WHY ATHEISM IS SUPERIOR TO RELIGION
– by Nat Queen
1. Which religion?
There are many different religions, each claiming to be the ‘true’ one, with the obvious implication that all the others are false. Most religions even include many different sects with mutually incompatible doctrines. Each religion is defended by its followers just as ardently as all the others. Obviously they cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong! It is well known that young children raised in a family of any particular religion almost invariably end up adhering to that religion. Such indoctrination is a form of child abuse. If the same children were raised in different families, the results would undoubtedly be different. Thus, the particular religion adopted by most individuals is purely an accident of birth. Even if the doctrines of one particular religious sect were correct, all the others would be wrong. It follows logically that any person’s religion is almost certainly not the true one. In the absence of objective evidence, it is more rational to reject all religions than to adopt one at random. If God existed, he/she/it might not approve of people following a false religion!
[Note. Since all religions have different ideas about their god(s), for simplicity in what follows we shall refer to all such gods generically as ‘God’, using the personal pronoun ‘he’ for definiteness.]
2. Where is the evidence?
There is not a shred of evidence in favour of any religion. Ancient books written at a time when people had little scientific understanding of the natural world, with no independent evidence to back up their claims, are unworthy of serious consideration, even if millions of people revere them. There are just as many people who follow other superstitions which the rest of the world would regard as completely unfounded and even laughable. The ancient Greek and Roman gods were based on time-honoured beliefs and customs followed fervently by innumerable people. Why should the modern ideas of God be any better? Logically, there is no difference – there is simply no evidence. Religious apologists, who have no rational arguments to support their beliefs, often challenge atheists to prove that there is no God. Obviously, it is not possible to prove the non-existence of God, just as no one can prove the non-existence of the tooth fairy, unicorns, or other imaginary beings. If someone claims that some improbable entity exists, the onus is on that person to provide evidence. Belief in things for which there is no objective evidence deserves only ridicule, not respect.
3. God is a despicable evil monster
Where is the great compassionate God on which most modern religions are based? If such a God really cared about the people of the world and were as powerful as modern religions claim, he could certainly make himself known to everyone in an unmistakable manner, thus dispelling doubt and at the same time revealing which religion, if any, is the true one. Is he ashamed to show himself? Where was this God during the Holocaust and other genocidal massacres throughout history, not to mention countless natural disasters causing untold suffering among the innocent? Was he asleep? Away on holiday? Simply enjoying the show because he’s a sadist? Too bored by it all to bother to intervene? Punishing good and bad people alike in revenge for some people’s misdemeanours? Such a callous, vengeful and spiteful God would be beneath contempt, more evil than Hitler. But of course there’s no rational reason to think that God exists.
4. Why bother?
It is ridiculous to imagine that a God having the character claimed by most modern religions would really be so selfish or egoistic as to demand or even expect that people would pay constant homage to him. Would he even care that intelligent people didn’t believe in him in the absence of any verifiable evidence? In fact, to a being that created the entire universe, the whole human population would hardly be noticeable! On a cosmic scale there is nothing ‘special’ about our planet. The Earth revolves around the Sun, which is a fairly average star at an outer extremity of the Milky Way galaxy containing many billions of other stars, many with their own planets, and there are 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. Scientists consider it likely that countless other planets could harbour life. If a super-intelligent being could observe the entire universe, the tiny speck of human population on Earth would be of no more significance than the ants in a particular garden would be to any one of us. Since there is no evidence that God ever interacts with the world, why would he have any interest in the strange rituals of modern religions?
5. Religion is a waste of time and energy
Think of all the time and energy expended by religious people preaching, praying, singing hymns, chanting, mumbling, bowing, kneeling, genuflecting, making unnatural movements of the hands, donning religious garments or amulets, fasting, visiting shrines or ‘holy’ men, making religious pilgrimages, performing circumambulatory rituals, etc. There is no evidence that any of these activities ever produce positive results. Indeed, there have been numerous incidents when natural disasters or brutal murders occurred while large congregations were attending religious services in churches or temples. Imagine how much could be achieved if all the time, energy and resources devoted to meaningless religious rituals could be diverted to productive purposes!
6. There is no need for the God hypothesis
The ancients invented gods to account for natural phenomena which they could not explain in any other way – lightening and thunder, volcanos, weather and climatic patterns, floods, plagues, the apparent motions of celestial bodies in the sky, etc. Nowadays, every one of these natural phenomena is understood by science. The general principles of Darwinian evolution account for the great diversity of life on Earth and explain convincingly how complex life forms, including the human species, evolved from more primitive life, and indeed there is increasingly abundant evidence for this. Modern cosmology enables us to understand how naturally occurring physical processes lead to the formation of stars and planets like our Earth. There is no need to invoke supernatural explanations for any known phenomena. Physicists now even have plausible theories for the origin of the universe itself. Even though many of the details remain uncertain, the fact that modern science offers possible natural physical explanations of all known phenomena means that God is redundant. The “God of the gaps” is dead!
7. The God hypothesis raises more questions than it answers
Religious apologists often say that God, as a creator, provides a simple explanation of why we are here, and that it even explains the origin of the universe, as a ‘first cause’. Exactly the opposite is true – it explains nothing! A God who designed all observable entities, including the many complex forms of life, would have to be an even more advanced being. Who or what created that God? This merely leads to an infinite regress. The answer that God always existed is absurd. What did he do for all eternity until he finally decided for some reason that it would be a good idea to create the universe? The alternative hypothesis that God just suddenly sprang into existence is equally absurd. The nature of the world clearly contradicts the character of the God of modern religions. If God is infinitely good, omniscient and omnipotent, why is his creation so imperfect that it produces constant natural disasters and dreadful diseases resulting in indiscriminate suffering, even among the most devout or innocent people? The cliché “God works in mysterious ways” is merely a cop-out.
8. Religion is a source of evil
Throughout history, religious fanatics have waged holy wars and crusades, plundered, tortured and murdered ‘heretics’ and ‘infidels’ simply because they had different beliefs. Hitler, who was privately a committed Catholic, tried to annihilate the Jews. The Jewish state of Israel imposes apartheid policies on its Arab inhabitants. Sunni and Shia Muslims kill each other indiscriminately in Iraq. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims accompanying the creation of Pakistan by the partition of India led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Bloody conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland continued for decades. The Catholic church has never apologised for its close links with Nazi regimes in Europe. The Pope’s bigoted stance on birth control and abortion is responsible for untold suffering and deaths. Some Muslim countries practise barbaric punishments, such as beheading or stoning to death, in the name of religion. Various religions preach genital mutilation, inhumane methods of slaughtering animals, etc. Religion fills some people with such hate for others that they become suicide bombers. The list of atrocities and crimes against humanity due to religion is endless. Defenders of religion like to say that all these things are not in keeping with the spirit of their religion. But the ‘holy’ books on which their religions are based are no better. Anyone who peruses the Bible attentively can read that God has sent plagues, ordered murders and genocide, commanded human sacrifice, sanctioned slavery, etc. The Qur’an, just as viciously, promotes looting, torture, rape and murder.
9. Religion is dehumanising
Religious people follow various dogmas unthinkingly and are taught not to question the unsubstantiated claims of their religious leaders. In contrast, atheists are more likely to have an inquisitive mind, to think for themselves, and to form beliefs based solely on the weight of evidence. A scientific understanding of natural physical and biological phenomena is far more awe-inspiring than a naive belief that God is responsible for everything. How can anyone fail to be impressed by modern cosmology, which explains the formation of galaxies, stars and planets, by Darwinian evolution, which accounts for the amazing diversity and adaptation of life, by modern biology, which explains how cells divide and organisms function, or by quantum mechanics, which governs the structure of the atom? Atheism is also superior in the sphere of morality. It is far more noble for people to do things because they feel that their actions are right than to obey religious rules based on the threat that some invisible vindictive being is watching their every move. Rational people are masters over their own lives, not slaves to serve some non-existent God. Religion is an insult to human dignity.
10. Religion impedes progress
Nearly all religions teach their followers to accept their dogmas unquestioningly, and this inhibits free and original thought and innovation. Examples abound throughout history, up to the present day. A good example is provided by the Catholic church. Galileo Galilei, one of the most brilliant scientists of his time, was denounced to the Inquisition and persecuted for the rest of his life because he taught that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which contradicted the church’s dogma that the Earth sits immovably at the centre of the universe. Even worse, the great philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for ‘heresy’. In modern times, the Catholic church would rather condemn countless women to misery and suffering than allow them to control their own bodies by simple and harmless methods of contraception, and it discourages stem cell research, which might improve or even save the lives of millions of people. In the US, religious fundamentalists have forced many schools to restrict the teaching of evolution and other scientific theories, and instead indoctrinate children with ideas of ‘creationism’ (nowadays relabelled as ‘intelligent design’), thereby killing scientific curiosity and understanding in thousands of young minds and inhibiting future scientific progress. In many backward countries, poorly educated people are brainwashed by religious leaders into believing that a better afterlife awaits them. This spreads defeatism and dampens the struggle for social justice and a better standard of living.
Conclusion (especially for those stuck in the dreary old rut of religion): There is no God. Stop worrying and enjoy your life!
A final note
Any one of the ten reasons cited above is sufficient to reject religion. I wrote this page to record my own thoughts on this subject as a scientist, and of course the overwhelming majority of scientists are atheists. Much more could be said on this subject, but this essay has been kept as short as possible in the hope that it would be more readable.
A much more comprehensive and lucid account of why most scientists reject religion can be found in the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I recommend wholeheartedly for further reading.