Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
I'd be happy to discuss any of these points with any rational person.
On a similar subject, Ramblings on religion
Why do people believe in God? Because there is a great chain of people that started millennia ago who passed the delusion on from one generation to the next. Religion is a monument to human gullibility.
On and off all my adult life I have read Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy; I highly recommend it to any thinking person. In reading it recently I have been reminded that most, or even all, of the great philosophers up to at least John Locke (1632-1704) seemed to accept that there had to be a god; apparently without seriously questioning the idea. There is very little else that they accepted with apparently so little questioning.
But did they really accept the god delusion, or did they not dare to say that they found the proposition of a God or gods unsupportable?
How could we to try to find out if any of them did realise that there was no god? Would they perhaps avoid the subject of a god or gods in their writing all together? Or were even philosophers so indoctrinated that they took the existence of a god for granted? I find this hard to believe.
Before the great advancement of science around the nineteenth century the god concept could be used to explain anything not otherwise explainable; the reason the world was as it was for example. But surely at least some philosophers would have understood that inventing a god to explain the Universe only put the question one step back; how did the god come about? It seems to me that we are forced to conclude that society gave philosophers no alternative but to believe in god or pretend that they did; or at least to not publicly question God's existence. After the mid twentieth century, when science had explained most of the big questions, there ceased to be any need for a god.
This page aims to show that it is impossible for an educated rational person to sustain a belief in God. If you believe in God you must be, to some extent, either irrational or naïve, or both.
If you are still reading and you believe in God it indicates that there might be at least some hope for you. Those believers who have closed minds are, by definition, not interested in rational argument.
It is not my intention to offend people with this page, but I believe that religion is responsible for much more bad than good; that the world would be in a much better condition than it presently is without religion. This being so it follows that I feel a responsibility to promote the case against religion.
Many people who say that they believe, or perhaps really do believe, that they accept one or another of the religions do so because they are terrified of admitting that they have doubts; to have doubts is to risk eternal torture. (I sometimes wonder how these people think of atheists; do they envy the lack of fear that atheists enjoy? Another interesting diversion is to consider that the eternal torture bit was invented for the New Testament, the bit of the Bible that supposedly talks about a loving and forgiving God; the Old Testament was less explicit about Hell.) Getting back to the fear of Hell point, you really don't need to fear Hell because it can be shown that none of us have an immortal soul, so there is no afterlife to fear.
Arguing for Creation Science or Intelligent Design is futile because for argument to mean anything it must rely on the logical evaluation of all the available evidence. To believe in Creation Science or Intelligent Design you must accept some evidence and reject other evidence which is equally, or more, valid. This is irrational. To be able to argue a point in any meaningful way you must be prepared to consider all the relevant evidence on its merits and with an open mind, and you must be prepared to accept and make logical connections from evidence to conclusion.
It is important that rational people – those who believe that we have a right to freedom of thought, to be allowed to appreciate art, to live our lives as we choose so long as we do not disadvantage others – make a stand. If we do not then there is a very real risk that our world will become dominated by religious bigots who will tell us what to do and how to think. Freedom of thought is a right that must be cherished, during most of our history it is a right that religious bigotry did not allow us.
EveryStudent.com . This page claimed to provide six reasons to believe that God exists. None of them stand up to rational examination. My reasons for not believing them are given below, using the same numbering as on the EveryStudent page.
Another search, this time using the words, 'is there a god?', brought up another EveryStudent site. This page gave a rather different set of reasons for believing in God. I have treated those questions below the first six.
1. "The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today."This argument, as expanded in EveryStudent.com, is that the Earth is ideal for human life; therefore it must have been designed for us. It is refuted by the anthropic principle. Very simply, if the Earth was not well suited for us to live on, we would not be here to argue the point. This is no argument for intelligent design or God at all.
Evolution has modified humanity to make him suit our environment. The Earth suits us because we have evolved to suit it.
EveryStudent goes on to make a similar argument about the properties of water. It is very true that water has properties that make it a unique substance and one essential to life. This argument is a strange one: Life evolved on Earth. Water has existed on Earth for billions of years.
Water has properties that are particularly useful for living organisms.
Why would living organisms not have evolved to use water when it is so wonderfully well suited for life's processes?
Would the argument against the existence of God be stronger if life used some other substance less well suited for life processes instead of water?
I don't think so.
Of course it is! It evolved by a long series of steps going back three billion years. While every one of those millions or billions of steps depended to some extent on chance, the end result is anything but chance. Each step was a mutation and it was tested by its result. If it caused a change that made the organism more likely to produce viable offspring the mutation was passed on to the next generation; much more often it caused the organism to die.
This argument either completely ignores organic evolution or the people who put if forward have no understanding of organic evolution.
This 'reason' to believe in God is the intelligent design argument.
It has been dealt with by authors such as Richard Dawkins in his book
The Blind Watchmaker and is also handled on Wikipedia –
3. "'Chance' or 'natural causes' are insufficient explanation."In part this section uses exactly the same argument of 2 above, that chance is not sufficient cause for the life we see on Earth. I will not repeat my refutation of that argument.
EveryStudent states that "science confirms" that life cannot arise from non life. This is a false claim. Anyone making such a claim cannot understand the
4. "To state with certainty that there is no God, a person has to ignore the passion of an enormously vast number of people who are convinced that there is a God"Something that comes to my mind immediately here is the Chinese proverb: "If a thousand people say a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing."
An obvious question that arrises in response to the claim is "Which God?" There is a multitude of different gods, even within Christianity the God of the Old Testament is very different from the one in the New Testament. The God of Jesus seems to me very different to the God of Saint Paul and many of the current variations of the Christian Church.
Bertrand Russell suggested that the argument for the existence or non-existence of God was similar to arguing that there is a porcelain teapot in orbit around the Sun beyond Jupiter. How to prove it or disprove it? But no-one would take the teapot hypothesis seriously without evidence. Why should we accept the God hypothesis without evidence?
Thousands of (religious) people believed that witches were real several hundred years ago; most people, religious or otherwise would now say that witches exist only in the minds of superstitious people.
The fact that millions of Christians believe in the existence of the Christian God, millions of Hindus believe in the existence of thousands of Hindu Gods, etc., etc., suggests that they can't all be right. Could it not be that they are all wrong?
5. "We know God exists because he pursues us. He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him."This argument is based on a completely unprovable feeling that the author of the EveryStudent page has. Millions of people have bizarre superstitious beliefs (water divination for example), they prove nothing.
6. "Unlike any other revelation of God, Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God pursuing us."Here EveryStudent claims that Jesus said he was God and no other prophet or teacher, such as Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius or Moses did so. This is seen as proof that the others might have been profits, but Jesus really was God.
Jesus did not leave us any written record of what he claimed. All the records were written decades or more after his death; most of them by people who never knew Jesus. Can we be sure of what he claimed?
I'm sure that many deluded people have believed themselves to be someone or
something that they most definitely were not. If you met someone who
claimed to be God, would you take his/her word for it, or would you suspect
Answers to EveryStudent "Is there a God?" pageThis page is similar to the EveryStudent "Is God Real" page. It seems that the writers wanted to have a page with each of the two variations on the title.
"Throughout history, in all cultures of the world, people have been convinced there is a God"This argument is similar to number 4, above. The Chinese proverb I quoted in that section can be repeated here: "If a thousand people say a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing".
There are other flaws in the argument.
"Humankind's inherent sense of right and wrong cannot be biologically explained"Richard Dawkins explains in his book "The God Delusion" how most of us do, in fact, come by an inherent sense of right and wrong due to our evolution; see Recommended reading below. His arguments are too long for me to repeat them here, but in part it is about improving your chances to pass on your genes to the next generation by living an exemplary life and thus gaining the approval of the society in which you live; survival of the fittest where fitness to live in harmony with your society is important.
The great majority of us learn the difference between right and wrong as we grow up, usually with a lot of help from our parents. We learn that if we expect people to treat us well, we must treat them well. Some of us seem not to have a sense of right and wrong at all (did God forget to provide it to these people?).
We certainly could not get a sense of right and wrong from the Old Testament, which teaches that killing non-Jews is good, killing homosexuals is good, and slaughtering whole races of people who do not believe in your god (saving only the virgin girls for your own 'use') is wonderful. (I have written about biblical examples such as these elsewhere.)
Some theists (believers in god) argue that if you abandon religion then you abandon all reason for living a good life. This argument, of course, would contradict the argument that humankind has an inherent sense of right and wrong. The implication of this argument is that the only reason religious people live an ethical life (supposing that they do live an ethical life) is that they fear retribution from God if they do not live well. This gives a very poor impression of the character of these people.
Finally, I would point out that research has indicated that atheists are, in general, more ethical than religious people.
All About Philosophy.
This is a curiously named page because I'm sure any philosopher worth his salt would pick many holes in its reasoning.
There are sound reasons in physics that make it impossible, or at least very difficult, to 'scientifically' know what came before the Big Bang (indeed, time before the Big Bang might have been meaningless; time quite probably started with the Big Bang). But if we were to say that God must have come before the Big Bang it does not solve the problem. How did God get there? It just adds one more level of detail and places the problem one more step back.
You could say that God has always been, he is beyond time and space, the question of where he came from is unanswerable. Using this argument confirms my primary theses, that if you want to believe in God you must put rational argument aside.
AllAboutPhilosophy wrongly equates evolution with natural selection, this turns a blind eye to over a hundred years of the science of evolution. While natural selection is an important part of evolution it is far from the whole story, Charles Darwin understood that natural selection could not entirely explain evolution. As AllAboutPhilosophy rightly states, natural selection is a conservative process, it can only shuffle genes that already exist. Mutation of genes was not known in Darwin's time. It provides the innovation that is essential for organic evolution to work.
"Is God real? How can I know for sure that God is real?"
The answer given on this page is "We know that God is real because He has
revealed Himself to us in three ways: in creation, in His Word,
and in His Son, Jesus Christ."
I was brought up a (Methodist, Protestant) Christian.
I believed in God until I was in my teens, then I realised the error of
What has 'divine revelation' shown us about the world we live in?
Where, in any 'holy book', was knowledge revealed to Man by god?
Nothing and nowhere.
We learn about the world and the Universe by observation and by the application of science.
Science has explained most of what people used to ascribe to the work of God. Some people still believe in miracles, but miracles have never been convincingly proven to happen.
A long standing tenet of science is 'Ockham's Razor'. Ockham's Razor tells us that if more than one hypothesis fit the available evidence then the simplest one is to be preferred. The god hypothesis is no more productive than Bertrand Russell's teapot. Why hypothesize the existence of a god when that hypothesis answers no questions?
There is no scientifically verifiable evidence that a god or gods exist
and hypothesizing a god does not answer any questions.
Universe could be understood by studying it and proposing rational hypotheses to explain what one saw. It must have been about then that people started to see that it was not necessary to suppose that there had to be a god to move the planets around and to make seeds germinate. (Perhaps the ancient Greeks had similar inklings?) A god is not needed to explain how the Universe works.
The concept of an immortal soul is demonstrably falseIf there is nothing beyond the death of the body, there is very little use for religion, we can and should study ethics to tell us how to live and what is right and wrong. I explain why the concept of an immortal soul is quite absurd on another page on this site.
From the year 622 there were wars between Christians and Muslims, both of whom supposedly believed in the same god (the Muslims believed in one more prophet than the Christians accepted).
Since Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church there have been many other people and groups forming branches of the Christian religion. Why are there no break-away Christian groups, other than the Eastern Orthodox, that date back from the institutionalisation of Christianity by Emperor Theodosius I around 390AD (Rome's Christian Emperors) to 1517 when Luther produced his 95 Thesis? This is a period of over 1100 years. There are no surviving break-away groups because those who started such groups were sooner or later ruthlessly forced to remain in the main-stream, with the authorities often using torture or execution for those who resisted. They were called heretics and were forced to believe, or at least to pretend to believe, the same as the dominant group.
After Martin Luther there were wars in Europe between Protestants and Catholics for hundreds of years, each group trying to force their beliefs onto the other. Many of those who migrated to the New World did so to escape religious persecution.
In my life time there has been:
Some advocates of religion put forward what they believe to be the counter claim that more people have been killed by atheists than by religious people. While there have been very bad atheists, just as there have been very bad theists – the point is that atheists have very rarely killed people because of their beliefs; religious people have killed untold millions because of their beliefs. No wars have been fought by atheists trying to force their beliefs onto others; "Good people have done good things and bad people have done bad things. For good people to do bad things religion is required".
I have written more on Christian intolerance
on another page.
Theologians have long sought a way around this problem, an excuse for God allowing evil and harm. One attempted justification is, they say, that God gave humans free will, and it is humans that have caused all the harm, pain and evil. This does not explain why animals have to live with the pain and misery caused by injuries inflicted by accidents, other animals, disease and parasites.
If God is good, why did he allow (or even encourage) some of the terrible crimes done in his name in the Bible?
Also see the Epicurean paradox.
The God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God that Jesus taught about. The God of the Old Testament was cruel, unforgiving, and looked after only his chosen people. Consider, for example, the way that Moses treated the Midianites. The God of Jesus was a much more enlightened and kind entity. I wonder, did Jesus teach about Hell and eternal torment, or is that some invention of those who came later? I don't know.
Even the Old Testament contradicts itself. As most Christians will know, one of the Ten Commandments is "Thou shalt not kill". This is simple and unambiguous. Yet there are a great number of references in the Old Testament to people killing other people with God's sanction. There are even at least three places where it is written that a man has the right to kill his son if that son is not obedient! (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
The Bible is a hodgepodge. Not only does the New Testament largely contradict the Old, but within the New Testament there are writings from many people. 'Saint' Paul never met Jesus, yet he played a very large part in shaping Christianity. Emperor Constantine I, with his Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, also played a big part in redefining Christianity. The anonymous authors (note the plural) of Revelations (the last 'Book' in the New Testament) added their slant to the forming Christianity.
Why should we accept, without evidence, that all these people new exactly who God was and what he wanted?
(See Chatting with (archangel) Michael)
Under Islam it is unacceptable for an artist to portray any other life-form, even plants. This is because Mohammed was trying to steer people away from worshiping idols – as was commonly done in the Mecca of his youth. He reasoned that if people could not make images of any plant or animal then they could not use that as an image to be worshipped. I suspect that most Westerners don't realise how much poorer fundamentalist Islamic countries are for this; most of what we call art is banned! Under the Taliban in Afghanistan even music – other than in praise of Allah – was also banned.
Under Christianity, when the Church ran the Western World, the situation was not much better. Religious art was acceptable, but secular art was frowned upon. Music praising God was OK, music simply as an art form was thought somehow sinful. (There are still hangovers from this sort of thinking; traditional Irish dancers don't move their arms because the Catholic Church held that that was too sensual and therefore sinful.)
There are Christians in most or all Western countries, but especially in the USA, who do not allow their children to go to public schools, watch television, listen to the radio, or read newspapers because they want to force their own deluded beliefs onto their children. They are allowed to force their children to do what they would like to force the rest of us to do, if they could.
What a terribly poorer place the world would be for thinking, art appreciating, people if Christian or Islamic fundamentalists had their way!
I suspect that most of us do this all the time; for everyday beliefs. For example, I believe that the rain that has been falling off-and-on over the past couple of days is nearly finished. I am not sure of it, but I think it more likely than not. If pressed I'd say something like I'm 90% sure that there is less rain to come in the next 48 hours than there has been in the past 48 hours. This opinion is based on what I know of the Bureau of Meteorology's weather forecast and the impression I have built up over the years on the accuracy of those weather forecasts.
How firmly a belief is held should depend on how much evidence there is for that belief and how much reliance can be placed in that evidence. A belief that is held in spite of not being supported by any valid evidence is a superstition.
I know of no evidence that I could rely on that supports the existence of
a god or gods.
Religious fundamentalists – like those in the USA who claim that
'Creation Science' or 'Intelligent Design' is just as valid scientifically
as the truly scientific study of evolution – would corrupt science and
ban all those fields that they felt might lead to conclusions that didn't
suit their preconceptions, if they had the power.
Isn't there a contradiction here? Are we to believe that, no matter whether
you live an exemplary life or not, you must believe in God and believe
that redemption can only be achieved 'through Jesus' (whatever that means)
or your loving God will torture you for all eternity?
I have written more on religions and other superstitions in Ramblings on religion.
On this site...A list of pages relating to religion and similar subjects
On external sites...If your mind is sufficiently open to want to read more rational arguments about whether God is real, look at Why won't God heal amputees?.
On this page...