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The Top 10 Reasons I Don't Believe in God

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The following is an excerpt from Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina. The book is available electronically on Kindle, Nook, and  soon in print.

"But just because religion has done some harm -- that doesn't mean it's mistaken! Sure, people have done terrible things in God's name. That doesn't mean God doesn't exist!"

Yup. If you're arguing that -- you're absolutely right. And the question of whether religion is true or not is important. It's not the main point of this book: if you want more thorough arguments for why God doesn't exist, by me or other writers, check out the Resource Guide at the end of this book. But "Does God exist?" is a valid and relevant question. Here are my Top Ten reasons why the answer is a resounding, "No."

1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller. Why the Sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.

All these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the explanations based on religion were replaced by ones based on physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural one? The number of times humankind has said, "We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it's caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul"?

Exactly zero.

Sure, people come up with new supernatural "explanations" for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources? Again -- exactly zero.

Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don't have a thorough explanation -- human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the Universe -- will be best explained by the supernatural?

Given this pattern, it's clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn't understand the world as well as we do now... but that, on more careful examination, has never once been shown to be correct.

If I see any solid evidence to support God, or any supernatural explanation of any phenomenon, I'll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I'll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.

(Oh -- for the sake of brevity, I'm generally going to say "God" in this chapter when I mean "God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being or substance." I don't feel like getting into discussions about, "Well, I don't believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe..." It's not just the man in the white beard that I don't believe in. I don't believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn't the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.

2: The inconsistency of world religions.

If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do these perceptions differ so wildly?

When different people look at, say, a tree, we more or less agree about what we're looking at: what size it is, what shape, whether it currently has leaves or not and what color those leaves are, etc. We may have disagreements regarding the tree -- what other plants it's most closely related to, where it stands in the evolutionary scheme, should it be cut down to make way for a new sports stadium, etc. But unless one of us is hallucinating or deranged or literally unable to see, we can all agree on the tree's basic existence, and the basic facts about it.

This is blatantly not the case for God. Even among people who do believe in God, there is no agreement about what God is, what God does, what God wants from us, how he acts or doesn't act on the world, whether he's a he, whether there's one or more of him, whether he's a personal being or a diffuse metaphysical substance. And this is among smart, thoughtful people. What's more, many smart, thoughtful people don't even think God exists.

And if God existed, he'd be a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, with a whole lot more effect in the world, than a tree. Why is it that we can all see a tree in more or less the same way, but we don't see God in even remotely the same way?

The explanation, of course, is that God does not exist. We disagree so radically over what he is because we aren't perceiving anything that's real. We're "perceiving" something we made up; something we were taught to believe; something that the part of our brain that's wired to see pattern and intention, even when none exists, is inclined to see and believe.

(continued below)
by on Apr. 5, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Replies (271-280):
Goodwoman614
by Satan on Apr. 16, 2012 at 2:50 PM
Quoting romalove:



Romalove: regarding your last comment here...
I wish I were able to post this but I can' t seem to be able to figure out how to resize it on my iPad so it's large enough to see, lol
It's a schmatic called "A Flowchart For Choosing Your Religion."
Could somebody help me out here?
URL for it:
http://nedhardy.com/2012/01/05/a-flowchart-for-choosing-your-religion/
romalove
by Roma on Apr. 16, 2012 at 2:51 PM

 

Quoting Goodwoman614:

Quoting romalove:



Romalove: regarding your last comment here...
I wish I were able to post this but I can' t seem to be able to figure out how to resize it on my iPad so it's large enough to see, lol
It's a schmatic called "A Flowchart For Choosing Your Religion."
Could somebody help me out here?
URL for it:
http://nedhardy.com/2012/01/05/a-flowchart-for-choosing-your-religion/

 I don't know what I said that you are referencing, it is blank.

Goodwoman614
by Satan on Apr. 16, 2012 at 2:53 PM
Quoting romalove:

What you said one page back, about how the religion of one's family determines one's religion.
[edited]
romalove
by Roma on Apr. 16, 2012 at 2:56 PM

 


A Flowchart For Choosing Your Religion

choose your religion

Goodwoman614
by Satan on Apr. 16, 2012 at 2:56 PM
Thanks, romalove!
romalove
by Roma on Apr. 16, 2012 at 3:01 PM

 

Quoting Goodwoman614:

Thanks, romalove!

 You're welcome.  I asked the question to that other poster because it is obvious if you are grateful for hereditary religion that you think you have the correct one, but it begs the question of those who are in alternate religions who are thinking the very same thing....

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Apr. 16, 2012 at 3:07 PM
1 mom liked this

This is something I remember thinking about when I was 10 or 11...

If we do 'this' (normal thing --religion, style of bed, the rules, kind of toileting, whatever) because it's 'normal' around here, and those people who live way over there do 'that' for the same things because that's 'normal' for them... how do people argue that either is The Right Way?

If you only do what you do because it's 'normal' and your parents did it and it's how you grew up and it's all around you, how can you argue that it's a sensible choice comprised of careful review and testing of all the options?

This, as you may expect, made me a bit stroppy and disobedient about, ooh, everything.

Quoting romalove:

 

Quoting Goodwoman614:

Thanks, romalove!

 You're welcome.  I asked the question to that other poster because it is obvious if you are grateful for hereditary religion that you think you have the correct one, but it begs the question of those who are in alternate religions who are thinking the very same thing....


romalove
by Roma on Apr. 16, 2012 at 3:09 PM

 

Quoting LindaClement:

This is something I remember thinking about when I was 10 or 11...

If we do 'this' (normal thing --religion, style of bed, the rules, kind of toileting, whatever) because it's 'normal' around here, and those people who live way over there do 'that' for the same things because that's 'normal' for them... how do people argue that either is The Right Way?

If you only do what you do because it's 'normal' and your parents did it and it's how you grew up and it's all around you, how can you argue that it's a sensible choice comprised of careful review and testing of all the options?

This, as you may expect, made me a bit stroppy and disobedient about, ooh, everything.

Quoting romalove:

 

Quoting Goodwoman614:

Thanks, romalove!

 You're welcome.  I asked the question to that other poster because it is obvious if you are grateful for hereditary religion that you think you have the correct one, but it begs the question of those who are in alternate religions who are thinking the very same thing....


 I am sure I was no picnic as a child either for similar reasons.  The "but why" alone must have driven a parent to distraction.

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Apr. 16, 2012 at 3:11 PM
1 mom liked this

When I was 3, I distinctly remember my mother telling me in that low, threatening voice, that I was never allowed to say 'how come' ever again.

Some self-preservation within stopped me from saying 'why?'

Quoting romalove:

 

Quoting LindaClement:

This is something I remember thinking about when I was 10 or 11...

If we do 'this' (normal thing --religion, style of bed, the rules, kind of toileting, whatever) because it's 'normal' around here, and those people who live way over there do 'that' for the same things because that's 'normal' for them... how do people argue that either is The Right Way?

If you only do what you do because it's 'normal' and your parents did it and it's how you grew up and it's all around you, how can you argue that it's a sensible choice comprised of careful review and testing of all the options?

This, as you may expect, made me a bit stroppy and disobedient about, ooh, everything.

Quoting romalove:

 

Quoting Goodwoman614:

Thanks, romalove!

 You're welcome.  I asked the question to that other poster because it is obvious if you are grateful for hereditary religion that you think you have the correct one, but it begs the question of those who are in alternate religions who are thinking the very same thing....


 I am sure I was no picnic as a child either for similar reasons.  The "but why" alone must have driven a parent to distraction.


newmom2be08
by Member on Apr. 16, 2012 at 3:43 PM

 

Quoting romalove:

 

Quoting newmom2be08:

 

Quoting Goodwoman614:

5: The fact that religion runs in families.

The single strongest factor in determining what religion a person is? It's what religion they were brought up with. By far. Very few people carefully examine all the available religious beliefs -- or even some of those beliefs -- and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children.

Now, we don't do this with, for instance, science. We don't hold on to the Steady State theory of the Universe, or geocentrism, or the four bodily humours theory of illness, simply because it's what we were taught as children. We believe whatever scientific understanding is best supported by the best available evidence at the time. And if the evidence changes, our understanding changes. (Unless, of course, it's a scientific understanding that our religion teaches is wrong...)

Even political opinions don't run in families as stubbornly as religion. Witness the opinion polls that show support of same-sex marriage increasing with each new generation. Political beliefs learned from youth can, and do, break down in the face of the reality that people see every day. And scientific theories do this, all the time, on a regular basis.

This is emphatically not the case with religion.

Which leads me to the conclusion that religion is not a perception of a real entity. If it were, people wouldn't just believe whatever religion they were taught as children, simply because it was what they were taught as children. The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of a real phenomenon. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure -- and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.

6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.

The sciences of neurology and neuropsychology are in their infancy. But they are advancing by astonishing leaps and bounds, even as we speak. And what they are finding -- consistently, thoroughly, across the board -- is that, whatever consciousness is, it is inextricably linked to the brain.

Everything we think of as the soul -- consciousness, identity, character, free will -- all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Changes in the brain result in changes in consciousness... sometimes so drastically, they make a personality unrecognizable. Changes in consciousness can be seen, with magnetic resonance imagery, as changes in the brain. Illness, injury, drugs and medicines, sleep deprivation, etc.... all of these can make changes to the supposed "soul," both subtle and dramatic. And death, of course, is a physical change that renders a person's personality and character, not only unrecognizable, but non-existent.

So the obvious conclusion is that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are products of the brain and the body. They're biological processes, governed by laws of physical cause and effect. With any other phenomenon, if we can show that physical forces and actions produce observable effects, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Why should the "soul" be any different?

What's more, the evidence supporting this conclusion comes from rigorously-gathered, carefully-tested, thoroughly cross-checked, double-blinded, placebo- controlled, replicated, peer-reviewed research. The evidence has been gathered, and continues to be gathered, using the gold standard of scientific evidence: methods specifically designed to filter out biases and cognitive errors as much as humanly possible. And it's not just a little research. It's an enormous mountain of research... a mountain that's growing more mountainous every day.

The hypothesis of the soul, on the other hand, has not once in all of human history been supported by good, solid scientific evidence. That's pretty surprising when you think about it. For decades, and indeed centuries, most scientists had some sort of religious beliefs, and most of them believed in the soul. So a great deal of early science was dedicated to proving the soul's existence, and discovering and exploring its nature. It wasn't until after decades upon decades of fruitless research in this area that scientists finally gave it up as a bad job, and concluded, almost unanimously, that the reason they hadn't found a soul was that there was no such thing.

Are there unanswered questions about consciousness? Absolutely. Tons of them. No reputable neurologist or neuropsychologist would say otherwise. But think again about how the history of human knowledge is the history of supernatural explanations being replaced by natural ones... with relentless consistency, again, and again, and again. There hasn't been a single exception to this pattern. Why would we assume that the soul is going to be that exception? Why would we assume that this gap in our knowledge, alone among all the others, is eventually going to be filled with a supernatural explanation? The historical pattern doesn't support it. And the evidence doesn't support it. The increasingly clear conclusion of the science is that consciousness is a product of the brain. Period.

I for one am so grateful that "religion" runs in families.  I am forever indebted to my parents for instilling the Christian faith in my life.  I also have the promise of being reunited with those loved ones again someday that have gone on before me.  Hallelujah! 

 If you were born to a Muslim family, or a Jewish family, or a Druid family, or a Hindu family, or a Buddhist family, what would happen to you then?

Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life....NO ONE comes to the Father, but through Me." 

For me, there is no other way than the path that is narrow, for that path leads to Christ.  I also accept that your viewpoint on this issue may vary from mine.

 

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