Before I get too far into this article, I’d like to mention that I got the idea for this from Tracie Harris over at The Atheist Experience, which is a weekly live call-in show down in Texas. If you haven’t watched it before, I highly encourage it.
I’ve already written two articles about evidence. I have made them quite simple to follow, and I don’t wish to do another at this time. However, I would like to dive into the whole idea that there’s LOTS of evidence for God, when of course we know there exists none.
The average believer doesn’t believe in God based on absolutely nothing at all. As I’ve said before, being religious or Christian specifically doesn’t mean you’re dumb. But obviously, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever to point toward the existence of this god, what keeps people believing?
There are a whole host of reasons that people believe in god. If I asked a whole bunch of people why they believe, we would get this: “What if I’m wrong?” “Seems to be order” “No proof either way” “I experienced something” “He has done miracles!” “Jesus is what god should be” “Jesus is historically proven” “The chance is way to small to be by accident” “It seems to be the best account for the world” “Fulfilled Prophesies” “God gives us signs” “I can’t imagine a world without god” “Life would be meaningless without god” “Something had to make all of this” “God loves me” “The world is too complicated to be made without a creator” “I love singing to god in church” “I’ve always gone to church” “I have faith” “near-death experiences” “God gave us his book” “*religious quote*” “The church provides us morality” “Hell awaits the unbeliever” “science proves god exists” “It takes more faith to be an atheist”.
Adding to the number of reasons they believe, let’s talk about frequency. To the fairly religious, every day there are reminders of god. These reminders include someone saying something about god, hearing a sermon, religious media, religious articles in the home, religious habits, and reflecting on god. From age 5 to age 40, that’s 12,775 reminders that there is a god, more or less depending on the community and household lifestyle.
So when a religious person has a strong conviction, it’s actually no wonder. Personally, they have tens of thousands of individual points that ground them to their religion. But here is the problem: Not a single one of their thousands and thousands of confirmation data points is worth a damned thing. Let’s explore.
I recently listened to someone that claimed to have an experience that demonstrated god. Details are not important. Someone was sick, there was some praying, the person got better. When asked how that happened, the person even responded “I don’t know”, followed shortly thereafter by “it has to be God!” The problem was, they already gave the correct answer- they don’t know how it happened. They then made the leap to their favorite excuse- God. This is a useless data point.
We don’t know what the doctors were doing at the time. We don’t know specifics of the diagnosis. We don’t know the percentage of people with the illness that are able to recover. Rare events, after all, many not happen often, but they do happen. Plus, it’s very hard to actually get the facts of the case based on a single person’s testimony. It might have been weeks instead of hours, they could have misinterpreted the doctor’s words. The person could have shown improvement but then died 3 weeks later.
But even if we assume the most fantastic event, it gets us nowhere near an explanation. No matter how the believer decides to attribute the event, at the end of the day it is simply an unexplained mystery. It holds no weight at all. It is a zero.
Feel free to scroll back up to the list of “reasons”. One by one, every single one of them is a debunked fact, a logical fallacy, an unknown attributed incorrectly. Zeros. All zeros. Sit with a believer sometime, and actually pry into a single example of why they believe. Not the overall concept, but a specific example. With simple questions, they must admit that the specific example may not have merit. That is, if you can hold them to one example long enough. The usual game is to quickly change the subject with another example or another fallacy or another debunked “fact.” The more savvy believer can rattle off a dozen zero-sum data points in a single breath.
But here’s the important thing. The believer may have tens of thousands of individual data points helping them ground their belief in their mind, but they are all still zeros. Zero plus zero equals zero. But zero plus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero equals…… Still zero! It’s not one! Or seven! Or God! Yet this is exactly the game they play. Even if they are unaware, they are just adding up lots and lots and lots and lots of stuff in their head- tens of thousands of stuff- and a single goofy problem isn’t going to shake them.
No, to shake these beliefs, it takes a lot of examination. Believers will have to go back over their entire lives- every conversation, every prayer, every event, every sermon- to deconstruct the zero-sum conclusion they have accepted. They must snip, one by one, the tens of thousands of strings that ground them to their beliefs. They must disconnect from the advice of trusted adults, publications, media, articles, confirmation bias, and very poor thinking patterns. This can be quite scary to them.
On the other hand, it is empowering to learn true facts about the world. It is freeing to throw off the shackles of snake-oil salesmen selling their magical cure. It is wonderful learning to think deeply about morality, or kindness, or love. And most importantly, it is highly satisfying adding up points in the real world. Real love. Real action. Real caring. Real progress. I don’t know what my end sum is now, but at least I know it isn’t zero.
The Spartan Atheist