Essay:Why religion is bullshit
There are a number of reasons for rejecting religion.
All religions have in common that they are faith based. People are taught to believe claims from some ancient text or self-proclaimed spiritual leader, instead of relying on their own senses, evidence and critical thinking.
Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens said: "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."
Some religions try to appear "science-friendly" by avoiding statements that clash too obviously with modern science. This however only obscures the fact that the very concept of "faith" is inherently anti-scientific and cannot be tested by using the scientific method.
As all religions rely, at some point, on faith it is easy to show that they are not scientific. A key test of whether or not a hypothesis is scientific is the question of falsifiability. What evidence would the hypothesis' supporters accept as being able to falsify the hypothesis? By definition, as religions are based on faith and not evidence, no evidence can be presented which would persuade a religion's followers it is wrong - and consequently no religion can be scientific.
The "cosmic argument" is an ill-conceived attempt at "proving" the existence of god (whatever the definition) by suggesting that the universe must have come from "somewhere", or that something must have existed "before".
It is obvious however that this argument is based on a Newtonian model of the universe which we now know to be false. Causality is clearly time related, but time does not exist independently of the universe. Rather, spacetime is the universe. So asking what was before the beginning of the universe is asking what was before time, which makes no sense. As Hawking famously put it, it's like asking what's north of the North Pole. It's an ill-posed question.
The very concept of creation depends on time. Something that did not exist before a given point in time comes to existence through the act of creation and exists from that time on. The universe clearly cannot have been created in this sense, because the universe is spacetime and thus there is no time outside of the universe itself.
God vs. religion
It seems to be clear that a God in the sense of a miracle-working, interventionist deity does not exist, as no evidence of his miracle working interventionist activity can be found. In this case absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
Obviously it cannot be excluded that some kind of "god" (whatever that is supposed to be) exists outside of our universe. But even if this were the case, it follows from basic scientific principles like the conservation of energy, that such a "god" cannot interact with the physical world in any way. In particular, he cannot write books, nor can he put thoughts (which consist of electric currents in the brain) into people's heads. This shows that, whether or not god exists, religion is wrong.
Soul is a type of music, but some people believe it to be some kind of spiritual thingie that every human is supposed to have, and which is supposed to survive when his physical body dies. But since this thing is non-physical, it again cannot interact with the physical world without violating basic science. So we have the same situation as with "god": a "soul" could hypothetically exists, but it can have no connection with the physical world.
There are some attempts to "justify" religion by saying that it has no scientific implications. This is called Non-Overlapping Magisteria or NOMA and it is wrong on many levels. First of all, as we have seen above, any assumption that "god" or the "soul" could have a bearing on the physical world, would be clearly within the scope of science.
Furthermore the supporters of NOMA seem quite coy about where the NOMA line should be drawn. Religious beliefs are the basis of creationism, intelligent design, and theistic evolution. While many NOMA advocates would happily attack creationism they sometimes hold the NOMA shield up to defend other (their own) religious beliefs - a position which could seem a little intellectually dishonest.
One of the things which many religions claim to possess is the authority to give eternal moral (or ethical) guidance to their followers. However, the fact that religious beliefs have frequently been important factors in causing or exacerbating divisions between peoples - sometimes even resulting in warfare - rather devalues religion's claim to the moral high ground.
Furthermore, it is quite clear that religion's ethical advice is not eternal, as many religions' ethics evolve with society. This is clearly not a bad thing, but it removes religion's ability claim absolute moral standards or to pontificate for all time about morality.
Finally we have the suggestion that religious ideas should, for some reason, deserve a special measure of respect not given to, say, Homeopathy. (The concept of NOMA, mentioned above, is part of this.) But why should religion deserve this special status of being "respected"? If religions can make a forceful, rational intelligent case then they would be respected for that. If they are unable to present a forceful, rational intelligent case, then whatever respect they get should be based on their failure to do so.
We are also sometimes told that we should respect religion because some intelligent people believe in it. This is simply repetition of the argument from authority fallacy, and may be dismissed without further concern.
Responses to this essay
This essay generated an interesting response and associated talk page. Although we had expected the points raised in this essay to be addressed, this unfortunately turned out not to be the case. Indeed, those who objected accepted the main points that that religion is both "not rational" and that "Science is incompatible with religion" - which are the main points being made here. Nevertheless some other points were raised to which a response will now be made.
The title is insulting
The title certainly pulls no punches. However our homeopathy, Feng shui and Demonic possession articles (to name but a few) are explicitly in our bullshit category. It is highly probable that supporters of these concepts would be equally upset by our classification of their beliefs. Why should religion be uniquely immune from criticism?
Many intelligent and/or good people have believed in Religion
Although we address this point in our essay we are taken to task for dismissing this argument. Please find a list of famous intellectual atheists. So what? We can find intellectuals, and good and bad people on both sides of the debate.
In fact, an interesting contrast may be made between these two questions:
- Can you think of somebody who committed what you would consider to be an evil act because of his religion?
- Can you think of somebody who committed what you would consider to be an evil act because he is atheist?
The essay cherrypicks the parts of religion that are easy to attack
Yes, it does. But if you encounter an idea which seems, at face value, to have obvious problems, a sensible course of action would seem to be to ask questions about these obvious problems - and only consider and deeper ramifications if there are good responses to the obvious initial difficulties.