Debunking the “All Time Best Arguments Against Faith”

Youtube suggested I watch the video The All Time best arguments against religion/faith. This includes clips of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ricky Gervais, and Michael Shermer. I’m going to comment on what they have to say.

Michael Shermer: What is the probability that Yahweh is the one true God, and Amon Ra, Aphrodite, Apollo, Bal, Brahman, Ganesha, Isis, Mithras, Osiris, Shiva, Thor, Vishnu, Wanton, Zeus, and the other 986 gods are all false gods. You guys are atheist just like me of all the gods I just rattled off. Some of us just go one God further. Where Christians believe that the Bible is an inherit gospel handed down from the deity, Muslims believe that the Koran is the perfect Word of God. It’s unfortunate that the creator of the universe wrote more than one holy book.

Comparing belief in Yahweh and Brahman, who can be thought of as anthropomorphic conceptions of the creative impulse of the universe, to deities who represented the powers of nature in pantheistic religions (Amon Ra and Apollo the sun, Aphorodite beauty, Thor the thunder, etc.) is disingenuous bullshit. If Shermer had confined this question to Yahweh, Allah, Brahman, and Buddha, it wouldn’t have the answer “obviously zero”. I agree that no precise conception of the Creator is likely to be exactly right. Scriptures were written by people, not the Creator. This is a good argument against fundamentalism, but says little about the existence of a Creator.

Ricky Gervais: We’re all born atheist. Then that gets changed or enhanced. There shouldn’t even be a word for atheism. There’s not a word for not believing in fairies. If people didn’t keep inventing these weird impossible deities, we wouldn’t have to go around denying them.

We’re all born without consciousness. Like consciousness of self, awareness of the spiritual realm develops over time. Belief in fairies (the Tuatha De Danann of the Celts) is vastly different from modern spiritual beliefs. If people keep coming up with explanations of a phenomenon, you need to explain the true cause of the phenomenon. In the case of thunder, we understand that it’s caused by lightning. We don’t currently fully understand the spiritual experience. If you go around denying that there is a spiritual experience that many of us have, you are deluded.

Michael Shermer: World wide there are about ten thousand distinct religions each one of which may be further subdivided and classified Christians for example may be apportioned among about thirty four thousand different denominations. What are the chances that these guys got the right God and the right religion and the billions of other people that don’t believe what they believe got it wrong? The tens of billions of people that lived before Jesus never heard of [him]. The tens of billions of people that lived since then who don’t believe that just happen to be wrong. Or is it more likely that all of these religion and God beliefs are socially constructed–psychologically constructed–and that none of them are right in any reality sense and in the ontological sense.

Shermer again drags out his argument against fundamentalism. But arguing that because no religion is exactly right, all religious beliefs are socially constructed, is bullshit. In the same way, a scientific theory that is not 100% true, like Newtowian physics, which breaks down at the quantum scale and at speeds approaching that of light, is not 100% incorrect.

Sam Harris: This to me is the true horror of religion: it allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions what only lunatics could believe on their own. If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that’s saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.

Some religious beliefs are untrue, just as some current scientific theories are doubtless untrue. Effects like quantum tunnelling, which allows a particle to instantaneously disappear on one side of a barrier and reappear on the other and quantum entanglement, which allows information to be transferred instantaneously, faster than the speed of light, are both phenomena that contradict “facts” that had been held true until they were discovered.

Michael Shermer: Christians believe that Christ is the latest prophet, Muslims believe that Muhammad is the latest prophet, and Mormons believe that Joseph Smith is the latest prophet. Stretching this tract of thought just a little bit more, Scientologists believe that the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard was the latest prophet so many prophets so little time.

And science has paradigms that people cling to. Freud’s theories have been shown to be overly simplistic. Many of Jung’s ideas have passed out of vogue. Yet both of these men’s schools of psychology still have their adherents, and both made real contributions to psychology.

Ricky Gervais: The human brain, when it’s young, is a sponge. It has to take in all the information and to trust its parents and its elders without question to survive. “Don’t touch the fire.” “Why not?” “Don’t go near the wolf. Don’t touch that spider with a red back.” “Why not?” “Just don’t. There is a god and if you’re bad you go to hell.” If that’s constantly confirmed like all the other things–wolves eat you, black widows kill you, fires burn you– if it’s given that same level of credence and truth, you’re never going to get over it. It’s going to be a lot harder to undo that.

Gervais’s argument is that since our parents give us many truths when we are children, our minds become almost incapable of thinking critically about anything they’ve told us. While it is true that the source of information has huge influence on how we perceive it’s reliability, the idea that people can’t overcome the beliefs they were indoctrinated with as children is patently false. If all of Jesus’s disciples were unable to overcome the Jewish beliefs they were raised with, how did they come to believe something so radically different?

Richard Dawkins: When you say that your that your wife loves you, you’re getting evidence from looks in the eye and catches in the voice. That’s the way religious people feel about God–they feel that about God, but there’s no evidence that they’re getting any cues at all. Their God is an imaginary God inside themselves. Why should we believe them, since we can’t see or hear any evidence to that effect?

If a psychopath is told that there is are phenomena known as emotions, why should he believe in them, since he can’t see or hear them? Just because you haven’t had a spiritual experience doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Sam Harris fully acknowledges the value of the spiritual experience, though he disagrees with religious interpretations of it. Before Galileo, most astronomers refused to believe that there were heavenly bodies that didn’t orbit the Earth, even though Copernicus had shown scientific evidence for heliocentrism a century earlier, and Aristarcus 18 centuries before that. Refusing to believe in anything you can’t see or hear makes you a simpleton.

Richard Dawkins: When we’re talking about moral philosophy, the origin of the cosmos, the origin of life, or why we all exist, there is no reason whatever why we should treat the the writings of scribes in 800 BC as being particularly wise. We could listen to Confucius. We could listen to the Buddha. There all sorts of people we can listen to. We could listen to modern philosophers, and modern scientists as well. There is nothing special about the Bible.

The fact that the New Testament (which was not written in 800 BC) has withstood the test of time and remains a source of insight and wisdom that millions of people find valuable means that not treating it as particularly wise makes you a fool. You should listen to Confucius and the Buddha as well, and many Christians do. Saying there is nothing special about the Bible is like saying there’s nothing special about Newton because he didn’t understand relativity or quantum mechanics.

Michael Shermer: You can make the argument God planted the God module in the brain so he could talk to us. How come we all seem to talk to different gods then? Are there just a bunch of them out there competing for our brains? Why is it as as Dan Barker pointed out there’s very little agreement amongst believers?y It’s obvious that all these other gods are made up. You already know that. You agree with me on that. You’re all atheists for all those other gods. I implore you to go one God further.

Not all Christians are staunch disbelievers in all other religions. The entire study of comparative religion, an effort to look for commonalities in religious beliefs and gain a deeper understanding of them, while pioneered by Muslim scholars, has in recent times been driven by Christian academics.

The spiritual experience, discovered in the mists of prehistory by tribal Shaman, has been a powerful tool for humanity ever since. Whether it is truly a conduit to a higher power, or is merely an artifact of the brain, dismissing it as imaginary is foolish. The power of prayer and meditation to improve life is undeniable. Though raised an atheist, I’ve come to believe that there is a power behind all things that is inherently good. None of these arguments come remotely close to convincing me that’s untrue.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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