A superb sophomore effort from Adil, the new contributor who caused a real stir recently with his brilliant dissection of ‘Dawahmen’ https://asharisassemble.com/2014/04/18/10-problems-with-dawahmen/
Here I outline some common anti-religious quotes, statements and clichés some of which are often touted as being somehow insightful and witty. I apologise for the nature certain phrases which are featured, but they are fairly common, and I have accompanied them with some quick responses which are useful to have on hand.
1) Religion is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark
Atheism is a fairly tale for people afraid of the light
2) Religion is like a ***** , it is okay to have one as long as you do not force it down anyone’s throat or wave it in anyone’s face (I cannot remember where this phrase originated from, I think it may have been a well known comedian like Ricky Gervais, who these days seems to be inclined to push his atheism fairly frequently and obnoxiously or someone similar)
….and theists have one but atheists don’t.
3) Science disproves God
Science shows there are observable trends in the laws of nature, something one would expect if there was a God. That is it. This does not undermine the concept of God in the slightest.
4) No one has ever been killed in the name of atheism because atheism is just the lack of a belief
Atheism is the positive assertion that there is no supernatural reality behind the material universe. The belief that religions are evil and must be wiped out is certainly a positive belief (not the absence of one), and one which has lead to untold millions dying under anti religious regimes which sought to destroy religion by force.
5) Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings
Logically inept. The same logic could give you;
‘Science gases people to death, religion builds hospitals’ ‘Science demolishes cities, Religion cares for orphans’ ‘Science shoots millions, religion feeds millions’ (And science flies you into buildings!)
Is that a fair and balanced critique of science? Nor is yours of Religion.
6) There is no evidence for God
What this actually means is that you have not found any reasons which you personally find sufficiently compelling. Most people in the world do believe that there are good reasons to believe in God, from personal experience or philosophical argument perhaps. If you disagree with the validity of these then you are free to dispute them, but repeating this tired phrase is disingenuous.
7) Science asks questions, Religion teaches you to be satisfied with your view of the world and not to question
A tired old cliché which describes few if any people; I have yet to know anyone who gave up doing science out of satisfaction that God was the ultimate cause of it. Furthermore, many religions actually instruct their followers to find out how the world works for themselves. If anything, believing that the Universe has a root cause would make a believer more inclined to be curious because this would tell them more about the creator.
8) Who made God?
Which Harry Potter book came before the Philosophers Stone? Who is the married bachelors wife? The question is illogical and presumes that God had a beginning. The idea of God is of an uncaused and eternal reality beyond the physical Universe. So why can’t the Universe itself be the uncaused reality? Because every piece of scientific evidence we have points towards the Universe having an absolute beginning, and because the idea of an infinitely old Universe with an infinite number of planets or stars is mathematically incoherent are some reasons.
9) Most wars are caused by religion
A simple laypersons view that no serious historian would endorse or defend. Most wars (like the world wars!) have very secular causes; usually power and/or resources. To find atrocities carried out directly in the name of ideology, look no further then modern irreligious ideologies like communism, fascism and nationalism. (If you want to call these ideologies religions, as some do, then religion no longer has to necessitate anything supernatural in which case philosophies such as liberalism and secular humanism could be called religions too!)
10) Religion is the opium of the masses
A common atheistic cliché which even fails to represent Marx properly. The full quote was: ”Religion is the Opiate of the People, the heart of an otherwise heartless world.” Most people probably equate opium with heroin and thus some sort of delusional worldview but given Marx’s full quote he was probably conveying the idea that religion eases people’s pain. But so what? Even if belief in God were a product of fear and anxiety (which I do not generally believe is the case), that would have no bearing on the truth of the belief one way or another.
11) People only believe in it to comfort themselves
Firstly, this would not make atheism more likely even if it were true, and secondly, many atheists find it more comforting not to believe in God; particularly in a society where material comforts are taken for granted and the shadow of death seems far away. Enjoy life and even when you do die, there is no accountability. Many well known atheists have said they are ‘glad there was no God.’ Should we now attack their atheism for being unobjective? Is atheism now false because they were happy that they thought atheism was true?
12) All the arguments for God have been debunked
Theism is actually more respectable in philosophical academia then it was several decades ago, and many of the key arguments for God are being hotly debated. They are anything but dead. If anything, it is atheistic arguments which are on the back foot. Fifty years ago, the argument against God from the logical problem of evil was largely held to be a decisive argument against theism; but in light of counter arguments by Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, this argument is rarely defended today. Sure, more laymen are atheists then a couple of generations ago but many Western academics remain strong advocates of theism.
13) More and more people are becoming atheists. Soon religion will be gone
Globally, faith is probably on the increase, particularly in countries which have a history of oppressive, anti religious regimes. Just because Europe has become very secular does not mean the whole world is. Even if there was a global trend towards atheism, what bearing would that have on its truth? Furthermore a common narrative in many religions is that people stray from beliefs anyway. That does not make them false. According to many atheists, religion is essentially following others like sheep; surely their logic would then dictate that they respect me for sticking to my convictions even if the common narrative changed into an atheistic one! To become an atheist because I gave credence to your argument that ‘more people are becoming atheists’ would certainly make me a sheep!
14) Science disproves miracles
Actually, Quantum physics suggests that actually miracles are not even ‘forbidden’ by the laws of nature per se but merely unlikely (which would make miracles possible, particularly if we live in a multiverse which so many atheists are happy to posit; if there are an infinite amount of Universes then some of them would certainly have a few events which appear not to comply with the natural order) . But this aside, science simply shows that there are trends and apparent rules in nature…which any conception of God would probably bring about; but there would be no reason why he would be compelled to make his own laws absolutely changeless. The whole question is whether God exists. If he does, then miracles, while psychologically difficult to believe in perhaps, are no intellectual problem.
15) Secular states are clearly superior to religious countries (aka ‘the Scandinavia argument’)
Firstly, secularism is not necessarily atheistic, thus the most that could follow from this argument is that governments which rule according to the tenants of a particular religion are poor. This aside, many secular countries are in an appalling state; many Muslim majority countries are run by secular governments, yet proponents of this argument usually label them as ‘Muslim countries’ in order to support their case! If you want to argue that irreligious countries are superior to ones where most of the population are religious, then you cannot discount nations which have had state atheism, such as Albania, China, The Soviet Union, Cambodia and North Korea. The history of those countries will make any such argument invalid given their untold atrocities. You cannot get away with merely asserting that some Western secular countries (many of which still have laws based on Christianity!) offer a good quality of life.
16) In an atheist world good people would do good and bad people do bad. Religion is the only reason why good people do bad things
Firstly, religious beliefs have turned many people from doing bad things and encouraged already good people to do even better things, as I amongst many can personally testify, certainly regarding the former! At least be consistent.
Secondly, religion is not the only reason why good people do bad things. Was everyone who was swayed by Nazism or Zionism, or other forms of nationalism or Communism intrinsically evil and malicious; desiring to bring malevolence for its own sake? I doubt it. Most would have had friends, families, loves, hates, they would have laughed with their children, cried at funerals and helped their elderly neighbours. But they allowed themselves to believe that following their ideology was desirable and committing terrible acts was desirable for the interest of their group. To say that religion is the only, or even the main reason why good people do bad things is demonstrably foolish.
17) You are basing your ideas from an ancient book. Enjoy living in the dark ages
Is dismissing anything because of its age in any way logically valid? Democracy pre dates religions such as Islam and Christianity; should we dismiss it on these grounds? Should we equate it with becoming like ancient Greeks and wearing togas? A thousand or two years ago is a very short space of time in the scale of the Earth’s lifetime, and if the teachings of a religion are valid, they are valid regardless of when they originated. If they are invalid, then it is not their age that makes them so. Either way, the argument is ineffective. Some atheists, while criticising religions for being ‘ancient’ simultaneously mock the concept of God and revelation on the grounds of ‘why did God wait so long?’ This is also invalid as the key factor here would be the number of people who God left ‘unguided,’ not the duration of time where he left humanity unguided for. The overwhelming majority of the people who have ever lived have done so after the birth of the great world religions, so if anything their founders came at the right time.
18) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
This quote from Carl Sagan, which atheists like repeating (while complaining that theists keep repeating phrases from the Bible, Qur’an etc) implicitly presupposes that the default belief you should have is that the Universe is self existent, requires no explanation as science, in principle can or will explain everything that it is possible to know, and that God would be an unnecessary add on; a big chap hanging around outside the material world and occasionally pulling strings (or skyhooks) to make strange things happen. Obviously theists do not subscribe to this and believe that God is the ultimate reality responsible for the contingent Universe.
This aside, I take issue with the phrase itself; ‘extraordinary claims’ is a fairly subjective term (also why is ‘extraordinary’ evidence required? What about bog standard but clear evidence?) and one which could just as easily describe atheism, which to me is not a compelling world view at all.
19) Many prominent scientists are atheists
Most historically significant philosophers were theists and almost all theologians have been theists! These disciplines are just as rigorous; so would this appeal to authority be a compelling argument for theism? Not really, and neither is yours. Many reasons scientists use to justify their atheism are the same as those used by non scientists (such as evil and suffering, apparent lack of evidence etc) and many of these; even from excellent scientists are very childish and naive reasons. What makes a great scientist more equipped to speak about God then a great pianist? Individual scientists are specialists in very small niches of scientific inquiry and I do not see how this has any bearing on their understanding of philosophy or religion. Sure, science can provide evidence to vindicate or falsify an argument regarding a theological belief, say, the beginning of the Universe, but there is no reason why the atheism of certain scientists themselves makes atheism more likely to be true.
20) Humans have invented thousands of Gods, so if numbers are anything to go by, the chance of your God being the real one is a thousand to one if that
The majority of the people in the world are actually monotheists (even if they do not always agree about doctrines and so forth), so even if ‘mankind has created thousands of Gods,’ numbers are still on the theist side. Also, how would man creating many Gods do atheism any favours? All you are arguing is that we cannot be sure of which God/Concept of God is real! Not that there are no Gods! Furthermore we do have good reason to believe that certain Gods, say Zeus are unlikely because Zeus is a large biological organism with arms and legs, who would take up space on the earth, consume food and reflect wavelengths of light which would allow us to see him! I also take issue with people assuming that various other Gods were literally believed in as being the large ‘chaps’ that they allegedly were. Take Hinduism; it may feature many images of various deities but many Hindus believe that these are just different faces or aspects of the one God that other theists believe in. It may have been similar with many ancient civilisations too. Sadly we cannot ask them, but you can take it on faith if you like.