Why I Lost My Faith in Faith

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DISCLAIMER: This is the aforementioned response to my last post. In it, I will bring forward the reasons why I no longer call myself a believer for the purpose of informing anyone who wishes to know, and I therefore suspect that there may be ideas in here that could be taken personally by any believer who may choose to read them. It is not my intention to dump on anyone’s religious beliefs, so if you think that you might be even slightly offended by any evidence that contradicts your beliefs, DO NOT READ IT. If you’re reading this, you likely live in the United States of America, and in this country we have right to freedom of expression, just as you have the right to read, or not read, whatever you want. So if you read this, and it offends you, too bad. You were warned. Disagree with me if you want, but don’t accuse me of being disrespectful or intolerant just because your faith can’t handle a little criticism. It’s unfortunate I even have to add this, but whatever…

This is going to be a LONG post, so just to be sure I don’t waste your time, here is a multiple-choice question designed to gauge your receptiveness to what I’m going to say:

Our planet lies on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy.  The farthest stars in this galaxy extend about 50,000 light years away.  Aside from our own galaxy, there are stars that are millions–even billions–of light years away.  This means that light from those stars takes millions of years to hit Earth, where we can see them.  The mere fact that we can see them means the universe is easily several billions of years old. As far as the earth, there are mountains of geological evidence that suggest that the age of the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  In addition, fossils have been recovered that have been dated (using about 15 different radiometric dating techniques) as millions of years old, with a very high degree of certainty.  The oldest reliably dated fossils, in fact, are close to 3,000 million years old.  Despite all this solid evidence, the Holy Bible pretty clearly claims that a single god created earth, the universe, and all life in a six-day period, about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.  If one is to claim that the Bible is the inspired word of said god, how are we to account for the overwhelming contradictory evidence to these claims?

(A) The devil placed that evidence there to deceive us into believing a lie.
(B) God placed that evidence there to test our faith in his word.
(C) The creation passages in the bible are not meant to be interpreted literally, even though it seems to present those events as fact.  It can still be the inerrant word of god as long as one has faith and doesn’t interpret it literally.
(D) We can’t account for it.  There is reason to doubt that the bible is the word of god.

If you answered A or B, you can stop reading right now.  Press that little X in the corner of your window or navigate away from this page, because no amount of evidence I bring up will amount to anything for you.  You are not able to view this matter open-mindedly, because any sort of evidence that contradicts what you already believe will be explained away with the ludicrous claim that “the devil did it to trick us,” or “god did it to test our faith.”

Now, if you answered C or D, we’re getting somewhere.  Continue reading, and try to have an open mind…

ON EVOLUTION
Let me clarify something right off the bat: there is absolutely no debate in the scientific community over whether or not evolution is true.  You evolved.  Period.  To deny evolution would be to deny overwhelming anthropological evidence, microbiological evidence, DNA evidence, paleontological evidence, and loads of other types of evidence that point to evolution having occurred.  If there’s any debate concerning evolution among scientists, it’s over the details of how it happened, not if it happened.

Don’t commit the error of getting caught up with the word “theory.” Yes, evolution is a theory.  But it’s a theory supported by so much evidence that the scientific community has no choice but to consider it as fact.  That’s the way science works.  An idea can be both a theory and a scientific fact.  Gravity is a theory. The idea that the Earth revolves around the sun?… also a theory (and one that is contradicted by the bible). And the Earth being a sphere?… that’s a theory, too (also contradicted by the bible).

All life on Earth shares a common ancestor, and came to its present state via the process of natural selection of random mutations.  This is scientific fact.  But please don’t believe me.  You heard me.  Don’t believe anyone that tells you something is a fact.  Look it up for yourself.  There’s a plethora of great books on the subject of evolutionary theory, natural selection, and anthropology.  (For evolution newbies, try Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer or The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.  Both are good books that laypersons can understand. If you’d rather visit a website, TalkOrigins.org offers a great collection of evidence and an archive of scientific research papers and commentaries written on the subject.)

Cosmological evidence and geological evidence tells us that the age of the Earth, as mentioned before, is about 4.5 billion years old, while the time that has elapsed from the Big Bang (the “event” that resulted in the formation of our universe) to now is approximately 13.5 billion years.  In other words, the heavens were formed, and then the Earth was formed about 9 billions years after that.  Which means, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth” is wrong, since it is impossible that the Earth could have come into being simultaneously with the rest of the cosmos, and thus the Bible fails even from the very first verse.

However, this is not to say that evolution can’t coexist with a belief in God and/or the Bible.  Stephen Jay Gould believed that evolution and religion were not mutually exclusive.  It seems that Charles Darwin felt this way as well.  Francis Collins, a brilliant scientist and the head of the Human Genome Project, is a Christian who accepts evolution as fact, and he does this by interpreting the bible figuratively or symbolically.

THE PROBLEM WITH FAITH
Once the evidence is taken into account, it is clear that the biblical creation story falls flat on its face when taken literally (as it is obviously presented).  Not only that, but many other so-called “historical” Bible stories are either provably wrong, or are not supported by even a shred of historical evidence.  The Tower of Babel.  Noah’s ark (this one is downright embarrassing).  The Exodus.  The Jews’ enslavement in Egypt (not to sound like Mel Gibson’s dad or anything).  Sodom and Gomorrah. Joshua’s battle against the Amorites.  Samson.  Joseph.  Nearly every event in the life of Jesus (except the crucifixion).  I really could go on, but I think you get my point.

Most Christians, when faced with the evidence and logic, will opt out of interpreting the Bible literally and advocate a more symbolic or metaphorical interpretation of the passages in question.

Fine.  But that doesn’t work for me.  Why?  Because whether you choose to interpret these parts figuratively or not, the Bible gives no indication that it should be interpreted as mythology, and in some cases (like Noah’s ark or the creation myths) it undeniably presents these questionable-at-best stories as historical fact.  But hey, it’s not like the Bible claims to be the flawless word of god or anything…

“The Word of God is flawless.” Proverbs 30:5-6
“All Scripture is God-breathed.” 2 Timothy 3:16

Oh.  Right.  That.  By the way, these are only two of the many verses in the Bible that claim that the Scriptures are the perfect word of God.  Either it is, or it isn’t.  If you’re going to claim that a particular portion which presents itself as fact is not to be taken as literal truth and doesn’t really mean what it says it means, then what about the rest of the Bible?  What about the Messianic prophecies?  What about the part where Jesus says “I am the way…”? What about hell?  What about gayness and that whole “abomination” bullshit? What about Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus? What about Jesus’ resurrection?  Couldn’t we just as easily assume that those passages don’t mean what they say they mean?

Okay, so some will claim that if you read the Bible earnestly, God will reveal to you which passages should be interpreted literally and those that shouldn’t; and as long as you have faith in the Bible as the word of God, you’ll be able to see which interpretations are godly and which aren’t.  Been there.  Done that.  Doesn’t work.  Have you noticed how many different versions of Christianity there are lately?  Clearly this “ye shall know them by their fruits” approach doesn’t fit, when self-proclaimed Christians can’t even agree on basic biblical teachings like homosexuality, abortion, drugs, sex, predestination, masturbation, speaking in tongues, the Eucharist, alcohol, war, marriage, and just about every other subject covered in the damn Bible.  Which is the correct interpretation?  Whichever one is yours, I bet.  Is God the author of confusion?

“God is not the author of confusion” 1 Corinthians 14:33

Right. Okay.  So if God is not in the business of deception, then someone explain to me how his self-proclaimed “flawless” word can’t speak for itself. Why doesn’t everyone who reads it come away with the same message?

Let’s face the facts: the only thing that claims the Bible to be the word of God is the Bible itself.  Nothing else.  I cannot accept the divine inspiration of a book based on claims in the book itself.  That’s circular reasoning–flawed logic at its worst.

Of course one might insist, at this point, that he or she knows the Bible is the word of God because they’ve had a personal, spiritual, life-changing experience from reading it, where God spoke to them personally–sometimes audibly–and revealed the Bible as truth.  It’s tough to argue with that logic, especially having felt similar experiences myself.  But consider this…

In high school, I had a class with a Muslim girl who told me that once she started reading the Koran, her entire perspective on life changed, and she felt the touch of Allah in every word.  She was thereafter more and more convinced each day in the perfection and validity of the Koran.  In college, I took a comparative religion class with a guy who was raised non-religious, but then a friend turned him on to Krishna consciousness.  Once he began praying to Krishna, he felt like a hole in his heart had been filled, and a burden he’d been carrying had been lifted, and he never saw anything the same.  He felt as if Krishna were communicating with him through everything.  And this, he saw as indisputable evidence that Krishna is the only path to truth.

These people are out there.  You can’t pretend they don’t exist.  For every one Christian that claims to have felt the touch of Jehovah while reading the Bible, you can find five or six other people who have felt the touch of another god while reading their scriptures or praying to their deity.  But once again, don’t believe me.  Talk to people of other religions.  Ask them what convinces them that they worship the true god.  You won’t have to search long before you find someone of different beliefs with a genuine religious experience in their spiritual résumé.

Knowing how prominent religious experiences really are, you’re left with two choices.  You can either declare that all these experiences prove the validity of all faiths–which is impossible, since most of them make irreconcilable claims–or you have to declare that these people are mistaken, misinterpreting their emotions, or are being misled.  But by doing this, you are admitting that most humans who think they’re having a genuine spiritual experience are in fact deluded, and thus you’re conceding that human beings have a propensity to misinterpret fuzzy feelings as divine revelation.  If that’s the case most of the time, how do you know that isn’t the case for you?  How can you be sure that you’re not being deceived by the devil of another religion?

Face it.  You need real evidence to back up your “divinely-inspired” faith.  And Christianity offers absolutely nothing that can’t also be offered by another belief system.  And unfortunately it’s all hopelessly weak and unconvincing.  Faith alone is not a good reason to believe or to act on one’s beliefs.  If it were, you could presumably load a glock 9mm, point it to your temple, and trust in God to save you when you pull the trigger.  After all, weapons do misfire, don’t they?  Aren’t all things possible for God?  Evidence doesn’t matter in the light of faith, right?  You can’t conclusively prove that every time you pull that trigger, a bullet will come out of the barrel, can you?

That was a joke, by the way.  Please don’t do that.

THE COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (I.E. THE NONSENSE ARGUMENT)
Now I’ll try to briefly outline some of the major philosophical arguments for the existence of God, and why they fall short.  First up because of its popularity, is what we call the Cosmological Argument; and it goes something like this:

1. Everything that exists has a cause.
2. The universe exists.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
4. That cause is God.

There are many problems with this argument, but the main problem is that it is ad hoc. First, if you’re going to argue that God exists, then according to presumption number 1, God must also have a cause. What caused God?  If you cop out of this problem by saying that God “doesn’t need a cause,” then that means presumption number 1 is false, and we can just as easily assume that the universe does not need a cause and could have always existed.

If you want to go all George Lucas and claim that God lies outside of time and space and therefore has no beginning, then why is it impossible to assume that all the matter in our universe has always existed as well?  Many scientists hold this hypothesis.  But even if our current universe did have a beginning (and it is very possible that it did), that fact alone would not prove that a supernatural entity brought about this beginning (as is put forth by presumption 4).  And it especially wouldn’t prove that this entity is somehow so concerned with our diets and sex lives that he’d talk to a stuttering Jew in the form of a burning bush to get his agenda spread.

In short, the Cosmological Argument is ad hoc nonsense because there is no evidence that the beginning of the universe–if it even has one–requires a force or entity outside of time and space to cause it. Claiming this would not be scientific, because there’s nothing one can use to test or even back up this claim, and it’s just plain flawed logic.  There is no scientific, peer-reviewed research that even puts forth this hypothesis as a possibility.  Don’t believe me.  Look for it yourself.

Maybe the universe began through natural, scientifically sound processes.  Or maybe it was magic.  Which is more likely?

THE ONTO-ILLOGICAL ARGUMENT
It’s tough to explain the Ontological Argument, but I keep hearing this ridiculous bullshit, so I feel I have to address it.

1. God is a perfect being, of which nothing greater can be thought.
2. God exists in our minds.
3. It is greater to exist in reality and in the mind than in just the mind.
4. Therefore, God must exist in reality.

Christ… where do I start? First of all, if something is thought of, it isn’t a being.  It’s just a thought.  If I think of a dude with four wieners, I can’t call this lucky man a “being.”  To “be” is to exist. To exist is to be a part of reality.  Thinking about something cannot make it move from being a set of brain impulses to being a part of reality.  So that makes presumptions 1 & 2 complete crap.  Not looking good.

Then presumption 3 makes the claim that actually existing is “greater” than not existing, or being merely a thought.  How does one make that leap?  “Existence” isn’t an attribute.  It is the condition upon which something can have attributes.  So saying that existence is “greater” than non-existence is the same as saying that a dog is bigger than a vs2lkj3,6]fy.

If one can accept the Ontological Argument as proof of God’s existence, then one can apply it to prove the existence of almost anything.  Case in point…

1. The perfect dump is the absolute greatest bowel movement, of which no greater bathroom experience can be thought.
2. It is possible to conceive of oneself taking the perfect dump, in one’s own mind.
3. It is greater to exist in reality and in the mind, than in just the mind.
4. Therefore, someone must have taken the perfect dump.

Too crude?  How about this one…

1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
2. The greatness of an achievement is the product of (a) its inherent quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.
3. The greater the handicap of the creator, the greater the achievement.
4. The biggest possible handicap for a creator is non-existence.
5. Therefore, if we can conceive an existing creator who creates the universe, we can imagine an even greater creator; one who created the universe, while not existing.
6. Therefore, God does not exist.

I think you see where I’m going with this.  Moving on.

THE ARGUMENT FROM SCRIPTURE & PROPHECY
Another tired Christian claim: Jesus must be the son of God, because he fulfills prophecies that were set forth in the Old Testament, and the odds of that happening are blah blah blah, and therefore Jesus is proven as the fulfillment of prophecy, which proves the divine inspiration of the bible, which proves the divine, blah blah blah…

There’s too much material for me to fully spell it out here; that’s a whole other post entirely.  But the main problem with this claim is that it presupposes that the Bible is a reliable source of historical and scientific fact, when it is actually very unreliable, contradicts itself to the point of being outright embarrassing, and contains just about as much history and science as it does Philly cheese steak sandwiches.  Why I keep hearing this claim, I don’t know.

How is it that Jesus was able to fulfill the prophecies set forth in the Old Testament? Simple. The people that wrote the New Testament (decades after Jesus had already died), read the Old Testament, and made the prophecies fit.  I’m not saying they did it intentionally.  But when looked at critically, the Jesus story reeks of a beefed-up legend.

Elvis Presley died in 1977.  He lived in a time when most people in his land were literate (unlike the time period of the early Christian church, when 10% at the most were literate).  We have many reliable firsthand reports of his life (unlike the “details” of the life of Jesus, which are second or third-hand reports, at best).  We have medical reports.  We have musical records. We have pictures of the King, in the morgue, dead as a fucking doornail, and still there are thousands of people who insist Elvis is not dead, and even claim to have seen him alive.  The hundreds of books written about Elvis by people who knew him personally (unlike the writers who wrote about Jesus, none of whom had ever met him) contain completely conflicting stories about his life, his hobbies, and his preferences.  Some biographers even insist that Elvis didn’t take drugs.  What the fuck?!  And this is only 30 years ago.  Imagine trying to piece together the details of the Kings life 2000 years from now.

Maybe a supernatural force wrote the bible (and intentionally put a plethora of contradictions and historical and scientific inaccuracies in it).  Or maybe the people who wrote it just didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, and their imperfections and susceptibilities to superstition showed up in their writings.  Which is more likely?

THE ARGUMENT FROM MORALITY
Of all the ridiculous arguments used to justify believing in the existence of a god, this has to be the most absurd.  It boggles my mind that despite statistical evidence, psychiatric evidence, biological evidence, and just plain common sense, a large portion of our countrymen and countrywomen actually feel that people need to believe in god to be considered good, moral citizens.

It’s a tired, stupid argument, and it this kind of bullshit needs to stop.  But if you need evidence, then fine…

If atheists were less moral than Christians, then more atheists would be in prison than Christians.  But in fact, this is not true.  In fact, it seems the opposite is true.  Atheists and other non-religious people are 15% of the general population, but they’re only 1% of the prison population.  And I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong… we’re not talking about people that converted to Christianity while they were in prison.  These are the religious beliefs that inmates reported holding before they committed the crimes that sent them into prison.

God did not determine right and wrong.  Men decided what their god would consider right and wrong.  This fact is obvious.  Societies had decided that killing and stealing were wrong long before the Old Testament (there are accurate accounts that the ancient Egyptians believed this way earlier… so maybe the Egyptian gods are the true gods). The Golden Rule?  Do unto others?  Who said that, Jesus?  No.  Confucius said it four centuries before Jesus was even born.  Zoroastrians were saying it even before that.

Christianity certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on morality.  But even if you claim that it does, the Bible clearly is NOT a perfect universal moral guide.  If you think this way, it’s because you’ve either never read the whole Bible, or like most people, you pick and choose which verses are relevant and which aren’t. Because according to the Bible’s “moral” teachings:

  • Slavery is okay.  And slaves should obey their masters, or get beaten. (Leviticus 25:44-46, Ephesians 6:5, Luke 12:47)
  • Women should not be allowed to speak during church.  Nor should they ever be in a position of authority over a man. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12)
  • A dude with weird balls cannot be a priest. (Leviticus 21:18-20)
  • If your wife grabs your balls during an argument, cut off her hand. (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
  • If your son or daughter curses at you, kill them. (Matthew 15:4)
  • If a man commits adultery, kill him. (Deuteronomy 22:2)
  • If a woman is found to be a witch, kill her. (Exodus 22:18) This one verse alone was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of women.
  • If a man is found gathering sticks on a Saturday, kill him. (Numbers 15:32-36)
  • If a man is born gay, kill him. (Leviticus 20:13)
  • If a man is caught raping a woman… he has to marry her?! (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

I could continue, but this entry is already long enough as it is.  You’ll notice that a good number of verses are from the New Testament.  This is for those people who claim that somehow the Old Testament laws are no longer relevant due to Jesus’ sacrifice (so what about the Ten Commandments?).  The problem most people have is that they try to convince others that the Bible is a perfect moral guide by pointing to the nice verses while completely ignoring the bad ones.  Or worse, by explaining them away with “it has a different interpretation,” or “another translation says it differently.”  I was a Christian and defended Christianity for most of my life.  I know the Bible well.  These aren’t verses that are taken out of context or have a different meaning in Greek than what they’re clearly saying.  These are things the Bible calls “good” that, well… aren’t.  Don’t believe me.  Read about it yourself.  Read Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus or Dan Barker’s Godless.

If you know slavery is wrong, and that women are equal to men, and that homosexuals don’t choose to be homosexuals, and that there is NO good reason to kill another human being who poses no kind of threat to you, then congratulations my friend… you are more righteous and moral than the Bible.  Or the Christian god, for that matter.

There is good in the Bible, but you can’t call a garden full of weeds perfect just by pointing out the few pretty flowers.  You pick and choose, just like everyone else, and you perform some mental gymnastics on the parts that don’t agree with the socially accepted standard of morality to explain them away as irrelevant or out-of-context.  But that doesn’t change the facts. The more I look at the Bible, the more it looks like so many other man-made creations: good in some respects, but littered with plenty of mistakes and bad ideas.

CONCLUSION: THE BURDEN OF PROOF
I’ve now given the biggest reasons why the arguments for God don’t add up to me (if you’re still with me, bless your heart), although there are many, many more reasons that I just don’t have the time and patience to get to.  I’m sure that anyone who chooses to look at it critically will see that the assertions of Christianity just don’t make any sense.

If you disagree, just think about it before you jump down my throat.  Christianity asserts that an invisible man in space created the universe, and that his Jewish zombie son (who is also him, somehow) can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and accept him as your master so he can remove an evil force (that he himself created) from your soul which is present in humanity because a talking snake convinced a rib-woman to eat fruit from a magical tree.

Clearly this is impossible to prove, so many people would choose to shift the burden of proof on an atheist like me to prove that there isn’t a god.  That’s not how it works, folks.  The burden of proof lies with the person making the extraordinary claim–that is, on the person who claims that there exists a higher governing power than the natural world.  A claim isn’t true just because no one can prove it false.  If that were the case, then I can equally claim that the universe was created by an invisible flying spaghetti monster, which spoke to me personally.  You can’t prove me wrong; therefore I win, right?  Right?

Wrong.  You don’t win an argument by shifting the burden of proof where it doesn’t belong. Show me real evidence that something exists beyond the natural universe, and that the Bible contains his word, and I’ll be the first to tell you that you’re right, and I was wrong.  I’m a man of my word.

Until then, you’ll have to forgive me for being so skeptical of the radical claims that religions make.  Of course, I believe in the basic human rights that give you and I the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe.  I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s worldview or turn anyone away from a belief system that helps them cope with life and death.  I’m glad that religion is able to provide so many people with comfort.  But keep it to yourself, unless you can prove it.  The minute I start to see someone use their unfounded religious views as a platform to look down on others or to try to make them into public policy laws that govern everyone else, I am going to be there to stop them and tell them that they’re dumb.  I will respect people’s rights to believe what they want, so long as they respect the rights the rest of us have to live however the hell we want, so long as we’re not hurting anyone.

Do I fear hell?  Probably about as much as Christians fear the Muslim hell, or the Mormon hell, or the Greek mythological hell.  Which is to say, not at all.

I’m not sure whom, but someone else said it best: We’re all atheists in some way.  Christians are atheistic about Allah, and Odin, and Wotan, and Thor, and Shiva, and Zeus, and every other god that other able-minded people believe in, just as they’re atheistic about your god.  Me?  I’ve just gone one god further.

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