Here's Why I Can't Believe in God
July 9, 2016
Intro and History
Before we get into this, here's a brief history of me, focusing on religion. If you already know me, feel free to skip this part. This section will help you to see what I was trained to think and what I know--at least I hope it will. Keep in mind, too, that I have a visual impairment; I read and write braille, use speech to know what my computer and phone are doing, and use a cane or dog to get around. My blindness is not central to this essay, but it will come into play at times. Side note: I've had several strong Christians pray for my sight to be given to me. It hasn't yet. #JustSaying
I was raised Christian, and I mean the mainstream kind: saved by faith in Christ, headed to Heaven, spread the Word so your friends don't go to hell, be good, pray to God, go to church every Sunday. It never went as far as not "working" on Sunday or not relying on modern medicine, thankfully.
At age six, I was baptized at a local Baptist church. I can remember telling my mother I wanted to be baptized, and I can recall with equal clarity liking the sound of the word while having little understanding of its meaning. I was a child, and it seemed the thing to do, because "baptized" was just one of those words that had an indefinable ring to it in my young mind. Within weeks, I'd been dressed in the white robe, dunked in the little water tank behind the pulpit, and that was it--I was baptized, praise the Lord!
At age eight I was "saved", when my mother, cousin, and I said the magic prayer in the basement of my house. I distinctly recall us kneeling in a little circle in front of the couch as my mother recited the words. Even before then, I attended children's programs at church. My memories of those times are mostly of cookies, the time we wrapped our leaders in toilet paper, and the time someone made a hole in a painted mural on the wall, so I'm not sure how much of an impression the religious teaching left. Still, I was to be found in such programs most every Sunday, learning the Bible, memorizing the verses, and singing the innocent little songs we all sang so enthusiastically.
As I grew up, I continued my religious indoctrination. Youth groups, church services (we'd moved to a slightly untraditional Congregational church by then), church camps, and all the usual "training" you'd expect from Christian parents. The classic radio series Adventures in Odeesey was something we all listened to every Saturday morning, along with other, similar shows on the same radio station; we only listened to Christian music; we watched the TV show Touched by an Angel on Sunday nights; and I was told at home what was wrong about school. Once, as we looked at a display of ancient history at the local fair, my mother pointed out a recession of a caveman said to be over fifty thousand years old. She quietly explained to me that, in fact, the model was wrong; the truth was that humans had only existed for ten thousand years, and anytime I heard differently in any of my classes at school I should remember that science had this one wrong.
I ate it up… mostly. There were certainly times when I would ask questions about aspects of the Bible and its teachings that didn't make sense. No, I didn't question things nearly as much as I should have, because I was always told that all of it was unquestionably, perfectly, divinely true. I was asking to try to resolve what I saw as conflict within these truths, not to get out from under them. I was struggling between perfect truth and imperfect… something. Was I imperfect? Was my translation of the Bible? Was it my youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, or mother? Why did this not all make perfect sense, and why could no one answer my questions? I remember at least two instances where I had to take my arguments--both times, with my poor mother--to another room as we tried to resolve my problems with Christianity. The frustration was so bad that, on one of those occasions, I was nearly reduced to furious tears.
On the whole, though, I still believe. I was the weird kid in school who kept to himself, and who was proven right to do so, it seemed, whenever he opened his big mouth. In high school, I was in a discussion with some classmates when I asked them, "but why would you have sex if not to have a baby?" On another memorable occasion I was on a mission trip to a nearby city and was talking to a couple boys my age. As boys of that age--around 13--will usually do, our topic became less than church-appropriate. I was using a braille computer at the time, and one boy asked me if I could feel porn on it. Blushing slightly (I was a very sheltered kid), I responded that that wasn't the Christian thing to do, was it? You can see that my engrained faith, plus lack of social skills, left me less than popular with most everyone.
The major exception was my best friend from third grade up through high school, though as we got older we drifted apart slightly. I'll call her Becca for the sake of anonymity. I met Becca in third grade, as I said, and we started seeing a lot of each other. We lived on opposite ends of the same street, so it was easy to get to each others' houses. She had a hard home life, though I didn't grasp that until much later in our friendship, and she was the opposite of me in many other ways. She was short, female, outgoing, and relatively popular--at least, she seemed to have multiple friends and acquaintances with whom she regularly spoke. As we grew older, she had boyfriends and quickly divested herself of virginity; I never so much as kissed a girl. She would swear and tell dirty jokes; I found it impossible to mutter the word "stupid" until I was eleven, let alone attempt any actual "bad words". I'm pretty sure she experimented with alcohol; needless to say, I recoiled at the very thought. Perhaps the most striking difference between us, though, was that she was Wiccan.
Becca and I would sometimes get into (rather juvenile) debates about our beliefs, but these never swayed me. I knew in my heart that I was right and she was wrong, and I and my family tried our best to 'save' her. She sometimes came with us to youth group meetings and a few other church functions, but they never took. She also had long discussions with myself, my mother, or both, all about religion and God. These, too, proved fruitless. Eventually, we setpped back and left her alone. As I said, nothing Becca put forth as arguments against my faith ever made an impression on me.
Through middle school I was somewhat confused about religion, and I stopped going to church for a time. Of course, my mother told me I could only do that if I promised to listen to half an hour of a preacher on a local Christian radio station, which I (mostly) did. I wasn't actively rebelling against Christianity, I just felt the whole thing was rather boring and that I'd heard it all. I wasn't interested in learning more, because I had the basics down and I was already in the club. Plus, the preacher at church was dull, and I didn't like being forced to listen to him on topics I didn't much care about. I was still a Christian, I just wanted to coast in it for a while. In high school, I was going to church again, helping on mission trips, and so on. I was also still asking my questions, but they were still doctrinal and not expressions of serious doubt.
Finally, college came. I immediately joined the campus Intervarcity Christian Fellowship group, where I played guitar and bass on the praise team. Within a year I had joined the group's leadership team, helping to plan events and weekly meetings. I also took all kinds of classes and met new people… And that was the beginning of the end.
My geology class told me about the age of the Earth, geological forces, and so on; physics told me about the age of the universe, the speed of light, the life cycle of stars, relativity, and more; philosophy and political science classes introduced me to alternatives to my conservative Christian upbringing; friends I asked to IVCF meetings turned me down, and asked hard questions about the Bible and the God I followed; I had debates and discussions--some in class, some with both Christian and non-Christian friends--about religion and Christian doctrine; I was inspired to read books and articles I'd never considered reading before; and I was out from the constant influence of home, free to honestly and carefully consider all this new information rather than being told what to believe.
By my senior year, I was sure of it: I no longer believed in Christianity. I didn't believe in any religion at all, in fact, and I didn't want to pretend I did anymore. I stopped going to the local church, and I told my fellow IVCF leadership team members what had happened. The speech I made to them was incredibly difficult, and my heart was pounding so hard it almost made it hard for me to speak. But speak I did. I explained that I could no longer honestly call myself a Christian; too much didn't make sense, and there was too much no one could answer. Whatever the ultimate answers were, I'd discovered that religion couldn't provide them. I didn't put it nearly so well in that meeting, though. That was the first time I'd ever said, out loud, that I was doing away with the twenty plus years of religious upbringing I'd had, that I was leaving the God I'd so ardently followed for so long, that I no longer trusted the book I had, for so long, called perfect. It was a hard thing to say, not least because, in a room full of devout Christians, being the only non-theist feels very awkward.
At the time of this writing, that was five years ago. I graduated at the end of that year, and returned home to look for a job. I'd told my family about my apostasy, but they took the approach of simply ignoring it, a practice we all continue to this day. We love each other and get along fine, but religion, church attendance, and similar topics are simply not discussed when I'm around.
As time went on, I kept researching, trying to answer the hard questions I still had. Why should I be moral? What is the actual scientific consensus on questions like the age of the universe? Is there scientific backing for biblical belief? How right are the outspoken atheists on Youtube and in books? I also continued asking about Christianity, but the questions I had will appear shortly and I will not enumerate them here; they are, after all, the whole point of this missive.
For a time after college, I played bass at the same church where I'd been baptized all those years ago. I continued this for a couple years, during which time my family and college friends from the IVCF team were the only ones who knew of my de-conversion. I enjoyed the music and companionship so much that I hated to ruin it. Finally, though, I couldn't take the dishonesty anymore. I was tired of pretending to pray, of going along with the religious talk of my bandmates, and of lying to everyone and myself. The part of my mind that had been wondering if this atheism would turn out to be a phase was silent; I could no longer make myself think I might one day return to the faith. I had to come clean.
I wrote an essay somewhat like this one, minus the personal history, starting in college. I'd expanded it over the years, eventually adding about forty different sources and explaining why I was no longer a Christian. I emailed it to the music director with an apology and an offer to resign from the worship team. I was soon summoned to the head pastor's office, where he and an assistant pastor talked to me for around two hours. Their arguments for God focused mostly on morality, and as I had not yet discovered much in the way of resources on that topic, I listened carefully and resolved to look up the questions they'd given me to think about. They were not, however, able to change my mind, and I left that church for the last time.
Since then I've done a lot more reading, both online and in books, and my disbelief in Christianity (and all religion) has only grown stronger. I've discovered not just atheism, but skepticism as well. I've become more discerning and cautious about what I trust or believe, and I am more careful about the sources I rely on. I've learned what it really means to be scientific, and that skepticism is essential but can go too far or not far enough. I like to think I've found a pretty good balance, and that the information I trust is as accurate and vetted as I can manage. Certainly, it's better than looking to an old book for every answer, and accepting a lack of answer as a "test of faith". I'm done with faith, I'm done with religion, and I'm done with deities. Now, let's explore just why that is.
The Problems with Christianity
I'll stick to Christianity because it's what I know best. The world's other monotheistic religions are similar in many respects anyway, and the differences are all doctrinal. The existence of an infinite, all-loving, perfect, timeless, all-powerful, all-seeing god is the main point of all three, and it is here where our questions must start. Anything beyond that god will delve into Christian doctrine.
Where'd He Come From?
Christians always ask how the universe can be here without a designer. This universe is complex, and complexity can't arise naturally. Thus, there must be an even more complex originator for our complex universe to be here at all. Assuming the premise is right, my question is: where, then, did the designer come from? Why does the need for a complex thing to have an even more complex maker stop at your version of God? How do you justify the assumption that he's the "first cause", rather than yet another level? Where's the god who made your god, and the god who made the god who made your god, and so on? Christians won't let atheists say that the matter in the universe could have, in some form, always existed, yet Christians take it for granted that their god has always existed. Somehow, invoking god gives you a free pass to ignore the very argument you pose to your opponent.
The difference is this: Christians start with the answer (god always existed and is real) and then try to work backward. Science starts with the question and the evidence, then tries to work out the answer. The difference is essential, and we'll see it again. Basically, science is always learning and discovering, whereas religion hates to learn and discover if new knowledge contradicts what it thinks it knows. The current answer, and the only honest one anyone can give, to the question of the origin of the universe is: I don't know. Unfortunately, too many religious people take an honest answer like that as proof that science can't explain it, thus religion X must be correct. Of course, that's not how it works. At all.
Before we move on, we need to examine the central claim of this argument--that complexity can't arise from simplicity--and determine whether it is accurate. In a word: nope. Simple forces and rules can create complex results. For instance, a simple number, the square root of -1, is so complex we have to call it "imaginary". But that's just math, and a case can be made that it comes down to semantics. Fair enough; let's take a simple rule instead. Let's say that for each branch on a tree, two new branches will grow from the end. Given that each new branch is a branch, it is subject to our rule. How quickly will you get a complicated, tangled mass of branches from that single rule? Or look at the equations encompassing the theory of relativity. Not terribly long or complex, yet they can be used to demonstrate things like time, space, and mass all changing and warping simply by adjusting an object's speed. What if the universe is a consequence of physical laws we don't yet understand, as inevitable as the release of a photon by an electron changing energy levels?
How does religion know what it knows? Well, it has a holy book that explains everything, of course. Let's grant that the god from the previous section exists. He's out there, and he needs to communicate with the sentient beings he created (us). How does he choose to do it? Direct-to-brain download? No, too scifi. Messages in the sky? No, too grandiose. Manifest as a person and come chat with all of us in person, in our living rooms? No, too personal. What about billboards? Too expensive--god doesn't have a bank account, after all. A voice we can all hear, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once? Too much work to rig up the inter-dimensional loudspeakers.
No, a book is the perfect avenue for divine communication. The Bible is the one used by Christians: a book compiled some 1800 years ago by groups of people who "knew" what to put in it, and who used for this compilation books written by a bunch of people whose identities are lost to time. This canon was then copied, translated, translated again, copied some more, interpreted as a new version in the same language, interpreted again, translated, and… You get the idea. We now have a book whose original authors are lost to time--and who could've said anything they wanted--which has thousands of translations and alternative versions. This book is used to justify peace, war, love, hate, acceptance, racism, judgement, salvation, forgiveness, and condemnation, to name a few.
I know that people interpret things and that reading into a book what you want it to say is nothing new or particular to the Bible. The problem is this: no other book has ever claimed to be the perfect, unchanging word of a perfect, unchanging deity who loves every human equally. You can misinterpret Harry Potter all you want--it is a human book written by a human--but how does a perfect book written by a perfect author open itself to such wildly varying interpretations and translations? How can people argue about baptism, faith versus works, historical record versus metaphor, and all the other issues of Christian theology? How can everyone have a different opinion about so many aspects of the same, perfect book? Why would a perfect god write a perfect book, then do nothing at all while his beloved creations completely mess things up, using his perfect book to justify every mistake?
In short, how can a perfect, unchanging text be this badly abused without its perfect author stepping in to correct the problem? Either the book isn't perfect, the author isn't perfect (or doesn't care), or the author isn't who the book claims. Additionally, how can the world's best author be so incredibly boring? If I try to read the Bible, it's old language, ancient settings, and repetition really can't hold my attention at all. The Bible, and the people and events there in, are dull, yet I can name many books that are very engaging to me. That is, I love reading in general, but the world's best book--written by god himself--can't hold a candle to things written by humans? It's almost like the Bible was itself written by humans… Oh, and why a book? Why not let us go for a couple thousand years longer, then come down today? Surely the internet, mass availability of video recorders, rigorous scientific study, and other advances we have right now would have made it far easier for more people to learn about God and for him to prove himself? I just did a web search for "why did god use the Bible to communicate" and got only hits about what the Bible says about communication, and similar topics. No apologetic explanation of why the Bible was the best God could do.
Christians will say that I'm not reading it right. You have to fully understand the Bible, and read it in context, and know the history, and on and on the requirements go. At some point, this divine book requires more background knowledge, grasp of dead languages, and careful study than a physics book written in hieroglyphics. Once more: if it's so hard to read, and can so easily go wrong, how can anyone possibly call it a divine text written by a loving God for every human? It should be written in basic terms, constantly translating itself and updating to match the reader's upbringing and terminology. If a book were to do all that, when no other book did, wouldn't hat be even more proof that we should think its source divine?
The Satan Pit
(Note: if you got the reference I used in the heading for this section, give yourself a cookie.)
Hell is a place of fire and agony, or maybe it's a place of darkness and emptiness. Either way, it's separation from the Christian god, and to spend time there will hurt like… Sorry, that's too poor a pun. It'll hurt. A lot. A whole lot. You will experience pain beyond imagining, though just how you'll do that without a physical nervous system is a question souloligists have yet to answer. How long will this etherial torture persist? Forever! That's right, there will be no end, no respite, no chance of an instant's relief for the rest of eternity. Not just for the rest of time, either; this will go on even after time stops. It will never, ever end. EVER!
So you're in hell, and your non-physical body/soul thingy is enduring non-physical pain beyond imagination as the lightless flames of utter despair lick your non-physical body. Your non-physical mind is filled with the most profound sense of grief and loss , beyond anything you ever thought possible. The worse part is: you know in your non-beating, non-existent heart that this agonizing, excruciating torture will go on and on and on, and never cease. What did you do to wind up here? You, my friend, were a Hindu heathen! You rejected the Christian god and kept praying to your cows instead. You never ate a burger, you never killed anyone, and you always paid your taxes on time. You were a pretty good person, all things considered, but you decided that the religion in which you were raised, and which you were constantly reminded was right, was, well, right. You lived just under seventy-seven years thinking this. Seventy-seven years of rejecting the real god, you now see. Your crime was seventy-seven years of disbelief because of your upbringing and social circles, so how long will you be here in hell? Seventy-seven years? Seventy times seventy-seven? How long before the Christian god decides you've learned your lesson and ends your torment? He's a god of forgiveness, right? That's one of his big selling points, so there must come a time when he sees your regret and sadness and forgives you, surely? Good news: you can NEVER LEAVE! A finite crime lasting less than an Earth century has condemned you to a punishment lasting an infinitely long time, and the condemner was a loving, forgiving deity. Fair? Just? Right? Well, not by any human standard, no, but this is the Christian god we're talking about. Unending, worst-case torture for a crime that had an ending is totally okay, because, um, he says so, that's why. Look, don't ask questions, okay? It's easier if you just take your torture in silent misery and abject remorse. No, the remorse won't help you, because god hates you now, but maybe it'll help you pass the time. Enjoy hell, you non-murdering, vegetarian, non-cheating, basically nice person… This is what you deserve! Forever!
I once heard the idea of eternal torment justified like this: the punishment has to last forever, because the reward lasts forever. If the reward were forever but the punishment finite, that wouldn't be fair to those in heaven. The problem with this logic is that it assumes reward and horrifying torture are both equally good. If you love both apples and oranges equally, and are forced to choose one you'd rather eat for the rest of your life to the exclusion of the other, that's not a bad choice. You'll get something you like either way, after all. The idea of heaven and hell both needing to be eternal, though, is like being forced to choose between shiny, crisp apples and rotted, inedible oranges--one is clearly worse than the other. In Christianity, though, there's a loving god who is supposed to want to save everyone, yet he deems eternal torment to be just as good a thing as eternal happiness? Really? Would he not want humans, once they know the whole deal, to have a second chance?
Hell in Heaven?
Heaven itself is an odd thing, when you stop and think about it. Can you really be perfectly, blissfully joyful forever? Not for trillions and trillions of years, but for all the years, without end? If you said yes, consider the next problem. Can you be perfectly happy, knowing that one or more of your loved ones are in as much pain as you are in comfort, as much anguish as you are in joy? On Earth, could you be completely happy knowing that somewhere, your parent, child, or spouse were being branded with hot pokers and having their bones crushed?
There's really only one way the heaven model can work, and it's that God physically changes everyone. He rewires them so that their emotions are completely different from what they were in life. The argument can be made that this turns everyone into new people, separate from who they used to be. More importantly, they no longer have the choice to be happy or not, to worship god or not, to be sad for their loved ones or not. Their free will has been removed, or at least limited severely, and they have become happy robots. I thought Christianity was against happy robots? Otherwise, everyone would already be there, giving god all the praise his greedy little heart desires. No need for Earth, or hell, or any of it. Just skip the drama and make the robots, god. It'd be less cruel, since you're going to do it anyway.
Evil is Bad
There's good and there's evil, just like there's light and dark. Hell is dark red (or just all dark), and heaven is white. Jesus wears a white robe, while demons are black; daytime is good, but dark (night, basements, etc) is scary and haunted; we even have popular expressions like "wash me white as snow" or "black as sin". The dichotomy is as ingrained in our culture as anything, and it all stems from the existence of bad stuff. The question then becomes: why is there bad? Why is something good or bad, black or white, comfortable or painful? Why does Evil (with a capital e) exist at all?
The simple fact is that god created evil. Christians try to dodge this one by calling on free will or the impossibility of happy robots, but those are reasons why he did it, not defenses that he didn't do it. If god made the universe and everything in it, that necessarily means he made evil. He created sin, he called Satan into being, he put n place the framework of bad that made you lie to your boss last week. Even if we all have free will and you chose to lie, the very fact that you are able to lie at all--that the sin of falsehood is possible for you to commit--is unavoidably god's doing.
God could have chosen to not let our free will select an evil choice. Instead of letting us choose to lie or be truthful, or mean or nice, he could have made it physically impossible for us to select evil. Free will is all good and well, but why does it include the possibility of evil? Consider the laws of physics--gravity, the nuclear forces, electromagnetism, wave refraction, friction, sound wave propagation, and all the other laws and theories we've discovered. Why can I choose to go against god, but not to go against physics? If free will were that important, why am I not able to will gravity to release me? Why can I not will the forces holding my atoms together to stop functioning? Why can I not will friction to not apply to me? Why can't I will my cut arm to heal, or my DNA to rewrite itself so my eyes get fixed? None of this hurts anyone else, so shouldn't my free will allow it? God decided that free will has a limit, apparently, but instead of drawing the line so that evil would be impossible, he decided it'd be more fun to allow humans to sin. What kind of sense does that make? Did he see that he'd be bored in a few thousand years and want to visit Earth so he could get killed (kind of)? Was it all just advanced planning for a road trip?
The common defense for evil is that it lets humans have a choice about whether to love God. Of course, he gives some of us (Adam, Eve, Mary, Joseph, the disciples, etc) far more evidence than others, but that's not the main point. God made evil so we could choose good. We'll talk more about Heaven later, but it's worth mentioning here as well: if total freedom to worship and love God is the goal, than how is heaven fair? How is it not okay to make people love you for a few decades on Earth, but it's completely fine to do so, for an infinite amount of time, in heaven? Happy robots are exactly what you get in heaven, after all. If someone gets tired of worshiping and wants to leave, what happens? I imagine the Christians saying that no one would ever do that, and that's my point. If they never would, they're trapped there without any choice in the matter, but they're made to be okay with that. Happy robots for eternity, all of them. Yet allowing evil on Earth is totally okay because, um, God says so, I guess?
Christians claim that sin (for now, we'll accept that sin exists and god is somehow not a horrible monster for creating it) is inherent in being human. All have sinned, right? No one's perfect? This is because of original sin.
What Is It?
Back in the days of Eden, Adam and Eve were chilling out, playing checkers and one-on-one basketball with god. Life was perfect--no sin, no pain, no death, no grief, no suffering. Just great, godly goodness for everyone.
Then, one day, a snake appeared. He was a walking snake, which we know because later god would make him crawl on his belly forever… Imagine that! A ten-foot-long python comes waddling up to you on his legs, then… talks to you. (Clearly, either snakes regularly talked to people, or Adam and Even were parcelmouths). Anyway, the snake comes along and tells Eve that, despite god's warning to not eat the fruit of that one tree over there, she should eat the fruit of that one tree over there. After a token resistance, Eve gives in and eats the fruit. She then does one worse and gets her hubby to do the same thing, while the waddling python grins at them, his eyes, I like to imagine, starting to glow red.
Then, from out of nowhere, god marches onto the scene. Knowing they're caught, Adam and Eve hide, having realized that not only is god gonna be mad, but they are naked! Until now, remember, nakedness wasn't even a thing, because no animals had clothes. Must've made basketball with god kind of hard to play, with everything hanging in the breeze and moving around all uncomfortably…
But we're talking about the sin thing. Adam and Eve hide, god finds them, and soon after they get kicked out of the garden. There's the cursing of man with hard work, of woman with pain in childbirth, and of the snake with no more waddlin' legs. Adam and Eve have sinned, and it's game over. No more paradise, no more basketball or checkers, no more walking snakes, no more painless birth, no more free food. Far worse, though, is that all humans have been cursed. It's not just Adam and Eve whom Adam and Eve have killed, it's every human down the line, forever. Way to go, guys!
Just One Bite?
Let's have a look at what, precisely, Eve did here. God told her not to do something, and she went and did it anyway because a snake (I think we can assume sentient animals were not uncommon or, at least, didn't surprise her) convinced her to. God said to not eat the fruit because she'd die if she did the snake said god was lying and what would actually happen was that she would become like her god. I think it's safe to assume, by the way, that Adam and Eve loved their god very much. Remember, too, that the threat of "death" meant nothing to Eve, since she and Adam did not yet have any concept of what death was. Nothing dies in paradise, so how could they understand dying at all? Similarly, how could they understand right from wrong, when the fruit they were forbidden from eating held that knowledge? Until they ate it, they simply lacked any concept of badness.
Let's put this into modern terms, at least as much as possible. Imagine Eva. She's a little girl, about four, who enjoys a loving relationship with her father and three-year-old brother. When we see her, Eva is sitting at the kitchen table, with six dishes in front of her. Each dish contains a perfectly prepared dessert, each of which Eva loves. There's a piece of chocolate cake, a piece of warm apple pie with ice cream, a whoopee pie, a banana nut muffin, a dish of chocolate ice cream, and a plate of fresh, warm sugar cookies. Before he heads out to work, Eva's father tells her she can eat any or all of these fine food choices, except the cookies. Eating the cookies, you see, will cause daddy's bills that month to skyrocket, and they can't afford it, so she shouldn't eat the cookies.
Once Dad is gone, a stranger suddenly appears in the kitchen, sitting across the table from little Eva. This is not uncommon, so Eva doesn't call for help or try to run away, she just greets this unexpected visitor. The man suggests that she should eat a cookie, but Eva shakes her head. She explains that Daddy said not to, though she isn't sure why not. Something about someone named Bill and rockets. Probably Bill is an astronaut, and they're saving the cookies for him when he comes over later. The stranger smiles and chuckles softly, then explains that, in fact, the cookies are magical. They aren't being saved for anyone, and nothing bad will happen if Eva eats one. In actuality, eating a cookie will cause Eva to become just like her father. Thrilled at the prospect of being more like the man she loves, Eva eats a cookie, and…
Dad storms in, furious! He first punches the stranger off his chair, then throws him bodily from the house. Gaping at this out-of-character display of anger from her gentle, loving father, Eva is unsure what to do as he descends upon her. He grabs her under the arms, pulls her into the air, and yells in her face. As flecks of saliva fly from his mouth and mingle with the tears running down her cheeks, she squirms and struggles. All at once, she is in motion. The front door is still open, and Eva is suddenly hurled through it. As she lands on the ground, she can't figure out why she is rolling on hard, bare dirt where seconds before there was a rolling green lawn. As she staggers to her feet and looks back at the only home she's ever known, the entire structure begins to shrink. Standing in the doorway, his face a mixture of sadness and anger, is her beloved father. She squeaks out a protest as he recedes into the distance. She tries to run after him, but it's no use. In less than a minute, the house, the lawns, and her daddy have all vanished completely, as though they never were. She doesn't know it yet, but she will one day have many children, and her children will have children, and her race will live for thousands and thousands of years. No one will ever see that house, those lawns, or that wonderful man who is Eva's father. Stories of the perfect house with the desserts and the cookies will persist, but Dad will never come back, at least not in the same way Eva knew him. One bite of one cookie, just because Eva naively thought it would make her more like the father she adored, is all it took for that man to snap. No second chances, no explanations, nothing. One bite, and Eva ruined her life and the lives of every other human who will ever exist.
Questions arise from this story.
- Why did god threaten Eve with death, when she had no way of knowing what death was? Just as Eva had no experience with bills or money, so Eve had no experience with the concept of death or, in fact, anything "bad" at all.
- What was so bad about Eve wanting to be like god? We can, as I've said, assume that she and Adam loved him. After all, they knew nothing but love--no resentment, no hate, no anger, no bitterness. They knew he made them and gave them the garden, so how could they not love him? To be like him is, it seems to me, an expression of admiration. Yet, for this act, they are eternally punished and all their offspring throughout history are cursed. Talk about an overreaction!
- Deception is sin, so how could Eve have known about it? Why would she not trust the talking snake, given that she had never been lied to before and had--as with death or evil--no concept of what it meant? It's a bit like a parent punishing a child for swearing, if the swear was in a language unknown to the child and was simply being repeated because the child liked the sound of the strange word. Correct and explain, sure, but punish the way god did Eve? Again, why, if she had no understanding of being deceived?
- Why did she not get a second chance? Armed with the knowledge of what evil is, and the realization of deception and death, why would god have not set up the scenario a second time? Why was this one act so final? Who among us would punish a child so insanely harshly, with no chance at a do-over, now that the full ramifications were known to everyone involved?
- Why put the cookies there in the first place, given that god could see through time and knew exactly what would happen? If you don't want a kid to eat cookies, you don't put cookies out and then give a cryptic, unintelligible warning about not eating them. This is especially true if the cookies are going to curse and kill a whole race of sentient beings for millennia!
- Finally, why does the curse of sin propagate down the centuries, infecting every human? How is that fair, given that god would eventually tell us to not blame the son for the sins of the father? Why is every human not given the chance to choose perfection or sin? Why was the fate of everyone decided by one innocent woman in a magic garden? Why would god take our choice away like that? If free will is such hot stuff, why can we not use that will to make the all-important decision and decide to never suffer at all?
Why Keep the Faith?
What is god's obsession with faith? Why does he remain silent and absent, while requiring everyone to still believe he's there? Those who cling to what many see as a delusion will be rewarded in heaven (after no one can prove them right or wrong), and those who trust evidence and reason will burn in hell for eternity (after no one can prove them right or wrong).
Here are some facts to consider, followed by what one would expect to happen, followed by what actually happens:
- God loves all humans with a love that passes all understanding
- God wants nothing more than to save us from our sin and have a personal relationship with us
- God is a father, a friend, a redeemer, and an all around good guy
- God knows all and sees all, from the wildly spinning pulsar in deep space to the thoughts forming in our brains at every moment
- God knows us completely and therefore knows what it would take for any of us to believe in him and seek that relationship he wants so very, very much
- God is all-powerful and can do anything he wants to, including giving us the prove he knows we need
- Therefore, God should provide us each with a personal encounter, or whatever we each need to believe he's real, then let us decide from a position of full knowledge.
- Actually, though, God needs us to take his whole existence on faith, because he can't be bothered to do anything so terrible as talk to any of us. What a jerk!
Faith is the belief in absence of evidence. Why does god require an absence of evidence for himself? Why, as I said earlier, is he so obsessed with faith?
More than that, why doesn't he prove himself to us again. If you believe that Jesus was god, then god has already done this once. Why not do so again, or every few years? Why not just keep one embodiment of himself here on Earth at all times? Wouldn't an immortal miracle worker be pretty convincing? Is Jesus too important to leave heaven a second time? Is he on kitchen detail, maybe, and if he left to hang out here with us, the angels wouldn't get their fix of angelic grub? If Jesus/god already came down and proved himself to a few hundred/thousand people, why can't he just do it again and again? There's no need for him to "die" again, just come say howdy. If god can't be bothered, why can't Jesus? He's been here already, so he already knows the way and wouldn't even need his GPS.
Great Plan… Brilliant Plan!
Here, in a nutshell, is god's plan for "saving" humanity. Just remember that we only need saving because of the sin he created and introduced in the first place. It's like a doctor making you sick so you can pay him to make you better again. Anyway… the plan.
God, who already knows every event that will ever happen for all of time, creates two humans. He puts a temptation in front of them, and expects them to ignore it despite them not knowing anything about the very idea of doing wrong. When they don't pass this ridiculous test, he not only curses them, but all the humans there will ever be. Why not give each human the choice? Well, God is mysterious, so don't ask questions.
After a while, humanity has become so horribly bad (again, because of the fall God set up and because of the evil he allowed to exist) that there's no help for it anymore. He must save humanity by killing nearly all of it, so he finds the best of the worst, talks to him (no, talking to other humans and explaining the deal isn't an option. Stop asking sensible questions!) and makes him build a magic boat. Somehow, he and God fit two of every creature on the planet into the magic boat, God shuts them in (two of every animal, and eight humans from the same family) and down comes the rain. God kills, by drowning, every other human alive, but somehow the mixing of salt and fresh waters don't affect any aquatic life. More questions, you say? No, God couldn't just make people stop existing instead of killing them horribly and avoiding the need for a flood. No, God couldn't have prevented it all from happening--what, you think he's all powerful? Oh wait… [awkward pause] Shut up with your logic and reasoning.
Eventually, after a lot of incestual relationships (again), humans have come back. But after a while, God sees that humans are in trouble. The laws he left the Jews with aren't working, or something, so he's gotta step in, personally. First, he looks at all the humans on the planet and figures that the Middle East is as good a place as any, during a time when global communications and video recording aren't options. Wouldn't want to make it too easy, after all. Then he selects a random girl--a virgin, who is all set to mary a nice carpenter--and knocks her up with magic. Instead of taking the time to at least introduce himself before they do the deed, though, he sends one of his angels to do all that talking stuff… in a dream. Nine months later, god is born in the form of a human baby who is all human and all god. But that's not two gods, it's the same god in two forms, which is totally a different thing because god says it is and take it on faith you filthy logic-monger!
So we've got human/god/Jesus in the form of a kid, who grows up to be a man/god/Jesus. He preaches, he does some miracles, he convinces a few thousand people he's man/god/Jesus, and he makes a big deal out of everything until Rome says enough is enough. Finally, the plan comes together! God came to Earth as a human so other humans could kill him, because god loves him some fresh blood. I mean, loves the stuff! In fact, if he'd been around nowadays,he could've been one of the bad vampires in Twighlight, that's how obsessed with blood this guy is. Okay, back to the plan. God needs blood in exchange for his forgiveness of our sins, and animal blood wasn't doing it, so he needs to step it up to human blood. Since no one's blood is perfect enough (wow, this is sounding kinda creepy, isn't it?) he'll just use his own, hence the human body! Let his human self get killed, that way perfect blood is used, then just have anyone who wants to be saved tell god that they agree he got killed and they're glad it was his blood, not theirs.
Now we have the "perfect sacrifice" in Jesus. God is perfect, so only his blood is pure enough to be good enough to erase the sin he already put in the world and forced all humanity to commit. God kills himself as a sacrifice to himself because of a problem he created and let persist in the first place, thus making him happy. But it's not a sacrifice, because Jesus comes back after three days! If you sacrifice your car, that doesn't mean you lend it to someone and get it back the next day with the tank full. That means you give up your car, knowing you'll never get it back. Sacrifice means permanently giving something up, but all Jesus did was take a long weekend. That's not a sacrifice at all. Even if the rest of these circumstances weren't completely insane, the whole idea of a perfect sacrifice to make it all okay again would kill the entire thing, because there was NO sacrifice!
That's what happens. God kills himself by proxy, and therefore has the perfect sacrifice. Of course, if he wouldn't keep going on and on about this thing with blood, he could've saved the pain and time and just used his human avatar to explain the deal to everyone without dying at all. But hey, it's his avatar body, not mine, so if he wants to kill himself to save us all from a situation he put us in, whatever. He seems kind of inept, though. Didn't he already make humans sin, make Satan, mess up humans so much he had to kill them all that one time, mess up a bunch of nations so bad he had to send his human soldiers in to kill them all, and get owned so bad his first time on Earth that he hasn't had the nerve to show his face ever since? What kind of god is this? Oh, and the only way he is ever going to tel us all about his plan is an old book no one can verify or agree on. Sounds like, at the very least, god needs to get on Facebook or something.
I'll come right out with this: prayer doesn't work. If it did, especially in the way the Bible says it does, there'd be a rush for Christian healers. We'd need no doctors, just Christians to pray over any illness or injury; we'd need no police, just Christians to pray for criminals; we'd need no firemen, just Christians to pray the flames away; we'd need no factories, just Christians to pray for whatever we need to be delivered; you get the idea. Of course, even Christians would agree that such a world is nothing but a dream, since (to them) god can say no anytime he chooses. That's where human doctors, police, firemen, and all the rest come in, for the times god says no or wants us to figure it out on our own.
The problem is that god's "no" or "you do it" responses end up making prayer look quite ineffectual and unnecessary. If a Christian prays for his brother's cancer to be healed, and the medical therapy works, that's an answered prayer, and isn't god good! If it doesn't work and the brother dies, that's an answered prayer (it was a "no"), and isn't god great! If the same man had no one praying for him, and the treatment worked or didn't work, we have the same two outcomes with, very probably, the same chances of occurring. The only thing prayer does is add an extra layer on top of things, and possibly make people feel better, or worse.
If prayer really worked, there would have to be at least a few documented (please note the word documented) cases of, say, an amputee's missing limb growing back, or every illness in an entire hospital being cured at once. We should see supernaturally delivered packages of food or medicine--not delivered by anyone on Earth, that is--or impossible, yet verifiable, accounts of the laws of physics taking a break so god could do his thing. Instead, we see nothing supernatural, and we see every "answer to prayer" brought about by human hands. Any "miracle" I've ever read about has either been debunked as a hoax, proven to have been blown out of proportion, or explained naturally. No one has ever been able to prove that prayer works at all, just as no one can prove that divining water or communicating telepathically are real. Christians generally dismiss such nonsense as telepathy or divining, yet they accept without question the time Moses prayed for water (telepathy) and was guided to the spot where god made a spring (a form of divining). Indeed, prayer is nothing more than telepathy, and is revered among the religions. Yet between two humans the exact same process is suddenly considered to be nuts.
Even if prayer worked, why would it be necessary? God can see through time, so he knows what we'll ask for. Plus, god won't go against his own will, since he already knows what he'll do, so praying for him to change his mind is pointless. Praying, if done at all, should simply be: "God, do whatever you were already gonna do, and thanks for the stuff you've already done." That's it.
Does prayer work? Not divinely, no. Can prayer have a measurable effect? Certainly. The person doing the praying can feel better, as can the person being prayed for. This is all easily explained by the human brain, not by god. If you enjoy praying, then praying will have a positive effect on you, just as playing the piano will positively effect a pianist who loves his craft. There's also something to be said for prayer's similarity to meditation, which seems to have an impact on many people. Similarly, if you truly believe that prayer works, then being prayed for can make you feel better (placebo effect, anyone?)
I want to bring up the point about god talking to people, because this is a section about people talking to god. Way back when, people who talked to god or angels were the bee's knees, right? Prophets, Jesus, John, Paul, all those dudes (yes, dudes, because god hates women). Nowadays, anyone who hears god is called crazy, or celebrated until god tells them to do something other people don't like. "God told me to sell my car, leave my family, and move across the country" would be greeted with uncomfortable silence in most any church, I imagine. Leaving one's family is big, and no one wants to do it, yet the person who claims to have gotten this instruction from god has biblical grounds for hating his family and following Christ, right? What about something truly horrific, as in the following (FAKE) news report?
Man Charged with Murder, Claims God Commanded Him
Golden Pond, WA - Justin Mann, 29, was arrested last night on suspicion of infanticide of his youngest son, Maxwell.
Police were called to Mann's Shore Drive home late Saturday night after neighbors reported screams and yells coming from the residence. When officers arrived, they were forced to break down the front door, as no one responded to their demands for entry. Sgt. Mike Barnes, of the Pinewood County police, told reporters at a press conference Sunday morning that "we could hear a lot of yelling and chanting coming from the home, so we had to use force to get inside when nobody answered. It sounded like someone was hurt in there."
Barnes was, sadly, quite correct. When officers broke into Mann's home, they were met by a shocking sight. "It was… I'll never forget it. Just blood all over, and the kids were… And the dad, I just don't know how…" These words were spoken by a shaken officer soon after the arrest was made.
"As far as we can tell," Barnes said at the press conference, "Mr. Mann, who is a long-time member of Golden Pond Baptist Church, felt his faith had been under strain lately. He claims that God told him he would have to kill his youngest child. If he did, it would prove his faith was strong again."
So far, it seems that Mann told arresting officers that God was testing him, just like Abraham was tested by killing Isaac in the Bible. In the Old Testament story, Abraham did not end up committing the murder, but Mann claims he was told by God that he would have to "go all the way" as a true test of faith. Mann cited other Bible verses that tell believers they should hate their families and follow all of God's commands as further proof that what he'd done was not murder, but rather affirmation of his devotion to his God.
Mann is currently being held without bail and is on suicide watch. He will undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is fit to stand trial. Despite his religious motivations, he could, if convicted, face a maximum of life in prison. The involvement of the rest of his family in this gruesome act has not yet been determined, but they all--his wife Alice and two children--are being held for questioning and observation at this time. This is a breaking case, so check back regularly as we update with new information in the coming days.
(Okay, it's me again.) Reading that, are you appalled? I hope so! If you're a Christian, though, how can you be? Mr. Mann heard your god talking to him, telling him to do exactly what he (god) told Abraham to do in the Bible. Why is it a wonderful test of faith when Abraham does it, but a murder when Mann does it?
From Force to Personal?
One thing I don't understand is the Christian obsession with proving the religion right. Historically, scientifically, archeologically, theologically… It's all aimed at showing how Christianity must be right, because they can prove it. Why they want to prove something they simultaneously claim requires faith is beyond me. My focus is on the scientific side of those attempts, because I don't understand them. What if, one day, physics agrees with theists; there must be a force out there, existing outside of our universe of spacetime, that made everything. That seems to be the goal of many arguments today, and if true, what would it prove? How do you go from proving that the universe must have been created, to showing that the particular version of deity you happen to believe in is real? How does "creative force we don't understand" equal "loving caring god who rules over magical lands called heaven and hell and who makes personal visits to one out of the billions of planets he made"? Please understand that I'm not saying I think it likely that science will love any form of deity or extra-dimensional creative force. All I'm asking is: if it did, how does that equal the Christian god?
Old Testament Troubles
The god of the Bible's old testament is nuts-o! A murderer of infants to old people many times over, ethnic cleansing, turning a woman into salt just for looking back as her home was destroyed, ordering weird laws about stoning people and not mixing fabrics in clothing, supporting slavery and gender suppression, murdering babies to make a point, sicking bears on a group of kids for calling a bald guy bald, being okay with two virgin girls--instead of his two angels--being offered to a crowd of rapists, and the list can go on and on. Usually, the defense I hear for these atrocities and whacky laws is that it doesn't matter, because the new testament does away with all that. God has been reformed, it seems, and we need only pay attention to the kinder, gentler version we see starting in Matthew. The problem is that god said he can never change, so all the horror of the old testament must still be there. We can't discount it, just as no one would vote for a rapist or murderer running for public office. No matter how long ago that person committed the crimes, people would, for the most part, distrust him. The problem is only made worse if he claims that he never changed! To follow the loving, turn-the-other-cheek god of the gospels is to follow the murderous, kill-them-all god of Judges, and why would I want to do that?
Even if you accept the defense that "they're all god's creations anyway, so if he wants to kill some, it's his right" you have another problem. If god really wanted to improve our lives, why didn't he take his book--the one chance he had to communicate directly with all of humanity--and suggest some changes? Slavery and treating women as second-class citizens were culturally okay, so god, what, went along with the popular opinion? Why didn't he say "Oh, and after you murder all these people for me, how about you give women equal rights, and stop buying and selling people altogether? I know it sounds crazy to not kill and enslave, and to not stone women who get raped, but trust me on this. Sex isn't the insanely huge deal you've made it out to be, and rape isn't the woman's fault. Treat everyone the same, with equal value and rights, okay? Thanks. Now go kill some babies!"
Why don't I believe in Christianity? The god I'd have to follow is a genocidal, misogynistic jerk, for one thing. He can't plan things out at all, he blames all humankind for the innocent mistake of one woman, and he was the one who set her up for it in the first place. He never answers questions or requests, and leaves it up to us to figure things out. He communicates only through a single book--which he never bothered to update--and can't even condescend to speak to us in person or show demonstrably that he exists at all. If anyone fails to believe in him (which, you have to admit, is a pretty sensible thing to do) he casts them into an eternal punishment, despite their supposed crime being finite in duration. He could simply cause them to stop existing, if he really hates the idea of a second chance that much, but he'd rather watch them suffer in agony forever and ever, amen. He does this, supposedly, because he wants to give us free will, yet that free will stops at the laws of physics. We're free to choose evil and hell, but not to immediately heal ourselves or use our will to make our lives better just by thought. There's no evidence to show any kind of god exists, let alone one who cares deeply about any of us; indeed, the whole universe seems quite carefully "set up" to show no deity at all. Even if the Christian god did exist, he's clearly an inept ruler who can't be trusted to do anything right, and who never bothers to check his inbox. His outbox, though, is full of commands to kill, kill, kill, actions he never bothered to take back when he wrote part II of his "love letter to humanity". Why would anyone follow this blood-thirsty, woman-hating, oppressive, moronic, inept, spiteful, unjust nut job?
Beyond all that, it simply makes no sense. I don't believe in God for the same reason I don't believe the Earth is flat, or that lizard men run the world, or any of the other conspiracy theories or fringe beliefs floating around. The evidence against them is great, the evidence for them is weak or non-existent, and there's just no reason to accept them. This is in addition to the harm that religiously motivated laws can do (teaching creationism as science, insisting on abst-only sex education, etc). Why would I want to be part of a damaging system which has no evidence in its favor and that flies in the face of all reason?
I've been asked why I don't believe in Christianity, and the first part of this document answered that. What, then, do I replace it with? Islam? Hinduism? Agnosticism? I replace religion with nothing. I embrace science, reason, and skepticism, but please don't make the mistake of thinking that my doing so means I "believe in science". That's not how science works, as I'll discuss further in a bit. All I'm saying is that I rely on evidence-based conclusions, nothing more and nothing less. I realize that I don't always do this perfectly--the occasional hyped up claim or unproven hypothesis can sneak in. I try, though, to look things up in trusted and/or multiple sources, and to find the evidence for things, before I accept them.
Isn't Science a Faith?
In a word: no. Faith is, as I mentioned before, belief in the absence of evidence. Science is just the opposite: belief in the presence of overwhelming evidence. More than that, though, science includes a self-correcting mechanism: verification. An experiment showing some result is considered preliminary until it is repeated by independent parties. If they all get the same result, things move forward. If not, the original team goes back to the drawing board. In this way, every fact and theory we have today is checked and re-checked until it is verified to the best of our ability, and only then is it accepted.
New hypotheses are put forward all the time; to become a theory (used here in the scientific sense of a verified, trusted rule, not the common meaning of a guess), requires a lot of work. The hypothesis must prove itself to be sound, and must make predictions that can then be experimentally verified (see above for how experiments are themselves verified). Eventually, if the hypothesis can make enough predictions and is not found to be inaccurate or unsupported in any way, it will be accepted as a theory. That's not to say that a theory cannot be incomplete in some way, or is not able to be replaced later, because both are possible. Insofar as a theory explains something, though, it must do so verifiably and convincingly unless and until it is updated or replaced by something better.
More than that, science is willing to accept new information and change its mind, so to speak. When Newton discovered gravity, he thought he had the full answer, and his math worked well for hundreds of years, except for the weird orbit of Mercury. Then, when Einstein came along with relativity, scientists eventually saw that he was right. Newtonian gravity was replaced by relativity, because we'd learned something new and discovered that what had been accepted science wasn't quite right. Even that took years of careful study, with relativity predicting things that were then tested. For instance, it explained the precession of Mercury, which Newton never managed. Finding out that you need to update your information is, to science, a good thing, because it means you've just updated your understanding and knowledge. With all this checking, it's a safe bet that what we think we know is pretty good, and what we aren't sure of will be tested like crazy. That seems as secure a framework as you can get, and none of it has to be taken on faith. To believe in religion is to have faith, because you can't have proof; to trust science is to demand proof for everything and only then accept it. No, science is not a faith.
You have faith your chair is going to work, though…
No, I don't, I have a belief based on strong evidence. I've sat in the chair many, many times, and it has yet to break. It shows no signs of stress or loose connections, and it hasn't made any funny noises so far. Faith would be my jumping off a building, believing that a special gust of wind would come out of nowhere and bear me safely to the ground. There's no evidence for that, and quite a bit against it. Trusting my chair is not faith, because there is evidence that the chair will support me without any problem.
Science is always changing and going back on itself. How can you trust it?
First, change is exactly the point. As new evidence is found, it gets verified, then worked into what we already know, or maybe what we thought we knew is completely replaced. Maybe it's a minor alteration, maybe it's a paradigm-shifting breakthrough, maybe it's somewhere in between. Whatever the case, change is the whole point--it's how we increase and refine our knowledge. People talk about change in science like it's somehow bad, but if science never changed, we'd never advance. For example, what if we'd stopped at magnetism, and no one had thought to test whether electricity and magnetism are parts of the same force? We'd never have electric motors or turbine generators!
As to science contradicting itself, yes, that's part of change. You can't very well update a previously accepted fact without admitting you were wrong, and sometimes that means saying the opposite of what you previously thought was true. Again, I fail to see how freely owning up to being wrong, and then issuing a correction, is so often viewed as a negative. Imagine if everyone were that honest…
What about the fine-tuning of the universe for life?
Physics has several hypotheses to explain this, all supported by varying amounts of evidence, none as of yet fully accepted. (This, by the way, is a perfect example of why science is reliable.) Just because we don't have a definite answer yet doesn't mean one isn't out there. Certainly, it doesn't mean that the Christian god is real, as I talked about in a previous section.
I again point to the apparent desire of Christians, in general, that we cease asking questions just so their god can remain the answer. Does the Earth orbit the sun? No, that's not biblical, so don't ask. Is the world truly ten thousand years old? Of course it is, because the Bible says so (if you interpret it literally), so don't bother trying to show anything different. Is the universe truly fine-tuned for life, or is there another explanation? Of course it is, because God. Now stop asking questions!
Besides, as others have pointed out before me, the universe isn't fine-tuned for life in many ways. If you think about it, all the life we know about exists on the surface of one planet. Human life--humans being God's special species, remember--is even more restricted. In this fine-tuned universe, we can live on one third of the skin of one planet around one star in one arm of one galaxy. Do you know how many other planets are in just this galaxy, let alone all the other galaxies out there? Additionally, using probabilities isn't a fair argument. What's the probability of the nuclear force being the value it is? The fact is, without knowing exactly how this universe came into being and whether it is the only universe in existence, we simply can't know that probability at all. It could be improbable, or it could be a certainty. We don't know.
But science can't explain…
I often hear the argument that science can't explain this or that. How the eye evolved, how our planet is so perfect for life, what caused the big bang, why love exists, where morality comes from, and more. Usually, the person making the statement is misinformed (evolution can explain the eye) or is trying to use the "god of the gaps" argument, where any gap in scientific knowledge somehow disproves all of science and makes that person's version of a deity undeniably true.
God of the Gaps
This "defense" is one of my major annoyances, because it makes so little sense and yet is used so often. It first homes in on a single gap in knowledge (even if evolution is true, what started it?) It then holds up this "gap" and declares that the gap makes the entire theory false (since evolution doesn't explain how life started, evolution is completely wrong). Finally, it says that, because science has this gap in its understanding, god--specifically, the god in which the arguer believes--is real. This, somehow, is proof of god!
In actuality, a single gap does not render incorrect all the other evidence and knowledge of a topic. All it means is that we have more learning to do. This is similar to the section above where I talked about not asking questions. Christians want us to see a gap, assume god, and stop there. Take this idea back some years, and imagine if we'd stopped at the gap of mercury; we can't explain Mercury's odd orbit with Newton's gravity. That's a gap in the current theory of gravity, therefore god exists. We'd stop there, never trying to fill in the gap, and we'd have no relativity, with all the wondrous things Einstein brought to the table. Going back further, consider lightning; god wills the lightning to strike where it does, and we can't explain it any other way. That's a gap, therefore god exists. No studying, no understanding, no filling the gap.
A gap does not invalidate a theory, somehow rendering all the evidence and predictions meaningless. I once again bring up Newton: the gap in his theory of gravity was Mercury's odd orbit. His math said Mercury should do one thing, but Mercury stubbornly refused to play ball, showing an oddity Newton's theory simply couldn't account for. That's a gap, but did it mean Newton's math failed across the board? Of course not! We used that math for hundreds of years, and we still use it today when the effects of relativity can safely be ignored, because it's easier math than relativity. Did the Mercury Gap somehow mean that the whole Newtonian model of gravity was wrong? No, it meant there was more to discover, not that the whole thing should be scrapped. It certainly didn't mean that the Christian god exists. If you look at the seatement that "a planet's odd orbit means my god is real" and shake your head, congratulations! Just realize that you, if you're a Christian who uses the "god of the gaps" defense, are saying the same thing when you say "science can't prove what kicked off evolution, so god exists". It's the same logic!
What If You're Wrong?
This invokes Pascal's Wager, which states, essentially:
- believe in God and be right: win everything.
- Believe in God and be wrong: lose nothing.
- Don't believe in God and be right: lose nothing.
- Don't believe in God and be wrong: lose everything.
This is meant to show that it's better to believe in God, since that's the only option where you stand to gain everything (read: heaven) and lose nothing. The alternative lets you either lose nothing or lose everything, thus making belief the obvious choice. There are two major problems with this, though.
First, you can't choose what to believe. Beliefs are a complex combination of environment, upbringing, evidence, and other factors. The day you found out Santa was a lie, could you have kept on believing in it? Sure, if someone at school had said it. But when you see the evidence, and/or your parents break the news, you can't just choose to believe if you no longer really do. Perhaps a different example: I want you to believe, right now, that there are magic fairies all over you. They're attached to every molecule of your body, and they constantly fly complex patterns that push those molecules around. That's how gravity works, it's how your blood moves through your body, and it's how atoms do what they do. It's all fairies. Do you believe it yet? Why not? Because you know better, and can't force yourself to truly, unshakably believe something like that. Exactly my point.
Second, even if you fake it to the rest of the world, you're only taking out an insurance plan against hell. You choose the better option and fake your sincerity, just in case you're wrong about there being no god. Would an all powerful, all knowing deity not know that? You're supposed to believe out of love and humility, not make it up as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and God knows which reason you have. How is this supposed to help you? Additionally, if you really believe this, you should believe in every religion simultaneously, just in case another one is right and yours is wrong. Obviously, since this wager applies to your religion, it applies equally to all the others, right?
But Religion and Science Can Co-Exist
In some ways, maybe. After all, religion doesn't generally have anything to say on fluid mechanics, so an aerospace engineer and a preacher can probably get along just fine. However, religion has historically tried to stop scientific inquiry and discovery for dogmatic reasons. It also makes people waste time, energy, and money on things that don't matter. How much paper and money is used to print all the unused bibles in all the hotel rooms across the United States right now? I won't spend more time on this question, because I already answered it in this other post.
That's About It
That's about it. There's more I could say, but I don't want to expand on every single point or I'd never finish writing this. Hopefully this gives you a basic idea of why I can't believe in any god, holy book, spirit world, afterlife, or anything else that's not demonstrably true. For more on all these topics, and more, I invite you to check out the below sources. I'd also suggest going on Youtube and looking for official debates or talks on the subjects, preferably by people who disagree with you. Are you Christian but want to know why I don't accept Creationism? Look for a talk by an evolutionary biologist. Believe in biblical reliability? Look up a talk by a trustworthy secular scholar or historian. You get the idea. That's how I started, and, though it took a long time, I first found my way out of religion and then began to reconstruct my entire worldview. Above all, don't be afraid to challenge your beliefs, especially if you can't explain why you hold them.
I particularly like Matt Dellahunty's channel, for his Atheist Debates series, and many of Aron Ra's videos. There are many others, and there are a lot of podcasts you may also find interesting: The Thinking Atheist, Dogma Debate, and The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe are three I highly recommend for various reasons.
Hello, reader. I don't know who you are, or what your belief system is. I don't know if you value logic and reason over religion, or if your
Before I get to the questions I'd love some Christians to answer, I wanted to briefly explain why I'm bothering to post this at all. As you know if