Eight questions for believers

1) Were you born into a religious family?

2) How and when did you first become “aware” of the existence of God, or a supernatural power?

3) Had you been born into a family without religious belief, do you think you would still be a believer?

4) If you did grow up without religious belief, what factors made you believe?

5) If the existence of God could be conclusively disproved by the scientific method, would you give up your beliefs?

6) Do you consider the benefits of organised religion to outweigh the importance of whether the claims of religion are correct?

7) Why do you think religions other than your own exist?

8) Do you believe that we exist, as individual human beings, either before our physical conception or after our body dies?

Five Reasons Not To Believe In God

1) The vastness of the universe. Theists would have you believe it was all created by God. Inside 6 days. Now that we know that the universe is incomprehensibly large, and continuing to expand, encompassing billions upon billions of stars, almost certainly supporting other forms of life, what exactly is so special about a bunch of apes sitting on a rock?

2) Evolution. The evidence is in, and it suggests in the strongest possible terms that all life on earth evolved by the process of natural selection for fitness, from small populations of tiny, single-celled organisms to the vast range of life we observe on our planet today. This refutes the notion that all life was created by God, again within a couple of days.

3) Original sin. The whole of Christianity rests on the idea that humans are intrinsically sinful, and that this is because a woman, created from the rib of a man who was himself created from dust, was told by a talking snake to eat a magic apple which made her realise that her nakedness was disgusting. The whole notion is ridiculous, especially in light of our knowledge of evolution, and renders utterly pointless the other central tenet of Christianity…

4) The story of Jesus. First, we are expected to believe that Jesus had no human father, contradicting all we know about biology and human reproduction. Then we are given four accounts of his life that disagree with each other on countless details. Finally, we are told that he came back to life two days after dying of crucifixion, contradicting more biology, and then became one with God. And all this was to absolve humanity of the sin of a mythical woman eating a mythical magic apple. Leaving aside the question of whether he existed or not in the first place, the story of Jesus beggars belief.

5) The lack of supporting evidence. As scientific inquiry has shone light on our relationship to other life on this planet, as we have peered into the mysteries of the vast cosmos, as we have discerned the existence of sub-atomic particles that bind the universe together, so the flimsy “evidence” for God has disappeared, leaving behind only the plausible, naturalistic theories of existence. The ignorance that allowed religions to posit magical supreme beings as an explanation for everything has been banished, never to return, and we need bother ourselves with superstitions and fantasy no longer. The universe is amazing enough standing alone.

Misconceptions about atheists, part 1.

“Atheists have never been able to prove that God doesn’t exist. And they expect Christians to prove that he does? Not fair.”

Well, no. We haven’t been able to prove that God doesn’t exist. Well done, you.

But this doesn’t mean that atheism is an illogical position. Far from it.

We don’t need to prove beyond any conceivable doubt that God doesn’t exist. We just have to show that the theories of God and creation put forward by religions are false. And evolution, geology, cosmology, all suggest that the claims of religion for God are wrong.

And yes, if theists want us to live according to the Bible, or the Koran, or any other religious law, then it’s reasonable to demand some evidence. If you’re going to insist that we’re all going to hell unless we follow your holy book to the letter, then you’re going to have to prove what you say is true. Atheists don’t do this.

The burden of proof is on the religious, not on atheists.

“Please read this book. It will change your life.”

I get a lot of book recommendations on Twitter. Sometimes they’re books that intrigue me, and inspire me to do further research – Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is one that I must look out for in the near future – but most of the time it tends to be yet another book claiming to reveal new truths to me about Jesus, or Muhammad, and comes with a comment like, “I used to be an atheist, but this book opened my eyes.”

I try to deal politely with this. A simple thank you usually suffices. But I try to make it clear that I have no intention of reading any of these books. Often, I’m informed that I am only rejecting the book because I’m scared it will destroy my beliefs, or change my life, or some other such nonsense.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I find it pointlessly time-consuming to read books where I already know the major arguments, usually because they’ve been rehashed to death on Twitter. Is it really plausible that some obscure Christian apologist has written a spiel that’s going to turn my life upside down? No. It doesn’t matter how many times they argue that Jesus had to be either mad, bad or a liar, a la CS Lewis, it’s not going to turn me into a believer.

These people fail to realise that I’m an atheist because I have already rejected the arguments that religion has to offer. The reverse is rarely true. They’re all too eager to offer me books that they think will bring me round to their way of thinking, but suggesting they should read Why Evolution Is True, or The God Delusion, is often met with indifference.

It would be unfair to say that theists never read any perspective other than their own, but it’s always been my experience that those who don’t accept evolution, for example, don’t have a reasonable understanding of the theory, and aren’t in a position to criticise. Whereas it doesn’t take detailed knowledge of theological arguments to reject the possibility of deities, just a decent understanding of scientific discoveries and theories on the nature of the universe and life on earth.

So if you’re a theist planning on recommending me a book that will change my life – thank you, but I’d rather read something that’s going to expand my knowledge, not try to belittle it.

An emotional case against God

Christian: “Why would an atheist use emotional language talking to a Christian, when they say their position is based only on evidence?”

If only it were that simple.

The god of the Bible rules by fear. Those who refuse to follow are punished – harshly. Rapes and massacres abound.

He grants prophecies in which the infants of sinners are dashed to pieces before their mothers’ eyes. He promises virgins as booty to marauding Israelite soldiers.

The New Testament is little better. Despite the ostensibly more moral contents of the teachings of Jesus, he claims to have come to fulfil the law if the prophets – and the first five of the ten commandments are concerned only with the Israelites’ fidelity to God.

Even when the commandments do get around to “thou shalt not kill”, the rest of the bible makes plain that it only applies to the followers of god. Everyone else is fair game.

The whole thing is topped off with the fire-and-brimstone fantasies of Revelations, luxuriating in the torment awaiting the unbelievers.

Emotionally, then, the God of the Bible is needy, insecure, prone to violent outbursts… if he was a political leader, that would be quite enough to reject him. Disproving the existence of god isn’t necessary to disapprove of him.

Why do Christians turn a blind eye to mass slaughter?

Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! Isaiah 36:37.

The 1st of July, 1916, was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on the Western Front during the First World War. Thousands of British infantry soldiers emerged from their trenches, weighed down by rifles and packs, expected by their superiors to capture the German lines ahead of them, which were supposed to have been annihilated by the preceding artillery barrage.

It didn’t happen like that. They walked (yes, walked) into a murderous hail of bullets, cut down by the German machine guns which had conspicuously survived the barrage. By the end of the day, nearly 60,000 British soldiers had become casualties, of which 19,000 died from their wounds. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, and has been immortalized in British culture as an prime example of the futility and brutality of war.

19,000 young men gone. Left behind were the grieving parents, their distraught loved ones, their orphaned children. The loss of one human life affects many others, aside from the loss of the experience and achievements of those that die. And this is but one battle, in one war, a war in which millions died for little good reason.

Yet the carnage of the Somme pales in comparison to the destruction wrought by the angel of the Lord in the book of Isaiah.

For some background, earlier in the chapter King Hezekiah of Israel fears for Jerusalem as Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, marches to attack Israel. He prays to the Lord for deliverance, and the Lord answers in the affirmative. As usual in the Old Testament, the omnipotent Yahweh’s method of defending Israel is not a gentle word in the ear of the Assyrian king, but a bloody massacre, which leaves 185,000 dead, nearly ten times the number killed on that one day in 1916. “There were all the dead bodies…”

It’s beyond me to imagine what the corpses of 185,000 soldiers covering the ground would like. Enough people to fill Wembley Stadium twice over. We are not even told by what method they were killed. Strangulation? A sword through the belly? Did their entrails fall out into the dust, did their blood seep into the dirt?

Look at that quote again. The killings take up only half of the verse. That’s 185,000 human lives snuffed out in barely the time it takes to draw breath. The callousness of the act is amazing. It’s as if these people are not considered human beings – yet they must have had parents, and as (we must assume) young men, they must have left behind siblings, loved ones, families even. The cost in humanity is near unbearable.’s been

I refuse to believe that they were somehow deserving of their fate for being part of an aggressive army. Even when taking into consideration the atrocities perpetrated by the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, no-one could possibly argue that all German soldiers were inherently evil. It’s been demonstrated on many occasions that normal, moral humans will submit and commit unnaturally cruel acts when coerced by figures of authority – Stanley Milgram’s experiments and the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War, to take two examples. The vast majority of soldiers are normal human beings persuaded to do awful things, not inhuman monsters devoid of empathy.

There is no justification for such a massacre. If the king of Assyria was a demonic tyrant in the mould of Hitler, as I’ve heard argued, then could Yahweh not have influenced him in some other way? After all, he’s supposed to be omnipotent. Why, on so many occasions in the Old Testament, is the answer always slaughter on a grand scale? The inescapable conclusion is that this god does not care for the humanity that he has allegedly created, and is perfectly willing to wipe thousands from the face of the earth on little more than a whim.

Quite apart from the lack of plausibility and evidence for a supreme creator, I cannot and will not worship a being that exhibits such a callous disregard for human life. The Christian notion of a benevolent, loving god is shown to be a lie by the words of their holy book.