Lesson 4: The Claims of Atheism

Lesson 4: The Claims of Atheism

Prepare to be offended and challenged. When we start looking at the claims of atheism, we find that critics and skeptics are sharp-tongued and severe in their claims against religion in general and against Christianity in particular.

Before we look at the claims of atheism, we should be aware of several facts: 1) Some of their criticisms are based in reality. Many things done by Christians, in the name of Christ, or by so-called Christian organizations have been immoral and indecent (e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition). Christendom is guilty of much sin, as are other forms of religious belief. If we evaluate religion in general, we find much to criticize, both historically and currently (e.g., Muslim radicals). 2) Atheists tend to present Christianity and other faiths in the worst possible light. They often point to the worst, rare examples of bad behavior and treat them as if they were normal and representative of the religion. This leads to an unrealistic picture of the faith in question. 3) Atheists tend to ignore or downplay the positive contributions religion has made. 4) Atheists often lump all religions together, asserting, for example, that Islam is no different than Christianity, or that Roman Catholicism is the same as Protestantism. They typically paint with a very broad brush, suggesting that the failures and excesses of one form of religion are equally true of all the other forms of religion. Thus, we should be aware that many of their criticisms lack genuine support.

With these things in mind, let’s examine several common atheistic claims.

  1. Faith in God is contrary to reason

    1. Richard Dawkins: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. . . . Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.”

God is a delusion—a “psychotic delinquent” invented by mad, deluded people,…a belief that is not grounded in evidence…. Faith is blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence, … it’s a process of non-thinking. It is evil precisely because it requires no justification, and brooks no argument.

    1. Religion denies reality. Bertrand Russell: “Man is the product of causes which had no pre-vision of the end they were achieving; … his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; … [nothing] can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; … The whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…. Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

    2. Belief in God is utterly irrational belief—like believing in a teapot orbiting the sun.

    3. Religious faith contains no genuine truth. All religious statements are either total myth or are simply opinion. For example, the statement “Jesus is the Savior” cannot be proven; it is mere opinion, a statement of hope, perhaps, but not of fact.

    4. When faced with the evidence of science, religious people typically retreat into irrationality or declare the matter to be a mystery, beyond human understanding.

  1. Humanity does better without religion.

    1. Humanity is able to solve its own problems without leaning on the “crutch” of religion. Reason holds the key to human success and achievement. The French atheist Baron d’Holbach claimed that if reason is cultivated, there will be no need for God. Marx taught that communism would eliminate man’s dependence on the idea of God. Freud argued that religion encouraged unhealthy and dysfunctional outlooks on life. Religious faith is a negative factor in personal development. Man must be freed of religious illusions so he can pursue a more meaningful existence.

    2. Elimination of belief in God would lead to a more peaceful and stable world. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” includes the lyrics “imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try/ No hell below us, above us only sky.” By eliminating religious, political, social and economic differences, humanity would finally be able to achieve unity. Once religion had been eradicated, there would be only a “brotherhood of man” with nothing left “to kill or die for.”

    3. The elimination of religion would foster peace and prosperity. Tensions and violence would be eradicated with the removal of religion. Since religion is the problem, its disappearance will be to the general benefit of civilization.

    4. Atheism offers hope—the hope of a better future and the possibility of being involved in bringing this future about. Atheism offers humanity the possibility of transforming itself, starting all over again without the encumbrance of outmoded ideas inherited from a distant past.

  1. Religion is evil and makes people evil. Belief in God is the basis of all sorts of terrible things.

    1. Religion is the cause of much oppression, corruption, and violence in the world. As Christopher Hitchins asserts, organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” The God that the Jews believed in back in OT times is a psychotic child abuser.

    2. The God of the Bible is a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

    3. Religion leads to violence and is anti-science. Believers are really perverted, degenerate and unthinking. Religious people are a bunch of hypocrites.

    4. Religion stopped people from doing things that were fun, useful, and productive.

    5. Various religious practices are eccentric, pointless, or harmful.

    6. Religion hinders scientific discovery (e.g., Galileo). Religion teaches ideas that are false, such as young-earth creation, the possibility of miracles, life after death, angels and demons, etc.

    7. [Religious believers are] deranged, deluded, deceived and deceiving, any intellectual capacity having been warped and through having been hijacked by an infectious, malignant God virus.

  1. There is no particular need for God.

    1. Atheists typically lead happy, meaningful lives without the unnecessary belief in God. Religion serves no purpose for them; it holds no attraction. On the contrary, religious belief is especially repulsive to many people.

    2. The natural world provides a satisfying alternative to God. Nature becomes almost divine in its own right. Nature was responsible for “creating” man, so any reverence or worship a person might want to express can be directed toward nature.

    3. The laws of nature can explain every phenomenon; there is no need for God when all things that occur have a natural explanation.

    4. Man must display courage in the face of an uncaring, dark, meaningless universe. He must make what he can of his own life without relying on God.

    5. Once religion gets out of the way, mankind can see how to solve its own problems. Man has the capacity to make life what he wants it to be. He is fully responsible for himself and has all the resources needed to solve every problem.

    6. Religion has failed. Atheists may harbor bitter hatred for religion because of previous personal experiences (e.g., abuse, neglect, scorn, discrimination). What propels people toward atheism is above all a sense of revulsion against the excesses and failures of organized religion.

  1. Atheism is freeing, liberating.

    1. In the past, organized religion prevented people from following their natural instincts and inclinations. It heaped guilt on those behaving in perfectly natural ways. It limited people from fully expressing their humanity.

    2. The idea of atheism liberates people from the stifling social customs and morals of the day, and allows society to break free from its meaningless traditions. Atheism offers a break from the religious past. It is exciting and daring because it breaks traditional social taboos.

    3. Atheism destroys the myth of the gods and thus enables humanity to step outside the arbitrary limits placed upon it by religious bigots. Abolishing the idea of God allows mankind the freedom to pursue whatever ideas and behaviors it desires.

    4. Religious indoctrination limits and restricts; atheism frees, ending the boredom of religious training and opening new options.

    5. Atheism is different. Where religions oppress, atheism liberates. The first step to authentic human existence is to throw off the outdated and destructive idea of God.

    6. Atheism offers visions of a larger freedom, allowing humanity to throw aside its chains and enter a new and glorious phase in their history.

David Mills: “Virtually all of the atheist I’ve know have been dynamic, highly optimistic men and women who enjoyed life to the hilt, particularly because they were liberated from the morbid, guilt-ridden, religious ball-and-chain around their necks. By contrast, I’ve known scores of Christians who led very unfulfilling lives, praying endlessly for ‘miracles’ that never occurred or waiting pitifully for Jesus’ oft-delayed second coming.”

  1. No convincing evidence for God’s existence exists.

    1. There simply is no compelling, convincing evidence for God’s existence. On the basis of the empirical evidence of the world and the rational resources at his disposal, belief in God is not a necessary conclusion.

    2. There is no intellectual obligation to believe in God. An informed mind cannot reach a reliable conclusion on the existence of God on the basis of available evidence.

    3. The “default setting” for mankind should be atheism. One should believe in God only on the basis of credible evidence, and such evidence is lacking.

When Bertrand Russell was asked how he would reply if God questioned why he didn’t believe, Russell replied that he would tell God, “Not enough evidence God. Not enough evidence.”

  1. Religious teachings are repugnant.

    1. The most fundamental criticisms directed against Christianity have to do with the moral character of God and often focus specifically on the issues of judgment and eternal punishment (i.e., hell). For example, Darwin admits that his rejection of Christianity was not based so much on evolution as it was based on the idea of the eternal punishment of the wicked.

    2. Atheism is a powerful protest against morally and intellectually inferior visions of reality. Religious ideas and values are at least inferior to, and possibly irreconcilable with, the best moral standards and ideals of human culture.

    3. Religious teachings (i.e., doctrines) are often beyond belief. The idea that God inhabited a human body, that Jesus was this God incarnate, that he lived a perfect life, died for sinners, and rose again, and that one can be forgiven for sin by faith—all of this is unbelievable. The idea that God knows all things and somehow keeps track of people’s behaviors and will reward or punish them is ridiculous. Accounts of the miraculous come from pre-scientific, ignorant minds. Religious ideas like these are mere myth, probably lifted from previous religions or legends.

    4. Many biblical accounts are morally repulsive: God killing the first born children in Egypt; God killing a whole generation of Israelites in the desert; the Israelites killing the inhabitants of Canaan; animal sacrifices; the imprecatory psalms; capital punishment for homosexuals and disobedient children; etc.

    5. Religion is a source of overwhelming guilt and anxiety. You have this unbelievably nosy voyeur in the sky, allegedly watching your every move and monitoring all your private thoughts. If God detects any “sin” in your life, then He threatens to roast you eternally in a fiery torture chamber. This belief is hardly comforting.1

  1. Religion is divisive.

    1. Religion encourages the formation and maintenance of in-groups and out-groups, the “saved” and the “unsaved,” orthodox and heretics, faithful and infidels. Such divisions cause war, persecution, and much needless suffering. Removing religion is essential if this form of social demarcation and discrimination is to be defeated.

    2. It’s unreasonable to believe that only one religion is exclusively true. It would mean that billions of religious people from every other religious faith are wrong today and have been wrong throughout the centuries. Those who think they have the truth will be intolerant of those who won’t accept it. If one group has political power, it will often persecute opposing groups (e.g., the RCC in the Middle Ages).

    3. Christian Fundamentalism instead teaches an unhealthy (and unethical) religious prejudice and hostility toward individuals of diverse opinion and background.

  1. Religion has no good explanation for the presence of evil.

    1. One of the most powerful arguments against theism is the presence of evil in the world. If one true, powerful, good God actually exists, then he would either prevent or reverse the forces of evil. But evil is present and nothing seems to be stopping it. Evil seems to have no purpose; it occurs to both good and bad. So God must not exist, or he is not good, or he is not powerful.

    2. If God is really out there, then why does he seem to hide himself? Why doesn’t he just show up to debunk the false religions and end all the controversy? It would be easy for God to demonstrate his existence or to verify the “true” faith. The fact that no God has done so is proof that no God exists.

  1. Science has removed the “need” for God.

    1. Humanity is religious only to the degree that it is ignorant of science. As science has progressed over the last few centuries, religion has become less and less plausible. Today, because science can explain virtually all phenomena, religion is no longer necessary. Religious myths have no place in modern society.

    2. Only scientific investigation yields truth; only what is testable in a laboratory can be considered true. Science deals in matters of fact, while religion stays merely in the realm of faith. Religion is never a matter of objective fact but merely subjective taste, opinion, and hope. Religious opinions should never be presented as factual or true.

    3. Informed minds have rejected the idea of God, and only the pre-scientific, unquestioning, antiquated, or simple-minded have succumbed to this belief, through fear or ignorance.

    4. Science has incontrovertibly proven that the Book of Genesis is utter mythology.

Richard Feynman, noble prize winning physicist: “God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore.”

Carl Sagan: “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

Conclusion: Advocates of atheism make some bold claims that most religious people would find offensive and challenging. Many of them we can write off as invalid, while others may cause us to pause and think. Future lessons will seek to answer these claims.

1 David Mills, Atheist Universe.

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