50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (2 page)

BOOK: 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
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I also discovered that if you ask believers on the streets of
Jerusalem, Cairo, Paris, Nairobi, New Delhi, Athens, Suva, New York
City, and Port Moresby why they believe in their gods, the answers
you hear are significantly different from the noise coming from theologians and religious philosophers. Most of the Christians I have
encountered around the world, for example, don't give much thought
to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas or C. S. Lewis. They will tell
anyone who asks, however, that they believe Jesus is a real god
because the Bible says so or because they feel his presence when they
pray. Out in the real world I found that believers have little interest in
convoluted arguments for gods that involve imagining perfection, irreducible complexity, or the laws of thermodynamics. Unlike profes sional creationists and apologists, most of the believers I talk with do
not feel the need to cite long lists of questionable evidence to attempt
to prove that their god is real. They "know" their gods are real because
they have "faith" that they are. They believe because they think that
they must in order to be a good person. They believe because the
world is "perfect" or at least "beautiful." They believe in a god
because it is the only way they have ever known.

This book is not an attempt to prove the nonexistence of gods. Nor
is it an attack on anyone's entire religion. This is a respectful reply to
the friendly people around the world who shared with me their reasons
for believing in a god or gods, nothing more. Too many books that
attempt to challenge belief in gods are interpreted by believers as combative and arrogant. I have made a sincere effort to prevent believers
from feeling that way about this book. There is no name calling or
condescending tone here. I do not think that I am smarter than
believers, nor do I agree with anyone who feels that believers' minds
are hopelessly closed. My fifty replies to common justifications for
belief can be read as friendly chats designed to do nothing more than
stimulate critical thinking. I am not interested in winning debates or
insulting anyone. I only want to encourage readers to think more
deeply about why they believe in a god.

Readers will notice that I do not limit the scope of this book to the
religions that are currently popular in the West. In my view all gods
are equal, regardless of how many people believe in them at this
moment in history. My skepticism for Ra and Apollo, for example, is
no more or less than my skepticism for Jesus and Allah. Throughout
this book I usually will write of gods in the plural rather than singular.
This may feel awkward to readers who are used to only hearing and
talking about one god. The fact is, however, there are many thousands
of other gods that people have confidently claimed to be real
throughout history. Failure to acknowledge this important truth would
be historically ignorant and culturally prejudiced. Fairness and logic
demand that we respect the indigenous tribal believer who sees many
gods in the forest and the ancient Greek who saw several gods atop a mountain as much as we do the contemporary monotheist who sees
one god in the sky.

Many people think that religious belief should be above challenge
or somehow out of bounds. I disagree. There is a lot of good to be
found in the world's religions. I would never deny that. However, the
dark side of religion cannot be overlooked. When claims for the existence of gods negatively impact world peace, the education of children, the development of new medical cures, safety and justice for
women, and the progress of science, they must be challenged.

 
aap&,,z /
My god is obvious.

If God has spoken, why is the world not convinced?

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

erhaps the most common reason that people give for believing
in a god is the claim that their god is obviously real. The god's
existence is so plain to see that even listening to counterarguments or
entertaining doubt is a waste of time. Probably the majority of the
world's believers have no interest in investigating or debating the existence of their god for this reason. They see no possibility that they
could be wrong about this because it is just so darn obvious that they
are right. After all, their god is everywhere. Their god made everything. Their god answers prayers. Their god runs the universe. Nothing
could be clearer than their god's existence, they say. Many believers
find the mere suggestion that their god might not exist to be laughable.

Obvious or not, belief in gods deserves to be challenged. Believers
owe it to the world and our collective future to at least hear and consider basic questions about gods. These claims can't be given a pass
because they are connected to some of humankind's most divisive and
dangerous behavior. If a significant portion of our species insists on
discriminating, hating, killing, and slowing scientific progress in the
name of gods, then don't we owe it to ourselves to at least try and confirm whether or not these gods are even real in the first place?

I have found that most believers are highly skeptical people. I have talked with Muslims who are world-class skeptics on the subject of
Christianity. They know how to punch holes in virtually every claim
that religion makes. Many Christians I have encountered are brutally
analytical and filled with doubt when it comes to the claims of Islam.
They can dismantle every Muslim argument very effectively. I have
read the Koran and it is not obvious to me that it is a perfect book that
was inspired by a god. Christians feel the same way about it. They
agree with me that Muslims should be more skeptical about
Muhammad's claims and demand evidence. But I also have read the
Bible and it is not obvious to me that it is a perfect book that was
inspired by a god either. Muslims agree with me because it's not
obvious to them either. They also agree with me that Christians should
be more skeptical about the Bible and demand evidence. Of course all
this skepticism vanishes when the spotlight turns to their own religion.
The truth is, just about everybody is a skeptic-except when it comes
to their own "obviously true" belief. Unfortunately, this is the one religion that they need to challenge most of all. It makes no sense for a
believer to arbitrarily exempt one religion out of thousands. All religions deserve equal scrutiny, even if it is the one that mom and dad
told you was true when you were a child.

The breakdown of who believes in which god and how they must
be worshipped should trouble religious people, or at least make them
curious. Why is it, for example, that the "obvious" god of more than
one billion Muslims is unrecognizable to the five billion non-Muslims
who are alive today? About five-sixths of the human population does
not think he is really there. Nothing is more obvious to Christians than
Jesus. So why do more than four billion people not believe he is a god?
Some one billion Hindus think their gods are obviously real. But five
billion of their fellow humans do not see it that way. This misalignment of belief demolishes claims that anyone's god is obvious.
Wouldn't an obvious god be able to convince at least a majority if not
all of the world's people that he or she exists?

Believers who say that their god is obviously real should explain
what they mean. A tree standing in front of you is obviously real. A shoe on your foot is obviously real. How is an invisible and silent god
(at least to most of us) obviously real? It shouldn't be too hard to convince others if the god truly is obvious. Of course, believers already
put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to show others "glaringly obvious" gods. Everything from songs and comic books to missionaries and military invasions have been used to try and get people
to see an "obvious" god. For some reason, however, the results have
been mixed. Today, after two thousand years of Christianity and fourteen hundred years of Islam, for example, half the world's population
still thinks those two religions have it all wrong. How can this be
explained if Jesus and Allah are obvious?

Any god that is obviously real should be recognizable to anyone,
even atheists. I don't think most atheists would deny the obvious. I
cannot speak for all nonbelievers but certainly I know that I am open
to the possibility that gods exist. I would never close my eyes or my
mind to good evidence or strong arguments. I am a curious person and
want to know as much as I can about everything. I would never deny
scientific confirmation of a god. If the African god Fidi Mukullu
descends upon Times Square tomorrow, I would be glued to the TV
and Web to find out every detail about the historic event. I would be
excited, not upset. My first impulse would be to try and get an interview with him to learn everything I could about what it's like to be a
god. I certainly wouldn't cling to atheism. I am a passionate fan of science and enjoy learning about the latest microbes found at the bottom
of a deep sea or the weird behavior of atoms. I couldn't turn away
from any unusual discovery-including a god-if I tried. If the
world's scientific community presented overwhelming evidence that
Fidi Mukullu or any other god was real, I would not hang my head in
shame for having been an atheist. I would be grateful to know something new and important. If any gods are real I sincerely want to know
them.

The problem is that what may seem obvious to many believers is
far from obvious to nonbelievers. Stories in sacred books have not
convinced most people that one god or another is real. Merely pointing out the complexity of the universe has not been enough either. At this
point in time it looks doubtful that anyone will ever come up with
something that will show that a god is undeniably real. For centuries,
brilliant theologians, monks, imams, authors, and even many scientists
have taken their best shot at showing the entire world that their god
was real. But none of them came close to succeeding. Today a high
school student with a fair understanding of religious claims and a good
science education can defeat, or at least cast crippling doubt on, every
argument for a god ever posed by the greatest religious minds of history. This is not to say that Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, C. S.
Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and all the others were dumber than a high
school kid. It just shows that there is a severe lack of ammunition
when it comes to defending the claim that gods are real.

Still, a believer might say, someone is up there. Maybe we got the
name wrong and maybe organized religions have corrupted the stories,
but a god must have created everything. A god must be making the
world go round. This much is obvious, they say. However, even a claim
as vague as this is not obvious to everyone. There are many people all
over the world who do not believe in any gods. According to sociologist Phil Zuckerman, between five hundred million and seven hundred
fifty million people currently have no belief in any gods (Zuckerman
2005). This is a huge number. And it is even more impressive than it
appears at first glance because Zuckerman only included what he calls
"organic atheism" in his calculations. Organic atheists, he says, are true
nonbelievers who are living in relatively free societies and able to
believe or not believe without fear of severe punishment from an
oppressive government.

So who are these five hundred to seven hundred fifty million infidels without a god in their lives? Are they the misfits and maniacs of
the world? Are these the people who fill the world's prisons? It doesn't
seem so. Zuckerman's research shows that these nonbelievers mostly
come from the safest, healthiest, most educated, most charitable, most
technologically advanced, and most crime-free nations on Earth.
Countries with high percentages of nonbelievers include global bright spots such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Canada, and France.
These people are not the world's idiots. If a god was obviously real,
it's likely that they would be bright enough to recognize it and honest
enough to admit it.

A more specific group of people worth considering are scientists.
Why do so many scientists fail to see these "obvious" gods whom
believers keep talking about? Despite the fact that the United States is
a highly religious society, almost all elite American scientists are nonbelievers. Researchers Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham revealed
this with a study of members of the National Academy of Sciences in
1998. They found that only 7 percent of these accomplished scientists
believed in a god. A full 93 percent indicated that no god is obvious to
them (American Atheists 1999). But how can this be? The ability of
modern scientists to detect and observe objects and phenomenon both
far and near is astonishing. Scientists are able to study viruses, molecules, atoms, even parts of atoms. Scientists are able to see far beyond
our solar system and our galaxy. They can even see back in time with
deep-space imaging. But despite all of these abilities, no one has ever
had any success at discovering so much as the slightest trace of a god.
After all of this searching, listening, and looking, we still have nothing
but weak arguments and unreliable eyewitness accounts to support the
existence of gods. I'm not sure how anyone who thinks their god is
obvious can explain what is going on in the minds of these nonbelieving scientists. We can safely assume that these are very smart
people. That's why they ended up being elite scientists. If an obviously
real god created the universe, the earth and all life on it, wouldn't you
think that America's best astronomers, geologists, and biologists
would be the first people in line to worship that god? Wouldn't you
think that smart professionals who have dedicated their lives to
exploring, discovering, experimenting, and thinking about life and the
universe would be the first to detect a god? How can it be that so many
of the brightest people on earth have not yet come across a compelling
reason to believe in a god? At the very least it means the existence of
gods is far from obvious.

BOOK: 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
4.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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