Why Do the Religious Reject Evidence? November 6, 2011

Why Do the Religious Reject Evidence?

Laci Green offers her thoughts:

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  • There’s a
    lack of critical thinking skills among religionists. (as atheists, we
    might say, “well, yes – duh”) but really – they do not know *how* to
    think logically. They don’t know *how* to think things through to a
    logical conclusion.

  • C.K.

    Laci makes some sharp observations in regard to religion in particular, though I have met my share of “non-religionists,” of the theistic and atheistic dispositions, who commit the same fallacies, with similar motivations. “Needless to say,” you might say, but I figure that if we’re going to talk about the bad, we had better pay heed to the bad as a whole.

    Anyone who feels inclined to generalize about the rational capabilities of the religious should go dwell a spell at a Benedictine Monastery, have a good debate with a seasoned Rabbi, or join one of the less fundamentally disposed churches. You might convert.

  • dauntless

    That’s not true. Many religious people are able to think logically; an eminent scientist like Francis Collins clearly knows how to think things through logically. There’s a disconnect, or a divide, though. To doubt and question their religious ideals would be too extreme and scary, since it’s something they have been indoctrinated in for a long time.

    But to claim they have no capability to think logically is a blatant lie, and perhaps it is an opinion of yours that bears scrutiny.

  • Cj

    Nit-picking here but “reject” isn’t quite the right word. They never even consider the evidence. 

  • Cjj

    Also, something that bothers me- it seems that there is a steady state of irrational beliefs. For example, I know many people who don’t have conventional religious beliefs but they subscribe to conspiracy theories or fundamentalist liberal politics. 

  • I think it all comes down to indoctrination. From the time they are babies and toddlers, religious people are taught to assume a supernatural realm, and they’ve become emotionally attached to it. They aren’t evaluating evidence in a vacuum. They want their god and afterlife concepts to be real, so they’ll interpret everything they see, hear, and read in light of what they wish to be true.

  • Anonymous

    Most people have something they don’t think logically about, or as Penn Jillette brilliantly says “Every skeptic has something they don’t think skeptically about. They all have their gris-gris”. Applying critical thinking skills isn’t something we do naturally, and is often something we only choose to do to achieve an ends. What differentiates a “skeptic” (or skeptical atheist) is the attempt to apply this to all areas of life in the hope that it will lead to higher life satisfaction.

  • SJH

    Perhaps, since you are asking a question about Christians, a Christian should answer this question. I know I do not speak for all Christians but here are my observations.

    1. There are those Christians who do not adequately understand their faith and therefor are afraid of listening to evidence because they think it may prove them wrong and they do not want to be wrong. This seems to be the Christian that most atheists are referring to.

    2. There are those Christians who reject evidence because the evidence cited is not substantial enough to disprove their beliefs as a whole. As an example evolution may be rejected because it does not disprove God but only gives a rational for how we got from nothing to where we are now. God could have, of course, used evolution to create the world.

    3. As a Christians we can site a substantial amount of evidence for the existence of God. Much of it is a personal experience that cannot be recreated at will but it is evidence nonetheless. If you are going to prove to us that God does not exist then you must prove that these personal experiences were false. Of course, there are those that want to cling to those experiences because they want so badly for them to be true that they deceive themselves but you can’t write every religious person off as if they are in this category.

    4. Much of the evidence for God is miraculous evidence that is not simply unexplainable but also physically impossible. Of course, these occurances can always be explained away as false/lies if it is not first hand experience but it cannot simply be brushed under the rug. Show us that they are false since there has been substantial testing to show that they are true.

    5. Ultimately, all the atheist arguments against God come down to this:
    God does not exist because you can’t prove it. Not vary convincing. 

    The atheist community is going to have to think of much better arguments to overwhelm the substantial personal and communal experiences that serve as evidence.

  • Anonymous

    There are only 2 ways that I know of that allow us to mitigate the “motivated reasoning” cognitive bias. One is to express humility. The other is to find alternate narratives that are both compatible with the evidence and simple enough as not to be cut by Ockham’s Razor.

  • JohnJay

    Reminds me of this article, only with religion instead of politics… 


  • SJH

    You guys love the word “indoctrinated”. This is a cop-out. Why if you disagree with me then you must have been indoctrinated. Perhaps I am a skeptic and I’ve questioned everything I have been taught and maybe, just maybe, I have determined that it is mostly correct and that you are wrong.

  • SJH

    Never? That sounds like an emotional reaction to a logical question.
    I think “reject” is inappropriate as well. I think some blind themselves to evidence. Some reject it using reason and logic and others don’t care.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll go farther than some atheists in saying that personal experience is a kind of evidence, but it is not one that you can use to convince someone else. As Thomas Paine says, “personal revelation is hearsay upon testimony.” There is still a problem when using personal experience to convince yourself of your worldview, and that is you’re conflating the phenomenon of the personal experience with your metaphysical worldview.

    Let’s say that money’s running tight and the IRS tax refund check is going to be here to save the day in 3 weeks, but rent is due next week. The IRS check comes in early. To the Christian this is farther evidence of the good will of God. Metaphysical meaning and purpose is attached to anything that happens out of the norm. An atheist would have the same event happen and not ascribe purpose and meaning. Thus for the Christian, this completely natural event becomes confirming evidence from personal experience.

    I was a very devout charismatic Christian growing up. I spoke in tongues and was slain in the spirit etc. The evidence that really spoke to me against God’s existence was the problem of evil. The world did not operate as if God were loving or fair. From here I began my slide into deism before seeing the positive aspects of Humanism where I saw hope. And guess what? We are building local communities now, and the information from the internet is driving rates of non-belief through the roof among teens (higher than 25% for all the “nones” under 25 years old). The “new atheists” make tons of appeals to basic moral sensibilities against the church and the Bible. Things are going to change rapidly over the next couple decades, though I’m expecting some temporary setbacks and reactions.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t that “convenient”.

  • Connor Kain

    It is about religious people, not just Christians.
    Can you prove that unicorns, fairies, werewolves, vampires, the Greek gods and goddesses, the Hindu gods and goddesses, the deities of all religions except your own, the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, etc. do not exist?  No, you can’t.  Neither can I.  Is belief in them reasonable?  No.  The burden of proof is on those making the positive claim.  Based on the (lack of) positive evidence for, and the evidence against, one can conclude that the possibility of these things being true is negligible, and that it is a reasonable position (in fact the only reasonable position) to regard these things as nonexistent.  The same applies for your god and religion (and god and religion in general).Personal revelation- by definition subjective.  What makes your personal revelation better than that of a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or a neo-paganist?
    How do you know that the personal experience of a schizophrenic in a mental institution is not the correct one?  There is no way to verify the truth or falsehood of a personal experience without referencing objective reality.  “I know in my heart it is true” is not a good reason.
    There are a lot of arguments for atheism.  Some point out the lack of evidence for god or for a religion.  Others point out the implausability of a religion or god or the supernatural in general.

  • ukeman

    or fundamentalist conservative politics. Isn’t ‘fundamentalist’ a neat adjective? It adds a nice cloud of negative connotations to whatever noun it qualifies.

  • Connor Kain

    It is possible to be “indoctrinated” in to the truth.  So you are right that that in and of itself disproves something.  But if you are religious, then you were very likely brought up religious.  In a religious family.  You were taught from the age that you could talk or read (probably before) about your parents’ religion.  If you are in the United States (especially some parts of it), then you were brought up in a religious culture.  You were taught all about your religion before you could understand it.  Your parents would never lie to you, and they couldn’t be wrong, so it must be true.  You took part in religious ceremonies and events as you grew up.  If your thoughts deviated, your parents corrected you.  Major deviations would horrify your family.  They might wonder what they had done wrong.  You wanted them to be happy, so you didn’t.  Now you were older.  If your religion was wrong, it would mean that you were wrong.  Not just wrong, but for such a long time.  You likely had been taught not only belief your religion but a “belief in belief” in your religion.  You were probably taught that religion- your religion- was the only way to be happy.  That there was no meaning without it.  In the afterlife, you would be punished for thinking the wrong things.  If you knew that atheists existed, you were told that they were childish, unhappy people who enjoyed doing evil things and hated you and your religion for doing good things.

    If you have questioned everything you have been taught, good for you.  Not many religious people have.  Any atheist who used to be religious has questioned many of their beliefs.  Most religious people were brought up religious.  I still disagree with you, but if you have come to a position of your own accord (instead of unquestioningly carrying on your parent’s beliefs) then you’re a more independent thinker (regarding religion) than a lot of religious people.

  • Connor Kain

    An engineer who is a creationist is no less skilled at his job.  A lot of religious people don’t think rationally about religion, even if they are very rational in other areas.  If an atheist promotes homeopathy or other nonsense, I won’t refrain from criticizing that person.

  • Re: “Ultimately, all the atheist arguments against God come down to this:God does not exist because you can’t prove it. Not vary convincing.”

    OK, I’ll bite. There’s an invisible, silent unicorn dancing in my backyard. There’s no way for you ever to detect her, nor can you prove she’s not there; nevertheless, I know she dances in my backyard, because I have direct, personal knowledge of her. Therefore you must accept that she exists and are required to take my word for it. If you don’t, it can only be because you’re being unreasonable. Your inability to disprove my unicorn’s existence is not very convincing; I will not give up on my unicorn merely because you can’t disprove her, and only your own personal intolerance of Unicornism can explain your rejection of her.

  • I have seen plenty of people have the same reaction to any belief.  I am thinking of comments I have seen here before regarding vaccinations.  As soon as they were brought up most people argued that they were a good thing and that there has never been a link to autism.  Well thanks to the Freedom of Information act we now know that numbers were left out of the Danish study and that there does appear to be some kind of link.  See all sorts of people have faith in things and fail for whatever reason to remain skeptical when presented with facts.

  • Fonegthjili454

    God and Jesus (fictional superheroes), were just the Superman and Spiderman (fictional superheroes) of the Bronze Age.
    Humans, since the beginning of mankind, have had a desire, need, talent and flair to write all kinds of SUPERHERO FICTION!!
    The Bible- One of humans first comic books, expresses it quite nicely!!

  • Fonegthjili454

    Very well said!
     But religious people have something wrong with their temporal lobes, and other parts of their brain, so they cannot assimilate what you said. They are science-blind and fact-blind, the same way a person is color-blind!
    Parts of their brains are stuck in the Bronze Age. They can’t uninstall old software and reinstall new and updated software! It’s a genetic, physical, brain thing.
    This is a new area of brain research- and scientists are beginning to discover the above. You will see much more of this brain research in the future.

  • Valerette

    When I was eleven I tried to convince my nine year old sister of this very thing. She spent several nights crying over her inability to see the invisible magic unicorn.

  • Anonymous

    You are sadly misinformed about both atheism and critical thinking. First of all, the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim, e.g. “God exists.” It’s not up to us to disprove your god, it’s up to you to prove he exists. Otherwise I could name or invent gods all day long and force you to disprove them. Don’t believe in Quetzlcoatl? Prove he doesn’t exist!

    Secondly, we don’t have to disprove god because we only have to supply a simpler and more likely explanation for the same phenomena. People used to believe rain was caused by a rain god. Now we have a simpler explanation which is also better supported by the evidence – evaporation of water, its condensation from clouds, etc. “Explaining” something by hypothesizing an even more complex and unlikely phenomenon is no explanation at all. As David Hume pointed out, you should only believe a miracle as the explanation for something, if all other explanations are even more unlikely. Which is more unlikely, that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that a legend originally associated with various other gods, semigods etc. became part of the Jesus legend over the centuries?

  • Sdorst52

    But which one should I convert to? There are also clear thinkers in Islam and Buddhism. Is one of them correct? Does having clear thinkers who believe in something make it correct?

    I like Michael Shermer’s statement that “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” (Believing what you were brought up to believe, for example.)

    People have believed all kinds of things, and have come up with reasons to support their belief. The only way out of that subjective morass is to demand evidence before believing something. And, despite what was said earlier, subjective experience is not evidence. Even inter-subjective evidence can be wrong – that’s why we do placebo-controlled, double-blind trials in medicine, and why one single study isn’t enough to guarantee that it’s conclusions are true.

  • Let’s be more specific then:

    A huge fraction of humans, certainly 75%+ ends up believing in a religion if they grow up in a society and family that expects it off them, such as Iran or Yemen.

    Essentially none end up believing in the same religion *without* a similar push from parents and/or society.

    This very strongly suggests that your beliefs are determined, to a significant degree, by who surrounds you, which is unrelated to truth. (islam is not more true in Yemen than it is in Sweden, nor is the evidence better)

    Many religious claim to have made an honest and open evaluation – the odd thing is, that they tend to, to a huge degree, end up with a religious standpoint *very* close to that they started out with. Muslims who (claim to) honestly evaluate all beliefs — end up muslim. And Christians who (claim to) honestly evaluate all beliefs — end up christian.

    The evidence thus strongly supports the assertion that indoctrination is the primary driver for religious belief.

  • Edmond

    1. Thank you for pointing out that, whatever kind of Christian most atheists are thinking of, it’s not you.  I’m not sure how that “observation” supports your position, though.  Maybe you could have left that one off, and just made it a list of 4?

    2.  Evolution had nothing to do with the creation of the world, but if a god did use evolution to create the diversity of life, then it wasn’t the Christian God.  The process of evolution does not include a lone pair of humans living in a magic garden populated by talking animals.  Without this myth of original sin, there is no need for salvation, and the whole point of the religion becomes moot.  Sure, God COULD have used evolution.  But we don’t just believe everything that COULD have happened.  The god Osiris could have created life by masturbating into the Nile, too. 

    3. I’m sorry, but personal experience does NOT count as evidence.  Evidence can by physically shared, it can be publicly demonstrated.  If I tell you about the dragon in my garage, it doesn’t matter how worked up or passionate I am, my personal experience just isn’t evidence.

    4.  Please show us the substantial testing that has been done on this miraculous evidence.  How can I investigate these unexplainable, physically impossible occurences for myself?  I’d like to hear specific examples, laboratory locations, publication titles, dates, issue numbers, etc.  If I’m to be asked to refute them, I would need some access to them.

    5.  The atheist argument for not believeing in a god is that we have no conclusive proof that a god exists, and it just isn’t warranted to form beliefs in things until they are proven.  You have this idea that atheists are all about proving that god DOESN’T exist, but that’s wrong.  We’re well aware that it’s incredibly difficult to prove the non-existence of something.  It’s the blind faith in something that’s unproven, and unknowable, that we have a problem with.  We aren’t arms-crossed-foot-stomping SURE that there is no god (well, most of us aren’t like that).  There could be a god.  But none have made their case yet (and no one has made it for them), so we are not motivated to hold to any beliefs in them.

    Since we are making lists of 5, here’s mine:

    1. Measureable
    2. Testable
    3. Demonstrable
    4. Repeatable
    5. Falsifiable

    These would be 5 important qualities that real “evidence” should have.  Personal stories about miracles might be very exciting, but they should be distrusted.  The human mind is very fallible, and subject to all manner of hallucinations and misinterpretations.  There’s a reason that such high standards of proof are required in arenas like science, or a court of law.  Adopting surety before it is proven can be foolish and dangerous.

  • Norm

    conner there are a lot of people who follow with out questioning any thing that is true,thats a religious person.That covers most of the worlds religions.Christianity should be totally differant,its all about being in a relationship with God,father/child type,not boss/slave or headmaster/student.Yes there are a lot of religious Christians like you describe,they are doing what they think they have to do to keep the peace.What you will never understand is the person who s had a personal encounter with God and is passionate about being in a relationship with God.You can scoff all you like until youve had an experiance of your own you just wont get it,so i hope you do sooner rather than later.

  • Ndonnan

    ummm wasnt Jesus a historical fact.Miracles witnessed by at times thousands at times.The bible,an accurate history book if nothing else,written by real people who were there.If you can deny a creator when you live on our beautiful earth,you might as well deny the nose on your own face

  • (1) It’s debatable whether Jesus really existed or not. There are no contemporary accounts of his existence, i.e. written while he was alive. The earliest writings reflecting his supposed existence (the gospels) were written at least 60 years after Jesus’s death would have taken place. There are no records of a Jesus of Nazareth in any official records from that time, and no evidence existence outside of the Bible, which has been translated, edited, copied, re-translated, etc. up until today.

    (2) Miracles written about decades after they supposedly happened. Miracles that no longer occur. Funny how miracles suddenly stopped once technology has advanced to the point where we could easily debunk them.

    (3) The Bible may contain a few places that really exist[ed], but that doesn’t make it accurate in and of itself. It is riddled with inconsistencies that have been well documented, and contains outright lies and claims that have been proven wrong.

    (4) No, it was not written by “people who were there”. It was written by people loooong after the events were supposed to have taken place. Do a little research on this topic please.

    (5) Nice sentiment, but it’s invalid. “If you claim a creator exists, then you might as well believe that there’s an invisible pink unicorn in my garage”. 

  • Anonymous

    Could you please elaborate on #4. I have yet to see any evidence that any miracles have happened.

  • Ndonnan

    asonge,it sounds to me like you were a religious christian.You learnt what to say and what to do but you  knew you were just playing the game,doin religion.?What you never knew was God,or for that matter truth.Why did you even expect the world to be a nice fair place,.If God were to make everything like that He would have to take away your and my freewill,do what we were told or else.Thats the differance between a relationship with God and a religion,you choose God because you want to not because you have to.Humanism,you will find over the next few decades,with human nature being what it is will be a disaster.People are naturally selfish above all,its called you sin nature,born that way.Your 25% will be leading the way, wait and see.And lets not even mention satan here,you will have a hard enough time dealing with yourself.good luck

  • The religious DO accept evidence, all kinds of evidence,
    regardless of how reliable it is.  As long as it supports their ideology
    they’ll accept it hook, line and sinker.  (over-reaching
    generalization)  this is practically the definition of confirmation bias.

    Let’s make the question, “Why Do the Religious Reject Evidence that is
    contrary to their ideology?”  That question practically answers
    itself.  Once again we look to confirmation bias: new information that is
    contrary to established belief is suspicious at best.  The motivation and
    incentive to reject contrary evidence is built in.  All they need is an
    excuse or rationalization.   How hard are those to come by?

    But the same is true for us atheists.  It is a lot of work to be skeptical
    of one’s own beliefs.  Upon encountering new pro-naturalist information it
    is not natural to respond, “That certainly appeals to my bias.” 
    But that would be more honest.

    Epistemology is the real issue.  How do we know what is true?  How do
    we know what we know?  Only when we can answer these questions and apply
    the answers uniformly to all information (esp. beliefs) can we claim our conclusions are
    informed and worthy of consideration by other people. 

    If we apply the rigors of scientific inquiry to every purchase choice we make
    we would never make it out of the grocers.  So there is some benefit to
    subjectivity and partially informed guesses.  Is the question of
    supernatural existence or which religion to follow only worthy of poorly
    informed subjective guessing?  I would hope we can agree that these considerations, if
    true, are worthy of sincere deep inquiry.  The more you believe that there
    might be a god or that one religion is the one true religion, the more
    rigorously you should question the veracity of that belief.  And always
    suspect yourself of confirmation bias.

    But that’s not the way we humans do it.  That’ not the way we’re told to
    believe.  Every charlatan will tell you the burden of belief is on
    you.  You just gotta believe.  You just gotta have faith.  And
    faith is touted as a virtue.  But faith is not a virtue.  Faith sells
    used cars, snake oil and false gods.  Faith is a whimper or sob of, “But he loves

    For every god you don’t believe in I could claim, “You just gotta have
    faith.”  If one god is deserving of faith then why not another
    god?  Why not all gods?  Whatever credit you want to give to one god,
    I could give that credit to another god, or a rabbit’s foot.  Faith is
    nothing more than wishful thinking and deliberately self-inflicted confirmation

    Somehow you manage to withhold your faith from other equally deserving religions.  What intellectual tool do you use to reject these alternate religious beliefs? 
    Or do you just know.  Or does one just feel right?  Is it just
    intuition?  If you have an intellectual tool for rejecting alternate
    religious beliefs what happens when you apply it to your own religious
    beliefs?  Or could it be that your god is exactly what you need it to be? 
    You should question that.

    When you begin with wishful thinking and look for ways to believe, you will
    find them.  And when contrary information (like evidence) makes you choose between what
    you want to believe and the new information…  How do you decide without sacrificing your integrity?  When you are presented with evidence you should
    consider the evidence on its own merit.  The cognitive dissonance will be uncomfortable.  But if you only accept what you already believe you will
    never be able to recognize and correct your errors.

  • Drew M.

    She is a just and loving unicorn. She cured my turtle of rickets.

  • Ndonnan

    Its strange only a tiny minority would doubt the existance of Jesus. Not valid. Living in your small world,you wouldnt know what is going on in the rest of the world.There is stacks of the blind still getting there sight back,the lame walking ,people been dead for days coming back to life.What you didnt hear it on the news.You tell someone who was blind that theyre only kidding themselves and see what they tell you.And why do you think the bible isnt totally true and accurate,because someone else has said so,they prove nothing. I love sceince,its a great way of showing how God has done things, it dosent disprove God at all.Sceince has a long way to go to figure out just how He does it thats all.Open your mind,expand your horizoins. do a bit more research .Thanks for your thoughts though.

  • Ndonnan

    Well just look at creation.It fits the bill for all your 5 points i think.But where did it all come from?

  • Ndonnan

    i think there is no one more in denial of real evidence than athiests

  • Ndonnan

    good point ck,your saying people should check out for themselves the things they probably have only been told what it is like,well done

  • Ndonnan

    try praying about it with a open mind and a humble heart and see what happens

  • So in order to provide a testing ground for the faithful, God created the world to look exactly like it would look if there wasn’t a God.  Then God caused a few in the distant past to have visions that God in fact really did exist and there are specific things people need to do to make it to a preferred afterlife.  Then God disappears for a long stretch with a promise to return at some time in the future.  Then the faithful argue and kill each other about who had the correct vision and what the message was suppose to mean.  And atheists are the foolish ones. Did I get that right?

  • Doggy

    I believe this is coloured an argumentum ad populum fallacy. Something is not more likely to be correct because more people believe it. In the past the majority of people believed the earth was the center of the universe, for example. It didn’t make them correct.

    You then start talking about anecdotal evidence which is notorioisly unreliable, would you believe people who said they were abducted by aliens just on their word?

    If anyone needs to do research it is you. You should learn what critical thinking is.

  • Nick Andrew

    Your subjective experience of god doesn’t constitute evidence. Skeptics understand this. You could be delusional; hearing voices in your head. It could be wishful thinking. Richard Feynman said “First, you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    For a start, how do you know it was the christian god that touched you? Did it say so? Are you just going to take its word at face value? It could have been The Devil tricking you; I’ve heard that devil is pretty tricky. If it’s telling you to act in immoral ways, like disparaging homosexuality or deny women reproductive choice, most likely that’s the devil got into your head first.

    Second, people all over the world report deep religious experiences. Not all of them are christian. Many of them have reached mutually exclusive conclusions. If Jehovah’s your god, then there’s no room left for Shiva or Vishnu. How is an independent observer to judge which of these people are delusional, which are lying and which have really been touched by the supernatural?

    A personal experience of god leaves no evidence of its passing which is useful to an independent observer. I’ll venture the opinion that when you personally experienced the christian god, it didn’t tell you anything that humanity doesn’t already know.

    Do me a favor. Next time you talk with your deity, please ask some questions where we really don’t know the answer. Like – what exactly is Dark Matter? And please provide the galactic co-ordinates of (a) the nearest habitable planet, and (b) the nearest planet harboring a technological civilization more advanced than our own.

    Robert A Heinlein said “It doesn’t pay a prophet to be too specific”, but I feel pretty safe to predict that you will come up with a big fat zero. It’s a safe prediction because not once in the history of science, has a useful answer to any question come out of the supernatural.  Your deity shows an appalling lack of interest in telling us anything we actually need to know.

  • There, you see? Now we BOTH know she exists! 😉

  • Tom

    If it’s a new and expanding area of research, the odds are that most of us will never have heard of it, so please give references to scientific articles.  Otherwise, I’m sorry to say that your well-intentioned post is every bit as worthless as SJHs unsubstantiated claims of “substantial testing” of physically impossible miracles.  (It would be a different matter if you were referring to a mature field that was rigorously proven so long ago that even the average lay person would be almost certain to have heard a great deal about its conclusions and the manner of testing done to reach them, e.g. natural selection or the germ theory of disease).

  • Right, because atheists are the ones trying to teach a myth as science, and doing their damnedest to drag us all back into the Dark Ages…


  • Nick Andrew

    SJH has inadvertently provided a sixth reason why the religious reject evidence, which I will summarize as:

    “They misunderstand the nature of evidence and are so impressed by the evidence they think they have, that nothing else comes close.

    SJH, personal experiences are not evidence. I dealt with that topic further upthread.

    Also, hearsay is not evidence. You don’t have miracles, you have stories about miracles. And those stories are easily fabricated. There’s no more evidence for Jesus walking on water than there is for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

    Next, the Bible is not reliable. Many of the stories lack archaeological evidence (and thus, are false) – e.g. Genesis, Exodus or are impossible (Noah’s ark). Nobody knows who wrote the canonical gospels, certainly not the people whose names are attached to them, being written decades after the purported death of Jesus. The synoptic gospels also indicate that Matthew and Luke are derivative works of Mark, which itself may be derived from a lost source document. The documents differ in certain facts, such that one or more must be wrong, and likely these differences came from creative storytelling.

    If there is any evidence that the bible is the work of humans and not a deity, this is it: the many additional gospels and other writings which didn’t make it into the bible, because early churches suppressed them and often destroyed them, just to be sure. Even today, various christian sects use quite different bibles, with whole books added and removed.

    Jesus is a puzzle. If he was doing any of the things attributed to him in the canonical gospels, I would expect that somebody would have written about him during his lifetime. Nobody did. Not a quill was put to parchment.

    The burden of proof is upon you. You imply you can’t prove that God exists, and then you say that’s not very convincing to you. It should be. You should be deeply bothered by your inability to justify your belief. This is the skeptical position, and it is the correct attitude to take. If you believe something without evidence, there is no rational reason to choose one belief set over another. The typical Christian response to this is hand-waving it away with appeals to faith. You don’t need evidence, they say, because you’ve got faith. God wants faith. In fact, if there was evidence you’d believe without need for faith, and God doesn’t want that, so God is careful to not leave any evidence of his existence.

    You’ve got it wrong. Faith is not a virtue. Faith is gullibility.

    Finally, you are apparently unaware of the breadth of arguments in support of atheism and against your christian god or deities in general.  Science has wonderful explanatory power and its predictions and theories are constantly being tested against reality. We no longer need to invoke gods to explain earthquakes or thunderstorms, the origin of homo sapiens, why the sun rises in the morning, or how this planet formed. We no longer need to invoke gods to explain anything, actually.

    The explanations given in your bible for how we got here (Adam & Eve) or Noah’s Ark are fabrications. Knowing this, why should we trust the rest of the bible to get anything right? What decision process should we use to determine which parts of the bible are true and which are not? If your answer is to look in other parts of the bible, well I’m afraid that’s circular logic and is invalid.

    With no Adam and Eve, there was no original sin. And therefore, no reason for Jesus to die on the cross. Even if you do manage to somehow save the notion of original sin, why does it mean that Jesus had to die? This is primitive iron-age thinking at work, where the punishment for pretty much any infraction was death, and the notion of scapegoats, a sacrifice to appease some deity, was alive and well. Jesus was a scapegoat for your and my sins. Uhuh. Or your god could have magicked them away (he’s all-powerful, apparently).

    Still, being crucified is not such a big deal when you’re a god. I mean – it would have hurt, probably a lot, but certainly no worse than the pain suffered by billions of human beings as they died. After a weekend, your Jesus resumed his godly duties none the worse for wear.

    I will postulate for the moment that the stories in the bible are largely true. Never mind the logical inconsistencies or the fact that the stories just don’t
    make any sense. If they were true – and this is a big if – they would show Jehovah to be a monster. As Richard Dawkins wrote, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    And those are just his good points. Such a tyrant is not worthy of being worshipped, and if he existed, it would be the honorable act of people to fight this bully. I’ve heard he isn’t good against iron chariots.

    I’ll finish up by mentioning science again. Neuroscience has pretty much eliminated any possibility that there is such a thing as a soul. When you think and feel things, that correlates to brain activity. When you suffer a stroke, part of your brain stops working and some part of you is gone for good. As different parts of the brain are damaged, you become less conscious. For example, damage to the brain area which processes the left side of objects will cause interesting effects: objects only have a right side; the person cannot see the left side, and indeed can no longer comprehend the notion of a left side. The brain is not a puppet controlled by your immortal soul; neuroscience research shows that your brain is everything you are.

    There is no room for a soul. You know what that means. No heaven, no hell, no afterlife, no need for Jesus to be killed barbarically 2000 years ago.

  • Nick Andrew

    Tens or hundreds of vaccine studies show no correlation between vaccination and autism.

    The troll will please to be not disrupting this thread on religious rejection of evidence. If you want to keep discussing it, I’ll ask Hemant to post on anti-vaxxer rejection of evidence.

  • SJH

    a couple of problems here. the first is that you don’t actually believe that a unicorn lives in your back yard and neither does Drew M. The second is that I am not inclined to believe your claim if you and Drew M. are the only ones actually making this claim. However, with religion this is not the case. With religion, you have billions of people experiencing a similar phenomena. Even if the works of God were not demonstrated just the mere fact that so many believe in God gives the phenomena some merit which should be evaluated and not just dismissed as crazy. Lets say there is a scientific phenomena which has been observed by many but is unexplainable, is the phenomena simply dismissed because we do not have the means to prove it? Of course it is not.

  •  That’s cool.  I will go one further.  I will support your opinion.  Assuming that what apologists and theologians claim is evidence is real evidence (regardless of how flimsy it is) it is safe to say most atheists deny it’s validity and/or significance.  And atheists do this for all religions.  Theists generally only deny the “evidence” of competing religions.  So on that basis you are correct.

  • Nick Andrew

    “Its strange only a tiny minority would doubt the existance of Jesus.”

    That’s called the Appeal to Popularity, and it’s a logical fallacy. Just because billions of people believe Jesus existed, doesn’t mean it’s true. Where’s your evidence? TerranRich has provided a good summary of the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, and it’s weak.

    I can’t blame billions of people for not being biblical scholars or for not keeping up with archaeological research, particularly when they rely on the pat answers provided by their priest or local holy man (or woman).

  • SJH

    I understand that a personal experience is not going to convince anyone and I am not trying to convince anyone with a personal experience. The question was, “Why do Christians reject evidence?”, not, “Why do atheists reject evidence?”. I proposed the answer that some Christians reject evidence because their personal experiences are so powerful that you will have to prove to them that their experience was false before they will accept other arguments.

  • Nick Andrew

    Your contention would hold more weight if you knew how to spell “atheists”. But it’s still feather-light.

    Do you really believe you have the skill to debate this issue? You’ve been presented with reasonable arguments from the top to the bottom of this thread, and your 1-line yawp in response to a 50-line post is apparently the best you can do?

    Here’s a tip for you, Ndonnan. If you think that atheists are in denial of real evidence, don’t just say so, show us. Find some real evidence and show how atheists are in denial about it.

  • SJH

    1. I am not taking a position but offering answers to the question which was posed; “Why do the religious reject evidence?” I am acknowledging that there are those that reject evidence out of fear.

    2. The story of creation in the Bible is a story which is believed by many today and throughout history to be an allegory. You have a misunderstanding of what original sin is. Original sin can more closely be tied to evolution then to a Eve. This is a topic for another time.

    3. Personal experience is not evidence and I understand that it can’t really be used to prove anything. This is obvious. Again, I was attempting to pose an answer to the question “Why do religious reject evidence?” One reason, in my opinion, is that the personal experiences of many Christians are so powerful that it is going to take a lot to prove that they were false.

    4. I can get back to you on this one. I won’t have the time to find the thorough citations you are requesting but I can point you in the right direction if you are truly interested.

    5. I am glad to hear that you acknowledge that you are not sure that there is no God. Some atheists flat out reject the assertion that God exists without your open mind. I probably should not have worded my post in a way that lumps all atheists in the same category.
    I can also acknowledge that it is very difficult for me to prove that God exists and that, at this point, it is scientifically possible that God does not exist.

    I agree that adopting surety without evidence can be dangerous but I think that it is only dangerous when coupled with a closed mind and impatience.

  • Anonymous

    Creation isn’t anything of those. Creationism is “I think that part of evolution couldn’t have worked that way” or “We don’t know how the universe came about” jumping to the conclusion “God did it!”. It doesn’t have any evidence for anything on its own. All it does is make a mockery of science.

    Scientists are perfectly fine with saying “We don’t know exactly how something happened, and maybe we will never find out, but we will keep trying”

  • Anonymous

    Maybe there was an eccentric Jewish wandering preacher traveling through ancient Israel and he got in trouble with the authorities. It wouldn’t be surprising. There were probably plenty of people who claimed to be prophets

    That doesn’t make any of what is written in the Bible true. Especially the supernatural stuff. Even if there is some kernel of truth to it, it has been distorted beyond recognition by his followers

  • Xeon2000

    There are a couple problems with your rebuttal.

    First, “true belief” is just an arbitrary condition you have imposed. It’s possible (and almost certain) that things exist that nobody currently believes in. Even so, children across the world “truly believe” in Santa Claus. Billions of adults “truly believe” in leprechauns and fairies. I suppose you would want Santa, leprechauns, and fairies given equal discussion regarding their existence?

    Second, the fact that billions of people subscribe to a belief in God does not make it a true belief. That is an Argumentum ad Populum fallacy. All we can conclude is that there is indeed some reason for this belief in God, but it is not necessarily supernatural in nature.

  •  “ummm wasnt Jesus a historical fact.”
    Nope.  There were probably dozens and dozens of street prophets in and around Jerusalem at the time.  There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews who were died on a cross or stake.   Statistically speaking there were probably some “prophets” who were killed by the Romans.   But was there a single real man whose who was envisioned by “Paul” and later the subject of the gospels?   Maybe.  Outside the bible there almost no evidence of Jesus/Yoshua’s existence.  And what little evidence there is, is known to have been tampered with.  Did he actually exist?  Maybe, but probably not.

    “Miracles witnessed by at times
    thousands at times.”
    That should read: “Miracles reported by the bible to have been witnessed by at times hundreds at times.”

    “The bible,an accurate history book if nothing
    Nope, it is not even that.  Is Genesis one an accurate history?  When god told Adam that Adam would die that very day if Adam ate from the tree of knowledge and then Adam didn’t die after eating the forbidden fruit…  Is that really what happened?  God lied to Adam?  Or god didn’t know?  Or Adam did die but the bible failed to accurately report that? And god created the heavens and the earth but there was a nearby town where the sons of Adam found wives?  Accurate history book?  The first two chapters of the first book indicate otherwise.

    “written by real people who were there.”
    Nope.  Please research “who wrote the bible.”  The early Isrealites were polytheists.  A book that’s supposed to be written by Moses includes what happened after he died.  There are at least four different groups of authors who wrote the old testament and edited the works of earlier authors (revisionist history).  But you were talking the new testament.  Paul, by his own account, never even met the Jesus character.  Even most christian bible scholars don’t pretend the authors of the gospels were the eponymous disciples. 

    “If you can deny a creator
    when you live on our beautiful earth,you might as well deny the nose on
    your own face”
    There’s so much wrong with this statement.  Beautiful Earth.  In all the universe the tiny speck we live on is the least lethal.  Yet people die from exposure, illness, malnutrition and natural disasters all the time.  Make sure you give the god credit for those too.  There are very simple and reliable ways to test for the existence and attributes of one’s nose. Not to mention direct observation.   Are there ways to observe or reliably test for the existence and attributes of gods?  If there were there would be one religion, no denominations and there would be no atheists.  With all the evil in the world can we deny the existence of Dracula?  With all the tooth decay in the world can we deny the existence of Cavity Creeps?  The existence and attributes of Earth are poor evidence for any of the creation myths including the judeo-christian creation myth.

    All this information is available.  You could have found it yourself.  Even if you believe what you’re writing, it is irresponsible to make such claims without at least trying to verify it.  Whatever reasons you think you have for believing these statements are inadequate.  When your statements are this wrong, consistently wrong, you would do well to figure out how you allowed yourself to be put in this position.

    You may think we are your opposition.  But we’re not the ones lying to you.

  • Anonymous

    What I’m saying is that the phenomenon is separate than the interpretation. Having a different interpretation that accounts for internal and external “evidence” (experience) almost universally preserves the validity of the experience…very few of the significant personal experiences were invalidated by my shift in worldview.

  • Anonymous

    So, “bone cancer in children” has to exist because not having that exist in the world would usurp our free will. Same thing with hurricanes, tsunamis, and other random events. Then again, the venerable Plantinga said that the sins of demons causes “natural evils”.

    Also, I see nothing here but a string of assertions. Do you want to offer anything empirical? Anything I reply with that has any substance will just be rationalized post-hoc.

  • Parse

    Got a citation for that claim?  The fact that “numbers were left out” isn’t a Precambrian rabbit, that would throw the whole field into disarray; at worst, it negates the value of that single study.  Fortunately, every other study* that has attempted to find a link between vaccines and autism has found none.  
    While chastising everybody else about not turning a skeptical eye towards vaccines, I’d recommend you also turn a skeptical eye towards your sources as well.  

    *That is, every other study that isn’t a complete fraud and retracted by the publisher.

  • It’s not because you disagree with me that I say you were indoctrinated. It’s because you were not born with the beliefs you currently have. They were taught to you by people you trusted, in your most impressionable years, while your brain was still forming. People who grow up in Western culture (especially America) are raised in a society that is saturated with the supernatural. They grow up in an environment in which one particular deity and one particular afterlife are presented as real things. Every time a child reads a book or watches a movie, he or she sees depictions of those things, and those things are always presented as true, never as false.

    And that’s just incidental exposure! It doesn’t even take into account the active indoctrination that parents and religious teachers do, in which they tell children that a particular god is real and that if they believe the right things, they can go to an afterlife. It doesn’t take into account the kind of manipulation that goes into things like Sunday School, the stories, songs, and activities designed specifically to attract children and get them to accept things that they would never accept if they were presented with them out of the blue on their 18th birthday.

    Again, it’s not because you have a different opinion that I use the word “indoctrination.” It’s because you did not come to that opinion on your own. You weren’t raised in a vacuum. You did not have anything even remotely resembling a free choice when you grew up in a culture that presented many of the things you believe as real from the outset.

  • Well said.

    I say that atheism is adopting the null hypothesis that “there are no gods” until presented with evidence that there are gods. Theism is adopting the hypothesis that there are gods until presented with evidence that there are no gods.

    The rub is that many theists also claim that those null-hypothesis adopting people will burn in hell and should be ostracized and discriminated against though the force of law and the tyranny of the majority.  That is what we don’t like.

  • SJH

    Sorry, your post hits far to many points for me to reply to all of them. Please see some of my other posts. It may clarify my intentions, my original post and my understanding of evidence.

    Here are a couple of responses to some of the issues you raise:

    You mention additional gospels of which I am aware. My question to you would be, were the additional gospels buried or simply was it determined that they were not historically accurate and therefor not worthy of being canonized? It seems to me that they used reasoning and rational to determine what books to include in the Bible. If so, then you should admire them for this fact.

    Atheists often state that the burden of proof is on the religious believer. I am not sure I understand this reasoning. If I come out and dispute what the vast majority of the world believes then I think the burden of proof would be on me to disprove it. Regardless of this, I never understood why the burden of proof must lie on someones shoulders. Please explain why this matters.

    You state that we no longer need to invoke God to explain things. Why does this prove that God does not exist. Perhaps he created a universe that is somewhat self sufficient.

    Please explain further regarding your comment on neuroscience. How is this related to our soul? I have not studied or thought much about the relationship of the soul and the body but I am interested in what you have to say about it.

    This is all a little beside the point since the original question was regarding the reluctance of the religious to value evidence but it is a fun discussion.

  • Nick,  you forgot to mention that if you believe the Christian bible, then although the God of the Old Testament might kill you for improper worship, the God of the new Testament (although He encourages people to be nice to each other) also claims to have set up an afterlife situation where those that didn’t properly worship Him when they were alive will be tortured (or at least left in a state of separation) for an eternity after they die.  In that respect, the God of the Old Testament is more just.  He merely killed you and then was done with you.

  • SJH

    I am not making the claim that since many believe, then it must be true. That would be silly. I am simply saying that since billions have similar beliefs and have experienced similar phenomena then their observations can’t simply be dismissed. They deserve examination.

  • Edmond

    You’re not talking about “creation”, you’re talking about “existence”.  These are two very different things.  We can certainly test and measure the fact of existence, because there it is, all around us.  But the word “creation” implies an origin, not just a presence.  “Where did it all come from” is a good question, but we can’t really answer it yet.  No one yet has the evidence they need to make any claims about a creator, what this creator’s nature or purposes are, or what methods were used for creating.  The universe did not come with a giant label saying “Made in Heaven” or “Inspected by Yahweh”.  Any ideas about the source of the universe would be nothing but speculation.
    All we do know is that all the stars and galaxies in the universe are moving away from one another, so we can extrapolate that they were once all together in a point that expanded outward.  Whether or not a god had a hand in that process, we haven’t a clue.
    But realisitically, such a god raises more questions than it answers.  Creationists often argue that the universe is too complex to have happened naturally (an idea I dispute), but a god who created it would need to be even MORE complex, and ITS origins would need to be explored before we could explore the origins of the universe it created.  We certainly go WAY beyond speculation if we start adding personality traits to this god, describing which acts it thinks are moral and which are immoral, and what it wants us to believe.  No matter what you think about the origin of the universe, no one has ANY evidence to start telling us what makes gods happy or angry, or who they love or hate.

  • Andrew B.

     It’s not the experiences that we tend to dismiss, it’s the INTERPRETATIONS of those experiences.  I have no trouble admitting that people around the world have these experiences.  I just don’t think that’s it’s reasonable to infer anything about spirits and souls, the afterlife, ghosts and monsters, the virgin birth, resurrection and assumption of certain people based on these experiences.

    Sorry for butting in.

  • Edmond

    The  danger depends on what it leads to.  If we are JUST talking about people who are forming beliefs for their own lives, for use in their own homes, then there would be no problem.  But the implications for these types of beliefs rarely stops at the home, or the personal life, of the believer.  Inevitably, these beliefs, although completely unsubstantiated by any evidence, will be used as excuses to impose religious dogma onto non-believers.

    That’s the danger.  These beliefs become so powerful for some people, that they feel it is their duty to see that everyone must live by them.  Society itself must bend to the tenets of their particular religion.  Gay rights, abortion, sex education, military and defense, religious teaching in schools… these all have been decided by divine fiat.  No compromise can be permitted for the personal freedoms of dissenting citizens.  Anyone who DOES dissent is obviously an infidel or worse, undeserving of freedoms that they would no doubt abuse.

    We see this danger every day, in the privileges that Christianity is afforded in society, in the laws that are written to accomodate Christian demands, in the taxes that go to religious functions which provide zero benefit to society.  If there world were full of the type of open-minded Christian (or believer of any stripe) that you describe, our efforts would not be needed.  The debate could be for its own sake.  But the world is hardly populated with this type of believer.  For them, personal experience DOES count as evidence, and the findings of science are not to be trusted.  Whatever “evidence” means for these folks, the definition is vastly different from the one understood by atheists and skeptics.

    I wouldn’t bother finding me any of those citations, I admit that I was asking mostly out of snark.  Any “miraculous” events that could not be described would already be well documented by the efforts of science.  If they truly upset the apple cart on what we understand of perception, evidence, and reality, they should be world-famous by now, and the process of science would be justifiably untrustworthy.  I guess I’d still be interested in seeing what you could come up with, but I wonder if I might find them less overwhelming than you do.

  • How, precisely, do you “know” that I don’t believe in my unicorn? Have you read my mind somehow? Did you use telepathy or something? I hope you realize that divination is forbidden in the Bible (Dt 18:10-11 to be precise).

    Barring an ability to actually detect my thoughts, you have no clue whether or not I, or anyone else, really believes in my unicorn.Also, you are aware, I’m sure, that the fact that “billions of people” believe something, does not grant it veracity? To believe so is called b various names … “appeal to consensus,” “the democratic fallacy,” “appeal to the masses,” “popular appeal,” but they’re all the fallacy known as argumentum ad populum.As for “scientific phenomena” which are “unexplainable,” that is precisely what they are: Unexplainable phenomena. Making anything of them is foolish at best. To posit that a deity must be responsible for something merely because no other explanation is available, is known as “the divine fallacy” and thus is a variation on argumentum ad ignorantiam.That people sincerely believe their experiences … whatever those might be … are “proof” that there’s a deity, is also not sufficient to compel belief in said deity out of me. Subjective experiences may be powerful to those who’ve had them, but they’re not objective, verifiable evidence of anything.Put another way: Your subjective experiences carry no more weight with me, than my non-belief does with you.

  • Anonymous

    “Atheists often state that the burden of proof is on the religious believer. I am not sure I understand this reasoning.”

    Simple really. The person making extraordinary claims owns the burden of proof. Lets use a real example….

    If I approach you, attesting to personal experiences with Aliens, citing Area 51, endless abduction claims from all over the world ,  crop circles, Bermuda Triangle theories, cattle mutilations, blacked out government documents, and anal probes. Is the burden of proof on you or me?

    “If I come out and dispute what the vast majority of the world believes
    then I think the burden of proof would be on me to disprove it. ”

    Define ‘majority’. In case you have not noticed, there are thousands of religious variants, they don’t all agree. Majority assumes agreement. I can think of several faiths who would likely declare you mislead and doomed for hell with the rest of us. The point I am making is, in the context of religion, the majority only exists in namesake. Some subscribe to the holy trinity, others don’t, some think the cross is a symbol of piece, others believe it to be an attempt to celebrate JC’s suffering. You may dismiss this all and say, well, they all believe in the same god. But when you push past the surface it starts to become clear, god is property, owned lock, stock & barrel by each minority group. 

  • Anonymous

    “If you can deny a creator when you live on our beautiful earth,you might as well deny the nose on your own face “I can see my own nose, pick it if needed (it can be picked therefore it is), others can see my nose, pick it too it they really want to. Since I can test for the existence of my nose and others can validate those tests my nose exists.

  • SJH

    The danger you speak of is true for all beliefs including atheism. It is not a function of belief but of how one reacts to beliefs. The atheist societies throughout the 20th century lead to unthinkable bloodshed and injustice.

    Regarding miracles, there seem to be many but the one that sticks out in my mind is the cloak of Juan Diego and the image of Mary (Our Lady of Guadalupe). There are many miraculous phenomena tied to this image which have been studied by various scientists, some of which are non-catholic and non-believers.

    Regarding the documentation, I think that if there are miracles we would be so inclined to disbelieve them that we would blind ourselves to their reality because it is the safe and easy thing to do. How many of us automatically call something crazy because it doesn’t fit into our world-view?

  • SJH

    You must be much smarter than me. I don’t think I understand what you are trying to say.
    What does interpretation have to do with my post. I think that it is pretty obvious that the actual phenomenon is not the same thing as the interpretation of that phenomenon so I assume that you are not simply trying to point that out.
    Perhaps I should give examples of an potential experience. Lets look at a vision that someone might receive. I am not trying to state that the vision actually happened but that the experience for that person seemed so real and was so powerful that it will take a powerful argument to prove to them that it was false. Until this is done that person will likely reject evidence no matter how convincing.

  • Anonymous

    I really hate taking this approach, but sometimes it works. If you “put on the naturalist glasses”, have someone experience a vision. They will not attribute this to something supernatural or divine, but they will take it as inspiration and something to think about. Or rather, take something like narrowly missing having an accident. The naturalist will see this as something that just happened, but the supernaturalist ascribes meaning and purpose to this, that they weren’t intended for the accident and so they didn’t get in the accident. Believers need to understand that they probably can’t tell the difference between something that “just happens” and something that “happens for a reason”. The problem is this gives a cosmic purpose to their life, and that questioning the purpose makes them freak out because they think they’ll lose the entire contents of their personal experience…but most things that have been in my personal experience haven’t changed much.

    Where the naturalist position shines most has to do with asking the supernaturalist who finds meaning in these happenings in personal experience to act consistently. If they ascribe meaning and purpose to all the good things that happen to them, they must also do so for the bad things…they must avoid a tautology that everything good is God and everything bad is them or Satan. This is particularly problematic when something is good for 1 person but bad for many, and introduces the problem of theodicy.

    That said, something has to become more important than God (like truth, morality, honesty, integrity, etc) before someone questions his existence…whether they deconvert or not in the end. I fully posit that my Christianity led me to not believe in God.

  • Nick Andrew

    I did make a lot of points which you can research yourself or I can further justify as needed.

    The additional gospels were declared heretical and typically burned. This was done by various people over centuries, for example Bishop Irenaeus in the 2nd Century. From the point of view of the church, a heretic was somebody whose beliefs differed from their own. Note that the people declared as heretical do not consider themselves as such. It could be some incredibly minor difference in belief, but the history of the church is one of suppression of heretics (by burning not just books but also people) or division into sects with different beliefs. That’s why there are Catholics and Protestants, Baptists and Episcopalians, and so on, seemingly forever, there are around 30,000 Christian sects. It is pretty certain that burning of heretical texts and heretical people was done not for historical accuracy but to assure continued power and prestige.

    The burden of proof is on the religious apologist. Believers need not justify their own beliefs, but if somebody wants to influence public policy by, say, declaring that a fertilized egg is a person and it is immoral to permit the owner of the egg free choice in whether to bear and raise a child, those beliefs become a matter for scrutiny.

    Now on a thread like this, we’re discussing religion and evidence. So inquiry into those things is expected. It would be nice if we can use reason and evidence to arrive at a mutually agreed truth. We’re trying to find out why religious people reject the evidence we provide. A common response from Christians (you made it yourself) is “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist”). This is why the burden of proof is important. If that was a valid response, it’s your get out of jail free card to not justify your own beliefs. And it leads to absurdity. I can’t prove Jehovah doesn’t exist. I can’t prove Zeus doesn’t exist. Nor Mithras, nor Osiris, nor Vishnu. There are 50000+ gods which I can’t prove don’t exist. Does that mean all 50000+ gods exist? No, that’s absurd. I can be quite certain that you are an atheist with respect to at least 4 of the abovementioned deities. Why? Don’t you have to prove to yourself that they don’t exist before you can permit yourself the luxury of not worshipping them?

    The sensible requirement is that the burden of proof lies on the religious believer. You believe in Jehovah – fine, show us your evidence for Jehovah. Muslims, please show us evidence for Allah. And so on.

    Whether the vast majority of the world believes something is irrelevant. Vast majorities have been wrong in the past, and I don’t need to give any examples. What’s important is the evidence supporting any given proposition. Your post which I replied to at first concluded “Ultimately, all the atheist arguments against God come down to this: God does not exist because you can’t prove it”. I have given you a lot of atheist arguments which do not rely on the above. Now it’s time for you to rise to the challenge, and provide positive evidence supporting the existence of your god.

    We no longer need to invoke God to explain things. This doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist. It shows that God is unnecessary. Introducing God into explanations where he’s not necessary is unparsimonious. It’s flawed thinking, no more valid than introducing an invisible pink unicorn into those same explanations.

    You said “Perhaps he created a universe that is somewhat self sufficient”. Perhaps. But you don’t really believe that, do you? That’s shifting the goalposts into Deism. Deism is unfalsifiable, but it’s not your actual position, it’s your fallback which requires no evidence because I am disputing the veracity of what you call evidence from the Bible and the historicity of Jesus.

    Now onto neuroscience. Your whole personality is encoded in the structure of neurons and chemicals in your brain. When disrupted, your personality is affected. As parts of the brain stop functioning (for whatever reason), corresponding parts of your personhood disappear. An old person suffering dementia loses cognitive ability as they age. It’s sad to watch somebody slowly lose their faculties and memory but the fact is that what you see is all there is. There’s no perfect soul which is “you” and your brain and body are just hunks of meat to be discarded upon death as you joyously ascend into the afterlife.

    Studies show interesting things. Split-brain people (those whose Corpus callosum has been severed) show distinct personalities (one operating each side of the body). There are in effect two people in one body. One case studied asked about religious belief, and one side of the brain was non-religious and the other side was religious. How does that fit into theology? Are there two souls? Is one side going to Heaven?

    The mere concept of a soul is such an illogical proposition that it is easy to poke holes in the idea. For example, a recent UK television program (you can see it on Youtube, entitled Atheist Bitchslap) had a person stating “I strongly believe all aborted foetuses go to heaven”. Now this person is making it all up. He strongly believes it doesn’t mean it’s true. If it were true however – what exactly is it that goes to heaven? The soul? A foetus has no personality, no memories. What’s it going to do in heaven? The typical christian belief is that once in heaven one’s memories and personality will be retained. What does this mean for a sufferer of senile dementia, whose memories (encoded in the brain) have been ravaged by time, and whose personality has been slowly eroded by the accumulation of amyloid plaques  within the brain?

  • Nick Andrew

    True, I think the whole notion of an afterlife developed throughout the transition period between OT and NT.

    I pointed out what a nasty character Jehovah was, and that’s based on the Old Testament stories of sacrifices, slaughtering of nearby tribes, how to keep slaves and so on.

    If I was to argue regarding the New Testament I’d use Christopher Hitchens’ argument about Jehovah’s irrational need for worship, the debasement of human spirit by classing us all (from birth!) as guilty sinners who need redemption which can only be delivered by Jesus, and the reward of membership in the “celestial North Korea” of heaven, in which an unlucky few devout souls must spend eternity praising and worshipping this despicable character. But my comment was too long already!

    That’s another thing. There are so many, many arguments against religion. I hardly touched on the immorality aspect. How many arguments can Christians reject? Apparently al of them!

  • Anonymous

    Also note that Christians  (and various, but not all, other religions) not only demand that people share their beliefs, but that their beliefs and rules be enshrined into law and apply to non-believers as well.

    At that point you damn well have to come up with some evidence for why your beliefs should govern our whole society and apply to all of us

  • “I am not trying to state that the vision actually happened but that the
    experience for that person seemed so real and was so powerful that it
    will take a powerful argument to prove to them that it was false.”

    We have a word for that: Schizophrenia.

  • SJH

    You state that your Christianity led you to not believe in God. Ironically, the more time I spend conversing with atheists, the more I believe in God. It just seems to make more and more sense. It is as if I am looking at something from the outside and can see all the puzzle pieces fit together and the more I am witness to the opposite view the more, by contrast, the puzzle seems to work.

  • Tom

    SJH, you have remarked that strong personal experience trumps evidence for some Christians.

    Have you ever personally experienced any of the miraculous effects you attribute to this cloak?  If not, then what other reason do you have to be so credulous and discount the really quite colossal body of consistent scientific evidence that refutes any such possibility?
    Consider what the word “miracle” even means.  Practically by definition, a miracle is something that is impossible.  Is it unreasonable, then, that so many of us are, as you say, disinclined to believe they exist when we’ve never seen one ourselves, and nobody who claims they have has ever reproduced one for us under controlled conditions?

  • Tom

    “You may think we are your opposition.  But we’re not the ones lying to you.”
    Simple, beautiful, true.  We should get that engraved on something.

  • Tom

    I don’t know how you can do that, since atheism is not the opposite view to your own; if it were, all the tenets of Christianity could be specifically derived from it.  In reality, you’re no more likely to have arrived at your particular version of Christianity by working backwards from atheism than you are to have arrived at, say, Zoroastrianism.

    The only possible way criticising atheism could feel to you as if it makes Christianity make more sense would be if you were already predisposed to believe in Christianity, because Christianity is not implicit in atheism.  Which also means your criticisms of atheism will do nothing to win over converts to you from any other religion; they will in fact strengthen them in their own respective beliefs in the same way as you feel they strengthen yours.

    We atheists really have what you might perceive as an unfair advantage in finding truth.  Being, as it were, the empty set of all religious (i.e. unscientific) positions, we can dismiss all religions at a stroke with one set of arguments based on the scientific method (as long as the scientific method remains valid, but you’d have to be nuts to doubt that). Conversely, any other religious position must attack all other religions individually; you cannot resort to the general-purpose arguments that work against everyone else because, unlike when we do it, wielding them will damage your position as much as those of of your opponents.

    Criticising atheism thus validates all your other competing ideologies as much as it does you, leaving you negligibly better off, relatively speaking; criticising any religion, on the other hand, generally increases the validity of atheism because it tends to do a lot of damage to all other possible religious positions.

  • Anonymous

    This is probably a little bit late now but religion, like politics, is all about power and control.

    My god is bigger than your god or Deo Optimo Maximo, quite often seen carved in stones which are seen on the side of RC churches. Deo Optimo Maximo means To God, the Best and the Greatest, unfortunately the God in question is Jupiter. This was a pagan toast borrowed by the early RC church from pagan Rome.

    The motto of the early writers was never to let facts get in the way of the legend and one particular case is the basis of the myth of the virgin birth of Jesus – if he existed at all.

    The early scriptures were writtn in Aramaic, the language of the region which were later translated into Greek, and became the Septuagint, which were then translated into Latin and called the Vulgate.

    The writer of Matthew based his account on that of Mark and took a prophesy from Isiah to the effect that ‘a virgin would give birth to a son’. Unfortunately owing to cricumstances beyond his control it was all wrong.

    In Aramaic the word ‘almah’ meaning a young woman (young women usually give birth to children) should have been translated to ‘neanis’; this would would have retained the integrity of the Aramaic because ‘neanis’ means a girl. However the translator got it wrong, he used the word ‘parthenos’ which means ‘virgn’. So instead of a ‘young woman giving birth to a son’ it became ‘ a virgin giving birth to a son’. And so it started and now we have the death cult of Mary.

    This is just one example of religious literacy cock-ups, and they are legion.

    It is not just a question of reading the bible but studying religions; their concepts and the development to what we have now.

    Incidentally the error regarding the virgin birth was pointed out to the early church in the 2nd century but they decided that it was too good a story to correct. Furthermore, the Ebionites, the early Christian converts denied the divinity of Jesus. They liked the philosophy but would not acccept the divinity. This upset Paul of Tarsus and somehow the Ebionites disappeared from the scene.

  • Edmond

    The “atheist societies” of the 20th century do demonstrate the danger of trying to enforce a belief structure onto people, rather than allowing belief to be free.  But there isn’t anything WITHIN atheism that advocates doing that (as opposed to religious systems that DO advocate spreading the word, conquering the neighboring tribe, punishing the infidel, etc).  The bloodshed and injustice was caused each time by a single dictator, bolstered by his personal militia, who felt justified in imposing his own ideology onto his subjects, violently if necessary.  Belief (and that dreaded “surety”) were certainly the problem, but “atheism” wasn’t the culprit belief.  Instead, it was the dictator’s belief that he should be propped up as an infallible figurehead of ultimate authority, and that his authority should be enforced by military rule.  An examination of atheism would show that it has no tenets of dominionism, no commandments of authority or proselytization.  It wasn’t atheism that led those power-hungry dictators to form their fascist states.  Atheism is what they enforced, but it was their belief in their own megalomania that caused the problems.  Religions are starkly different in this respect.  Religions COME with a built-in figurehead of absolute authority, as well as a heirarchy of authority-proxies, clergy, who claim to speak on behalf of their supernatural authority.

    I think it would be very difficult for you to find an atheist today who would espouse that kind of power trip.  NO belief system should be made mandatory by any national government.  NO religion should be considered the “official” religion of any country.  Atheistic philosophies of today are tempered by humanism, and balanced by secularism.  Secularism should be the “belief system” embraced by government, keeping personal worship choices at arm’s length from governmental principles.

    As for your miracles, I hope that there is a more impressive collection of events than a 500 year old story of a magic cloak.  There have been MANY stories of bishops and pontiffs and popes, visiting the sites of supposed visions from ancient times, who proclaim them as “true” based on some mysterious perception the rest of us apparently lack.  A recent, similar story in Wisconsin springs to mind.  A bishop certified a vision of Mary from 150 years ago, citing the “moral fiber” of the woman who made the original claim.  This vision of Mary was true, according to the church, because they knew that a woman who had been dead for over a century probably wouldn’t lie.

    I mean, REALLY?  Can you understand the frustration of the typical atheist when THIS is what passes for “evidence”?  Your cloak may have been studied by “various scientists”, but if any of them could demonstrate anything like REAL, scientific standards of evidence, then the truth of this claim would be established fact.  As it stands, it remains nothing more than a historical curiosity.  Maybe the problem isn’t the theist’s REJECTION of evidence, maybe they just don’t understand what CONSTITUTES evidence.  Any firmly-held belief, based on these shaky supernatural claims, seems disingenuous and unwarranted.

    Any of us may call something “crazy” that doesn’t seem to fit with how we understand reality, but I think you’ll find that we reserve that description for things that lack real evidence.  If we hear a STORY about something crazy, we have reason to be skeptical.  But present us with hard,  indisputable evidence, and we will be all too happy to adjust our world-view to accomodate this new information.  The fixed, “inerrant” world-view of religion doesn’t allow for such adjustments.  Scientific evidence that refutes the world-view is flatly dismissed as wrong.

  • True enough. But then there’s the problem of an omnipotent being somehow “needing” to be worshipped by people and believed in, sight-unseen. If you think about it, it’s a laughable proposition. An omnipotent being cannot “need” anything. Either he’s self-sufficient and has no needs, or he has needs, but they’re fulfilled instantly.

    If he does need the worship of other beings, then — poof! — those other worshipping beings come into existence and worship him. Thus, creating billions of people, keeping himself out of view of nearly all of them, and then hoping some will choose to believe in and worship him, is a head-game that makes no sense.

    The whole scheme only works if you assume God has human psychology, and like human beings, requires attention and even adoration. But it’s not safe to assume an omnipotent being will be subject to the strictures of human psychology.

    For that reason — and many others — it’s quite obvious that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God is a purely human construct, envisioned as essentially a super-duper-powered human being himself; created by humans for humans.

  • Ndonnan

    No Tom,i dont see athiests as my opposition,im not threatend or angered either,i like some of your disscutions. But you might feel like”deep thinkers”,some are funny but my expirience is real and a lot of the other 5.9billion spiritual people in the worlds expirience is real.The only enemy i see is satan,oh but of course that must also be a myth eh,so why dont we see athiests mocking satanests,mmmm.Or buddhists,hindus islam or the myriad of other religions.I agree with ahiest on one thing,religion is a waste of time,i dont think God is interested in religion either.Im so greatful for my faith,it gives me peace,hope and an assurance you carnt comprihend and i dont need to justify or defend,what have you got…..nothing

  • Ndonnan

    Ha,good point,but how did it get there,and why dont we have a nose like an elephant,or one that works as well as a dogs,because it was created that way.If it evolved,we should have a better nose than a bloodhound,to match our higher evolved brain yeh???

  • Ndonnan


  • TiltedHorizon

    The problem with these types of assertions is that it assumes the theory of evolution is a linear force advancing a species to an end state reflective of perfection. If evolution is true, it is random in nature, any traits which are ‘successful’ are “Happy Accidents”.

    To build on your nose example, let assume some people evolved elephant trunk noses. If such a nose existed, was it a hit with the opposite sex? Did it aid with hunting? Was it useful in dealing the challenges in the environment, was it still useful when the environment changed? Without assessable worth making such a nose an attractive quality, there would be little or no coitus, scrubbing the genes from the pool. Which is a good thing in hindsight; I can see such a nose getting in the way of fun coital activities.

    I should note, while this is speculation, it is based on observable evidence. If you google, “Delta 32” you will find one such random mutation. This does not cause elephant noses or empower one with a dog like sense of smell but it does offer something more important; protection of the species. It is speculated that the European plagues of the past 300 years have cause a genetic mutation making around 10% of the regional population resistant to some nasty viral infections, like HIV.

    Should an environmental change occur, like all of humanity falling victim to viral attack, it will likely be the descendants of these 10% who will, thousands of years from now, debate if people without the Delta 32 gene ever existed.

  • Re: “You mention additional gospels of which I am aware. My question to you would be, were the additional gospels buried or simply was it determined that they were not historically accurate and therefor not worthy of being canonized? It seems to me that they used reasoning and rational to determine what books to include in the Bible. If so, then you should admire them for this fact.”

    Actually there wasn’t much “reasoning” in the development of the Christian canon. And there was also absolutely NO historiographic analysis of the sort you allude to. (The discipline of history as we know it is a relatively modern invention; it didn’t exist in antiquity; to assume classical Christians examined the canon as closely as you think, is a very anachronistic assumption.)

    Really, the canon was never consciously decided at all. Rather, it literally fell into place over the course of a few centuries, with various people pitching their opinions over time, councils declaring some books authoritative and others not, and so on. Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate at the turn of the 5th century subsequently helped cement it in place … but that was due to expediency, not the quality of his translation or the reasons why he selected the books he included. (As it turns out, Jerome was not entirely sold on the authority of all the books he put into his work.)

    As for those who offered their opinions, the most compelling reason they saw any given book as canon or not, was based on whether or not the book’s contents agreed with their dogmatic positions. The kind of “reasoning” you think went into it, was never in play. Not once.

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