Religion, superstition, pseudoscience and other false beliefs
"Since the dawn of our species, an unquenchable curiosity has driven us to ask and re-ask the same questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? Are we alone? Myths offered the first answers: myths of creation and of spirit worlds. From here, one trail led to religion and to answers grounded in faith. But another trail led to philosophy–to reasoning. Pure reasoning at first, then reasoning aided by observation and experiment–what we now call science."
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
gullibility that it demands. The religious person must believe things that he/she reads, or that he or she is told, without giving any serious consideration to whether those things are true or not. How would the remainder of our lives go if we applied the same rule? We must always apply some level of doubt and examine whether our beliefs are justified by evidence.
The quote below was written by philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1928.
"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true."There is, of course, no grounds whatever for believing in God, gods or an afterlife.
According to a 2012 study by Gallup International about 23% of the world's people think of themselves as not religious whereas 13% think of themselves as convinced atheists. To me this says that some 77% of the world's people are suffering from what I would call the great delusion.
If you belong to one of the faiths 'of the Book' – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – you would believe that God spoke to various prophets in times past, and that those prophets recorded God's words and commands, and that you must obey those commands. On what evidence do you base that belief? How can anyone ever know that God spoke to him? Even more, how can anyone ever know that God spoke to some other person?
Surely if God wanted to give us a message he would give us all the same message and leave us in no doubt that it was he who was giving the message. Why doesn't God talk to us?
Even if we accept that there is a God we cannot know for sure that he has spoken to anyone. Then there is the question of, how can we know that the people who collected up the texts in the Bible did not make errors? The question of 'Who wrote the Bible?' is considered elsewhere on this page. If we look at the question with an open mind we can see that there is no supportable justification for believing what is written in our 'holy' books; any reasoning person would consider them hearsay, myth and legend.
If our world can be explained by application of the scientific method and by applying logical reasoning, what need is there for religion?
Your religion is most likely nothing to do with a conscious decision that you made based on reason and evidence, it is an accident of birth. Yet you are probably convinced that you are right!
Questions that have been thought of as outside the realm of science have been such as:
Those who call themselves Christian Scientists take as a premise the literal truth of the Bible and pick and choose those scientific discoveries that seem to support their case, while trying to discredit any science or scientist that, they feel, opposes them or their beliefs. Those who call themselves Intelligent Creationists similarly take it as true that God created life and then look for evidence supporting their case. These people try to legitimise their beliefs by linking them to science, but at the same time they remove the basis of science – an open mind.
Anyone who bases their life on a belief for which they have no evidence can, with justification, be thought either very foolish or even mad.
How should we live?
Of course this could not be more wrong. Ethics can tell us what is right and wrong, how we should live, what our obligations are to our neighbours and to the rest of the biosphere.
A large part of most religions is a record of what one or more people at some time in the distant past decided was right or wrong. This often evolved in time; the Christian Old Testament tells us about who should be stoned to death, the New Testament tells us not to be so hasty in condemning others.
I am an atheist. Ethics tells me what I should do and how I should live. It tells me that I should do my best to make the world a better place. That's why I try to get action to limit the damage due to climate change. Ethics tells me that I should do what I can to get the message out to others that they should also be doing what they can.
Ethics tells us that we should do what is within our abilities to improve the lives of other sentient beings and protect the planet from the damage that will, without our action, be done by less responsible people.
Other people have other abilities and will develop other opinions about what good they can do and how best they can do it. But the ethics that has been built up by many brilliant philosophers over the millennia can tell us about right and wrong far better than reading the opinions of a few deluded people who thought they had some 'direct line' to God and who lived in times when the problems were very different to those of the modern world.
How could a person who lived a thousand or more years ago tell us what we should be doing about environmental damage in the twenty-first century? How could they tell us about how we should guide our children in the use of the Internet? How could they tell us about whether it is right or wrong to confine domestic animals to factory farms?
Ethics can help us with all these questions and many others; religion is much more likely to mislead us.
There are no surviving break-away groups because the groups that did break-away were sooner or later ruthlessly forced back into the main-stream, with the authorities often using torture or execution on those who resisted. They were called heretics and were forced to believe, or at least to pretend to believe, the dogma held by the dominant group. The early Church eradicated many so-called heresies, including Docetism, Montanism, Adoptionism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, and Gnosticism. Other break-away groups who have been eliminated included the Pneumatomachians and Priscilliansts of the 4th century; the Donatists, 5th cent; and the Albigensians, 12th and 13th centuries.
After Martin Luther (1483 to 1546) 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.
Pope Pius V caused the Inquisition to eliminate Protestantism from Italy during his reign (1566-72); it is hard to imagine how much torture and killing would be involved in such a campaign. He was canonized (made a saint) in 1712 (an act similar in its injustice to the nomination of George W. Bush for the Nobel Peace Prize).
Wealthy Christians have been uncomfortable with this and have chosen to overlook it in many cases.
This is taken from the supposed writings of Saint Paul in Corinthians 6: 9-10: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
It is important to note that it was never attributed to Jesus, but to Saint Paul, who never met Jesus.
Mr Folau was contracted to the Wallabies team for a fee of $4 million dollars a year. He must be a very rich man. I wonder if he gives as much credence to the words of Jesus as he does to the words of Saint Paul? Or is his Christianity more selective than that, in his own interests?
Australia's Prime Minister Morrison is a member of a Pentecostal church and seems to see the pursuit of wealth as being more important than protecting the world (which many would see as God's precious creation).
Few countries allow people the legal right to have their life ended rather than suffer intolerable pain or mental deterioration. There is no ethical justification for this prohibition, it is largely due to Christian and other bigots forcing their beliefs onto the remainder of the population.
Christians do, and should, have the right to die in great and prolonged pain if that is what they want, but they have no right to force it onto anyone else. John Stuart Mill argued famously in On Liberty,
"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which [a citizen] is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."... or should be!
Some are opposed to voluntary euthanasia on the basis of the 'slippery slope' argument; that if it is allowed in cases where it is truely voluntary, euthanasia will later come to be pressed onto those whose relatives want to get them out of the way, or who the state considers to be socially undesirable. The same argument could be used to put the case that the state should never punish anyone; on the ground that a punishment such as a fine or a period of deprivation of liberty will eventually grow into locking up indefinitely all those who are considered socially undesirable.
Consider voluntary euthanasia in terms of simple ethics: what harm is done, and what good is done?
The prohibition of abortion in many cases is similarly due to Christians forcing their beliefs onto others.
Many other observations would not come with explanations: how could a plant come from a seed? – surely there must be some great and wonderful process involved here; what caused diseases? – fellow humans sometimes caused harm to each other, could diseases be caused by humans with supernatural powers, or by some sort of humanoid spirit? Wherever they went the Sun would be there every day and disappear every night; it obviously must be very big, very far away, very powerful. What could move a thing so big and powerful, or was the Sun itself alive? The stars moved across the sky each night; what power moved them? What caused the wind to blow and storms to come? The concept of a god, or a pantheon of gods, could explain a great many otherwise unexplainable observations.
From our earliest memories we (most of us) have had authority figures to protect us, provide for us and make the hard decisions. In our infancies probably our greatest insecurities involve fear of losing our parents. It can be a shock to realise, on becoming an adult, that we have to make our own decisions. Some of us use a god to fill the role of a father figure so that we never have to take full responsibility for our own actions.
Anyone who has successfully raised a child or trained a dog will be aware of the need for feedback. The child is rewarded with a kind word when it does something we approve of and growled at when it deserves our disapproval; the dog is given a small food treat when it successfully understands and obeys a command, and is admonished when it breaks the rules.
The need for this, and its purpose, is obvious – feedback. The child or the dog is continually reminded that when it does wrong it meats with disapproval, whenever it does good that good is rewarded.
Yet in religion we must believe that God doesn't ever give us any feedback. We have to take it on faith that people like Hitler and Stalin, who caused enormous misery and death on earth, received their just rewards after their own deaths, and we have to believe, without evidence, that the good people of the past have been rewarded in Heaven. Wouldn't God's purpose be much better served if he informed us of the justice that was actually handed out to people who we knew, or knew of, in the afterlife? Wouldn't he achieve his purpose much better if he handed out reward and punishment soon after the deeds that called for judgement? It seems, if he exists, he doesn't know much about human behaviour.
They show a humour that is entirely missing in the Religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). I cannot imagine benches like these outside of a Christian church, even less a Muslim mosque.
The Religions of the Book seem obsessed with sin, punishment and fear of God. Humour has no place in them.
If one must believe religious clap-trap Buddhism is at least a happier form of delusion.
So belief in, and submission to, a god can be a way of 'passing the buck', of being able to say, "It was not my decision, I followed God's dictates". What then, if there is no god, or if your god happens to be the wrong one (only one faith, at most, can be correct)? Then the believer is trying to pass responsibility for critically important decisions onto ideas written centuries ago by people who were fundamentally in error in their main premise!
Curiously, the great majority of twentieth century Christians seem willing to accept the bible that their particular branch of the faith provides them with, as it stands, without question. It is accepted as true, or even "God's Word", because someone, they don't know whom, has passed it on to them as such. A remarkable demonstration of apathy and/or naiveté!
I think this point is worth repeating; the Bible is accepted by the great majority of Christians as coming from God because someone, or many people, have told them that it did!
"If a thousand people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." Chinese proverb
Questions that are rarely asked by Christians, and yet are fundamental, are:
The undeniable fact is that the Bible was written by people. Some Christians may well claim that these people had divine guidance, but still, the Bible was written by people. Did other people decide which writers were guided by God, and which weren't; and include or exclude writings accordingly? Did they too have divine guidance? In what form did this divine guidance come? How can we know that it was divine? Did God provide more and surer guidance in ancient times than he does now? Why?
The fact is that 'divine revelation' has never happened, no god or gods ever revealed anything to people. All knowledge has come from humans pursuing the evidence.
A few modern Christians have asked probing questions. Ian Wilson discusses the evidence for the existence and 'divinity' of Jesus in an objective way in his interesting and well written book, 'Jesus: The Evidence'.
Also see Atheism Central.
Creation 'science' is different. Its adherents hold the belief that biblical creation happened. From there they look for evidence that seems to support their belief and ignore evidence that tends to contradict their dogma.
The term 'creation science' is an oxymoron. Either one believes in creation as described in the Bible, or one believes that the scientific method can be used to inform us about how the world came to be the way it is and how it works. One cannot accept, unquestioningly, Biblical creation, and believe that the world is amenable to scientific investigation.
Either the universe can be understood by using observation and reasoning or God is running it and it is intrinsically incapable of being explained by reason. Either there are causes and effects that we can understand by learning rules and laws, or not. It seems to me that science has explained an enormous amount of how the universe works; I see no reason to believe that the theory of evolution should be discarded in favour of 'creation science'.
'Intelligent design' is a similar belief to Creation science. It also looks for and considers only the evidence that is favourable to the preconceptions of its adherents. See also the third and equally valid alternative to science, Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.
Astronomy has shown no trace of Heaven or some home for God in the heavens – all is stars, gas, dust, galaxies, etc; and geology has shown us that there is no Hell down beneath our feet – there is the rocky crust, the denser rocky mantle, then the metallic core of the Earth.
So where is God? Where are we to believe that our souls go after we die? Some sort of fairyland?
One need have only a very basic knowledge of geology to look at a landscape and see that it could not have become the way it is by the action of natural forces in six thousand years. It takes too long for:
Similarly, sciences as disparate as genetics, nuclear physics and astronomy show us that the Universe is billions of years old.
Ever since William of Ockham stated his principle, Ockham's Razor, in the early fourteenth century, philosophers and scientists have found that, as a general rule, a simpler explanation is to be preferred to a complex one if both are equally successful in other ways. The earth could be the way it is now due to the natural processes that we can observe around us, or it could be that a God (who cannot be shown to exist) created it much as it is today six thousand years ago, and took a great deal of trouble to make it look as if it is billions of years old. The same can be said for the Universe.
I've written more on this in Is it hubris?, also on this page.
Do your own thing. It is no more stupid than following any other belief that has no evidentiary backing.
You won't be burned at the stake or hung as a witch; at least not until
some single religion again reaches supremacy and its adherents, as
religious people are wont to do if they are able, start forcing their
beliefs on their neighbours.
For more information see the RSPCA page on What is Kosher and Halal slaughter in Australia?
It seems that the God of the Torah and the Koran didn't know that electrical
stunning would be more humane, what a surprise!
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, divine revelation hasn't ever revealed anything that was of any use to anyone.
The Conversation discusses 'Hinduism and its complicated history with cows (and people who eat them).' I have wondered whether Hindus might be able to eat beaf, so long as someone else did the slaughtering. The Conversation article states that "vigilante Hindu groups in India are lynching people for eating beef", so apparently not.
One has to wonder, what happens to a cow (or bull) that becomes very sick; is it left to die rather than being humanely killed? Are cattle allowed to starve if they can't find enough food?
So, accepting for the moment that the Universe was created by God, we have two possibilities; either
"You can't fool me God, you might have created the Universe in such a way that all the evidence available to me makes it look like it is 13.6 billion years old, but I know better; it's really only six thousand years old."Surely this indicates huge conceit and would be insulting to God.
I am not interested here in whether or not he should have done this, I am interested in who he neglected to include in his list of the damnable.
This being so, surely if there was a just God, he would damn such people, yet they are not listed in Mr Folau's posting, nor are these terrible crimes mentioned in any holy books. Of course while people like Mr Folau would probably claim that the Bible is God's word it was in fact written by people who lived in a time when there was no concept of anthropogenic climate change, so the Bible can tell us nothing relating to it. The Bible is hopelessly out of touch with the modern world, it is anachronistic.
The recent Australian Royal Commission into the financial industries has disclosed unconscionable behaviour from those who run the nations banks, yet the Bible is silent on criminal behaviour in the banking industry.
Also, to start a war that results in millions of people becoming refugees and hundreds of thousands of deaths, without justification, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has to be a terrible sin, yet this doesn't seem to concern people like Mr Folau, nor does it seem to be condemned in the Bible. (I have discussed terrible crimes such as these in a page on criminal leaders.)
The Earth is a small planet among eight that orbit a star that is 100 times the diameter of the Earth, but very ordinary among the stars of the Milky Way Galaxy.
The Milky Way Galaxy contains about two hundred billion stars (that's 200,000,000,000).
There are more than two trillion galaxies (that's 2,000,000,000,000) in the observable Universe.
As a part of the known Universe the Earth is totally insignificant, yet most religious people believe that one species on this insignificant speck dominated the attention of the God who supposedly created it all.
This seems to me to be a mind-blowing level of hubris.
I have read in 'A Gift of Peace and Happiness', which is a free booklet on Buddhism, the below:
"Because there is no permanent unchanging self, Buddhism denies the existence of an unvarying immortal soul passing from one life to the next. According to Buddhism, the mind or consciousness moves from one life to the next."The emphasis above is mine. It seems to me irrelevant whether one claims that a soul survives death or a 'mind or consciousness' survives death. Either way the claim can be shown to be absurd, as I have done in another page on this site.
It is simply nonsensical to claim that either a soul, a mind, or consciousness can survive the death of the body and pass on to some other life or some other organism. In addition, in the specific case of Buddhism, how are we to believe that a human mind could pass on to, say, a cockroach; or a cockroach's mind to a human?
There is also, of course, the unanswered question of 'If my mind or my consciousness came to me from a previous life, why do I have no memory of that life?'
If there is no supreme being or similar, who keeps the record? It seems that we are expected to believe that the record is 'out there' somewhere without any intelligence or record keeper. I find this impossible to accept.
Middle eastern music has much more in common with North African music than it has with European music. The religions kept the European culture apart from that of North Africa and the Middle East while the sharing of the islamic religion allowed the latter two to mix.
Of course there was much more unnecessary hatred, mistrust, killing and mistreatment between the Christian and Muslim camps than recorded in their differing styles of music.
The first two paragraphs of the article read:
"The latest census results are out and the number of Australians who selected “no religion” has risen again to 38.9%, up from 30.1% in 2016.The Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded that people reporting Christianity as their religion fell from 86% to 44% between 1971 and 2021, those reporting 'no religion' rose from 7% to 39% and the number of those reporting adherence to 'other religions' rose from 1% to 10%.
This makes them the second-largest “religious group” after Christians, who make up 43.9% of the population, down from 52.1% in 2016."
The proportion of Australians reporting 'no religion' has increased at every census since 1971 and the rate of increase has been rising since 2001. Censuses are held every five years. (If the trend of the past twenty years continues to the next census 'no religion' will be bigger than Christianity in the 2026 census.)
While the great rise in the number of those reporting 'no religion' is certainly indicative of progress toward a rational society freed from the bonds of superstition and delusion we, in Australia, still have a very long way to go. I suspect that there would be some move toward 'no religion' worldwide too but don't have figures on it.
Unfortunately at the same time there seems to be a rise in what might be called 'weird religions" such as Pentecostalism.
So, the answer I would give to the question that heads this section is: no, we will probably never see an end to the religion delusion, but we can hope that the proportion of people suffering under the delusion will continue to decline.
Relating to religions...The concept of an immortal soul and life after death can be shown to be absurd
Relating to other superstitions and more general...Water divining/dowsing/witching is just another superstition
On this page...