Reasoning about Religion

God the Father, from Monty Python's Holy Grail
Believe facts and reality, not lies and delusions and scams. Accept Reason !

The Big Picture

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

+/- The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense
XKCD's "The Economic Argument"

There are common threads to many examples of these things

  • Someone trying to make a buck:
    • Support your church: donate money. (Simpsons)
    • Buy UFO dolls in the Roswell gift shops.
    • Pay me to read your palm or write your horoscope. Tarot readings
    • 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.'s "The Red Flags of Quackery"
Skeptoid's "How to Spot Pseudoscience"

These delusions are not just 'fun' and harmless

  • They can cost the rest of us money:

  • 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).
      Your religion is violent
      1015 vs 2015
    • War:
      +/- 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".

      From Sam Harris's "10 myths - and 10 Truths - About Atheism":
      People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

      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"
      Kill People
      George Carlin
      Joseph Smith

      Priest blessing guns

      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"
      Ewen MacAskill's "George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'"

  • Religion can cause dangerous behavior:
    • People who go to faith healers first, then to a doctor when it's too late.
      You don't see faith healers working in hospitals
    • 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.

  • Insular, authoritarian groups often lead to abuse:

  • 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.
    My Conspiracy Theories page

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".

Do you want people who think that way to be holding office, making laws, serving on juries ?

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, grotesque immorality.

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
David Niose's "Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America"
What's The Harm
William Saletan's "Rule of Lord"
The Tao of Reason's "The Problem with Magical Thinking"
Valerie Tarico's "6 Ways Religion Does More Bad Than Good"
Valerie Tarico's "Why religion unleashes humanity's most violent impulses"
Janet Allon and Kali Holloway's "9 senseless social panics that did lasting damage to America"
Why Beer Is Better Than Jesus
Barry Goldwater

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: "I have no belief in God".

Most Atheists probably think:

  1. 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?"

  2. 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.

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.

Atheism is a conclusion, not a belief system or way of thinking. It is a decision to have no belief in God.

Wikipedia's "Atheism"

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.

Similarly, either materialism or Christianity must be true, it's one or the other. Nope.

Atheists are not "Satanists". In fact, they're sort of the opposite of Satanists. Satan is part of the Christian beliefs, a supernatural being in the Bible.

Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"
The Brights
Greta Christina's "7 groups atheists can turn to in times of need"
Wikipedia's "Discrimination against atheists"

What do Anti-Theists think ?

Religion and faith are harmful.

Religion usually is based on false beliefs (God, supernatural, soul, afterlife, etc). People shouldn't believe false things.

Faith is a bad way to think. It is belief without evidence, and often belief despite contrary evidence. And it carries over to other arenas, such as politics (leading to anti-science, climate change denial, anti-vaxxing, etc).

Wikipedia's "Antitheism"
Wikipedia's "Antireligion"

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.

Wikipedia's "Agnosticism"


"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 ?
Peter Lawrence Kane's "The Insane Hate Mail Collected by an Organization Fighting for Separation of Church and State in the Military"
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Dylan Matthews' "You give religions more than $82.5 billion a year"
David Niose's "Americans are leaving religion. Why are we still subsidizing it?"
Christianity pushed on us

Wikipedia's "Secularism"
Secular Coalition for America

If Islam were treated like Christianity in USA


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."

What do Satanists think ?

Two completely different groups under this label:
  • Theistic Satanism: Devil exists, supernatural exists, do spells, etc.

  • Atheistic Satanism: Carnalism, individuality, Church and State should be separate.
    [This is just secularism; why do these people call themselves Satanists ?]

Wikipedia's "Satanism"


From Skeptoid's "What Is Skepticism?":
"Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It's the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion."

Wikipedia's "Skepticism"

From Daniel Loxton's "What Do I Do Next?":
Remember that "skepticism" is different from "atheism". Lots of active skeptics are religious.
  • Skepticism is an approach to testable, physical claims. Atheism is a conclusion regarding an untestable metaphysical claim.

  • Many skeptics are religious. The modern skeptical movement was built partly by people of faith (including giants such as Harry Houdini and Martin Gardner).

  • You don't have to be against god to be against fraud.

Summarizing the terms

  • Atheist: a conclusion; lack of belief in god.

  • Anti-Theist: a conclusion; religion is wrong and harmful and should be opposed.

  • Agnostic: a conclusion; I don't know if God exists, or we can't know if God exists.

  • Secularist: a belief that people should be free to practice any religion or no religion; government should be neutral on matters of religion.

  • Humanist: a positive program of ethics and values.

  • Skepticism: a way of thinking; applying reason and critical thinking to find truth.


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).

    From The Scathing Atheist 2015-06-25 (MP3):
    ... if religious people actually believed what they were saying, you'd never catch any of them crying at a funeral, or making any active effort to avoid dying. And yet, when their mothers die, regardless of how saintly their mothers are, they know that they're never going to see them again. You know, when their children die, or when their spouses die, they know it's over. They act like they know it's over. They react in the same way the atheists react, with the exact same amount of sadness and finality. Which says to me, that when the chips are down, nobody believes in God.

  • 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.
    Bob Seidensticker's "Your Religion Is a Reflection of Your Culture - You'd Be Muslim if You Were Born in Pakistan"
    Childhood indoctrination
    Simple geography

  • Indoctrination.

    Philosophers or academics may come to believe in God via reasoning. But usually normal people don't; they 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.

Summarized from Josh Zepps interview of John C. Wathey:
For biological / survival reasons, a human baby is born with a hard-wired instinct to cling to its mother, an all-powerful nourishing protecting loving being. That instinct forms the basis of a desire to believe in God later.

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".

Sigmund Freud on the Idea of God

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.

It's hard to come up with something that would replace these things for religious people. For many of the religious, it's not enough to show that their beliefs are false. They need some way to keep the good parts, while discarding the false parts. It's hard to come up with something as compelling as "all-powerful parent in the sky, heaven after you die, hell if you don't do what we tell you".
Salvation for Dummies

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.'s "Were events in Jesus' life copied from other saviors/god-men/heroes?"'s "Parallels between Jesus & Horus, an Egyptian God"'s "Linkages between two God-men saviors: Christ and 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 time.

    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:
God's power declining

Camera invented

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.

The Bible

  • People have written books to "prove" the Bible is fact.

    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 archaeological or historical evidence that the Jews were slaves in Egypt, Moses existed, or that an Exodus occurred.
    Wikipedia's "The Exodus".

    Noah's ark
    A different take on the "David vs Goliath" story: Malcolm Gladwell's "The unheard story of David and Goliath"

    Valerie Tarico's "9 things you think you know about Jesus that are probably wrong"

    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 debatable: 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.

    Valerie Tarico interview of Rich Lang
    Who wrote the Bible ?
    The Church of Truth's "Gospels Not Written By Matthew, Mark, Luke or John"

  • 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
    West Wing
    Kill all the little boys
    My sin

    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".

    Kurt Eichenwald's "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin"

  • Obedience.

    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.
    WelcomeToParadise cartoon
    where to put verse
    Jesus was
    Rich evangelists
    Peter Ferguson's "How About We Force the Religious to Follow Their Own Rules"
    Mark Sandlin's "10 POLITICAL Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus"
    Let's begin this meeting with a prayer

  • Contradictions.

    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

  • Predictions.

    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.

  • Sects:

    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

  • Age.

    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.

Apparently the concept of the Trinity is mostly a 3rd-century AD invention ? Discussed by Tertullian ?

Valerie Tarico's "Why is the Bible so badly written?"

Religious books

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.

Richard Carrier's "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story"

Free will

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.

    While stomping on the parts of it they didn't like, I'm sure.

  • Education (run schools).

    And using them to spread religious propaganda.

  • Provided counseling and comfort to the needy or ill or dying.

    Marshall Poe's "Colleges Should Teach Religion to Their Students"

  • Encouraged meditation or self-examination.

    It's good for people to take some quiet time, in church or elsewhere, to think about their life and big issues.

  • Provided good morals.

    Usually true at the highest, most general level (love thy neighbor, do unto others, don't steal, don't kill, etc). Often false as the religion gets more specific (smite the unbeliever, kill the apostate, kill your bride if she's not a virgin, "honor killings", etc). And for example, why do the Ten Commandments include "graven images" and "Sabbath" and not commandments against slavery, rape, arson, child abuse ? Someone says the original-language text of "Thou shalt not kill" says "don't kill people in your own tribe".

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.

From Sam Harris's "10 myths - and 10 Truths - About Atheism":
Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception". There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.

In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?

Melanie Pinola's "Seven Important Lessons from World Religions Everyone Should Know"
Mr. Rogers

Benefits of not believing in God and religion

  • Seeing reality more objectively. Issues are easier to understand, problems easier to solve if you don't start with a bias and see everything through a filter.

  • Using your brain more. Thinking is good, thinking is fun, and practice makes your thinking better.

  • More productive use of your former religious-time. Instead of reading the Bible, read books that give you useful information. Instead of going to church, do something productive.

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":
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")

Bertrand Russell quote
Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"
Phil Zuckerman's "How secular family values stack up"
"The Reagan Doctrine" by Isaac Asimov

How could basic morals have developed, before religions got created ?
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.

Maybe all that is needed to develop morals is to have the capacity for empathy and reasoning ? Science has traced "mirror neurons" to imitation to empathy.

Jill Suttie's "Finding Morality in Animals"
Wikipedia's "Evolution of morality"

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
Prayers - no

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 indoctrination.

  • 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 wish, decide 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 Buddhism". And much of Buddhism seems to be useless word-play; it reminds me of Gertrude Stein's "there's no there there". Or Deepity.
Roberto A. Ferdman's "Why people think total nonsense is really deep"

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:
System Old
Prophets God
came to
Buddhism Y   Y    
Taoism Y ? Y ? Y ?    
Confucianism Y   Y    
Little green men   Y (UFO's)   Y (UFO's)  
Judaism Y (Torah) Y Y Y  
Christianity Y (Bible) Y Y Y  
Islam Y (Koran) Y Y    
Greek/Roman gods Y Y Y Y  
Science         Y
Animism   Y Y Y  
Hinduism Y Y Y ? Y  

Parts of Christianity

  • 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 ?

From reggiedixon:
"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"

From Greta Christina's "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God" and Greta Christina's "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God, Part 2" :
  1. The consistent replacement [over time] of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
  2. The inconsistency of world religions.
  3. The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
  4. The increasing diminishment [over time] of God.
  5. The fact that religion runs in families.
  6. The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
  7. The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.
  8. The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
  9. The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
  10. 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.

Terrific podcast episode: Sam Harris's "The End Of Faith, Session 1"

"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:
  1. Intentional, interventionist God: runs everything in the universe, can be prayed to for help.
  2. Creator: God created the universe, then left it to run on its own.
  3. God is the universe or "connectedness": redefines the term "God" beyond common usage, making it mushy and irrelevant.
  4. I have a "personal God" who only I can talk to.
  5. God is just some vague thing I want to believe, outside of language or the real world.
[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.]

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: Believer with fingers in ears

A typical thing that happens to me:
  1. Religious Person: "God is great !"
  2. Me: "Most likely there is no God, see my web page for why I think that, I'd like to get your feedback."
  3. Religious Person: deletes my response, or un-Friends me, or blocks my email.
A very similar thing that happens to me quite a bit:
  1. Person: "Obama is an incompetent idiot, a Socialist trying to ruin America."
  2. Me: "Please give some specifics, instead of just labels and insults."
  3. Person: un-Friends me.
I've never un-Friended someone because they disagreed with me. It's a cowardly thing to do.

"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. They're bringing their religious views into how they do their govt job (Kim Davis), their job in a pharmacy, etc.

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 2/2014:
From Skololo:
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.

From DrewNumberTwo:
Religious people spend energy and attention to create laws and situations that influence my life in negative ways.

From thingandstuff:
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?

From heidavey:
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.

From stringerbell:
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.

Atheists as bad as fundamentalists
Why do you care ?

Sometimes I get hate: Accept The Love Of Christ

If you're going to be offended all the time, maybe the internet isn't the place for you

The general shape of the debate I seem to have again and again

  1. Religious Person: "God is great !".
  2. Me: "Most likely there is no God."
  3. RP: "YES, THERE IS !!!!!!! BIBLE SAYS SO !!!!!!".
  4. Me: "Bible is wrong."
  5. RP: "Every word of the Bible is literally true".
  6. Me: "Old Testament was written centuries or millennia 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."
  7. RP: "Well, every word isn't literally true, but Bible has been proven correct scientifically, historically, etc".
  8. 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."
  9. RP: "Well, the Bible is allegory or parable or 'mythos', so you can't dissect it".
  10. Me: "So it's not true, then ?"
  11. 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.

Religious logic

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
Bertrand Russell
Force beliefs
Aggressive atheists
Greta Christina's "Atheists and Anger"

Respect my beliefs

A similar statement: Majority being oppressed

Jon Stewart: war on Christianity

A common basis for debate by religious people:
  1. Belief in God is a matter of pure faith.

    In fact, it's noble to believe something without requiring evidence !


  2. 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:
  1. Faith:

    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 different possibilities.

  2. 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.
    William Saletan's "There Is No Such Thing as the Bible"

    [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

    Some believers disavow the Old Testament, because there is so much indefensible craziness in it. But by doing so, they're relinquishing the story of God creating the universe (Genesis), Noah's Ark, the Ten Commandments, Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt to the Promised Land (Exodus), etc.

    There are lots of old books. And anyone can write a book.
    from Buddha

"Objective morality": an argument I seem to be hearing more:
  1. Objective morality is the only right morality.
  2. Objective morality has to come from a giver of laws, AKA God.
  3. Therefore God exists.
I don't see how #1 and #2 are anything but unsupported assertions.

Paraphrased and quoted from William Lane Craig's "'Objective' or 'Absolute' Moral Values?":
  • "Objective" vs "subjective" morality: Independent of opinion, or "just a matter of personal opinion".

  • "Absolute" vs "relative" morality: Are moral duties relative to circumstances ? For example, is killing always immoral ? No.

  • "Universality" of morality: Does everyone agree on one moral code ? But people could be agreed on a bad moral code.
"The point is that if God exists, there are objective moral values and we have objective moral duties to fulfill in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. But the objectivity of those values and duties doesn't imply that they do not vary with the circumstances. They are objective, whether or not they are also absolute and universal."
I don't see how the last quote makes sense. "if God exists, there are objective moral values" seems unsupported.

From discussion on reddit:
... The religious person often assumes that their morals are superior just because they have objective morals from a God being, whereas the atheist would say they have superior morality because it can evolve to become better.

I fall with the atheist camp on this discussion. The biggest problem I have with religion is their very idea of objective morals. In other words, they presume their morals are perfect and will never need to be changed. At the same time, religions and religious people seem to constantly change their morals to fit the modern times. For example, slavery is clearly allowed in the Bible throughout the old and the new testament. Jews and Christians both should be saying then that slavery is totally fine. But as culture has changed, they now admit that slavery is evil and wrong and try to justify their holy books by saying things akin to it being told out of context, or that the circumstances have changed since then and that God would say slavery is bad in the modern age.

We see these kinds of arguments for other issues as well. Genocide, the murder of children, the disregard for women's rights, etc. These are some things that are allowed in quite a few ways according to the Bible, Torah, and some even in the Quran. Don't misunderstand, I know there is some context behind these beliefs, but not enough I would say to justify it or plainly say they are wrong.

The supposed objective morality of the religious don't seem to be truly objective as they are constantly changing with the times. ...


... Of course modern Christians don't agree with the interpretation that slavery as in "whips and rags" was allowed in the OT, yet Deuteronomy specifically states that you may purchase people as property from your neighbors.

For nearly 3000 years, Abrahamists didn't even have a problem with that, as slavery was the norm in the ancient world, an Israelite would not have seen anything wrong with the institution of chattel (aka whips and rags) slavery.

But beginning about 200-300 years ago, the West started to have serious problems with chattel slavery, and have since banned it entirely. Now, a modern Christian reads Deuteronomy and of course they must have meant some other type of slavery, because no way would God allow people to own each other as property (even though this is explicitly stated in the text). ...


Are things moral because god says they are OR can god ONLY say moral things.

Then please explain why god condones slavery.

Also, I have always known that owning other people as property is wrong.

I am and have always been more moral than your god.

I'm better than him and so are almost all christians. You know that slavery is wrong and will jump through so many hoops in order to defend your god's approval of slavery.

Why do you lower your morality into the gutter by following an immoral god?


[A bunch of religious people saying: the morality of the Bible is objective and true, we just don't understand it correctly, or follow it, or something. It doesn't change, our understanding of it changes.]

From coelsblog's "Six reasons why objective morality is nonsense":
I suspect that they're actually trying to attain objective backing for what is merely their own subjective opinion of what is moral. This is the trick the religious have long played, inventing a god in their own image who can back them up by turning "I want ..." into "God wants ...".


So why are we all so afraid of admitting that, yes, morality is subjective? I suggest that this owes to several misconceptions.
  • Subjective does not mean unimportant. A subjective morality is one rooted in human feelings and desires. These are the things that are most important to us, indeed the only things important to us!

  • Subjective does not mean arbitrary. Human feelings are not arbitrary. It is not arbitrary that we love our children while most of us dislike and fear spiders and snakes, nor that most of us like the taste of chocolate while shunning excrement. Our feelings and attitudes are rooted in human nature, being a product of our evolutionary heritage, programmed by genes. None of that is arbitrary.

  • Subjective does not mean that anyone's opinion is "just as good". ... if we decide morality by a broad consensus - and that, after all, is how we do decide morality - then we arrive at strong communal moral codes.

From someone on reddit:
What it boils down to is this:

People are terrified of believing that cultural norms are the only things standing between us and utter moral depravity. It somehow feels much better and reassuring to say that, on some level, Hitler didn't just violate the cultural norms of those of us who see a value in human life, but somehow also violated some kind of objective moral law of the universe. Why does that reassure us? Because saying that he merely violated a set of relative moral norms somehow doesn't do justice in condemning his actions. We need to feel that the universe itself stands against him.

It doesn't, of course. Universal morality didn't defeat Hitler. The rocket artillery of the godless Soviets did, ironically enough.

Objective morality is a fantasy borne of emotional need rather than rational analysis. The reality is that the universe doesn't care. There is no moral code "built-in". If anything, the greatest lesson we can learn is that valuing (rather than de-valuing) the power of our cultural norms -- and being able to affirmatively defend them -- is the only way to prevent the kind of moral horrors we seek to avoid.

And simply saying that they are "universal" or "objective" is not a defense. Appealing to an objective morality to make our case for us is about as logical as praying to God.

Wikipedia's "Argument from morality"
Steven Novella's "Objective vs Subjective Morality"

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

  • "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 ?

Atheists as bad as fundamentalists
Atheists are hated
Atheists are know-it-alls
Greta Christina's "Eleven Myths and Truths About Atheists"

Personal relationship with the creator of the universe

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 !

    See "Atheism is just another religion" section of reddit's "Atheism FAQ".

    Atheism isn't a religion

  • "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 sleep deprivation, or by electrical stimulation, or under high G-force that affects blood flow, 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: Wikipedia's "Toxoplasmosis".

    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.
    Laurie Vazquez's "Is This Where God Lives in the 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.
    Christians nearly atheist

    Science can explain how the 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.

    Beautiful lake

  • "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. God hides from us

  • "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.

  • "Everything has to have a cause, so the universe's cause has to be God."

    There are various theories that the universe could be cyclical, or one of many universes. In that case, there may be no "beginning".

    We already have an example of a domain in which the everyday rules of causality are violated: quantum physics. Perhaps the origin of the universe is another such domain where the rules are different, and there is no "beginning".

    Adding a god to the mix wouldn't solve the "beginning" problem. What is the "beginning" of that god ? If you say "god needs no beginning", then you equally well could say "the universe needs no beginning".

  • "I might as well believe in God. If I'm right, heaven. If I'm wrong, no harm done." (Pascal's Wager)

    But to live your life based on a guess, on something that's almost certainly false (since no good evidence supports it) ? To accept all the doctrine that goes along with that belief ?

    How do you know WHICH god to believe in ? Suppose you die and there's Mohammed manning the Pearly Gates (or whatever the Muslim equivalent is) ?

    Believing in god IS harmful. Religion and faith are poisons in this world, enablers of so much conflict and polarization and false beliefs. It would be nice if we could keep the good parts of religion (community, support, charity, morals) while getting rid of the bad parts (false beliefs, polarization, doctrine, authoritarianism), but I doubt that's possible.

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 someone on reddit:
> The thing is, [religion] does probably provide meaning to
> their lives. I was lost for years after I left the church.

This is true.

But that emptiness you felt was there because you were missing an actual foundation. If personal meaning was food, religion would be McDonalds. It's comfortable, familiar, easy to access, but it lacks nutrition and actual substance. It is everywhere. It is heavily marketed. Everyone you know enjoys it. It kills you if that is all you eat.

If you decide to stop buying McDonalds, it is tough to decide what to eat when someone else was cooking for you your whole life.

Eventually you learn to cook (think) for yourself. At first you can only make boring one-ingredient meals (simple opinions). But eventually you're a master chef and your food is secure in its superiority. People can critique it and you can refine it (you learn to use objective reasoning and adjust as needed). You know what you like and you know what is healthy for you and those around you.

Once you learn to think for yourself, feel for yourself, and move forward in life for whatever reason you choose ... no one can take that away. There is no emptiness anymore. The worst that can happen is that your goal changes, you evolve, you renew, you grow. You become more than whatever someone said you should be. You becomes you.

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, to end an argument, say "well, what is reality anyway ?"

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 universe". No need to debate the details.


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".

I distrust all "big" philosophical arguments. Simple reasoning and logic that is tightly bound to facts and evidence is fine. But if you have to construct a large and complicated edifice of arguments that makes a huge leap from simple facts to the most extraordinary and huge claim there could possibly be, you're doing something wrong.

Nevertheless, some common philosophical arguments and my take on them:
  • First Cause: everything we see has a cause, so if you trace back far enough, there must be something at the base that caused everything else, and we'll call that God.

    But we already have one example (quantum physics) of a domain where the laws of cause and effect are different; maybe the origin/basis of the universe is another such domain. We have another example (relativity) of a domain where things violate our intuition and "common sense" and common laws; maybe the origin/basis of the universe is another such domain.

  • Anthropic Principle: if the values of a few basic physical constants were slightly different, all life or all matter and energy wouldn't exist, so God must have set those values so we humans would exist. It would be extremely unlikely to get these values by chance.

    Perhaps all possible universes, with all possible constant values, do exist, and we just happen to be in one of those that allows life.

    The water in a puddle might think "Isn't it amazing that, out of all the possible shapes this hole in the ground could be, it came out to be exactly the same shape as me ? It would be extremely unlikely to get this shape by chance." See: "Observation Selection Effect".

  • Science is wrong, therefore God:

    Not really a philosophical argument, just faulty logic. Assume for sake of argument that every single thing in all of Science is wrong; that doesn't mean that anything in Religion must be right.

  • God Of The Gaps: Science can't explain some things, therefore God must have done them:

    Not really a philosophical argument, just faulty logic. Same as previous argument.

  • Separate Magisteria: Science and Religion address separate areas:

    Not really a philosophical argument, just a statement that Science shouldn't even try to explain some things. And what evidence is there that mind/body duality or matter/spirit separation is a real thing ? Science is slowly pushing the boundaries, explaining more and more of what used to be "mind" or "spirit", and this claim is similar to "God Of The Gaps".


"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 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.'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

The Treaty of Tripoli includes "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ...". As a legal document, it's negligible today. But it has significance because it was signed by President John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate, in 1797 when it was not such a negligible document. If this is a "Christian nation", why did that get through ? It was an attempt to assure the Muslims in Tripoli that religion would not prevent us from respecting the treaty, but the language is a little more sweeping than that. And in fact a few people at the time objected to that language. But the treaty was ratified and signed.

From televised interview on May 30, 1997:
David Frost: Say, is this still a Christian Country ?

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.

From Benjamin L. Corey's "Important Lessons We Can All Learn From Franklin Graham":
... it's easy to like Jesus without liking the things he actually said. Whether openly advocating violence against enemies instead of Christ's command to love them, or indifference toward the suffering of our neighbors when Christ commanded we love and welcome them in, it seems clear that while Franklin loves Jesus, he's not in love with his ideas.


... In the US, much of Christianity is actually a nationalistic religion and not the original thing at all. If you look carefully at Franklin's Facebook posts, you'll see the religion being articulated by him is not a Jesus-centered Christianity that is set apart or different, but a religion that is nation-centered and hopelessly entangled with nationalism.


Jesus taught his disciples that it is impossible to serve two masters - it just can't be done. ... when trying to be loyal to Jesus and loyal to America, America will usually win. When America wins ..., it will invite us abandon the teaching and example of Jesus in order to protect and preserve the nation, instead of to build and expand the Kingdom.


If there's one important thing we can learn from the spiral of Franklin Graham it's that more than ever, we need to be evangelizing American Christians. Out of all the people groups in the world this is the group that perhaps most desperately needs to hear the message of Jesus and to be invited to repent and join the Kingdom. ... there is no shortage of those who have been lured into the false religion of Americanized Christianity. ...
Benjamin L. Corey's "10 Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been 'Americanized'"

Reagan on religion
Founding fathers on Christianity
Founding fathers on Separation
Jeff Schweitzer's "Founding Fathers: We Are Not a Christian Nation"
Andy Borowitz's "In Landmark Decision, Supreme Court Strikes Down Main Reason Country Was Started"
Church and state

"Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies."
- Thomas Jefferson

Pledge of Allegiance
Pledge developed
Dr. John W. Baer's "The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History"
The Pledge was written in 1892; "under God" was added in 1954.

Santorum and Taliban agree on church/state separation

America should get back to biblical Christian principles

The Thinking Atheist's "God and the Constitution" (podcast)

Interesting idea heard somewhere: religion taps the same pleasure/reward pathways in the brain as other things, such as sex and dancing and music and drugs. Which is why religion frowns on or regulates those other things; they're competitors. And why alcoholism-recovery programs try to substitute a "higher power" for alcohol. And why some religions include music and sometimes dancing in the rituals.

Really funny, good, and profane, podcast: The Scathing Atheist

George Hrab's "Not the Bible" (MP3; start at about 4:40)
virgin birth cartoon