Religion today hangs on the horns of a dilemma: On the one hand, it is false in the scientific sense, as we shall demonstrate below; but on the other hand, because religion in one form or another has been around as long as recorded history -- and in fact has played a central role in man's social and personal life -- it is almost certain that religion is useful in the sense that it has helped men to survive. The real dilemma of religion, however, is that it must be believed in order to be useful, yet this is impossible when people know that it is false.
The obvious solution to this dilemma -- if indeed there is a solution -- is to discover what is useful about religion, and to try to make use of this knowledge. This I have attempted to do in my book The Most Powerful Idea Ever Discovered. But we will be stymied in our attempt to accomplish this task -- or at least to bring it to fruition in the sense of teaching others -- if we do not first and finally sweep away the foolishness of religious belief by making a plain and clear statement as to religion's literal falsity. Accordingly, we cite below what we view as twelve compelling reasons why a rational person must regard religion as false.
Reason 1: The nature of scientific vs religious belief: As I pointed out in my book Systems Theory and Scientific Philosophy, science is actually a religion: Its faith involves such beliefs as that the future will be like the past in certain ways, that explanations should be based on objectively- verifiable evidence, and that the best explanation is the simplest one which fits all the facts ("the Law of Parsimony"). However, science is different from most religions in the way it makes 'converts', and, more generally, in how it gets people to believe in its assertions. In particular, people become converts to science because they see that it works: Science builds buildings and bombs and sends rockets to the moon -- something no religion seriously pretends to do. On the other hand, people become converts to religion because they think they see that it works, but are mistaken: For example, people become converts to religion because of such things as (a) their parents shape their beliefs at an impressionable age (ie, brainwash them); (b) they have a psychic or psychic-like experience which makes them think that God is responsible, whereas in reality they may only have had a pinched spinal nerve, or perhaps a genuine psychic experience, the latter of which does not prove the existence of God, but only that there are things that science still doesn't understand; or (c) they survive some traumatic experience which makes them think that God is the only thing that could have gotten them thru it, eg, military combat ("There are no atheists in foxholes") or taking a subway ride in New Yawk.
Reason 2: The nature of religious theories vs scientific ones: Scientific theories are ones which are supposedly objectively-verifiable by any person of sufficient skill -- a fact reflected in the custom that a theory is not accepted as scientifically correct or useful unless it has been judged publishable in a scientific journal by the author's scientific peers, and experimentally verified by another scientist of recognized credentials. In contrast, religious theories are accepted on the basis of the babblings of religious hermits who beat themselves bloody, refuse to wash, and -- small wonder -- haven't had sex for at least six weeks (OK, make that 40 days).
Reason 3: Religion's logical contradictions: Religion contains many contradictions. For example, the Bible tells us to "love thine enemy", yet all the smiting of their enemies by God's Chosen in the Old Testament makes it plain that the roots of Christianity were far closer to hatred than love. Again, the Bible tells us that God "loves" each and every one, yet those who violate God's laws or don't believe in religious dogma are supposedly going to be sent to eternal Hellfire -- hardly an act of a loving God. One can fill a book with such contradictions.
Reason 4: Religion's incredible shrinking knowledge: About 400 years ago, the Christian religion "knew" everything. It "knew" the earth was flat, "knew" that there were witches, "knew" that animals could be tried for crimes, "knew" that the Bible was the literal word of God, "knew" the difference between right and wrong, "knew" that the difference between man and beast was that only men have "souls", "knew" that the earth was the center of the universe, and so on. Since that time the things that religion "knows" has been shrinking at the speed of light -- or at least the speed of thought. Copernicus showed that the sun was the center of our "universe"; Galileo discovered new worlds; Newton showed that it was physical laws, and not a Godhead, that determined the movement of the planets; and so on. Today, what religion "knows" can be contained in a pinhead, and generally is.
Reason 5: Religion's immoral leaders: Religion has always claimed to offer a code of "absolute morality", yet the behavior of its holiest men have often been far less than moral by any standard, religious or otherwise. For example, numerous Popes have been guilty of all sorts of crimes -- bribery, theft, fornication, murder, torture, warmaking -- you name it. Again, the Inquisition was responsible for treating many people with the most extreme barbarity -- so much so that a strong stomach is required simply to read about it. It is true, of course, that Christianity has cleaned up its act in recent years, but this has much less to do with the character of its leaders than its failing power in a world dominated by science. Accordingly, since Christians are no longer able to express their love of God thru such media as boring tongues with hot pokers, beating people till bloody at the whipping post, dipping and re-dipping them in boiling oil or ripping off their genitals, these gentle and loving people now have to content themselves with beating the bare buttocks of their children, and even this divertissement has been under attack in recent years.
Reason 6: Religion's questionable moral codes: Even with immoral leadership, religion might still claim the moral high ground on the basis of its behavioral codes. As it happens, however, these codes are usually deficient and often highly ambiguous. For example, there is no consensus on many controversial moral issues, including abortion, homosexuality, pornography, serving in the armed forces, and numerous others, tho all sects claim to know that their position on these issues -- whatever it may be -- is endorsed by The Big Guy In The Sky.
Reason 7: Religion's historical origins: The origin of most religions does not encourage belief. Serious investigation of the origins of religion only began in the 19th century with Sir James G Frazer's Golden Bough, and we now know such things as that the Yahweh religion of the Old Testament was actually a cult of phallic worship whose "covenant" was signed in blood by circumcision, and that many of the rituals of modern Christianity were taken from earlier religions, such as the Christmas creche, which was taken directly from the Egyptian Isis-Osiris religion.
Reason 8: Religion's appeal to the human ego: Because we now know that the earth is but a tiny speck of dust in an unfathomably large universe, the notion that human beings are "special creations of God", and in particular are so important that God "gave his only begotten Son" for their "salvation" now seems like such palpable nonsense that anyone who believes it would have to be demented. And inasmuch as all the major religions are built around the notion that they are "special creations" of the Creator of the Universe, we can forthwith assign all such religions to the dustbin of superstition. The argument here is evidently much like what Bertrand Russell had in mind when he said, "That God would bother with humans proves that he is demented; that he is demented proves that he does not exist."
Reason 9: Religion's 'explanatory' appeal: The importance of religion for many people is that it explains how the world came into existence ("Because God created it") and the purpose of their life ("To worship God and do his bidding"). However, these explanations make no sense upon close examination. In particular, 'explaining' the existence of the world as an act of God requires the believer to explain how God was created -- surely he did not create himself -- and this means that the 'explanation' leaves more unexplained about the world than before the 'explanation' was developed. Likewise, 'explaining' one's purpose in life by saying it is to 'serve God' implies that God's purposes are known, whereas in reality we know nothing about "God's purposes" except what is told to us by the babbling of religious fruitcakes.
Reason 10: Religion's psychological origins: Many years ago, the famous Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner did an experiment on what he called "the development of superstition in pigeons." Religion, of course, falls under this rubric -- as J.B.R. Yant said in his Mortal Words, "Religion is just superstition which has been around long enough to have become respectable." What Skinner did was the following: He would put a hungry pigeon in a so- called "Skinner box", which had an opening through which food could be introduced. Food pellets were then dropped into the box at random times. The result of this setup, when done with a large number of pigeons, was that each one of the pigeons were found to be repeating a single behavior over and over: Some would continually repeat a certain type of preening, some a certain type of stretching, some a certain type of walking, and so on. The reason for these different continually-repeated behaviors was as follows: Pigeons normally are continually engaged in one or another type of behavior -- preening, stretching, etc. If they are engaged in one of these behaviors when a food pellet is dropped into their box, they form an association between their behavior and the appearance of the food pellet, i.e., (in mentalistic terms) they are caused to think that there is possibly some cause-effect relation between their behavior and the appearance of the pellet. This, then, encourages them to try the behavior again, perhaps several times -- i.e., this behavior has been "reinforced". But since this behavior has now become more likely, there is a greater chance that a food pellet will drop into the box at the time that the pigeon is engaged in this behavior. Which means that this behavior will be "reinforced" more. Which means that it will be more likely to be performed again, and get reinforced again, and so on and on, until the hungry pigeon has developed a "superstition" about what "causes" a food pellet to appear -- a superstition that it will practice whenever it is hungry. The parallel with the Skinner experiments and religion is obvious -- a person is taught how to pray, so this causes him to pray occasionally "at random" merely out of habit. Then one day after he has prayed, something he has prayed for comes about. So he is "reinforced" -- even tho there was no relation between his prayer and the happy event. So this encourages him to pray again. And occasionally it will happen that what he wishes for actually occurs following a prayer. So he is reinforced again. And so on, until like a bird-brain pigeon, he has developed a full-blown superstition, i.e., a religion.
Reason 11: The argument from the multiplicity of religions: There are dozens, and perhaps even hundreds or thousands of religions, all of which claim to be 'absolutely true', and all of which contradict one another in fundamental ways. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from this is that all of them are absolutely false. In recognizing the above facts, those of an ecuminist bent have argued that, while all religions are probably false in some ways, the fact that all (or at least most) have the same core beliefs about God and morality imply that the true religion is constituted of these core beliefs. While this argument has a superficial appeal, it does not in fact prove the truth of the core beliefs, but only -- at most -- their usefulness: It proves that human beings are similar in the basic moral rules and mental props (god-belief) needed for a stable society.
Reason 12: The argument from impudence: The following is a quote from my book The Mortal Words of J.B.R. Yant: It is the simplest of simple things to prove that God does not exist. Just look toward the sky, raise your middle finger, and say, "Hey, you son- of-a-bitch mother-fucker up there, if you're so God-damned all-powerful, then let's see if you can strike down little old me, you big over-praised, over-blown ass-hole." When nothing happens, the proposition is proved, Q.E.D.
Further arguments on the non-existence of God will be found in the author's book Systems Theory and Scientific Philosophy, especially chapter 1. The following is a relevant excerpt from chapter 3 of that book:
Systems Theory and Religion
The cause of religious belief in human beings is intimately related to the desire on the part of individuals to have an explanation for various phenomena, and in fact, if nature possessed easy, simply-discoverable laws, it is doubtful that religion would have ever developed. As it happens, however, natural law is by no means simple, and thus it undoubtedly appeared to the primitive mind that the forces of nature were chaotic and unpredictable. From this point of view, however, it was but a short step to attributing an anthropomorphic character to nature: Unpredictability became whimsicalness; the raging storm became the work of an angry god who, like an angry man, will become calm again in time; the personal calamity became the punishment of evil-doers; the occurrence of an unusual event became a sign that the deity was engaged in something special that would affect his minions; and so on. Accordingly, primitives came to view nature as the Great Man, and those actions known to please man became, with certain modifications, the sets of formulas that were thought most efficacious for getting into the Great Man's good graces. This, however, meant that religion became the Theory of Divine Psychology, since it was an elucidation of those inputs by which the Great System in the Sky could be made to give certain outputs. Most modern-day religions, of course, usually prescribe that a constant input of morally correct behavior, scripture reading, and contribution to the church's coffers will be certain to yield, in the end, that output which will reserve for the doer eternal grace in the firmament; while if the input includes such things as copulating without the specific intention of adding to the population problem, or wondering how the dictum of "love they neighbor" requires the church to expend huge sums of money for business investments, stock purchases, and ornate bric-a-brac while the poor go hungry, then the output is certain to be hellfire, brimstone and everlasting damnation.
In contrast to present-day religions, the stock-in-trade of the more primitive of man's faiths has usually been a description of those inputs that will stimulate The Great System to produce outputs useful in day-to- day affairs -- the rain dance, the war dance, and the fertility rite being among the best known of these. Nowadays, however, science has largely taken over this most ancient function of religion: If a man wants rain for his crops, he seeds the clouds or rents an ion generator; if he wants to win at war he builds big bombs and develops test-tube plagues; and in order to insure that the harvest will be abundant, he no longer feels the need to fornicate in the middle of his fields -- he simply has his hired hand spade on some manure. All this is not, of course, to say that religion does not have any influence where it was once the prime mover -- the Bible-reading of the astronauts from the moon is a case in point -- it is just that the hegemony has changed hands. Religion, I am afraid, will die very hard. But if it is true, as we have suggested above, that from a functional standpoint God is nothing more than a (markovian) System, it may be asked how man presumed himself to have discovered its laws. The answer to this, I believe, is given by a famous experiment of B.F. Skinner, who placed hungry pigeons in individual cages rigged in such a manner that food pellets would automatically drop in the cage every 10 seconds. The result of this situation was that some of the pigeons began practicing certain rituals, such as turning in circles, stretching their necks and fluttering their wings. The generally-accepted explanation of these rituals is that on one or more occasions when the food pellet was dropped, a particular bird would be performing a particular act, and the appearance of food at that time "reinforced" the act, i.e., (in mentalistic terms) the appearance of food at that time caused the bird to assume that the performance of the act in question would be efficacious in causing the appearance of more food. In short, the birds in question acquired what, at least in functional terms, amounted to superstition. The conclusion to be drawn from this, of course, is that the probable origin of religious beliefs is accidental reinforcement of peculiar behavior.
Now in conclusion, it seems appropriate to remark that the prayer wheel -- each revolution of which is believed by devotees of certain Eastern religions to send a prayer to the Deity, and from which derives the concept of "spinning one's wheels" -- is a mechanism which seems to fit quite well into the analysis we have given here of Deus ad machina. We can only wonder whether the countries in which prayer-wheel religions predominate, as they are drawn kicking and screaming into the machine age, will convert imported Western machinery into dual-tasking devices whose combined effects serve not only to do their initially-designed tasks, but in addition produce as an epiphenomenon the continual massaging of the great underbelly of God's mind.
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