack of a definite answer for the initial response tells you that they don’t believe in organised religion enough to follow with piety, but at the same time don’t rule out a god because of the magnitude of the question, a question that only really get’s raised and discussed after a few beers, and even then only in the same vain as who’s going to win the cup final this year.

    Religion and god will always be with us simply because of our primeval drive to survive and our awareness of death, both of which are expressed within the concept of hope. The sense of loss experienced concerning deceased loved ones and the hope to reunite one day will always keep a concept of an afterlife with the human race and the experiences of  heightened states of emotion will always cause the human race to express hope through addressing a higher power, simply because survival may be out of their control.

    Personally, I can’t conceive of being a follower of organised religion, but by the same token I can’t conceive of being an atheist. Concerning organised religion, they all fit neatly on the timeline of mankind’s self-elevation out of the animal kingdom and are a part of the speculative thought continuum that has got the human race to this point in time, so, like the original argument that brought you out of your faith, how can you believe one and not the others. Concerning atheism, to give an absolute answer is beyond comprehension to me. If science manages to discover the mechanics of creating something out of nothing then I may be swayed, but at this moment in time every scientific conclusion will always pose the question of “What was before that?” no matter how many theories the world of physics creates. My concept of god, if one does exist, is that it will be inconceivable to our minds, so to give it any characteristics would just be me transposing my own consciousness onto it, for all I know it could be dead or not even know of our existence.

    When I die, if there is no god or afterlife, I’ll be dead so I won’t be bothered. If there is, then I know I’ve lived an ethical life, like the majority of people, so I couldn’t do much more to “Get in”, and if the requirements were to follow the scriptures to the word, then I’ll be in Hell listening to Freddie Mercury being backed by Jimi Hendrix and John Bonham as opposed to listening to a duet by Cliff Richard and Cat Stevens in Heaven, so it’s a win win situation!

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