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50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God

12/27/2010

I sort of enjoyed this book. The responses to the 50 claims are fairly redundant. The point for most chapters seems to be that if your ‘proof’ of your religion’s truth is valid, then the proofs of other contradictory religions are also valid. This cuts out a huge number of proofs for a particular religion, although it does not cut out a proof for base belief in a God/gods.

The reasons were fairly simple. It was not a deep philosophical discourse, but the book did introduce information from a nice variety of sources, and could even be a brief intro to world religions. Facts that people may learn:

Hinduism is much older than most other religions. Countries with high rates of atheism also do well in objective measures of flourishing.Atheists range from jerks to nice people.

Can’t really remember many other facts, but the little bibliographies at the end of each chapter may help those interested in figuring some other things out. I doubt that I would be convinced of the other side if I read this book, although there would be a decent amount of points to think about. If I were a believer, then many of the arguments in this book may feel like they don’t reflect my understanding. The audience for this book seems to be fairly unsophisticated thinkers, and many of the reasons to believe, although I’ve heard them, are actually things that some believers may say. People that may benefit from this book are those who were part of Disciplemakers, or maybe the Cru folks.

Kindle Highlights:

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pot Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable. (Harris 2006) Harris (2012).

Note: Sam Harris’ retort to “evil atheist regime” claim

have been designed and created by some other intelligent being. So (2318).

Note: Only complex contingent beings demand a creator, and God is a necessary one. He didn’t come into existence.

The top predictors of a person’s religious belief are what their parents believed and where they spent their childhood. This impact of inheritance and geography upon belief is powerful and consistent. It also explains a lot about how the world’s religions survive generation after generation. This pattern is exactly what one would expect to see in a world where gods are not real and the continuing belief in them is the result of childhood indoctrination (2356).

It is important to note that miracles such as health cures, weeping statues, and thirsty gods are not enough to convince most people that a particular god is real. They tend to only reinforce belief in those who already believe in the god credited for the miracle. Those who are outside of a particular miracle’s belief system tend to favor explanations such as fraud or mistaken interpretations of natural events (2427).

This is why we do not see millions of Muslims converting to Catholicism because some Catholics have claimed to have been healed in Lourdes, France. This is why we do not see Catholics becoming Hindus when a statue of Ganesha is said to be drinking milk (2430).

The refutation of prophecies can be arranged into five general categories: vagueness, forced fulfillments, post-dated predictions, nonprophecies and chance fulfillments. (2663).

To make matters worse, some believers defend the murky nature of prophecies. They say that their god wants it this way so that faith will be required of followers. If the god made it obvious, then it would be too easy to believe, they say. But why would a god only want gullible people to believe? Why would a god make his or her existence so mysterious and so unlikely as to trick those who think critically and ask questions? (2688).

Despite my inability to disprove the existence of fairies in my backyard, I do not believe in them. It doesn’t matter that I can’t come up with any evidence or argument that conclusively proves fairies are not real. All that matters is that there is no positive evidence to support any claim that they are real. No evidence most likely means no fairies. No evidence definitely means no reason to believe in fairies (2701).

Many believers attempt to put the burden of proof on nonbelievers rather than on themselves when it comes to their god. They incorrectly assume that an atheist is responsible for proving that gods are make-believe. They fail to see that this is an impossible challenge given the broad descriptions of what gods are and what gods can do. A typical god is said to exist outside the limits of our natural world and beyond the laws of physics. How can such a being ever be completely ruled out by a species that lives in the natural world and under the laws of physics? I suspect that the reason believers try to shift the burden of proof onto atheists is because they know they cannot prove the existence of their god. They hope to escape that basic responsibility by dumping it onto the nonbelievers (2708).

Do not forget that believers reject their own argument when the tables are turned. Believers do not think it is such a good idea to place the burden of proof on nonbelievers when they are the nonbeliever. Again, the key question is how many religious people would agree to believe in rival gods just because they can’t prove that they do not exist (2725)?

Never forget that anyone can say anything when no evidence is required to back it up. When it comes to telling stories, it is easy for people to lie, make honest mistakes about the facts, or to have even hallucinated or dreamed up the entire episode (2781).

In reality, the most secular countries-those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics-are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations-wherein worship of God is in abundance-are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor and destitute” (Zuckerman 2006) (3026).

Belief in God may provide comfort to the individual believer, but, at the societal level, its results do not compare at all favorably with that of the more secular societies (3056).

The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its [high] level of religious adherence; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and infant mortality. The same comparison holds true within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states, characterized by the highest levels of religious literalism, are especially plagued by the above indicators of societal dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the Northeast conform to European norms. (Harris 2006, 44) (3058).

The existence of so many diverse religions is primarily a reason to suspect that humans have a strong inclination and talent for inventing gods (3453).

With between 500 million and 750 million nontheists living on this planet today, any suggestion that belief in God is natural, inborn, or a result of how our brains are wired becomes difficult to sustain. Second, innate/neural theories of belief in God cannot explain the dramatically different rates of belief among similar countries. Consider Britain (31%-44% atheist) compared with Ireland (4%-5% atheist), the Czech Republic (54%-61%) compared with Poland (3%-6% atheist), and South Korea (30%-52% atheist) compared with the Philippines (less than 1% atheist). It is simply unsustainable to argue that these glaring differences in rates of atheism among these nations is due to different biological, neurological or other such brain-related properties. Rather, the differences are better explained by taking into account historical, cultural, economic, political and sociological factors. (Zuckerman 2006) (3497).

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