I have recently been faced with yet another theist making the same arguments for their religion that I have heard thousands of times. I hear the same platitudes from well-meaning theist friends whenever I am having a rough time. Entering debate with theists is like listening to a broken record: you hear the same things over and over again, and you can’t move forward. I’m pretty sure most atheists would love to move on, but the religious won’t let certain things go.
Here are some of the most common lines I hear regularly from theists, and my response to each. They are in no particular order.
1. I don’t care about ‘evidence’. That’s what faith is about!
And why is that a good thing? “Faith” in any other discourse is considered by any reasonable person, atheist or not, to be synonymous with gullibility. Scammers who prey on the vulnerable use appeals to faith to gain the trust of their victims before stealing all the money from their bank. Despite homeopathic treatments being shown to be no more effective than a placebo, and in some cases actively harmful, homeopaths are successful while people are willing to accept their claims on faith. Faith causes children to die from easily curable diseases and easily treatable wounds, because their parents decided to pray over their child instead of taking them to a doctor. Faith makes people fly planes into buildings because they think it will secure them a place in paradise. I don’t criticise your religion because I don’t know what faith is about- I criticise it because I know precisely what faith is about, and its potential to cause great harm.
2. Why don’t you just keep your atheism to yourself?
When Christopher Hitchens was asked why he couldn’t just “keep his atheism to himself”, he replied, “The religious won’t let me.” As he often was, Hitch was right on. These days it is impossible to listen to the news or read the newspaper without seeing headlines about Muslims killing cartoonists for ‘insulting’ their prophet (and so-called “moderates” supporting the murders), Christians crying ‘persecution’ because an atheist group wants just one billboard next to hundreds of religious ones in their town, young girls being raped as a sex slave and then refused an abortion, atheists being hacked to death simply for writing a blog, and the list goes on and on. Homosexuals are at best discriminated against and at worst killed, for being something they were born as and cannot change, because of a few words written down in an ancient book written by ignorant bronze age men. Women in Muslim-majority countries are forced to cover up their body head to toe in a cloth because the men might get too ‘tempted’ to rape them if they dared to dress normally, treated as property rather than people, forbidden to drive, forbidden to leave the house without a male escort, require four witnesses to prove a rape case, etc. Wherever it can, religion likes to trample all over everything and impose its views on everyone regardless of what other may or may not believe. Again quoting Hitchens, “Religion poisons everything.”
3. Everything happens for a reason, God has a plan. It is not for us to try to understand his mind.
Really? Is terminal childhood cancer in God’s plan? People becoming so depressed they commit suicide as they feel it is the only remaining option for them? Child rape? Babies dying from rare incurable diseases? Thousands of families starving in Third-world countries while the Vatican is obscenely rich? And the typical “original sin” rebuttal theists often resort to just makes things worse. And honestly, if there really was a god with a divine plan we mere mortals couldn’t possibly understand why do you even bother praying? If what you pray for is in God’s plan, then God was already going to give it to you anyway. And if it’s not in God’s plan, what makes you think God should change his perfect plan just for you? Suppose you don’t get what you prayed for. Theists usually answer, “well it must be God’s will.” But if God’s just gonna do what he wants regardless, why bother?
4. Homosexuality isn’t natural!
Oh, and talking donkeys and snakes, virgin births, winged horses, unicorns and the rest of the shit that religion sells is? Anyone who believes in things that absurd cannot be a judge of what is ‘natural’. And even if it wasn’t natural, so fucking what? Clothes aren’t natural. Neither is the internet, which is ironically quite a popular platform of choice for theists to preach how ‘unnatural’ homosexuality is. You don’t like anything that’s unnatural? Go and live in a cave.
5. Religion offers us a sense of morality!/Atheists have no morals!
You want to tell me that I have no morals while you advocate a book that promotes slavery, rape, murder, genocide, treating women as property and more? And I hold myself accountable for my actions, while you can just pray for forgiveness and be absolved of responsibility. Seriously, when you say you need religion to get a sense of morality you are saying that if you only do good because you’re hoping to get a divine reward or trying to avoid divine punishment. I’ll leave you with a challenge by Hitch: “Name one moral statement made, or moral action performed, by a person of faith, that couldn’t be done by a non-believer. And here’s an easier one: name a horrific action performed that could only be done by a person of faith. You’ve already thought of one. And another.”
6. Why do you have be so militant and offensive?
Let me get this straight. For centuries, religion ruled and anyone who dared to question it were severely punished, often killed, and this still happens in theocracies like Saudi Arabia. Religion imposes its views on everybody wherever it can, forcing people to abide by the rules of their belief system by law if possible. But if I dare to criticise the extraordinary claims religions make, I am militant? I have already written a post on this topic in more detail, which you can view here.
7. Atheism is a religion!
False. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. That’s it. Theists like to assert this claim, and the similar claim that it takes faith to be an atheist, because to them it then puts atheism on an equal footing with their religion. But the claim is just simply untrue. Atheism has no doctrines, no rituals, or any other of the components it would require to be considered a religion. Atheism is simply answering “I don’t believe you” to the claim “God exists”, and nothing else. It’s the only requirement. It’s also kind of ironic that they make the claim that atheists have as much faith as they do as a means to criticise the atheist position. I mean, if you think atheism is incorrect because you see it as faith-based, what makes you think that your faith-based religion is correct? If “atheists have faith” is a criticism of atheism, then “theists have faith” is a criticism of theism. You can’t have it both ways.
8. Well, if I’m right I’ll go to heaven forever and if I’m wrong nothing happens. But if you’re wrong you’ll burn in hell forever! How do you like that?
That’s about as effective as telling a grown adult that if he doesn’t believe in Santa he’ll go on Santa’s naughty list forever.
This is also what’s called Pascal’s Wager, which says that it is better to believe in God and be wrong than not believe and be wrong. But with thousands of gods to choose from, how do you know if you’ve picked the right one? Theists generally respond with “I just have faith”, which I have already addressed. Every religion has a faith element. What are you gonna do, believe in all gods just in case? They can’t all be right- but they could all be wrong. Besides, surely an all-knowing god would detect if someone was simply hedging their bets and see through Pascal’s Wager? Ultimately, if a god exists and is going to send people to hell for not believing in him/her/it then you’re not really any better off than an atheist. And if such a god exists, it is not worth a second of anybody’s time anyway because it would be a monster.
“We are all atheists regarding most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” – Richard Dawkins
9. Do you really think so many people could be wrong?
First of all, this commits the argumentum ad populum, or “argument from popularity”, logical fallacy. It basically goes like this:
P1. Lots of people believe X is true.
Conclusion: X is true.
This is a fallacy because the fact that lots of people believe something does not automatically make it true. Allow me to demonstrate why with an example argument.
P1. Many people believe that the Earth is flat.
Conclusion: The earth is flat.
Obviously we know that the conclusion is false. That means there is something wrong with the logic, making it an invalid argument.
The other problem with this is that no matter which religion you pick, there are more people who don’t believe in it than people who do. So it’s just absurd to claim that a religion must be right because it has a lot of followers. More follow something else or none at all. Of course it’s possible for many people to be wrong at once. Like when people thought the Sun went round the earth, or that devils, and not germs, caused disease.
10. Religion gives so many people a sense of hope. Why would you want to take that away?
While it may be true that people could feel a sense of hope from the idea that a god is watching over them, that has no bearing whatsoever on the veracity of their religion’s claims. When Richard Dawkins was faced with this question, his response was, “The universe doesn’t owe you a sense of hope. It could be that the universe is a totally hopeless place. I as a matter of fact don’t think it is, but even if it were that would still not be a good reason to believe in religion.” Besides, what good is hope if it’s false? It would be no good for a doctor to tell the family of a child who has a terminal illness that the child is going to get better; when he/she doesn’t they will be gravely disappointed. And quite frankly I don’t think religion is a good source of hope anyway. It convinces you that you are a sinner, unworthy from the moment you are born, and that you can only be saved from eternal punishment if you are willing to give up the only thing that makes us higher primates, your critical faculties, and believe absurd assertions with no evidence. It tells you that without a god, you are nothing. What kind of ‘hope’ is that? But what if it turns out that you passed that exam because you worked hard, a premature baby survives and becomes healthy because years of research by scientists has paid off, you got that promotion because you did an amazing presentation, you scored the winning goal for your football/soccer team because you trained well, you beat your cigarette addiction because of your effort and willpower? The idea that you are capable of amazing things and that you can do them yourself without the help of a god is, to me, far more hopeful than anything religion can offer.