In science, a single evidence is almost never a “proof”. The Holocaust isn’t proved because of census numbers, it’s proven via census numbers, dead bodies, eye witnesses, confessions, and various other pieces of evidence. Certainly, any one of these items could be incorrect or have been tampered with, but the point is that it would be sufficiently difficult to produce all of them unless the central theory was sound or you had endless resources and somehow the millions of collaborators didn’t miss a step. Using Occam’s Razor, the former is of course far more likely.
As such, there isn’t a single “proof” of the nonexistence of deities, but rather a series of items that would lead to a conclusion that they are mere fables.
Even still, of course, this isn’t a proof. Telekinesis has never been shown to work in a controlled setting, and everything we know about physics and the human brain doesn’t reveal any sort of opening for such a power, but of course it only takes one example to disprove anything.
But I think that it could fairly be said that if you do not believe in telekinesis, homeopathy, dousing, or other paranormal phenomenon due to the science, then there is at least as good of evidence against deities.
- People are taught by their parents to believe in a deity or lack thereof. Cite
Only 1% of children will join an entirely different religion from their parents. Denomination hopping ranges between 10-40%. This holds for atheists. If you are raised by atheists, there’s a 99% chance that you will also be an atheist.
- How, then, does religion get spread?
Historically, religions generally either spread via the support of the government, or by simple conquest.
One could make an argument that the success in the spread of Islam and Christianity is via the support of the One God, but this doesn’t seem like a very reasonable argument to make. For instance, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great were perfectly fine to let other peoples maintain their gods–probably due to belonging to polytheistic religions. Given the technology of their day, it’s not reasonable to argue that they had more or less support from a deity than later Christian or Islamic conquerors. They certainly were just as successful at attaining new land.
When Portugal and Spain conquered South America and converted this area to Christianity, it is hard to say that there’s any more proof of divine blessing than Islam could have had in taking over Northern Africa and the Middle East. The only difference for these religions is that unlike earlier religions, they command that no other gods be worshipped.
And if a deity is supporting a central government to spread his religion, to take Christianity as an example, why take over the Roman government around 300AD, but leave India and China alone?
The easiest answer seems to be that the belief in a particular deity springs out of other humans, not via divine intervention.
- The evidence that I, at least, have most often heard as cited as the foundation of continued belief in a deity, is the “spiritual feeling” or “divine experience” occasionally felt by believers.
People will say that they can feel the existence of their deity-of-choice and so this is the proof they need against atheist proddings. But as already pointed out, a person’s religion is almost entirely based on their parents’ religion, which is in turn based on the history of conquest and government pressure. So while one could argue that there is a genetic aspect to religious belief, this wouldn’t explain, for instance, how populations can overwhelmingly become atheist. If it’s genetic, and it’s the descendants of roughly the same genepool as it has always been, there’s no particular reason to think that the gene would disappear. And I would bet that if you were to hand the baby of a religious couple to an atheist couple, the child would grow up to be an atheist. So again, it doesn’t appear to be genetic.
It would seem that the religious experience is entirely a spiritual, trained, or psychological effect. Obviously, a religious person would argue that it’s spiritual. Parents, through their connection to their Deit(y/ies) of Choice (DoC), have been able to pass this on to their child, while as someone who has lost their faith would not be able to.
But if we look at this as a disinterested third party, does this make more or less sense than the alternatives? If we don’t require magic to explain the same outcome, that seems like a stronger position to hold.
Spirituality as a trained trait: A parent rewards and punishes, even if only through tone of voice and body language, their child to believe in the existence of the DoC. This risk/reward training will, in later life, cause the person to feel “rightness” and “wrongness” when considering the possible existence of the DoC. Belief will always feel “right”.
Does this seem plausible? Yes, I think so. If you look at the intelligent children of people who live dishonestly–crooks and constant complainers–you’ll find that many of these people have a hard time acting to popular morality. My own cousin, who went to a nice school, worked for years at a dentists office, etc. and moved far away from her parents, still had a few ugly patches as the impulse to lie and steal would hit her, and lost her several friends. She was and is smart enough, and living in a secure enough position that there’s no reason to have done this, and yet she did because her meter for “right” and “wrong” was trained to be distorted from what most people would consider to be correct.
By which, I’m not saying that the majority is right. I’m just pointing out that someone can certainly be trained as a child to believe things that they wouldn’t intellectually accept.
Spirituality as a Psychological Trait: Besides the possibility that someone is specifically trained to believe in the DoC, there’s the chance that a person will be inclined to interpret specific feelings of “a loving parent looking over me” as proof of their DoC. But there’s no saying that this has any actual relationship to a deity, and is rather just a psychological artifact. It could be that something just happened to actually remind them of their parents looking over them, or it could be that their endorphins output was raised for a moment and gave them a short high. But the point is that if someone has been told that the DoC exists and that you will be able to feel his presence like a “loving embrace”, then any warm fuzzy feeling can be interpreted as the proof. Had someone not been told to expect warm fuzzy feelings, they’d assume that it’s because they were remembering their parents or because the sun was bright or because they’d just eaten a nice meal, and that there’s nothing all that surprising about having a nice little moment of feeling good.
- To continue on the topic of religious experiences, I would like to bring up speaking in tongues and similar practices like falling down in the pews and shaking.
If someone religious believes in their DoC because of religious experiences, why wouldn’t they all convert to the denominations which have the greatest frequency and strength of religious experiences? Or if you believe Pentecostals (and glossolalians of other religions) to be wackos, on what foundation are you basing your own religious experiences to differentiate yours as rational and theirs as irrational?
- Can the creation of deities by humanity be explained without the existence of real deities? Again, yes. And firstly, let me note that it probably takes more effort to explain how there could be so many deities or that any one or group of them is the “right” one(s) than to explain how humans came up with them in the first place.
The initial creation is the interesting part and is based on two human psychological imperfections.
a) Humans are built to understand other humans, by too much.
b) Humans are pattern finding machines, again, by too much.
The second example is the easiest to give. This page gives a good example in the modern day. We will seek to find meaning and rationality and order even where this none. Failing this, we have a tendency to make stuff up.
The first item, that we understand humans, the best example is that of the happy face:
That we can recognize two dots and a line as a face is simply ludicrous. We’ll look at the front of a car and feel like it has a personality and cute white eyes and a big grinning metal mouth. We read human traits and personality into everything, anthropomorphizing the world around us.
When you combine these two traits and the excesses thereof, it’s easy to see how the first deities came to be.
Your tribe is near a volcano. The volcano is sometimes peaceful and quiet, sometimes it is mad. Some guy notices that this is like a human man and he thinks to himself, “Well I know that as a man, if people are angering me and I’m the big kahuna, it’s because I’m not getting all the respect and adoration I deserve.” And so, he suggests to everyone that they try offering treats to the volcano. They ask the guy what the proper format to show reverence should be. He comes up with something that sounds reasonable to him. The people follow the format and the volcano just happens to stay quiet (as it statistically would have), so they all decide that the one guy understands the volcano god and they give him treats for saving the village as well. The guy thinks, “Hey, this is a swell gig and maybe I do understand what the volcano wants!” And then people start to ask him questions about other things that seem big and important in the world, like the sun and the moon, and he thinks about it and comes up with answers for them.
And so it goes.
- It takes more effort to explain the creation of the universe and its format in terms of spirits and deities than as interactions of unthinking particles.
We can show that there are particles and that they react in certain ways. Those are already complex enough without adding in the existence of muscular men with bears wearing togas, floating in some unknowable dimension behind it all.
There’s already enough unknown and complex stuff without adding magic on top. It doesn’t simplify any equations.
People who are more intelligent are less likely to be religious. But people who are more intelligent are more likely to prosper and more likely to be happy. Deities, according to tradition, are meant to help people who have greater faith–at exact odds to what should be expected according to tradition.
Prayer, similarly, does not appear to have any effect.
“Miracles” as proof of the existence of deities somehow become not-a-proof when people who worship a different DoC than you examine it, and yet they still find the miracles of their own religion to be valid.
The existence of multiple deities. While I have seen arguments that this is a proof that there must be “something”, the complete sweep of all the beliefs this entails makes it seem unlikely that they could all be referring to the same thing. People in Africa need to rub a sharp leaf up their nose until it bleeds, Christians need to cut bits off their wang, Incans need to sacrifice and eat their enemies, etc. Mankind is inherently good. Mnakind is inherently evil. We’re going to Heaven. We’re going to be reborn as goats. There’s one god. There’s 50. Everything on the planet has its own spirit.
But seeing as the further you go back, the more animistic religions become, this really seems to support the idea that deities started their lives as the anthropomorphizing of nature.
- What deities want us to do, just as often as not, we ignore and we tend to do better when we do not do as they say.
If Jesus had God’s message and God wanted to teach us how to be happy and kind and caring, why would he tell Jesus to tell us that charging interest on loans is a bad thing? Why wouldn’t He have handed down capitalism and representative democracy instead of “chop bits off your dong and stone homos to death”? Heck, God could have at least taught us how to produce cheap paper.
If you look at this graph, why doesn’t that line turn up at 1AD or whenever your DoC shared his message?