The Truth about Religion
Please send any reasoned disagreements to me.
If your facts and logic are convincing, I'll change my mind !
People should believe facts and reality,
not lies and delusions and scams.
The Big Picture section
My Anti-Science page
The Big Picture
Evidence and reality:
Something is real and true if it matches reality (facts, evidence) and you can test it against reality.
If something can't be tested against reality (facts) and has no effect on reality, it might as well not exist.
In a real sense, it doesn't exist.
Every time you start your car, you prove that science and critical thinking work. You prove that
physics, chemistry, mathematics, and a dozen engineering disciplines work. They match reality, and pass tests every day.
Our world would be better off if we got rid of false beliefs, and concentrate on real issues and facts.
There's no good evidence that these things are true, so they're probably false:
There are common threads to many examples of these things:
sci-ence.org's "The Red Flags of Quackery"
Skeptoid's "How to Spot Pseudoscience"
- Someone trying to make a buck:
- Support your church: donate money.
- Buy UFO dolls in the Roswell gift shops.
- Pay me to read your palm or write your horoscope.
- I can talk to the dead; watch my TV show.
- TV shows about alien encounters: Nimoy (FLV).
- Come visit our area and see Bigfoot or the crop-circles or the Loch Ness monster.
- Buy my book about the "real truth" about conspiracy X.
- That televangelist, or guy in the $5,000 suit on stage in the "money church", is living a pretty nice lifestyle.
- Many deceptive, pseudo-science industries are huge money-machines: the diet/nutrition/vitamin industry, the
alternative medicine industry. Some parts of those industries are valid; many parts
of them are scams.
Liz Szabo's "Book raises alarms about alternative medicine"
- Most of the Nostradamus story was invented by tabloids:
Skeptoid's "The Greatest Secret of Nostradamus".
- Someone enjoying publicity / power trip / making their life more exciting:
- Obey me: I'm a priest.
- I'm special: God speaks to me.
- I'm not just an ordinary Joe living in a trailer: I saw a UFO or Bigfoot. (image)
- I'm special: I can predict earthquakes.
- I'm special: I have ESP.
- I'm special: I have "the healing touch".
- I'm special: I'm a big "scientist" announcing that everyone else is wrong.
- I'm special: I'm Miss Cleo, I have special powers, respect me.
- I'm special: I know the "real truth" about conspiracy X.
- Some of these are designed to avoid testing:
- God wants you to have blind faith, not to test or question him.
- If your prayers aren't answered, or bad things happen to good people, God is testing you.
- My ESP stops working in a laboratory, or any time you try to test it.
- The Ouija board doesn't work unless you believe in it.
These delusions are not just "fun" and harmless:
- They can cost the rest of us money:
- The government gives tax breaks to churches.
Dylan Matthews' "You give religions more than $82.5 billion a year"
- Various congressmen have forced the government
to spend money searching for alien UFO's and investigating
- The USA government supports Israel financially and otherwise
partly because of religious beliefs.
- Your child may get sick because some other child's parents believe vaccines are dangerous,
and doctors and government are conspiring to "push" vaccines.
- They lead to an anti-science attitude, which has very bad effects
(see the Anti-Science section of my Anti-Science page).
- Religion can facilitate pain and violence:
- The Crusades.
- The Inquisition.
- Spaniards exterminating or enslaving the natives of South America. [Not solely motivated by religion;
also conquest, wealth, etc.]
- Witch-hunts and witch-burnings.
- Pogroms against Jews and Gypsies. [Not solely motivated by religion.]
- Bombings of abortion clinics.
- Faith-based terrorism (such as the 9/11 attacks).
- Faith-based violence against gays.
- Partly-religious wars: Israel/Palestinian,
Northern Ireland, Pakistan/India,
Lord's Resistance Army,
the Religious Wars 1520-1648 in Europe, etc.
- Faith-based suicide/murder (Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, Aum Shinriko).
- And modern Islam often is associated with violence.
Some of its followers kill people who draw cartoons or make movies the clerics
don't like, or burn a Koran. Anyone who renounces the faith should be killed.
Sure, the Koran may say lots of peaceful things, but look how the
religion is actually practiced in many places. Christianity has its own violent streak (killing abortion doctors),
but not open, officially incited violence (in modern times).
Usually it's wrong to say that war X was "caused" by any one
thing (power-grab, nationalism, religion, ethnicity, money, insanity, pride, etc).
But religion is one factor that helps to create polarization and conflict; it encourages
an us-versus-them mentality. And many religious texts (Bible, Koran) explicitly include
"kill the infidel in the name of God" passages. Often religion is basic to the
character of people who started wars, and religion is used to motivate a population to go to war.
It is true that the worst modern violence has not been religiously motivated:
WW I, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Korea, Viet Nam, Pol Pot, Rwanda, etc. But none of those things
were motivated by atheism, or a desire to oppose religion, either; they were motivated by nationalism
or power-hunger. Same is true of conquest-oriented or money-oriented wars of the past; just because a war was not
motivated by religion doesn't mean it was
motivated by atheism.
See how armies (including German army in WW I and WW II) have used "God is with us"
as a motto: Wikipedia's "Gott mit uns"
Since religion (unlike atheism) encourages blind faith in a leader or doctrine, religion is a great
tool for tyrants. And see discussion of Hitler et al in
"How can atheists have morals without God?" section of reddit's "Atheism FAQ"
Jonathan MS Pearce's "A Great Myth about Atheism: Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot = Atheism = Atrocity"
Himmler: atheists not allowed in SS
Wikipedia's "Religious views of Adolf Hitler"
The path to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was eased by
George W. Bush's belief that God had put him in office to bring
democracy to the Middle East.
From The Modern Tribune
"Bush has repeatedly talked about his answering the 'call of history' and providing 'God's gift of democracy' to the Middle East.".
Wikipedia's "Rationale_for_the_Iraq_War - Divine_inspiration"
From Positive Atheism
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam,
which I did, ...
-- George W Bush, according to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas ...".
Andrew Brown's "Bush, Gog and Magog"
Clive Hamilton's "Bush's Shocking Biblical Prophecy Emerges"
Kevin Drum's "Gog, Magog, and George Bush"
- Religion can cause dangerous behavior:
- People who go to faith healers first, then
to a doctor when it's too late.
- People who refuse medical treatment or vaccination for themselves or
their children on religious grounds.
- Women who get back-alley abortions because the
church has convinced the government to ban
birth-control and legal abortion.
- We had a president (Reagan) whose influential wife believed
in horoscopes and consulted an astrologer.
What if there had been a serious crisis and the
horoscope said "do X" ? George W. Bush says God talks to him
(but Voice Of God Revealed).
- Christian evangelicals in the USA are saying the Second Coming is near,
so we need not bother to do anything about global warming (climate change).
- People who carry over the "I'm right and I don't have to listen to anything you say" attitude
from their religion to other areas, such as science or politics. Prime example: G W Bush.
Other examples: hate groups, conspiracy theorists.
- Asian beliefs in pseudo-science nonsense fuel slaughters of endangered
species to obtain aphrodisiacs or longevity treatments.
- Religion makes people waste their time:
- At various jobs, I've known
several young black women who spent every free
minute reading the Bible. Imagine the
improvements in their lives if they'd
been reading useful things such as
"how to write better", "how to handle your
money", "how to get out of debt",
"how to use Excel", "how to be better
organized", or whatever.
- On various Caribbean islands, I've met locals who are just not
interested in reading any book unless it's a religious book.
And, it goes without saying, a religious book that agrees with their beliefs.
- Religion makes people want to impose their beliefs on you:
- If abortion or homosexuality or birth control or whatever is the Devil's work, then of course
we should force everyone to stop doing that.
- If a terrorist shouts Allah's name as he attacks, then of course
our military should kill everyone who believes that religion.
- Conspiracy theories prevent you from learning the right lessons:
- If you think 9/11 was engineered by the US government, and it actually
was done by Arabs because of our policies in the Mideast, you're not
learning the right lessons from 9/11. And that means we risk having it happen again.
- If you think global climate-change is a hoax, you're not
going to do anything about it. In fact, you're going to resist people who
are trying to fight it.
From Phil Plait on Bad Astronomy
... astrology promotes the worst thing in the world: uncritical thinking.
The more we teach people to simply accept anecdotal stories, hearsay, cherry-picked data
(picking out what supports your claims but ignoring what doesn't), and,
frankly, out-and-out lies, the harder it gets for people to think clearly.
If you cannot think clearly, you cannot function as a human being. I cannot stress this enough.
Uncritical thinking is tearing this world to pieces, and while astrology may not be at the heart of that, it has its role.
From someone on reddit
> what has the church brought
> to America that is so awful ?
It makes people believe in things that aren't true. It also makes people stick the government's nose
in people's private affairs. I'm referring to laws against miscegenation, gay marriage, blue laws,
drug prohibition, teaching evolution, denying global warming, abortion, and supporting slavery, among others.
And to quote Bill Maher, "maybe a President who didn't believe our soldiers were going to heaven
might be a little less willing to get them killed".
My take on it:
Believing things that have no evidence is bad. Often leads to bad behavior.
Religion, racism, sexism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, climate change denial, anti-vaccine beliefs
all operate in similar ways. It is a dangerous way of thinking, bad for our society.
Many of these belief systems or groups have the same characteristics.
They encourage "we know the one truth, we don't have to listen to any fact or person who disagrees with us,
you're either with us or against us, no doubts or compromises,
the other side are scum or animals or malicious".
From Greta Christina's "The Armor of God"
Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities,
undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.
It therefore has no reality check.
And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self-correction. It is uniquely
armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality ... and extreme,
From Bill Maher in "Religulous"
The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end.
The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge having
in key decisions made by religious people, by irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass,
but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn't learn a lot about it.
Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith,
and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense
that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human
beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone
says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually
talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas.
And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don't.
How can I be so sure? Because I don't know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not.
The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude
that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be,
considering that human history is just a litany of getting s**t dead wrong. This is why rational people,
anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who
consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace
and comfort that religion brings you comes at a terrible price. If you belonged to a political party or a social club
that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is,
you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism
that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here,
or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism,
let's remember what the real problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the
neurological disorder of wishing for it. That's it. Grow up or die.
[Video can be found by
searching YouTube for "Religulous ending"
Religion and understanding
What's The Harm
William Saletan's "Rule of Lord"
The Tao of Reason's "The Problem with Magical Thinking"
Why Beer Is Better Than Jesus
I'm not 100% sure of any of this:
- It is extremely likely that God and all of this other stuff is false.
We can see how the evidence is flimsy, faked, designed to be untestable, and self-contradictory, and how the people
who produced it had ulterior motives. And there are far simpler explanations for
everything, instead of requiring the existence of God. But there's still a slight chance that
God or Gods exist anyway. Although it might not be the particular God you want;
maybe it's Allah or Zeus or Shiva.
- It is extremely likely that science is right, about the Big Bang and Evolution and everything else.
We can see how the evidence is pretty solid, fits together, is testable and repeatable.
But there's still a slight chance that
God or Gods exist anyway, and are tricking us by making it look like science is the explanation for everything.
Of course, if God is a "trickster", we're screwed. Someone said about the Adam and Eve
story: it didn't matter about the snake and the apple. If you're locked up with an omnipotent guy
who is determined to trip you up, you don't stand a chance. He'll get you one way or the other, sooner or later, regardless of what you do.
So your choices don't matter.
The key is "100% sure"; I am willing to admit doubt and the possibility of error, something
most religious or conspiracy people will never
admit. And new evidence would change everything;
I will change my mind the moment clear, simple, repeatable, testable evidence is produced in any one
of these areas.
Ebon Musings: The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists
Greta Christina's "What Would Convince This Atheist To Believe?"
What do Atheists think ?
Basic Atheist thinking: "There is no good evidence that any God exists"
Most Atheists probably think:
- So far, the evidence is that a Big Bang, some equations, and some cosmological constants are
sufficient to explain the existence and functioning of everything in the universe; everything can
be derived from those three things.
There is no evidence of what may have come "before" the Big Bang, or why those constants have their values,
or how or why those three things were created or exist.
- There is no good evidence that any of the many different religions are true, or
that any of their many different Gods exist.
All of the "evidence" consists of dubious or vague
or contradictory claims by people who have a vested interest in trying to prove their religion to
be true, or old books written by people back in old times who had the same vested interests.
Not a single clear, indisputable, repeatable piece of evidence has ever been submitted.
Not a single God has ever manifested Himself and submitted to any kind of clear, indisputable, repeatable testing.
It may be impossible for a human to sit down and write a "proof" that God exists.
But it would be easy for God to provide simple, clear, material evidence.
For example, a place or relic identified as "from God" that quickly, clearly, repeatably, simply cures everyone who goes to it.
Or a place or relic identified as "from God" that clearly, repeatably violates basic rules of physics. Easy.
Ebon Musings: The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists
Greta Christina's "What Would Convince This Atheist To Believe?"
Of course lots of nuances and qualifiers could be added to this: not all atheists think the same things,
scientific knowledge is incomplete and there are many things we don't know yet,
there are many competing and speculative scientific theories
about cosmology and many other things, etc.
Science and atheism are related in this way:
- Science is able to explain how the world works, without requiring invocation of God.
- Science shows how requiring evidence, and testing things against reality, works to create new things and explain things.
- The history of science shows that if there is no evidence for something, it probably is false.
- Atheists say there is no evidence for God, so God probably does not exist.
- To believe in God without evidence, a scientist would have to separate the scientific and religious parts of his life. They're not
consistent with each other.
A lot of people seem to think it's a binary choice, either atheism or Christianity must be true, it's one or the other,
so they attack atheism.
No, there is atheism and then there are hundreds or thousands of religions. Atheism or any one of the religions could
be true, or they all could be wrong and something else could be right. Atheism happens to be the one that matches the facts so far.
Similarly, a lot of people seem to think it's a binary choice, either Science (usually specified as the Big Bang and Evolution)
or Christianity must be true, it's one or the other,
so they attack Science or BB and Evolution.
No, there is science and then there are hundreds or thousands of religions. Science or any one of the religions could
be true, or they all could be wrong and something else could be right. Science happens to be the one that matches the facts so far.
Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"
Greta Christina's "7 groups atheists can turn to in times of need"
Wikipedia's "Discrimination against atheists"
What do Agnostics think ?
Two flavors of agnostic:
- I don't know if God exists.
- It is impossible for humans to know if God exists.
Apparently, some people try to define agnosticism as "I am skeptical about any claims; you have to prove that",
but that's just a statement of critical thinking, a position everyone should have about every issue.
Plenty of atheists, and religious people too, would subscribe to that "skeptical" statement.
"Secular" and "atheist" are not the same thing at all.
Secularism: people should be free to practice any religion or no religion; government
should be neutral on matters of religion.
Both religious people and atheists can be secularists.
Some ways to achieve secularism:
- Separation of church and state. Total separation really isn't possible.
- Prevent state from interfering with churches (disestablishmentarianism). US Constitution does this.
Jacques Berlinerblau says the Right tries to blur the distinction between "secular" and "atheist"
because the Right opposes them both, and "atheist" is a much more toxic term.
USA today is not really a secular state. Religious people have written their beliefs into laws, textbooks,
public buildings, the Pledge of Allegiance, onto the money. All serious major political candidates these days must end their speeches
with "God bless America" or risk suspicion. Witnesses in court are expected to swear on a Bible or risk suspicion.
Congress opens each session with prayers from their paid chaplains (annual budget for chaplains and staffs: over $800K).
The White House has a chaplain (a military chaplain assigned there).
The Pentagon has a Chaplain's Office; the military services each have a chaplain corps;
the military academies have chapels and chaplains.
Why aren't these functions done by churches, not part of the govt, and paid for by donations ?
Secular Coalition for America
From Steve Major's "What I Love About Religion"
"Atheism ... is the lack of belief in god(s).
It speaks to what we are not, rather than what we are.
Humanism builds on that foundation with a host of progressive ethical and moral beliefs,
including a commitment to environmentalism, equality, and social responsibility."
Why do people believe in God or Gods ? Possibilities:
- Fear of Death.
Death is bad, mysterious, often painful, nasty, ugly.
So people have chosen to deny that it really occurs
(by believing in an afterlife).
- Desire for Parent.
Our early childhood is fixated on parents who
nurture and protect us. They provide wonderful
food, shelter, clothing, love, teaching.
When we grow up, we miss that feeling of
security. So we create an imaginary "super-parent" (God) who
nurtures and protects our entire universe.
- Desire for Control / Patterns / Simplicity.
We like to see simple patterns and know what the rules
are; it is comforting to live in a simple and
rational world (there's less to know and think
about, and thinking hurts: pic). But as we learn more about it, we
find that the real world is more complex and
confusing and uncertain and scary than we'd like. So we invent
a God who enforces a set of rules (10 Commandments;
do this and you'll go to heaven; obey me
and everything will be great; worship the sun and the
crops will grow; become a martyr and have 70 virgins in paradise).
From Mother Jones interview of Bill Maher:
MJ: Why do you think Americans cling so loyally to conspiracy
theories? Is it the hope that there is planning mastery behind
what is actually chaos and madness?
BM: Exactly. Many people can't deal with unanswered questions,
which, of course, religion exploits by providing answers, even if
they are just made up by someone. This is also why we love TV shows
and movies that neatly wrap up everything in exactly an hour or two.
How religions and conspiracy theories are alike:
Greta Christina's "Conspiracies and Unshakeable Faith: What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong?"
Our brains pre-dispose us to see patterns and agents (to detect predators and prey), or
to see everything as tools and tool-users (since tools were so important in our evolution).
Wikipedia's "Evolutionary origin of religions"
Wikipedia's "Evolutionary psychology of religion"
- Inertia / Peer Pressure.
If all of your family and friends and community believe strongly,
and you've been instructed firmly since birth, of course you'll
believe too. The penalties for un-belief are large (disapproval,
ostracism, sometimes persecution or expulsion or death).
Huge generalization here, but: in most cases, what religion you believe is due to where you were born.
If born in the Americas or Europe, you're probably Christian. In Mideast,
you're probably Muslim. In India, you're probably Hindu or Muslim. This
clearly shows that choice of religion is not due to "trueness"; it's due to
inertia or tradition or community.
- Rational Thinking.
Philosophers or academics may come to believe in God via reasoning.
But normal people don't; they come to believe in God because they've been
taught so by their parents and community.
- Desire for Childhood Sense of Awe.
In childhood, many things were new and wonderful and interesting and awe-inspiring.
Then we became adults, and found much of life to be a boring slog, or limited, or painful and difficult.
It is pleasant to imagine that wonderful, new, easy things are out there in the future somewhere.
From Wikipedia's "Reductionism"
Religious reductionism generally attempts to explain religion by boiling it down to certain nonreligious causes.
A few examples of reductionistic explanations for the presence of religion are: that religion can be reduced to
humanity's conceptions of right and wrong, that religion is fundamentally a primitive attempt at controlling
our environments, that religion is a way to explain the existence of a physical world, and that religion
confers an enhanced survivability for members of a group and so is reinforced by natural selection.
Truths and lies
Scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel religion's "DNA"
Chris Mooney's "7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution"
"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis
is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope
of reward after death."
-- Albert Einstein
Ned Flanders: I don't understand. Is God punishing me ?
Reverend Lovejoy: Short answer, "yes", with an "if"; long answer, "no", with a "but".
Why do people join religions, or stay in them ?
- Gives a framework or shape to their lives.
It's hard and scary to figure out "life" and morals for yourself. Easier
to have someone hand a framework to you and just believe that.
- Gives comfort in this life, and hope for a better future (the afterlife).
- Good to be part of a community.
When your parents and relatives and neighbors are all of one religion,
there are a lot of benefits to staying in that community, instead
of going your own way.
How do such elaborate, widely-believed religions get created ?
- The people who create and foster them (priests, politicos)
have strong motives to do so.
They get power, they get money, they get respect, they
move society in the direction they want. How better for a leader to stay on top
than by claiming God has anointed him ? If you want to slaughter the neighbors
and take their stuff, claim that God wills it and their god is a false god.
- Many of people who believe them
have strong motives to do so.
See above: fear of death, desire for parent, desire for control/patterns.
- Religions have ways to encourage parents to indoctrinate their children.
Most religions incorporate commands to obey your parents, respect them, support them in old age, etc.
- Religions use the carrot (heaven) and the stick (hell) to
cajol and threaten people into obeying.
How exactly do religions get created, if not by witnessing amazing miracles ?
- Many build upon other religions, older superstitions or practices.
ReligiousTolerance.org's "Were events in Jesus' life copied from other saviors/god-men/heroes?"
ReligiousTolerance.org's "Parallels between Jesus & Horus, an Egyptian God"
ReligiousTolerance.org's "Linkages between two God-men saviors: Christ and Krishna"
Jesus as a Reincarnation of Mithra
Jesus as a Reincarnation of Krishna
ListVerse's "10 Christ-like Figures Who Pre-Date Jesus"
Wikipedia's "The Jesus Mysteries"
Wikipedia's "Jesus Christ in comparative mythology"
Noah's ark story may come from Gilgamesh.
As far as I can tell, historians say it is wrong to say "feature X of the Jesus story was copied from feature Y of the Horus story".
But there was and is a large body of common themes and story elements circulating through all human cultures, and most parts of most
religions are drawn from them. Resurrection, soul/spirit/ghost, grace/karma, afterlife/planes-of-existence,
creation, judgement day, miracles, religious versus civil authority, etc.
- Many include and incorporate a people's history and politics,
building on those.
From "The Evolution of God" by Robert Wright
Christians think of Jesus as a man who brought the Jews a radically new message of
personal salvation and was determined to carry it to the peoples of the world.
But Jesus was himself a Jew, preaching to other Jews, and his essential message
was probably a familiar one — a message of national salvation, a message about the
coming restoration of Israel to greatness. His agenda probably didn't include
transethnic outreach or its moral corollary, a brotherly love that knows no national
bounds. That doctrine entered Christianity in the decades after his death — a reflection
not of his true teachings, but of the cosmopolitan, multiethnic milieu of the Roman Empire.
His teachings were then reshaped accordingly, and the resulting distortion became the gospel.
- Religions probably don't spring up fully-formed in a short
Long periods of mutation, through oral transmission,
with mistakes and multiple interpretations thrown in.
Stories may start as "God could have", change to "God might have",
then to "God did", then to "God did, and we all saw it".
Interesting how, as accuracy of reporting has improved, miracles have decreased:
Interesting that the shrine at Lourdes or other modern "miracle sites" have never miraculously healed an amputee,
or brought someone back to life after cremation.
Those would be clear, undisputable results. Most "miraculous cures" are debatable things that
might have been fake illnesses, mistaken diagnoses, natural remissions, temporary improvements, etc.
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories ?
In addition to the industry promoting conspiracy theories for money or political purposes, there is this:
Heard on a podcast:
We modern humans are descended from ancestors who lived in a threatening world.
If an ancestor heard a rustle in the savannah grass, there were these scenarios:
- Assume it's the wind and do nothing, and it turns out to be the wind: no problem.
- Assume it's the wind and do nothing, and it turns out to be a lion: you're dead, and your genes die out.
- Assume it's a lion and run away, and it turns out to be a lion: you survive.
- Assume it's a lion and run away, and it turns out to be a false alarm: you survive.
So we modern humans are descendants of those who tended to react to threats, even false
Evolution has acted to bias us to see threats even when they're not there.
But I think today, much of belief in conspiracy theories stems from frustration, anger,
boredom, desire to seem "in the know".
"Belief" in conspiracies or ESP or alien UFOs doesn't cost the believer anything.
If you asked them to put time or money where their mouth is, donate to "Save the Unicorns"
or spend nights out in fields looking for alien UFO's or directly pay their money for an investigation of 9/11,
I think you'd find their belief isn't that
[Summarized from Rob Brotherton's "The President is Dead: Why Conspiracy Theories About the Death of JFK Endure"
We like to think that huge, important incidents are created by big and powerful causes.
It's unsettling to think that JFK could have been killed by a lone loser with a rifle,
that 9/11 could have been done by guys with knives using ordinary airplanes.
Much more satisfying to think that JFK was killed by some massive conspiracy, or 9/11
was a huge operation involving explosives, missiles, planes and passengers made to disappear, etc.
There's a difference between "suspected conspiracy" and "conspiracy theory".
I'd say "suspected conspiracy" is where you actually have a few facts (not just doubts or innuendo; real smoking guns)
in support of your thinking, and "conspiracy theory" is where you first decide what the conclusion
is (govt is evil, usually) and then go from there, maybe never getting to any actual facts.
Once you prove it, it becomes "confirmed conspiracy".
My response to "politicians, media, everyone lies; why are conspiracy-theorists labeled as nuts ?":
Qualities of a Conspiracy Theory:
Sure, everyone makes mistakes, politicians lie, etc.
But in my experience, Conspiracy Theorists are in a class by themselves, in these ways:
- Most CT's I've met have claimed to know the "real truth" about EVERY possible conspiracy. Not credible.
- Most CT's I've met escalate the denial of every fact. They claim something, I give a countering fact,
they say my source is "part of the conspiracy". Ad infinitum. BBC, NPR, US govt, UK govt, individual reporters,
web sites, whatever. If it disagrees with them, then it's not credible, or part of the conspiracy, or both.
- Most CT's I've met escalate the argument into an ad-hominem attack. If I disagree with them persistently, then
I'm deluded or a "sheeple" or even "part of the conspiracy".
- Most CT's I've met ascribe great skill and cunning to organizations that we can SEE screwing up every day.
They claim US govt is able to hide aliens and alien tech for 50 years. Heck, US govt wasn't able to keep
someone from selling names of our agents in Russia for $1M or so. Our biggest secret, and they couldn't keep it !
- Most CT's I've met think the "US govt" or "scientists" or "Big Pharma" or "mainstream media" or whatever is a monolith.
As if there aren't layers of govt, different agencies, different officials all trying to stab each other in
the back every day, or competing for positions or jurisdiction or budget money or promotion or future office.
Scientists competing with each other for positions, grants, fame, prizes.
Pharmaceutical companies in various countries competing with each other, suing each other, etc.
- Jumping to a pre-determined conclusion based on an agenda.
It's not a CT to say "the official story on 9/11 has holes A and B in it".
It is a CT to say "the govt brought down the WTC on 9/11 with controlled demolition, despite no evidence of that".
No good evidence, but jumping to a conclusion.
One clue to this: trying to overwhelm with quantity instead of quality.
AKA "Gish Gallop". Offer a hundred "facts" or scenarios, and every time one is refuted, jump to another.
Only the conclusion remains constant.
Mere hours after a major incident occurs, a dozen conspiracy-theories about it
will have been created. The theorists aren't waiting to hear facts or working to find facts; they're making things up to fit their agenda.
- Denying any simple or common-sense fact that doesn't fit the pre-determined conclusion.
Denial by creating some complex web of additional conspirators, or attacking the source of the fact, or the person mentioning the fact.
- Seizing on any unknown or coincidence, and giving it the most dramatic or sinister interpretation.
- Emphasizing the tiniest gaps in the official explanation, while ignoring enormous problems with the CT's explanation.
- Failing to add any new facts. Simply using guesswork or bias to add unfounded allegations.
- Polarization: there are two "sides", and if you question the CT, you're "on the other side", a "shill", a "sheeple", a "dupe".
- Ascribing great skill and cunning to organizations that we can SEE screwing up every day (government, CIA, FEMA, corporations, etc).
- Contradictory or nonsensical positions: Evil organization X is incredibly powerful and secret, yet normal people have
found out the "real truth" about it. Government Y is evil, and is hiding incredibly powerful alien technology,
yet has never used it, even in wars. Car company X would rather suppress great new breakthroughs rather than
use them to beat the competition and make tons of money.
- Not falsifiable: there is no fact or evidence that could possibly show the CT to be wrong.
From Mike Wood's "What does online discussion tell us about the psychology of conspiracy theories?"
... belief in conspiracy theories can be more accurately characterised as a disbelief in official
or received explanations – that the content of the conspiracy theory doesn't matter as much as the
fact that it opposes whatever the official explanation is. The focus is not on promoting an
alternative explanation, but in debunking the official story.
From Mike Rothschild's "A Conspiracy Theory Primer - In Fun Alphabet Form!"
D is for Denialism. No matter what beliefs are held by the mainstream and supported by solid evidence,
you can always find someone who thinks we're being lied to about them. Everything from the existence
of AIDS to the moon landings to vaccine safety has an accompanying movement that says "everything we know is wrong"
about these subjects, usually with nothing to prove it. Most of these movements are tied together,
because if you're going to be contrarian, you might as well be really contrarian.
From 3 June 2013 "Point of Inquiry" podcast interview of Stephan Lewandowsky
Some aspects of conspiracy theories:
- Self-sealing: any contrary evidence is immediately absorbed into the conspiracy;
it becomes evidence that the conspiracy is even wider.
- Always negative: there's never a theory about a conspiracy to do something good.
Conspiracy theory = lies or guesses about some prominent issue or event, to serve some agenda.
Usually to "get back" at some authority figure, or to make life seem more interesting by knowing some secret, or to make money.
I think the motive for creating most conspiracy theories is the same: the desire to lash out at authority.
People are scared and angry, because the economy is tough, they feel their life is out of control, their kids
or marriage or their life or job or the country didn't turn out the way they wanted, etc.
So, they take every opportunity to lash out at anyone in authority or power:
science, government, police, mainstream media, rich people, corporations, etc.
They make up lies to try to "get back at" those authority figures.
It also makes their dull lives more interesting. Same reason people claim to have ESP or have been abducted by aliens.
It gives them something cool to boast about in a bar: I'm special because I know the REAL truth about X.
From discussion on reddit
What about the Illuminati ?
Ok, you're going to get a lot of flack over this one, and in part that's justified, but I'm going to
go on the assumption that you're a bright young man/woman/cabbage and have just stumbled onto the concept
of the Illuminati and Worldwide Conspiracy™.
Now, these are exciting things for a few reasons.
- First of all, it's a nice, complete, explanation of Why Things Are The Way They Are.
It presents an exciting narrative (Ancient Secret Societies), presents a clear villain
(The Illuminati Who Control Everything), and weaves in just enough real-world facts that it has
a hint of truth to it. It tells a tale of how we got here, and presents a clear picture in an otherwise muddy world.
- On the subject of a clear picture, the Illuminati conspiracy story has another factor in its favor:
It's a black and white picture. There are Bad Guys™ controlling everything. There are Good Guys™ desperately
trying to get the word out to the unwitting populace, risking everything for the sake of The Truth™. The story
explains a very complicated world in a very simple way. People cling to conspiracy stories for much the same
reason they may cling to religion, or any other myth: it makes the world a less scary place because, as bad as
things may be, at least there's order to the world.
- Finally, one of the most satisfying things about conspiracy stories is that they reassure the believer
that the bad things are not their fault. "It's not your fault we treat black people/the poor/homosexuals/etc like s**t,
the all-powerful Illuminati have made it that way." In these stories you can, and should, fight that organization
but it's not your fault if you can't make a positive impact. In fact, your inability to affect the status quo or
to make anyone else believe in the story just reinforces how powerful the Illuminati is (in the story).
So, in the end, look on stories like the Illuminati as you would any other myth: There are some truths to be found
in there -- about how to act in a hostile world, for example -- but it is not literal truth. Heck, if you want
a laugh at the whole thing I'd recommend Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus Trilogy. It's a bit dated,
and stuck in '60s counterculture, but it's a nice teardown of the Illuminati story.
While your explanation of the power of conspiracy theories is a popular one, it misses the mark in several
important ways. Yes, conspiracy theory does divide the world in very simple ethical terms between a Good and an Evil,
but that's more a possible end result of conspiracy theory rather than the mechanism that makes it so appealing.
Rather, conspiracy theory is appealing precisely because of the way the theorist weaves together a dizzying convolution
of seemingly disparate facts on the way to creating a total narrative that is never quite arrived at.
It is precisely this conspiratorial tendency that Illuminatus! parodies so well.
Of course, what makes conspiracy theory such an enduring phenomenon (and here is where the more subtle
parody of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum comes in) is that anyone can play the game. There are lots
of theories out there that "explain why things are the way they are" in abstracted, simplified terms.
Certainly, religion does so. So does Marxism. So does sociology. But all these systems of understanding
have a kind of entry requirement that requires access to certain sorts of expert training, typically
through an institution like the University or the Church. The conspiracy theorist rejects the offerings
of such institutional knowledges - and he authorizes his own free-form truthmaking in an inverse proportion
to his confidence in authorized understandings of the world.
Thus, in addition to constantly inventing his own truth, he must constantly reject the truth he is given.
Nothing could be further from a simple, comforting view of life. First, there is always something of the
victim in the conspiracy theorist, precisely because he places himself in opposition to the "powers that be".
But this also entails a constant state of agitated overproduction of truth, in which the story must continue
to grow bigger simply to continue to exist. The pleasure of conspiracy theorizing is in just this constant
state of overcoming those phantoms of a hidden authority through a never-ending process of expanding narrative.
Conspiracy theory is not myth in the doctrinal sense you use it here, but rather something more akin to fable
or rumor - a practice whereby individuals take pleasure in their ability to re-present reality in ways that
contradict accepted interpretations of events.
Of course, there are certain kinds of charismatic political actors that could cause such renegade truth-makers
to collectively adhere towards the identification of the villain, hitherto a nebulous and always shadowy concept,
with a particular group. This might be the Illuminati or the lizard people. But it has been more
historically - and more tragically - a concrete and otherwise human Other: The Jews, The Bourgeois,
The Papists, The Commies. Here is where the figure of the intrepid crusader for truth passes over into
the inquisitorial mob, and s**t begins to hit the fan.
Also, conspiracy theorists get to stroke their egos: They know what's going on, while all the sheeple
are hopelessly stupid and ignorant. It feels good to believe the conspiracies.
From Maggie Koerth-Baker's "Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories"
... believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular.
Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard
to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.
Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power
over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty,
a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action. ... the amygdala jump-starts the rest of the brain
into analytical overdrive — prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent
and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should
be done now. This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain's capacity for generating
new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country.
"If you know the truth and others don't, that's one way you can reassert feelings of having agency,"
Swami says. It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed.
It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep.
From Skeptoid 364
No conspiracy theory has ever been proven true. I stand by this statement as fact,
given the distinction between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. So let's define that distinction clearly.
Conspiracies, as we refer to them, are crimes or schemes carried out in secret by a group of conspirators.
Sometimes they are discovered, like the three I just mentioned; and others have undoubtedly successfully
remained undetected. These clearly exist. But they are quite distinct from what we colloquially call
a conspiracy theory, which is claimed knowledge of a conspiracy that has not yet been discovered
by law enforcement or Congress or the newspapers or the general public. They are, in fact, future predictions.
They are the beliefs or conclusions of the theorist that they predict will eventually come true or be discovered.
... Unlike a Julius Caesar conspiracy discovered when or after it took place, a conspiracy theory
is of a discovery that has yet to take place.
I maintain my claim that a real conspiracy is very distinct from a hypothesized conspiracy; and I maintain
my claim that no hypothesized conspiracy, believed within the conspiracy theory community, has ever subsequently been discovered to be true.
From confluencer on reddit
What I hate about conspiracy theorists ...
What has always struck me about such people is that they never seem to have any kind of competence
in the underlying details of the system that is under scrutiny. I routinely excoriate them for being
total idiots, and I do this simply by asking a series of basic questions of competence that you would
expect to be correctly answered before believing anyone's theory about anything in any field.
9/11 truthers; What type of fuel did the flights contain? At what temperature does steel deform?
What was the load on each foundation? At what speed did the jet fly into the building? How many steel
support columns did the towers have? etc. etc.
Moon landings; How much fuel is used during a Saturn V burn? What is the required amount of energy
needed to move the command module to the moon? How heavy is the module? etc. etc.
Fluoride: What is the concentration of fluoride in the public water system? How can you test for this?
What are the chemical properties of fluoride? etc. etc.
The biggest thing that annoys me with conspiracy theorists, and by extension other pseudoscientists,
is their total lack of competence. If you're going to go full retard with some insane theory,
you better know your sh*t better than I do. Instead, all I get is vague paranoia about "they",
and "them", and "the controllers" and "the group". I mean seriously, get your sh*t together.
Conspiracy-theorists NEVER talk about the fact that there is a conspiracy theory "industry",
that people are making money or fame from pushing these theories, that some theories aid some corporations
or political groups or rich guys in fighting competitors or legislation. Even nations; Russia has a
long history of creating propaganda and having it swallowed by the people in the West.
Donna Ferentes's "10 characteristics of conspiracy theorists"
Adam Wears and Sam Jackson's "5 Reasons Conspiracy Theories Are Destroying the World"
Katy Waldman's "Creativity, Conspiracy Theories, and Delusions Have One Thing in Common: Apophenia"
Will Storr's "The 9/11 conspiracy theorist who changed his mind"
Skeptoid's "5 Conspiracy Theories that Turned Out to Be True ... Maybe?"
See also: Conspiracy section of my Anti-Science page
"Stonecutter's Song" from "The Simpsons":
Who controls the British Crown ?
Who keeps the metric system down ?
We do, we do.
Who keeps Atlantis off the maps ?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps ?
We do, we do.
Who holds back the electric car ?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star ?
We do, we do.
Who robs cave fish of their sight ?
Who rigs every Oscar night ?
We do, we DO !
- People have written books to "prove" the Bible
They love to say it's been "proven" to be
historically, medically, scientifically, geographically true.
But they're (deliberately) confusing "accurate in some places" with
"proven to be entirely true". Just because the Bible is sprinkled
with true facts of
various kinds doesn't make the whole thing true.
I could write a book and mention in it that the sky is blue;
that doesn't make my book "scientifically proven to be true".
And much of the "historical truth" in the Bible is greatly exaggerated or distorted.
A locally devastating flood becomes "a flood that covered the entire earth".
A locally strong king becomes "a king who reigned for a thousand years".
Some of the major events in the Old Testament may simply be false.
For example, there is no archaelogical or historical evidence that the Jews were
slaves in Egypt, Moses existed, or that an Exodus occurred.
Wikipedia's "The Exodus".
Scientists now believe that Jesus Christ had a wife. They also believe that Jesus' nephew called Jesus' wife the "Auntie Christ".
-- Conan O'Brien
- The creation of "The Bible" was not pretty.
The Bible was put together from writings created at
various times, by various authors, often written long after
the events involved. And the various religions have different
Bibles, choosing to include or exclude various pieces.
And then it went through translations, from oral-tradition Aramaic to Greek
to Latin to modern languages, often getting censored in the process.
Writing of the King James bible
Writing of the bible
There are at least a couple of dozen different English translations or versions
(see The Dark Bible: A Short History of the Bible).
And some of the translations
of well-known verses are wrong or very debatable.
For example, John 21:15-18,
according to "Not Everyone Calls Me Father" by Edwin Daschbach SVD
Even the translation of the "Number of the Beast" is a little unclear:
Wikipedia's "Number of the Beast".
From "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would
expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed,
revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors
and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.
Who wrote the Bible ?
- Literally true.
Some religious people pick and choose which pieces
of the Bible to take literally or symbolicly. If a piece makes
sense and they agree with it, it's the literal word of God. If another piece
clearly conflicts with logic or reality, they say that piece must be
symbolic. But maybe it's just wrong !
Bible verse poster
more Bible verses
Your lifestyle is an abomination
For example, most of what the Bible says about astronomy (including the shape of the Earth)
clearly is wrong; it reflects everyday beliefs of the time and place it was written, which
were wrong. How can it be the literal word of God and be so wrong ?
Sometimes they will parse every detail to the Nth degree:
Tribulations chart. And have bitter fights with each other
about the differing interpretations.
Sometimes they will extrapolate vague Biblical language to extraordinary lengths.
One guy tried to argue to me that the phrase "flesh and blood" in the Bible meant
that the Bible anticipated Harvey's explanation of the human circulatory system !
By the way, some of the language in the New Testament has first-century AD context that
readers today don't realize. For example, calling Jesus "savior", "Lord", "divine", etc
was done because Julius Caesar had claimed exactly those titles. Those were not new, literal
descriptions of Jesus; it was an attempt to seize the "public relations" mantle held
by Caesar. As well, labels such as "messiah", "King of the Jews", etc were not new;
they had been applied to many figures before Jesus, but the writings about him are
the ones that got popular and institutionalized and survived until our time.
Some of the things quoted aren't even in the Bible:
John Blake's "Actually, that's not in the Bible".
Some religious people pick and choose which pieces
of the Bible they'll obey. Part of the Bible says you should be
put to death if you curse your father; another says death for working on the Sabbath;
another forbids wearing clothes using "mixed fibers". Lots of American slave-owners
thought of themselves as perfectly good Christians; they found
no contradiction between the Bible and slavery.
where to put verse
Peter Ferguson's "How About We Force the Religious to Follow Their Own Rules"
Some parts of the Bible clearly contradict other parts (e.g. in the various Gospels:
the sequences of events, story of birth of Jesus, how did Judas die, what Jesus
says on the Cross, and more).
So some of these must be wrong; they can't all be right.
Jim Meritt's "A List of Biblical Contradictions"
From "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)"
by Bart D. Ehrman
... There were some books, such as the Gospels, that had been written anonymously,
only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them
(apostles and friends of the apostles). Other books were written by authors who
flat out claimed to be someone they weren't.
But if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus,
why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain
so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views
of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born,
of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning
and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God;
in John, that's precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom
of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus
teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus
refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically
the only reason he does miracles.
It's likely that the story of Exodus is a fabrication:
Wikipedia's "The Exodus - Ongoing debate".
From rasungod0 on reddit:
There are 3 different iterations of the 10 commandments mentioned in the Bible.
- Exodus 20:2-17 (the most commonly quoted version)
- Exodus 34:12-26
- Deuteronomy 5:6-21
They don't all contain the same 10, but then Judaism recognizes 613 commandments and it was their books first ...
Some people say "the Bible isn't a book, it's a library, so contradictions don't matter".
But by saying this, they seem to be abandoning "it's the Word of God".
And I certainly wasn't taught that when I was brought up in Catholic school.
Sermon on the Mount
Some predictions in the Bible clearly turned out to be wrong.
For example, a couple of the Gospels have Jesus saying that the Apocalypse
would come within the lifetimes of the Apostles, or within the current generation.
Religious people try to get around this by torturing the definitions of "lifetime"
and "generation" and "year", or by retreating from "literal" to "symbolic". While
still claiming all of the rest of the Bible is literally true.
- Some well-known parts of Roman Catholicism appear nowhere in the Bible:
the Pope, the Trinity. Some Catholics try to draw a line from the "Peter is my rock ..."
verse to a tax-exempt guy sitting in Rome, but it's a pretty thin argument.
For the first hundred years or more after the death of Jesus,
there were many different sects of Christianity, with widely varying doctrines and numbers of
gods, each believing they were the one true faith and all others were heresies.
And they hated each other far more than they hated non-believers.
Still true today: read the nasty things Christian authors who differ about the "end times" say about each other.
The "one true faith" and "one Bible" that Christians have today are merely the results of that fight among all of the sects
and splinters, many pieces and compromises pasted together via a political process.
And of course there is no "one true Christian faith" even today: Protestants and Catholics and others disagree
quite a bit with each other, about how to interpret the Bible, and other things.
Got the Bible right
Some religious people say the Bible is the oldest religious book in existence.
But it's not; the Veda is older than most of the Bible. Who knows
what older writings were lost over the ages, in disasters such as the burning of the library at Alexandria ?
And "oldest" doesn't mean "true" or "truest". The Bible was assembled from many writings
and oral traditions, adapting them to fit the politics and culture of the time, so it's hard to pin an age on it.
I wrote this in a discussion:
So how can anyone use the Bible as the base of their beliefs ? I think the answer is: we were taught to,
by our parents. If we didn't have all of that emotional investment in it, if it was just some book
we'd picked up by ourself later, we'd reject it as unbelieveable, unreliable, not matching reality,
self-contradictory. It's only because it was burned into our brain at an early age, by our parents
and our entire community, that we stick with it.
It helps that the Bible is so big and often vague; we can find anything we want in some part of it,
read what we want into it. And some people seem to have extended it by adding new-age concepts
such as "the universe needs balance" to it. Some people seem to subtract out the pieces they don't
like by saying "well, we don't have to obey those parts".
From captainhaddock on reddit
[It's a misconception that Christianity is based on the Bible.]
Earliest Christianity as we understand it consisted of local churches that followed the teachings
of various apostles and, later, bishops and theologians. The religion was incredibly diverse,
and local church leaders began compiling their teachings and traditions into epistles, Gospels,
Apocalypses, and hagiographies ("The Acts of So-and-So") for use in teaching, although the majority
of the population was illiterate and books were too expensive for all but the richest to own.
There were literally hundreds of these works, many of which still survive today.
Eventually, various church councils established acceptable doctrinal positions of orthodox Christianity,
and lists of popular documents that were acceptable for use in church were promulgated by leaders like
St. Athanasius. However, the importance of the texts was seen primarily in the fact that they preserved
some of the teachings of the early apostles, and they were seen as a supplement to existing traditions
and the apostolic authority of bishops.
At no point was Christianity ever "based on the Bible". On the contrary, the canon was written and
compiled on the basis of church teachings and tradition. How the canon is regarded by regional branches
of the church has also varied, from antiquity to the present. In the Eastern church, many canon lists
were proposed, but none universally accepted, so that today's Orthodox churches have the largest canon lists,
with many differences between them. In the Western church, the Vulgate established a de facto canon due to
its status as the official Latin translation, but this list was not formalized until the Council of Trent in 1546.
The Protestant Reformation introduced the sola scriptura principle due to its break with the Catholic church
and apostolic succession, but Luther also used his influence to throw out or demote much of the canon,
again showing how the Bible's usefulness to the church depended on how much it could be used to teach currently acceptable doctrines.
Thus, it is a common misconception that some Christians (particularly those from recent denominations founded
in the 19th and 20th centuries) as well as some nonbelievers think Christianity is founded on the Bible. Basing
a religion on a book is a fairly recent and unusual phenomenon, with Islam and Mormonism being the most prominent examples.
From Skrp on reddit
> Heard: Best way to increase your belief against
> God is to read the Bible ? Please explain.
The bible is so full of contradictions, morally reprehensible stuff touted as being morally good,
historical inaccuracy, and supernatural claims that if taken literally go against everything we know about science.
And through all this, it never once puts forth a good reason to believe a word it says.
It's completely circular. "This book is true because it's written by God, and we know it's written
by God because it says so in this book, which if you remember from before, is infallible, because it's written by God."
I mean, you have to be a believer, in order to read that thing and not have a distinct feeling that this
is a really antiquated piece of fan-fiction.
Haven't religions caused lots of good things to happen ?
- Beautiful cathedrals, which helped drive architecture and design and materials science.
Maybe religion is a good way to make the sustained 50-year
effort needed to build these. But probably it could be done
cheaper and simpler without all of the religious baggage.
And what if the effort put into building cathedrals had
been put into something else, such as building sewer systems or water systems ?
Maybe Europe would have been spared all those plagues.
- Religious art.
In Italy, I saw at least a hundred versions of the "Assumption".
All conforming to the same mold, all stuck in the same
subject-matter and stylistic rut. I guess religious money
helped support artists, but its effect is mixed.
- Made lots of people happy, stable, law-abiding.
Yes, except when they felt guilty about sin or worried
about hell, went broke giving their money to the church
or paying taxes to support it,
or slaughtered their infidel or heretic neighbors in a righteous war,
or tortured each other or burned them at the stake.
Or stayed married to an abusive spouse because divorce was a sin.
Or had children they couldn't feed because contraception or sex education was a sin.
Jon Stewart: giving hope
- Done charity work.
Yes, no doubt about it, this is a very good thing.
But many organized churches give less to charity, or have far higher "administrative overhead", than other charitable organizations
or even some businesses.
And often charitable work is accompanied by religious indoctrination or coercion, as in missionary work.
And it can be accompanied by harmful doctrines such as anti-gay or anti-contraception beliefs.
- Preserved cultural and traditional knowledge.
- Education (run schools).
- Provided counseling and comfort to the needy or ill or dying.
Marshall Poe's "Colleges Should Teach Religion to Their Students"
From Greta Christina's "The Armor of God"
The thing that uniquely defines religion, the thing that sets it apart from every other ideology or hypothesis
or social network, is the belief in unverifiable supernatural entities. Of course it has other
elements -- community, charity, philosophy, inspiration for art, etc. But those things exist in the
secular world, too. They're not specific to religion. The thing that uniquely defines religion is belief
in supernatural entities. Without that belief, it's not religion.
Melanie Pinola's "Seven Important Lessons from World Religions Everyone Should Know"
Religion versus morality:
It's entirely possible to be a good person and do good things,
without being religious.
And certainly it's possible to be a very bad person while being religious.
From interview of Marc Hauser in ??/2007 issue of Discover magazine:
I think that for many who come from a religious background,
religion is synonymous with morality. Some people think that if you're an
atheist, you simply have no morals. That is just wrong. There are an awful lot
of people who are atheists who do very, very wonderful things. As an objective question,
do people who have religious backgrounds show different patterns of moral judgements than
people who are atheists ? So far, the answer is a resounding no.
From Greta Christina's comment after Greta Christina's "The Armor of God"
Bertrand Russell quote
Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"
"The Reagan Doctrine" by Isaac Asimov
How could basic morals have developed, before religions got created ?
Countries with high rates of religious non-belief tend to be countries with very high rates of social functioning,
low crime rates, strong senses of mutualism and social responsibility, etc. Countries with high rates of religious
belief tend to be countries with high rates of crime, inequality, corruption, etc.
Now, it's unlikely that atheism causes this social health -- it's more likely the other way around.
But the idea that religion promotes ethical behavior is simply not born out by the evidence.
(Source: "Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment"
Perhaps morals developed from basic physical facts of life:
- I don't like pain, so I think it is wrong for people to hurt me.
- My brother helps me, so I think it is wrong for people to hurt him, too.
- I like pleasure, so I think it is wrong for people to take away things that give me pleasure (food, possessions, mate).
So those roughly translate to:
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
Some people say "how sad, don't you believe in anything ?"
Yes, I "believe in" reality. It's beautiful, ugly,
exciting, boring, simple, complicated, pleasant, painful. People are
sexy, disgusting, friendly, infuriating, stimulating, predictable.
Music, books, movies, internet, nature, exercise, work, play, emotion, choice.
What an amazing
world we live in !
Why would we have to believe fake stuff ?
Oh, it's fine to let go and immerse yourself in
a made-up book or movie or TV show for a while, but
to really believe something false for your whole life ? Why ?
You get to invent your own life, decide what meaning and purpose your life has, how it proceeds.
Be creative !
Prayer and belief
Elements of a religion:
- Theology: no god, one god, many gods ? How was the universe created and how
is it run ? Afterlife ? Souls ? Angels ? Does god intervene in human affairs ?
Of course, none of this is backed up by real evidence. It is superstition, beliefs without evidence, often illogical, enforced by
- Morals: rules for human behavior and interactions.
- Organization: do believers have to obey and fund priests ? Relationships
among god, scripture, liturgy, believers, priests.
Most organized religions are so un-American ! Think of most of the great American
principles: freedom, individuality, democracy, tolerance, diversity, ingenuity, self-made success.
These qualities are anathema inside most religions; most churches are
rigid hierarchies where you must adhere strictly to doctrine and obey the
priesthood. They have no tolerance for other viewpoints. They try
to crush individuality and diversity; they want everyone to think alike
and not question the church. Often this power leads to corruption and abuse.
- Practices: interactions between the religion and politics and society and non-believers.
Some religions seem to be mostly ethics or morality, and very little theology.
Maybe Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism, some forms of Unitarianism fall into this category ?
But Buddhism includes supernatural things such as realms and planes of existence, ghosts,
Buddhas of celestial origin that are projections of an eternal omnipresent being (in Mahayana),
some vague "connection of all beings", etc. Although many people seem to pick-and-choose
which pieces will be part of their
Buddhism, define pieces or words as they
which pieces are to be taken literally and which are not, and there are lots of variants and sects.
Many arguments end up at "well, my variant is the real
From comment on Greta Christina's "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God"
"... day to day Buddhism in Asia is effectively theistic; people pray to omnipotent beings
to give them good luck, salvation, and so on, and build temples where a clergy does complex
rituals involving these beings. Sophisticated 'atheist Buddhism' is a really, really Western
thing for people who still have a religious impulse but find religion justifiably impossible to accept."
Foundations of various religions and systems:
Parts of Christianity:
|Little green men
- God (supernatural being): unproven; no good evidence supporting this claim.
- Morals / ethics / Commandments / parables: some good stuff here.
- Specific claims about reality (creation of universe, life of Jesus, miracles by Jesus, etc): shown to be wrong, or no good evidence supporting the claims.
If you are just absolutely sure your religion is the one true religion, it's
just completely obvious, think of this:
Suppose you had happened to be born into a different religion, and
brought up with your parents and family and friends and community all
believing and instructing you in that other religion all your life. Wouldn't you
be just as absolutely sure today that that other religion was the true one ?
"If there are 100 religions, then at least 99 of them are certainly false."
Brandy Zadrozny's "Judging by the GOP, God Can't Pick a Campaign Winner"
Greta Christina's "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God"
Greta Christina's "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God, Part 2"
- The consistent replacement [over time] of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
- The inconsistency of world religions.
- The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
- The increasing diminishment [over time] of God.
- The fact that religion runs in families.
- The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
- The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.
- The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
- The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
- The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.
An Atheist Debate Reference
Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist
Pat Condell's "God bless atheism" video
C. Coville's "7 'Ancient' Forms of Mysticism That Are Recent Inventions"
Many religious people say the end of the world is near, mainly because "things
are worse now than they've ever been". But are things really worse
now than they were when the Goths were overrunning the entire civilized (Roman) world,
when the Mongols owned all of Asia, when the Black Plague had killed 1/3 of the population of Europe,
or when the Nazis had conquered all of Europe and the Japanese much
of the Pacific ? I think the world is better off now,
in terms of medicine and science-provided comforts
and democracy, than it's ever been. One exception is our ability to damage the
world with nuclear or biological weapons. And of course the world still has plenty
of war and poverty and disease; it's far from perfect.
And there is a long history, over a couple of thousand years, of various religious
people saying the end of the world is imminent. They've all been wrong.
"When it comes to bullsh*t, big-time, major league bullsh*t, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion
of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the
greatest bullsh*t story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an
invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man
has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things,
he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you
to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!
But He loves you.
AND god needs money! He's all-powerful, but he can't handle money!"
-- George Carlin
The Oatmeal's "How to suck at your religion"
At the Pearly Gates
The only question worth debating is "Does any god actually exist ?". I don't care about
free will, sin, the soul, the afterlife, or any other issues "inside" religion. Let's talk about the main issue:
"Do you have any good evidence that any god exists ?"
I find it very frustrating to debate religion with some religious people,
because they debate dishonestly. They'll try to defend a position, lose
that argument, and retreat into something vaguer or switch subjects without admitting that
they've retreated at all.
For example, they'll quote lots of sayings that come out of the Bible.
But when you cite examples of the Bible contradicting itself, they'll say
the Bible doesn't really matter anyway, it's the faith and the beliefs. Then when you show them that
their beliefs don't match reality, they'll say "well, what is reality or truth anyway ?".
If you can get past that, they'll claim to be talking about "Mythos", without
defining it as anything other than "stuff I want to believe and you can't talk me out of it".
Often they'll claim that the words "know", "understand" and "believe" are interchangeable.
Then they'll cycle back to quoting the Bible.
It would almost be comical, except that these people get an equal vote on what the
government should do and the laws it passes and how it spends my tax dollars !
Another example: they retreat to vaguer and vaguer things. Start out as Christian and Bible-quoting,
then retreat to "I have a faith instead of a religion" and a "personal Jesus" that can't be pinned down to anything specific.
This represents a general retreat of religion in the face of science, a retreat down various "levels" of God:
[When philosophers and academics (Aquinas, Descartes, Mackey, etc) debate about whether God
exists, they seem to be talking exclusively about the "Creator" type of God. It all
revolves around how the universe started: was there an "uncaused cause", or a mind that created the universe, or
an infinite series of causes, etc.]
- Intentional, interventionist God: runs everything in the universe, can be prayed to for help.
- Creator: God created the universe, then left it to run on its own.
- God is the universe or "connectedness": redefines the term "God" beyond common usage, making
it mushy and irrelevant.
- I have a "personal God" who only I can talk to.
- God is just some vague thing I want to believe, outside of language or the real world.
Another tactic: quantity over quality. A simple
question from me is answered with 5 pages of quotes from Scripture.
Of course, many times you can't even get a debate started:
A typical thing that happens to me:
A very similar thing that happens to me quite a bit:
- Religious Person: "God is great !"
- Me: "Most likely there is no God, see my web page for why I think that, I'd like to get your feedback."
- Religious Person: deletes my response, or un-Friends me, or blocks my email.
I've never un-Friended someone because they disagreed with me.
It's a cowardly thing to do.
- Person: "Obama is an incompetent idiot, a Socialist trying to ruin America."
- Me: "Please give some specifics, instead of just labels and insults."
- Person: un-Friends me.
"How to convert an atheist: A simple step-by-step guide",
from TheDerkus on reddit:
Hello! Are you a theist? Ever wonder why or how atheists don't see things your way?
Want to change that? Then you've come to the right place!
Step 1: Define God.
It seems everyone and their mother has their own view of God. The plethora of different gods under the same name
is confusing. Make sure you have established a coherent God. Only then can you proceed to discuss it.
Step 2: Evidence, not arguments
Philosophy is an interesting and fascinating subject, but it does not on its own tell us anything about
the nature of the world around us. No matter what an argument's conclusion, it's meaningless if it can't be demonstrated.
Step 3: Put it to the test!
Alright, you've got a coherent God, and you wish to convince atheists of its existence. First, you must ask
yourself a few questions. "If my God does exist, what would we expect as a result?" "How would it be different without my God?"
"How can I falsify my God?"
That last one is very important! It's unfair to expect an atheist to be open if you will under no circumstances
change your view. Prepare a reasonable set of criteria for falsifying your particular God.
Define God; Use evidence, not arguments; Put your God to the test.
Some religious people say "Why do you care what I believe ? Live and let live !"
I care because what they believe and vote for affects me. See the "these delusions are not just 'fun' and harmless"
section of this page. And religious people are busy trying to force their beliefs on my country,
writing "under God" into the government wherever they can, putting the Ten Commandments into government buildings
wherever they can, saying that the USA was founded as a Christian nation (it wasn't).
They're electing religious people who spend my money in religiously-motivated ways (Israel, wars to force democracy on
the Mideast, etc) and write laws to force their religiously-grounded beliefs on others (laws against gays, against contraception and abortion,
against teaching evolution, against using stem-cells, etc).
They're writing their beliefs into textbooks used to educate everyone's children.
From Alyeska2112 quoted in reddit's "Atheism FAQ"
From an angry outsider's perspective, we [atheists] are just a bunch of know-it-all jerks who want to stick our noses
in other peoples' business and piss on their beliefs. We're the ultimate trolls, raining on everyone
else's parade for no reason other than we're huge meanies.
But what these folks are missing is that we're not merely pointing out their convictions out of spite.
And we're certainly not upset just because we disagree with their point of view. The problem is that
religion - and in the Western world (the U.S. especially), that would be squarely on the
shoulders of Christianity - has been so much more than simply another way of looking at the world.
It has been a tool of ignorance, hate, rape, slavery, murder and genocide. And in current times,
it bombards us (again, especially in the U.S.) with an unceasing shower of judgement,
scorn and bullying. Religion creeps into our schools, our science classes even. It makes itself home
in our politics, our social views, our very laws. Those who adhere to religion FORCE their beliefs on the rest of us,
from the Pledge of Allegiance, to testifying in court, to our currency, to the Cub Scouts.
Religion has wormed its tentacles into every facet of our daily lives, often to cruel degrees.
Thanks to religion, our social norms dictate what entertainment we can and can't consume.
Thanks to religion, our political leaders feel obligated to thank GOD as our savior.
Thanks to religion, my son can't openly admit at Cub Scouts that he thinks the idea
of worshipping a god ("Poseidon", to use his example) is just silly. Thanks to religion,
countless people die every day in third world conflicts, and in developed countries,
folks still have to worry about coming out, or dating outside their race, or questioning moral authorities.
Most U.S. states still ban gay marriage, and most fail to specifically make gay adoption legal.
Hell, we only let gays serve in the military openly this year. Thanks to religion.
So when someone rolls their eyes and tells you to get over it, remind them how full of nonsense they are.
Our waking lives are policed, lawyered, governed and judged nonstop by the effects of two
thousand heavyhanded years of Christianity, and those who don't think that still holds true
in our modern day haven't got a clue. You can't even buy a beer on certain days in certain places
thanks to religion. It infests us and our society like a cancer. But because most people like this
particular cancer, they don't see the problem. And when we get pissy about
it all, they call us jerks and whine about their beliefs.
I hate living in a zealous world, and I hate having to constantly play by their nonsensical,
fairytale rules. If I need to vent once in a while about yet another right-wing religious
leader banging some guy in a motel room, or yet another church cover-up of child rape,
or yet another religious special interest interfering with my political system while
simultaneously receiving tax-exempt status, it's not because I'm being mean where
their "beliefs" are concerned. It's because I choose to use my brain, and when I open my eyes,
the world I see pisses me off. If they could form a critical, independent thought, they'd feel the same way.
From "To atheists: Why do you spend energy and attention on religion?" on reddit
Atheists as bad as fundamentalists
Why do you care ?
When an acquaintance believes obvious bullsh*t, it's silly.
When a friend or a family member believes obvious bullsh*t, it's distressing.
When a politician believes obvious bullsh*t, it's a farce.
When 47% of a nation that controls enough nuclear weapons to detonate the solar system believes
that the earth is 6000 years old, it's a f**king crisis.
Anti-rational thinking causes, and has the potential to cause, enormous problems for the human race,
and for individual human beings. Religion is both a symptom and a cause of this phenomenon.
I'd prefer if people believed true things, or at least were more hesitant to believe false ones.
Religious people spend energy and attention to create laws and situations that influence my life in negative ways.
And to be specific, they don't just use their energy, they waste the resources of society at large.
How many resources of our legislature have been wasted on irrational attempts to outright ban all forms of abortion?
Because I believe religion is detrimental to society.
Because Christianity is my state religion.
Because I believe in the value of evidence.
Because I believe that belief in an afterlife of some sort leads us to not care enough about this life.
Because I believe that belief in a caretaker deity leads us to not care about the planet.
Because the religious claim moral authority over me.
Because of the anti-intellectualism.
Basically because the religious cannot, do not, and have no inclination of letting their religion influence only them.
The only thing that has ever improved the lives of humans is education.
Religion is the antithesis of education. And, today, the vast majority of the world's children
spend a large portion of their time being forced to learn (divisive) bullsh*t masquerading as truth.
It's disgusting, and has set the world back centuries. And, not only is religion responsible for holding
back education, but it's directly responsible for absolutely massive amounts of human and animal misery.
Sometimes I get hate: Accept The Love Of Christ
The general shape of the debate I seem to have again and again:
- Religious Person: "God is great !".
- Me: "Most likely there is no God."
- RP: "YES, THERE IS !!!!!!! BIBLE SAYS SO !!!!!!".
- Me: "Bible is wrong."
- RP: "Every word of the Bible is literally true".
- Me: "Old Testament was written centuries or millenia after the events; New Testament was written decades or centuries after the events.
Bible has been translated through several languages; the words have changed, often drastically, sometimes for political reasons.
Books were thrown out by that council of bishops in 400 AD.
Bible says kill your bride if she's not a virgin."
- RP: "Well, every word isn't literally true, but Bible has been proven correct scientifically, historically, etc".
- Me: "Bible has some true facts sprinkled through it, but that doesn't prove the whole thing to be true.
And it contains lots of errors and contradictions."
- RP: "Well, the Bible is allegory or parable or 'mythos', so you can't dissect it".
- Me: "So it's not true, then ?"
- RP: "I'm right, you're wrong, I don't want to talk to you any more."
Burden of proof:
[From someone on reddit
A common gambit: "Prove that God doesn't exist !". Well, first you prove that Zeus and Apollo don't
exist, and then I'll use the same method [to prove that Jesus doesn't exist].
A common gambit: "Prove that God doesn't exist !".
Suppose I said I'd invented a car that went a million miles an hour, but wouldn't show it to you;
would the burden be on you to prove that I didn't
invent it ?
From Myron's comment on Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"
"It is impossible to disprove the existence of something. I'll make up an animal: the "flurb". There is no such animal.
It does not exist. Now ... PROVE to me it does not exist. You can't. You can't because proving something does not exist is impossible."
Most convincing fact that suggests there is no god: After 2000 years (or more) of EXTREMELY motivated searching,
believers have not found ANY good evidence that any god exists. They don't have any.
Another tactic: "You should respect my beliefs !" Who said all beliefs are worth of respect ?
Various extremists believe all Americans should be killed; do you "respect" that belief ?
Pat Condell on respecting faith (video)
Rev. Emily C. Heath's "How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions"
Respect beliefs based on books
Insensitivity toward beliefs
Greta Christina's "Atheists and Anger"
A similar statement:
Jon Stewart: war on Christianity
A common basis for debate by religious people:
- Belief in God is a matter of pure faith.
In fact, it's noble to believe something without requiring evidence !
- We have evidence: the Bible.
Bible is literally true, is the Word of God, proves existence of God.
First, these two positions conflict somewhat.
Second, religious people often debate by ping-ponging between the two positions.
When you make a convincing statement to defeat one position, they avoid answering and switch to
the other argument. When you push on that one, they avoid again and switch back to the other position,
without ever acknowledging that you already discussed that one.
Addressing these two arguments:
If you're going to believe in things without evidence, why don't
you believe in a thousand other things that you also could believe without evidence ?
Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, animism, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns, little green men running the universe, 2 + 2 = 5.
How do you choose what is true, without evidence ?
Maybe you believe Christianity because you happen to have been raised as a Christian,
or always associate with Christians.
If you had been born into a Hindu family and community, today you would
feel just as firmly that Hinduism was the one true religion.
You wouldn't be able to imagine why anyone would think differently.
There's nothing noble about faith. It's just a form of intellectual laziness: it's easier
to be told what to think, than to think for yourself, to evaluate the evidence and investigate many
- The Bible.
The Bible contradicts itself, in simple ways such as the Gospels disagreeing about
the order of events in Jesus' life
(Paul Carlson's "New Testament Contradictions (1995)"),
or Genesis contradicting itself
(Skeptic's Annotated Bible: The two contradictory creation accounts).
So at least some parts of it have to be wrong; it
isn't all true. If some of it is false, how do you know which parts are true and which are false ?
Jim Meritt's "A List of Biblical Contradictions"
1001 Contradictions & Discrepancies in the Christian Bibles
Skeptic's Annotated Bible: Contradictions in the Bible
The Bible (and Christianity) is a narrative that was politically and culturally popular and necessary.
"Whitey (the Egyptians, then the Romans) is oppressing us good guys (the Jews).
But we're chosen by God, so keep the faith, brothers, and we shall overcome !" This narrative was developed in oral traditions,
with bits pasted in from previous stories, applied to Jesus as well as others before him, then written
down by many unknown authors and massaged over several centuries, with parts being censored or voted in or out in a political process.
[Some people doubt that Jesus ever existed (pic).
I'd guess Jesus did exist, but was just one in a long line of preachers.]
Nothing in the Bible is testable, repeatable evidence that God exists. It's a pastiche of actual historical events,
miracles and visions that could have had natural causes,
testimony by people who believed and had very obvious motives, and vague statements that can be interpreted
any way you like. And it was written (long after the events) by people who believed and had very obvious motives.
They stood to gain from having a Bible and a religion that told people to believe and obey them.
The Bible is propaganda.
Bible is the claim
There are lots of old books. And anyone can write a book.
You Can't Argue With Christians
Robert Durdle's "40 Questions To Ask A Christian"
Victor Stenger's "How to Debate a Christian Apologist"
Things Christians Do
Bible Facts label
Common "put-down"s religious people use against atheists:
Atheists as bad as fundamentalists
Atheists are hated
Atheists are know-it-alls
Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"
- "Oh, you must be so sad !"
You don't know anything about me; why are you jumping to the conclusion
that I'm sad ? And why do you think that forcing yourself to believe
in an imaginary wonderful God is achieving happiness ?
- "You just don't understand !"
With the subtext, "you're too stupid to understand".
And they're misusing the word "understand", which usually means to be
able to explain something in simpler terms, and maybe predict new things about it.
They really mean "believe blindly" when they say "understand". Maybe I completely
understand what you're saying, but I just think it's wrong (and I can give you reasons why).
- "I used to think like that."
With the subtext, "but I grew out of it".
- "If only you would be open to the message !"
Maybe I've heard the message and understood it and still think
it's nonsense. Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean
that you're "open" and I'm "closed".
- "Aren't you seeking answers ?"
Yes, but "accept my religion whole, without thinking about it or doubting anything"
is not a valid "answer".
- "Someday you'll wake up !"
As in, "just wait until the Afterlife and then you'll be sorry".
I guess threats are needed to keep people toeing the religious line.
How did we get from Jesus saying "love thy neighbor" to modern religions saying
"non-believers will burn in Hell forever"
(picture1, picture2, picture3) ?
And if Christians really, really believe
in Heaven, why do they struggle to avoid death ?
- "I'm a better person than you (donate more money, do more charity, etc), so I must be right."
This is an "ad hominem" (personal) attack that has no place in serious debates.
If you have to resort to this kind of attack, your argument must
be too weak to stand on its own merits.
If you ask "what is 2 + 2 ?", Hitler says "4" and Mother Theresa says "5", who is right ?
Other common things religious people say:
- "Your belief that God doesn't exist is just like my belief that God does exist."
Atheism is just: a lack of belief in a god or gods. Now, there is a subset of atheists called "strong atheists"
who say something like "I am 100% ABSOLUTELY SURE that no God exists". I don't say that, and I
think that statement is wrong.
If there's evidence supporting X, then I think X is true.
Despite having no good evidence, you believe God is true.
There's a huge difference between those two ways of thinking.
"Science adjusts its views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved."
-- Tim Minchin
If atheism is a religion, then it should get a tax-exemption as other religions do !
"Atheism is just another religion" section of reddit's "Atheism FAQ".
- "I had a mystical experience where I saw God or the Afterlife"
These generally can be explained by "our brains do weird things to us".
Under anaesthesia, illegal drugs, chemicals from spoiled food, shock, infection, parasites,
stress, sleep or half-sleep, or by electrical stimulation,
our brain can make us experience things which are not real (not coming from anything
external to your body, through your senses). Essentially they are dreams.
And what kind of person is most likely to react to a brain-stimulus by
seeing God or the Afterlife ? A religious person, who's been taught about God
since birth, spent lots of time in church, read about God in Bible and books, thought about God and imagined God while praying,
talked about God with others, gone to Christian movies, seen lots of religious art in church
and museums and books. Their brain is full of religious stuff waiting to be triggered.
Scientists can stimulate such things in the laboratory by putting electrodes into the brain.
With normal people, repeatably, any time they want.
Wikipedia's "Out-of-body experience"
This is similar to other well-known brain phenomena such as feeling someone is in your bedroom
as you're falling asleep, or feeling paralyzed while in a dream
("What is Sleep Paralysis?").
Other examples of brain weirdness:
"deja vu", optical illusions, hypnosis, savant syndrome. Heck, normal dreaming during sleep is a good example of
"brain weirdness", and dreams can be extremely realistic and convincing.
James Vincent's "How to make ghosts in the lab: scientists trick volunteers into reporting 'feelings of presence'"
Even parasites can affect brain and behavior:
This does not prove that you didn't see God. But "brain weirdness" is a much simpler,
testable, repeatable explanation that is consistent with much else that we know about the brain,
the body, and common experiences.
So, which is the more likely explanation: that your brain did something strange, or
that God decided to appear to you when you were going under anaesthesia or injured or whatever ?
- "I just feel the presence of God everywhere"
We can will our brains into a state of euphoria. You're probably just creating
a lot of serotonin or endorphins or dopamine or something in your brain.
- "Existence of the world (or universe) is proof that God exists"
How does that follow ? I don't see that as a logical statement.
Which God ? How is it proof that Jesus exists, as opposed to, say, the Greek gods, or the Norse gods,
or some other gods ? Maybe it's "proof" that Satan is the one true God who created the world.
Science can explain how universe arose from a few very basic events and laws;
no need to imagine a God doing it. If you're claiming an omnipotent, omniscent, omni-present God
exists, the burden of proof is on you. You'd better have some pretty clear, convincing, unambiguous evidence
for such an extraordinary claim !
Often this "existence of world proves God" argument boils down to "I don't understand how things work,
so it must be God". But just because something is complex or you don't understand it, doesn't mean
it's impossible to explain or no one understands it.
- "It is religion's job, not science's job, to find the meaning of life."
Religion doesn't help us "find" anything; it merely tells people what to believe.
It doesn't add to our knowledge, help us solve problems, help us find truth. It just dictates.
I don't find the idea of an omnipotent guy who is hiding from us, yet may decide to torture me for all eternity after I die,
to be very comforting or uplifting or to give my life meaning.
- "Claim of God's existence is not a falsifiable theory so science can't address it."
This results from confusing FACTS and THEORIES.
Suppose you have facts A and B, and come up with theory T to explain them. Facts "The sky is orange"
and "the sun is low on the horizon". Theory "light gets refracted by the atmosphere" or something.
You have to evaluate each fact against reality to see if it is true. If the facts are true,
the theory might still be either true or false. If the facts are false, the theory is irrelevant; it's just speculation.
Religious people are claiming that fact "god exists" is true. They use that to go to theories such as
"god created the universe". I am saying "they have not shown that the fact is true".
Until that is shown, none of the theories from it are worth discussing.
Theories have to be falsifiable to be "scientific" or testable. Facts have to match reality to be true.
Interesting interviews about being atheist in the Arab world:
Interview with an Arab atheist,
Interview with an Arab atheist, Part II.
Why it's hard for religious people to "convert" to reality:
From Church of Reality's "Evangelizing Reality"
[Religious people believe in] a narrative taught to them from early childhood that
they have come to rely upon and accept as their world view.
Belief in fictional deities is one of the root axioms that they have built their awareness around
and for which a lot of their personal world view relies upon. If they were, for example, to realize
that God is fiction then it would change their entire world. Many of their friends will reject them.
They might not have a place in their church community anymore. They would have to endure the stigma
that other religions have put on Atheism as something that is evil, or a disease, a form of mental
illness, something that must be cured. This is a very big step for most people who rely upon the
comfort of their place in society and are not willing to put their social position at risk.
What we are up against in fiction-based religions is that using the name of God they can promise you anything.
They have everlasting bliss in Heaven, 70 virgins, omnipotent intervention, an inflated sense of self worth,
a loving community, ego treats, a sense of some grand purpose, and of course, burning in Hell forever
for those who fail to believe. One thing that religions understand is that they start brainwashing
their children early because they understand that the earlier they establish mental patterns the harder it is to change them.
... All you have to do is believe and an omnipotent protector is going to intervene on your behalf and
take care of you forever. What a deal! People want the quick fix. Reality often isn't a pretty picture. ...
There are high costs for leaving your religion: you may alienate your family, friends and community, and lose their support.
Your business or career may suffer.
If much of your social life is based around your church, you may lose that.
You may even destroy your marriage:
godlessindixie's "Advice for the Unequally Yoked"
godlessindixie's "The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith"
But then there's this:
godlessindixie's "What Has Atheism Done For Me?"
From John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky's "The Debunking Handbook" (PDF):
Effective debunking requires:
- Core facts - a refutation should emphasise the
facts, not the myth. Present only key facts (keep it concise).
- Explicit warnings - before any mention of the
myth, text or visual cues should warn that the
following information is false.
- Alternative explanation - any gaps left by
the debunking need to be filled. Provide an alternative causal explanation.
- Graphics - core facts should be displayed graphically if possible.
Some people, in the middle of an argument, say "well, what is reality anyway ?" My response:
Usually people bring up "well, what is reality anyway ?" just as a tactic to stop a debate.
I understand it's a serious question in serious philosophy, but in common-sense debate among real people,
I don't see the use of it. We talk about real things, real religions and real churches and real acts and real guns and real people
and real laws and real policies, and then sometimes when someone is losing the argument, they fall back to
"well, what is a fact anyway ?" or something.
If you doubt that reality exists, then you should never base anything you say or believe on the Bible,
because how can you be sure the Bible exists ? How can there be an afterlife, because how do you know this
life exists ? Maybe you shouldn't vote, or use a computer, because how do you know reality exists ?
So I think it's wrong to shift gears and bring up that deep philosophical concept as if it was
a useful point in a discussion.
Same thing when, halfway through a debate, someone says "well, define 'god' !". That's just an attempt to
distract. In common discussion, 99% of people accept that "god" means "an intentional, supernatural being",
maybe adding "that has absolute control of the natural universe".
No need to debate the details.
"Is there any good evidence that any god actually exists ?"
Attempts to argue away the lack of evidence amount to "God is hiding from us" or "God is tricking us".
Attempts to argue from subtle philosophical principles amount to "we want something to be true,
so we're going to make guesses and twist words until we can claim it's true".
Some of my non-religious friends say "Why do you bother debating those religious nuts ? They'll never listen to reason":
US Constitution, and USA as a "Christian nation":
Many of the Founders were Deists, not Christians.
From reddit's "Atheism FAQ"
"Deists believe that a higher power created the universe long ago but is not or no longer actively present
in the world and does not intervene in its affairs. ... Most deists do not engage in the usual
religious practices of praying, worshiping, rituals, restrictions in diet and/or lifestyle
or regarding a central holy doctrine."
The words "God", "Jesus", "Christ" and "Christian" don't
appear anywhere in the Constitution (or in the Bill of Rights, or in the first constitution: the Articles of Confederation).
An odd omission, if they were trying to establish a Christian nation.
Things That Are Not In the U.S. Constitution
beliefnet's "Articles of Confederation"
The Declaration of Independence does contain the word "God", in the phrase "Nature's God",
and some similar words such as "Creator".
But not "Jesus", "Christ" or "Christian". And the Declaration is not a legal document of the USA;
it was written before the USA was formed.
About.com's "Declaration of Independence & Christianity Myth"
If the Founders intended to establish a "Christian nation", wouldn't they have put that explicitly in
the title, or right in the beginning, or somewhere
, in one or more of those documents ? They didn't.
The Constitution doesn't actually say "separation of church and state"; 1st Amendment says
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."
Ten Commandments in public buildings
Image about the Constitution
From televised interview on May 30, 1997:
David Frost: Say, is this still a Christian Country ?
Reagan on religion
Founding fathers on Christianity
Andy Borowitz's "In Landmark Decision, Supreme Court Strikes Down Main Reason Country Was Started"
Billy Graham: No! We're not a Christian Country. We've never been a Christian Country.
We're a secular Country, by our constitution. In which Christians live and which many
Christians have a voice. But we're not a Christian Country.
"Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies."
- Thomas Jefferson
Pledge of Allegiance
Dr. John W. Baer's "The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History"
America should get back to biblical Christian principles
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