When I was a young boy, my parents were not particularly religious. You might think of them as having been ‘Christmas and Easter Christians’ because those were about the only events that were significant enough to move them to attend a service at the local Anglican church.
My aunt and uncle, however, were much stronger Christians. They had been attending a modern evangelical church for quite some time. In 1996, when I was about 10, they finally managed to persuade my parents to go with them to one of these services. Before long, my parents ‘saw the light’ and were successfully converted to this new faith.
We began attending regular Sunday services at a young evangelical church that met in a school hall just around the block from our house. At the age of about 12, I ‘gave my life to Jesus’ by reciting a short prayer, guided by my mother. On a few occasions, we hosted baptisms in our swimming pool and our back yard would be packed with happy people from our little church community. I enjoyed the vague sense of being involved with something of importance that events of this nature gave me.
As I grew up, though, I became less interested in church. Not being much of a socialite, the community aspects didn’t fulfil me. I had far more interesting things to do than use up a perfectly good Sunday morning worshipping a god that I had never really felt or listening to a preach that just rehashed the same ideas in slightly different ways each time.
And so, at about the age of 18, I stopped going to church regularly. In a sense, I became like a ‘Christmas and Easter Christian’ – attending church rarely but continuing to believe in god throughout my early twenties. It was during this period that I started to notice how certain core principles of Christianity seemed a bit contrived and absurd but I continued to bolster my belief in god with typical musings on the infinite – “How could the universe just pop into existence?”
As I progressed into my later twenties, my naturally sceptical nature was maturing and my belief in god was fading. I just wanted to get on with my life and do the things that interested me and so I avoided thinking too much about the subject of god. I thought to myself: “If a god does exist, hopefully he’s a benevolent one and will sympathise with my natural tendencies.”
One day, while browsing Youtube for humorous Mitchell and Webb videos, I came across one where they were satirising some religious absurdity. Then I came across one where they were satirising Richard Dawkins. Not surprisingly, Youtube soon recommended a video where the actual Richard Dawkins was destroying some silly argument made by a Christian on a talk show. From there, I found myself watching many more videos featuring the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others. It was like brain food for my sceptical and critical thinking faculties. I watched dozens of lengthy talks, debates, discussions and documentaries over the course of about 4 months.
I soon realised that my apathetic, fence-sitting view on this subject was stupid and lazy. Not only was there no good reason for me to continue to believe in the existence of god but it became apparent to me that religion was doing much more harm than good to our culture.
I’m 29 years old and I vaguely regret taking so long to reach this point. I guess that’s what happens when critical thinking about a certain topic is suppressed.
Now that you’ve heard my story, it’s time to elaborate on the reasoning…
Evidence And Scepticism
The debate between religion and irreligion is broad, sophisticated and multi-facetted. However, when you boil it down, you are ultimately left with a very simple core contention – the religious see something good in faith whereas the irreligious regard faith as a subversion of intellectual honestly that compromises our minds.
Given this, the core argument against belief in god is very simple – there is no evidence to prove that god exists. In making this assertion, I am assuming a certain standard of evidence that I think is not unreasonable. For me, the bar would have to be set irresponsibly low before any of the traditional ‘evidence’ would make it over. When deciding on matters of political policy or healthcare, for example, such a low standard would not be acceptable.
There is not much difference between the way that religious doctrine is taught and the way that any other knowledge is disseminated and accepted throughout a population. The key difference, though, is the suppression of critical thinking within ardent religious circles. Within these communities, it is often regarded as virtuous to embrace the religious doctrine in spite of all the evidence and reasoning that might contradict it.
We live in a world where globalization has exposed individuals to myriad diverse cultures and ways of life. A wealth of philosophical understanding and scientific knowledge has been broadcasted. This has vastly eroded the authority of religious dogma. Before this era of globalization, isolated cultures wouldn’t have needed faith to believe their religious doctrines. Nowadays, it really does take a leap of irrational faith to believe them.
I argue that forcing oneself to believe in unbelievable things is a prostitution of the mind. Faith would not be necessary if religious doctrine made perfect sense. The excessive credulity and acquiescence that is expected of the devotees of so many religions should serve as an indicator of their doctrines’ falsehoods. There is no reason for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence. What kind of god would expect the contrary? Not a god at all, I submit.
The lack of evidence in favour of god’s existence is enough for me to justify my unbelief. As it so happens, there is also ample evidence that counts against god’s existence, provided that we’re talking about the type of god envisioned by theistic religions. This evidence is derived from the absurdities that exist within theistic religions. As a former Christian, I’d like to briefly look at some of the absurdities within that religion.
If we assume a completely naive, literalist approach to scripture, a veritable banquet of nonsense emerges and is effortlessly crushed by the gentlest caress of logic. The Noah’s Ark story, for example, portrays God as a bumbling, reckless tinkerer who tries to fix his flawed creation by mind-controlling animals to embark on impossibly long treks, commissioning an old man to construct an insufficiently enormous boat to carry said animals, and then cruelly drowning almost every living thing on the planet.
The Old Testament goes on to chronicle a litany of murders, rapes and genocides that are either directly ordered or tacitly condoned by God. It is scarcely believable that such a pitiless monster really exists, especially when you consider that this same being is also credited with creating the majesty of the entire cosmos.
If we move on to a less literal reading of the Bible, the picture becomes marginally more agreeable. Christian apologists assume a much more sophisticated interpretation of scripture and, in doing so, are able to glean a variety of interesting and often very poetic views of the Christian tradition. That’s all very well, but there are certain core tenets of the doctrine that you would be hard-pressed to explain away with poetry. You can’t really practice Christianity in any meaningful sense unless you believe that Jesus was really the incarnation of God and that his sacrifice really atoned for your sins.
I regard this core tenet as one of the most noticeable absurdities. The idea that god had himself sacrificed to himself is just … silly. Apologists will try to paint a rosy picture around this but it won’t cut it for me. It is unbecoming of a perfect, omniscient being to require any kind of sacrificial offering.
Possibly the biggest absurdity is the idea of revelation, which is common to all theistic religions. It is completely ridiculous to think that an entity intelligent enough to create the universe would choose to reveal himself to us through the occasional intercessor (prophets) and disseminate his expectations via the changing and fallible human language and writing systems (the Bible).
The Bible itself is a collection of man-made books that were selected from a wide variety of religious texts by a committee in whom we have no reason to place our trust. It honestly strikes me as idolatry even for a Christian to view the Bible as if it were the perfect word of God. The only way by which most Christians manage to maintain their faith is by remaining completely ignorant of its origins and choosing to ignore the mountains of dogma that simply doesn’t make any sense as soon as you approach it with a reasonable, rational mindset.
Religion Operates At A Loss
There are extremely few good things that can be credited exclusively to religion. Virtually all altruistic and charitable works are just as readily achieved in purely secular circumstances. If anything, religion just encourages people to fruitlessly pray for good things to happen rather than take action to make good things happen.
Religion seems to have garnered an undeserved monopoly on righteousness and morality. Many religious people take the astonishingly condescending view that non-religious people have no basis for their morality, as if to imply that humans are incapable of feeling empathy without God. I think that people who profess this view reveal an unsettling and suspicious shallowness in their personalities. How can a moral framework be superior if it’s predicated on paying homage to God rather than on reason? There are many good reasons to be nice to our fellow humans and the fear of eternal damnation is not one of them.
Fundamentalist and orthodox religious views exert a divisive pressure on relationships. The stakes are massively raised in any difference of opinion concerning religion because people have been lead to believe that the cost of being wrong might be infinite. I find it very sad to imagine the unnecessary worry that a religious person might endure when they believe that a loved-one is destined to hell.
The claims of most religions are completely incompatible with all other religions so, if one religion is right, most of the others have to be wrong. Pious adherents of one religion will often view other religions as demonic and this has proved devastating for intercultural relations for thousands of years. People like to say that religious conflicts are really just about power and politics but to exonerate religion entirely is to ignore the elephant in the room. Religion plays an aggravating role in intercultural disputes and is often used to justify a greater intensity of violence than would likely be seen otherwise.
Pious subscription to theistic religions comes at a great cost but almost nothing is gained from it. People remain devoted to their dogma through the act of faith, which is a way of irrationally believing a proposition without sufficient evidence or reason to support it. I therefore think that theistic religion is unjustified. People should be encouraged to think critically about religion and discouraged from taking religion seriously.
For Your Consideration
If you subscribe to some religion that claims revealed truth, I urge you to consider the information and arguments that may change your mind. This will be for your own benefit. Allow yourself to ask questions, think rationally and be intellectually honest.
The arguments in this post have been presented quite briefly. They form a small part of a much more comprehensive suite of arguments that I hope you will give your attention to. To help with this, I have prepared a list of content for your consideration:
15 thoughts on “Faith Is Not A Virtue”
Well, well Matthew, someone sent me your post. Much of what you say is absolutely true and obvious but consider another truth; religion has been deceived by these lies. Had you spent the time in seeking the truth rather than uncovering deception; undoubtably G D HIMSELF would have revealed Himself to you. He does not need to reveal Himself.
You write – “It is unbecoming of a perfect, omniscient being to require any kind of sacrificial offering.” – that is true. He does not need anything, least of all a sacrifice as pagans understand it. But you and I need a blast shield to approach The Almighty G d Who is a consuming fire.
Question – What now will you do with YESHUA (some call Him Jesus; it means Saviour) there is more than ample evidence of His life death and RESURRECTION?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your concern, Dave, but I have heard these arguments before and I am as unconvinced by them as ever. If God really existed, I don’t think he would allow his religion(s) to be deceived by lies. He would reveal himself to everyone equally so that none may be ‘lead astray’, so to speak. The fact that he doesn’t do this suggests that he is either incapable or he just doesn’t care. To me, it seems much more likely that no god exists than that an impotent, callous god does exist.
With regards to evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, I would say that the evidence is so extremely weak that it doesn’t really qualify as evidence at all. Please consider the following short videos, which will help you to understand my position on this point:
Christopher Hitchens Destroys Biblical miracle claims [3:20]
The Problem With Miracles (Sam Harris) [3:53]
I’m not arguing with you about G D or how you perceive Him but, what will you do with Yeshua? You have obviously not looked at the evidence.
But you will one day stand before Him whether you believe or not.
What you believe doesn’t change the facts.
Also it is obvious you never met and struggled with G d.
For you it’s only been religion not relationship. Had you met Him you could not deny Him.
Another thing for you to seriously consider is by declaring as you do there is no god. You make yourself a fool as the psalmist says. Rather consider the millions of extremely clever inteligent folk, many PHD’s included who will declare to you the opposite. Are you saying they are deceived?
I personally left a very lucrative career and farm to follow Him, for the past 30 years He has proven Himself faithfully at EVERY TURN. But I guess you would say I am deceived and it’s all coincidence and imagination. Sad Matthew when a person can’t conceive of reality outside their own intellect or imagination or world they live in.
Shalom my friend I pray god has mercy on you.
You have asserted that the existence of God is an indisputable fact. This is an extraordinary claim and the burden of proof is on religious people to provide the extraordinary evidence required to support this claim. I have looked at lots of the evidence and have found it all to be wholly unsatisfactory.
What the psalmist says is irrelevant to me because I don’t regard the Bible as authoritative.
With regards to all the intelligent people who believe in God – I don’t know of any easy or diplomatic way of saying this but – yes, I think you are deceived. I think that belief in God is maintained by various cognitive biases and logical fallacies, such as confirmation bias, expectation bias, assuming causation from mere correlation, false pattern recognition (apophenia), just-world fallacy, seeing value and meaning where there is none, divine fallacy (argument from incredulity), etc.
You should also be aware that ending with “I pray god has mercy on you” is quite easily viewed as a thinly veiled threat and doesn’t help strengthen your argument. In fact, appealing to peoples’ fears in this way is yet another example of why this sort of religion is evil.
Hello again Matthew,
Forgive me but I am not arguing about the existence of YHWH. (God of the Hebrews)
My question to you was and is, what will you do with Yeshua (Jesus)? Whose historicity is indisputable. His life death and resurrection.
I guess you would rather I close – best wishes. Does that mean I believe in luck?
But I don’t.
“What will you do with Yeshua?” – This question seems oddly phrased to me but I’ll answer it in a straight-forward fashion by saying that I will do nothing with Yeshua. I see no good reason to ‘do’ anything with him.
Forgive me again Matthew. I presume too much. How do you now answer Him/Yeshua/Jesus in His claim to be the Messiah of Israel, the final judge of all mankind and His resurrection from the dead to prove all His claims. As I said previously His historicity is beyond question. As an evolutionist and atheist what part will His resurrection play in your scepticism? If He had not risen from the grave according to scripture and His constant claim during His life you could easily dispel Him. BUT HE DID!
So my question – how will you respond? You will have much to answer for my friend.
I reject his alleged claim to be any kind of messiah or judge.
Contrary to what you say, the historical accuracy of the gospel story of Jesus is by no means beyond question. The gospel accounts of his life, death and resurrection were written decades after the supposed events (between 65 and 110 AD). The earliest account in Mark was written at least 3 decades after Jesus’ death. None of the authors of the four gospels were eye-witnesses and nor was Paul.
The gospel stories must have been assembled by their authors based on oral traditions that had been in circulation since the time that the first few ‘witnesses’ formed the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. These first believers would have been illiterate, uneducated, superstitious individuals. There are discrepancies between the four gospels, which attest to the fact that these stories were modified before ever being written down.
We don’t even have the gospel authors’ original manuscripts and instead have to rely on copies of copies of copies, most of which contain differences. Some of the these differences are quite significant such as entire verses being included in some copies whilst not appearing in other copies. How can you possibly say that these four discrepant accounts of Jesus’ story are inerrant and present accurate historic facts?
Perhaps these stories might be more believable if they didn’t contain any claims about supernatural occurrences. Instead we have crazy stories of people being raised from the dead and various other extraordinary claims that violate our understanding of how the world works. There is no way that these events can be believed based purely on an ancient scripture.
I am sorry but there is plenty of evidence outside of the gospels of the historicity of Yeshua.
There are numerous books written on the extra biblical evidence.
Besides the extra biblical evidence history and fulfilment of biblical prophecy is undeniable.
But one can’t help a person who is determined to be blind and deaf.
Hello again Matthew,
Just a note about Dr Richard Dawkins teaching. Science has real problems, I know my son is one and he could tell you of many.
Here is one such example – Carbon -14
Because half of the radioactive carbon-14 in anything decays to nonradioactive material in 5,730 years, things that are supposedly millions of years old cannot possibly have any. At least that’s what evolutionary scientists always thought.
On the other hand, scientists who believe in a young creation realized that nothing that has carbon in it should be too old to date. So they decided to see what results they would get dating coal and oil, which are supposed to be tens to hundreds of millions of years old.
Ten coal samples that were supposedly 34 to 311 million years old were tested. All 10 samples contained traces of carbon-14. Then they tested diamonds, which are supposed to be at least a billion years old. Again, they found carbon-14 in every sample tested. Keep in mind that they found carbon-14 in every coal, oil and diamond sample they tested. Evolutionary theory says that not one of these samples could possibly have carbon-14! Clearly, evolutionary claims about the ancient ages of these substances have scientifically and conclusively been proven wrong.
Scripture says that wisdom is more precious than even the most precious gems. Scripture also tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. True fear of the Lord is engendered by His love to us in Christ Jesus.
Dave, I was going to let you have the last word with your previous comment but, in your latest comment, you’ve said some things that cannot go unanswered. Seeing as I’m now taking the time to respond, I may as well comment on your former post as well.
I’ll start by saying that I am not denying the existence of Jesus. Whilst some scholars have produced theories to support the idea that Christ was merely a myth invented by early Christians, this view is not held by the majority of scholars. Most scholars agree that Jesus existed and there are two key events that are regarded as matters of historical fact – namely his baptism by John the Baptist and his crucifixion by order of Pontius Pilate.
The primary extra-biblical sources such as Tacitus and Josephus only mention Jesus briefly and lack detailed corroboratory descriptions of his resurrection. Also, the passage found in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of Josephus’s Antiquities is generally regarded as a partial interpolation and therefore not as reliable as you might like.
You cannot prove the supernatural events surrounding Jesus really occurred. You can only have faith that those supernatural events occurred and I have argued that faith is not a virtue.
Now, onto this carbon-14 business. In response to the claim that coal deposits shouldn’t have any carbon-14 in them, I direct you to this article. By the way, carbon-14 dating is not effective beyond about 40,000 or 50,000 years, which is why several other dating methods are used as well. Isotopes such as uranium-238, uranium-235 and potassium-40 are used and these have half-lives of more than a million years.
For more information on scientific responses to creationist claims, see this FAQ.
You should also consider that many Christian denominations accept the scientific fact that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the diversity of life is the result of evolution. Perhaps there is value and meaning to be found in an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. I would encourage you to view the Bible as a literary work of art rather than some kind of divine instruction manual.
By professing your belief in young-earth creationism, you make yourself look like a crackpot conspiracy theorist. There are much more interesting things to be discussed surrounding the topic of religion and I have little interest in wasting my time debunking this sort of pseudo-scientific nonsense.
Hello Again Matthew,
I’m not arguing foe a young earth and am sorry to have gotten drawn into that, it is surely futile as I also can send reference after reference, it’s pointless.
But for you YHWH speaks very clearly as I was reminded when speaking to a friend in Israel on Friday; he said to me all they want is a sign. True as Rabbi Shaul (Paul) says in his letter to the Corinthian assembly. And the Greeks seek wisdom. But GOD has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and GOD has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world and things which are despised has GOD chosen, yes and things which are not, to bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
Now you may struggle to understand this but YHWH will one day show you when you find you aren’t able any more to hold things together for yourself.
There comes a day for all men.
Until then Matthew – see how things work out for you.
Hello Matthew, I just read this from a site I often receive mail from; I was so amazed. What do you think my friend?
Sometimes it seems as if God made some creatures just to show us He could do the impossible. Many of these creatures, by their strange nature, offer direct challenges to evolutionary theory, since there was no evolutionary need for their unique nature.
One such creature is a bacterium that has been labeled “the toughest bug on Earth.” Its Latin name means “strange berry that withstands radiation.” It can withstand thousands of times the radiation that would kill a human. The bacterium was first isolated in the 1950s, but a scientist who began studying the bug in 1988 said, “I had difficulty believing anything like this could exist.”
Many bacteria form hard capsules around themselves in response to radiation. While this provides some protection, the “strange berry” doesn’t form a capsule and still survives better than any other bug. While 500 to 1,000 rads of radiation would kill a human being, the “strange berry” can withstand 1.5 million rads. The radiation shatters the “berry’s” DNA into hundreds of fragments, a hundred times the fragmentation that is fatal to other bacteria. But a couple of hours later, the DNA is stitched back together, free of all mutations.
Evolutionists are puzzled because there is no environment containing this much radiation. Why would evolution develop such a creature? The “strange berry” not only challenges evolution directly, but also declares the skill and wisdom of its Creator!
Whilst the fact of this bacteria’s existence is an interesting one from a scientific perspective, it strikes me as completely irrelevant to this context. The question of “Did we evolve or were we created?” seems more and more corny to me as time goes by. I wish I could somehow give you a sense of how disinterested I am in this talking point. My mind will certainly not be changed by this sort of information. It won’t be the existence of a certain bacteria that restores my faith.
This was an articulate summary of the main arguments I’ve heard (and used) against organized religion.
I’ve always been amazed at the callousness I usually hear when I ask a fundamentalist Christian if it’s the responsibility of each citizen of Iran to completely go against their entire culture and government and ruin (or end) their lives by “coming to Christ”. After all, Christ speaks to and calls these people too. They know deep in their hearts that Christ is “The Way” and martyrdom is a small price to pay.
Sure, some are saying exactly the same thing over there about us, but those people are backwards and brown and misinformed, and for a Christian to contemplate joining Islam is a rejection of God, so it’s totally different.
Also, a cliche, if you believe some apologists who say native tribes who have never heard of Jesus get a pass on going to hell, then who could be justified in bringing him there?
I decided to check out athiesm the day I picked up a pamphlet about how, actually, no dogs go to heaven because they don’t have souls. Religion ain’t nice where I’m from.
That said, realize that most of these arguments are specifically against Christian dogma, and many only address fringe fundamentalist beliefs. Some folks down in Podunk may have built theirselves and America’s God a real nice strawman and it’s fun to blow it over, but most people will just shrug and point out “that doesn’t apply to me”. Scroll up for a reminder of how the rest react. It’s hilariously obvious that many of these humble people who only want to win souls have obvious contempt for the concept of winning hearts and minds, but is Dawkins really much better in this regard? The volume peaks on both sides, and both sides are conflating religion and spirituality and god. Agnostics, secular humanists, the progressive religious and the contemplatively spiritual all refuse to make a false binary choice just because their culture is yelling at them to, and I think it’s ironic to call that evidence of a weak mind.