The Evidence Against Religions

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.

The Evidence

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. Prayer, similarly, does not appear to have any effect.

  3. “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.

  4. 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.

  1. 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?

I’ll add two, one a corollary of one of your points. (And I assume you mean evidence against the correctness of religions - religions are here.)

  1. The evolution of religions. Religious beliefs were supposedly given by god back in the past. Since god is perfect, so should the given dogma. However all religions have evolved over time, usually in sync with human ethical development. We can see an accelerated version of this with the Mormons, who went from polygamy to monogamy in order to get statehood for Utah to opposing SSM because God wants one man to marry one woman.

  2. The corollary. Development of religions from multiple singular points. Given one God, who loves us, you’d think that, even if he worked through prophets, he’d work through several in the many different cultures. Instead each got a distinct religion. Many have tried to align all these, but the common denominator god is a spiritual entity who loves us, and doesn’t have any interesting commandments.
    Religions with tribal gods who don’t have great expectations of those outside the tribe have fewer problems with this, religions with universal gods have lots of problems.

Is there a debate or are you just testifying?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

More just witnessing, but in case ITR Champion wants to make a real go at it, here it is.

Plus I’ll be able to link this when people bring out “The only evidence against God is that we can’t prove His existence.” That’s not the only evidence.

SR- Regarding point 11- You have sometime in your life actually read a Bible, haven’t you? Because I really want a cite on the verses where the man Jesus spoke of usury (not interest), circumcision, and stoning homosexuals.

Note- I do believe Jesus was the Incarnation of the Character in the OT that did talk about all these things, but SR was clearly speaking of Him in His human form.

Most of what you present isn’t evidence against religion, its argument against the evidence for religion, or data with no clear relevance to the issue. As one example of many, the facts that most children profess the same religion as their parents says nothing about whether any of these religions are true.

That will come as a great shock to millions of Christians.

Sage Rat, you are not presenting evidence against religions – you are offering some weak arguments against the existence of god(s).

What is your *evidence *against (as **Voyager **puts it) the correctness of religions?

BTW, Voyager, your arguments depend on two claims:

  1. Since god is perfect, so should the given dogma.
  2. Given one God, who loves us, you’d think that, even if he worked through prophets, he’d work through several in the many different cultures.

#1. Does perfection obviate change?
#2. Why would you “think that”?

And, just to be clear: I do not believe in the existence of God or gods.

This all seems very long winded to me…and the premise improperly shifts the burden of proof onto non-believers. It’s so much simpler to say that there isn’t any credible evidence that supports the existence of a supernatural god. Just leave it at that. If believers want to try to prove otherwise, the burden is on them.

I can’t say that I care enough about the distinction between Jesus as a human or as an incarnation of the Abrahamic deity. The Abrahamic deity, for millenia, required people to lop bits off their wang, stone homosexuals, and so forth. The Christian God and, presumably, his human incarnation would support that there was some mystical logic behind this choice. Yes, presumably there’s a mystical logic for making a 180, but either way I can’t say what we’re supposed to have gained by following these ineffable commands given that neither made the world a better and happier place. Adam Smith and John Locke did that.

And “usury” meant charging interest. In modern day it means charging excessive interest, but that’s a change that took place in the 15th Century or thereabouts. Previous to that, the main thing that kept the Jewish people as the detested class of people in European society was how they held everyone’s purse strings by being the only people about willing to loan money. I would personally argue that the Holocaust is significantly more linked to Jewish usury than to the historic crime of offing Jesus.

Items 6 through 11 address this. The things that religion is professed to have taught us (besides the existence of deities) have no relation to life as we observe it.

And while a philosophy agrees that we’re only talking about one guy thought up one day, religion is intended to be absolutely correct, because it came from a higher power. If there is no evidence for that higher power, then the strength of all the philosophy is circumspect.

If you’re a guy selling homeopathic remedies you’re going to say it works and you’re going to give a big sales pitch on all the times it worked and so forth. If he’s the only guy talking, a lot of people are going to think he’s telling the objective truth.

How does that approach benefit the world any? Random chances are going to be enough proof for the unscrupulous and unskeptical, especially if you add a bullshit layer of ineffability.

So I mean if you want people running about trusting their futures to mediums and prayer then go ahead, but I suspect you’re going to find the world a better place when there’s people about calling bullshit.

That’s exactly what my approach does. If religious believers, homeopaths or bigfoot enthusiasts can’t offer any evidence to support their case…it’s bullshit. The burden of proof for extravagant claims should be to the claimant.

While I don’t disagree with the points you’ve made, it seems to me that you’re playing in the other team’s ballpark.

While the holding of loans might have played a significant role in the fostering of hatred toward European Jews, describing them as “being the only people about willing to loan money” is liable to leave an incorrect impression of the actual situation. Christians and Jews were, (based on one reading of scripture), both prohibited from lending money to their own people. So Jews could not lend to Jews for interest and Christians could not lend to Christians for interest. Christians could and did lend to Jews. However, as there were far more Christians than Jews, the “customer base” favored the Jews in terms of making a serious business of that activity.

I did not know that. Interesting.

I guess off topic, but will Muslims accept a loan (with interest) from a Jew or Christian? If you happen to know.

I’d rather think so. If God is the most perfect, how can he become more perfect? If he was deficient when he gave the Torah, would he then be God?
A better argument against my point would be that the people were not ready for the real truth. But would God care? Also, there are many places where the Bible is wrong where it could be correct with no great issues or difficulties - like the creation story, for instance. Couldn’t God order his people to not keep slaves, even if he thought it impractical to stop slavery everywhere?

As I said, this is no great problem for tribal gods. However if there is some overwhelming need for salvation, then a just god would offer this salvation to everyone everywhere - and not wait thousands of years to make it available anywhere.

However the theists have provided evidence, and it is useful to examine and refute it, plus to show problems in the general nature of a particular religion. A prosecutor has the burden of proof also, but a defense attorney who only says “well, prove it” to each piece of evidence introduced, no matter how flimsy, is not going to make out very well. Not to mention his poor client.

Certainly. What the OP is doing is though different. He aims for a proof, subjecting himself to an unnecessarily high standard. Also, many of the arguments seem to assail religion using theistic arguments. This is a losing game. The fact that religious beliefs may be nonsensical or inconsistent has no bearing on the existence or non-existence of a god. Plus, the meaning of these beliefs varies widely and can be changed at the whim of believer. Arguing on those terms gets us nowhere.

Non-believers do better to simply refute evidence as it is presented. That business at Fatima? Photographic evidence doesn’t support the story. The mastermind behind the story was unreliable. Stuff like that. The fact that prayer doesn’t work or that speaking in tongues is just stupid doesn’t advance our case. Arguing about what deities want us to do is even worse. It just wastes time arguing around the edges of the matter.

Let me be clear that I intend to provide answers for all the points eventually. Unfortunately my time on the internet is limited at the moment, so it may take me a while.

My parents were atheists. I was taught to be an atheist. I am a Christian. Therefore whatever “evidence” is supposed to arise from this obviously does not apply to me.

Considering the world at large, I don’t see how this is evidence against religion. Parents teach children all kinds of beliefs. How does that qualify as evidence against those beliefs?

(Also I’ll mention that Blalron linked to a study in a recent thread, which has very different results from the ones you quote. I don’t know which one is correct; I’m just mentioning it.)

I find the whole premise wrong. Do religions spread by support of the government or by conquest? Other than Islam, I can’t think of any that has. There are many examples of religions that have not. The most obvious example is Christianity.

For its first three centuries, the practice of Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire. Many Christians were tortured and killed in grisly ways because they believed in Jesus Christ. It’s worth emphasizing that this lasted not for a short time, but for three centuries. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, did not hit the scene and establish religious freedom until the fourth century. Yet despite all this, Christianity was able to thrive and expand for that entire time. A clear counterexample to your claim.

But suppose we ignore that. Has Christianity spread by simple conquest after those first three centuries? Nope. During the Middle Ages, Christianity spread through Europe chiefly because of missionary work. Christianity arrived in areas such as Scandinavia by peaceful means, not by conquest. In fact, it was the Scandinavians who were conquering the Christian parts of Europe, not the other way around.

Even today the statement is untrue in many places. For example, Christianity has spread rapidly in China during the past fifty years, despite the fact that it was illegal and many Chinese Christians were imprisoned or tortured.

Since I don’t believe that the premise of this piece of evidence, I obviously don’t believe the conclusion.

Sure, it does. You’re just one of those one-percent people. Kudos.