My Objection to Religion
First of all, I would like to clarify exactly what I object to. I object to the adamant belief in supernatural gods and the rejection of evidence which inevitably ensues. I object to the strife caused by contradicting beliefs, and the wars that follow. I do not, object to the use of the term “god” as a metaphor to nature. This metaphor does not attempt to explain natural phenomena through supernatural explanations, nor does it attempt to justify or condemn people’s actions through ecclesiastical authorities.
Furthermore, I would like to clarify that though much of the following will use Christianity as an example, the following is not solely directed at Christians. It is directed at all religions which match the criteria given above. I use Christianity as an example because as an American I have been exposed to Christianity more than any other religion, and therefore I am more knowledgeable on Christianity than any other religion. I would also like to state that I do not claim to be an expert on any religion or the doctrine they follow; my assertions below are based principally on the observations I have made.
Religion should not survive an elementary education, yet it does. Why? Because society grants religion an undeserved immunity to criticism. Certain ideas are labeled “holy,” and once they receive that label you are not to question them. If someone’s political views do not coincide with your own, you are allowed to argue with them, but when someone says “I’m not allowed to make my bed on Sunday,” you must respect that.
The burden of proof lies with the theist, not the skeptic. It is not sufficient to say, “You can not disprove this, therefore this is how it is.” This idea is demonstrated by Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy. Russell states:
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
An impartial look at religion will reveal its absurdity. Unfortunately, most people are incapable of impartiality towards religion because the process of their proselytization began at their birth. Does the idea of a man being swallowed whole by a whale and being regurgitated alive three days later not strike people as ridiculous? What about the geocentric view of the universe that the bible preaches? Not only should we repudiate evolution, should we also revamp the entire theory of gravity to conform to the bible? I pray we never take such inane actions. Fundamentalists frighten me.
Most contemporary theists classify themselves as a bit more moderate than fundamentalists. Religious moderation is a consequence of a few factors: a significant increase in the education level of the common man, and partial ignorance to one’s own scriptures. Moderates interpret parts of their religion literally, and parts of their religion figuratively so it does not openly contradict what is generally considered scientific fact. This is not inherently a bad idea. Such an interpretation does not reject facts, and continues to offer people spirituality which science can not. Religious moderation puts up a façade of being the perfect compromise, however, when put in practice, an allegorical interpretation of holy texts is not only regressive, it is also conceited.
Fundamentalists will often view moderates as impious. Instead of excoriating such unjustifiable, obstinate opinions, religious moderation often inadvertently advocates the contrary and strengthens such view points. It appears that many fundamentalists erroneously argue that because so many people have been exposed to god that he must exist. The moderate’s belief in god affirms the fundamentalist’s feeling of superiority and righteousness. Without the plethora of moderates the fundamentalist’s belief system would slowly degenerate and be replaced with an overwhelming majority of people who decided to follow reason and logic when juxtaposed with faith alone.
Religious moderates also follow a much more personal interpretation of holy text. You will rarely find two moderates who share all the same tenets, even if they attend the same church. Many of these moderates will insist on their beliefs as vehemently as some fundamentalists. Since almost all moderates interpret the bible differently from each other, in essence what they are saying is that they themselves have the ultimate authority in declaring how the universe works and what moral standards people should follow. This is the pinnacle of arrogance. If there are a million different metaphorical interpretations of the bible, most likely this means there are a million different flawed interpretations of the bible. Expecting others to conform to your interpretations is obtuse.
While a figurative interpretation of religious text is more rational than a literal one, it is still dubious. This view is still partially based on faith where it is not merited. Though this faith may not dispute empirical data directly, no evidence exists to legitimize this faith; therefore one should still consider it a puerile theory at best.
Faith, though in most cases fallacious, is perpetuated by many factors. Children are inoculated with their parents and societies’ dogmatic beliefs before maturing enough to question those conjectures. When a child has a set of beliefs ingrained in his mind, the process of separating the child with those beliefs is difficult, and in certain cases impossible. As the child gets older, he will have an emotional connection to his childhood beliefs, which will render him incapable of objectively questioning his beliefs. If he is able to look at his beliefs objectively, he may continue to live under the pretense of faith for fear of being alienated from his community. He will also see many people that he is exposed to sharing his beliefs, which will reaffirm his faith. This process is then systematically repeated over the next generation.
My disillusionment regarding religion does not stem entirely from my incredulity towards people having faith in asinine conjectures, it also stems from the violence done in the name of religion, and from observing the extent that people are willing to go to impose their beliefs upon others.
Numerous crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of religion, and range in magnitude from harassment and persecution of dissenters to genocide. At one time, intellectuals such as Galileo were imprisoned for advocating theories which contravened religious dogma. Slowly, the public began to embrace the era of enlightenment. As intellectuals gained favor with the public, classical methods of persecution were abandoned, only to be replaced by more acceptable methods. This cycle continues to manipulate society in modern times. While legal oppression of the intellectual is nearly obsolete, he is often heavily belittled by society for heresy. Einstein was a victim of this sort of persecution. When Einstein stated that he does not believe in the conventional God, he received many outrageous replies, such as one from the founder of the Cavalry Tabernacle Association of Oklahoma:
Professor Einstein, I believe that every Christian in America will answer you, "We will not give up our belief in our God and his son Jesus Christ, but we invite you, if you do not believe in the God of the people of this nation, to go back where you came from." I have done everything in my power to be a blessing to Israel, and then you come along and with one statement from your blasphemous tongue, do more to hurt the cause of your people than all the efforts of the Christians who love Israel can do to stamp out anti-Semitism in our land. Professor Einstein, every Christian in America will immediately reply to you, "Take your crazy, fallacious theory of evolution and go back to Germany where you came from, or stop trying to break down the faith of a people who gave you a welcome when you were forced to flee your native land."
Of course there are far more heinous crimes than religious persecution that are carried out in the name of religion. The most obvious example, the malicious attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, opened up Pandora’s Box. America was left in shock, and The Middle East is arguably more devastated than ever before. Sadly, the extremist terrorists who attacked the United States believed that their actions were justified by their religion. The Ku Klux Klan justified lynching through the bible. Many more examples of crimes in the name of religion exist. The evidence required to claim that religion engenders barbarism and tyranny is pervasive.
In America, religion plays an indisputable role in both domestic and foreign politics. Though America is a leading nation in a civilized era, I find America’s aversion to putting a non-Christian in the oval office unfathomable. There are certain laws passed whose only basis lie in Christianity. Other laws, again only justified by Christian tenets, prevent the progressiveness that America strives for. Opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research almost lies solely with the religious right.
Christian influence is also evident in the rhetoric George W. Bush uses in his attempts to justify the war in Iraq, such as when he calls any Iraqis opposed to the American forces “evil-doers.” He even goes as far as saying that god told him “go and end the tyranny in Iraq.” Many people interpret his reference to “evil-doers” as referring to all Muslims, and end up mocking Islam as a whole, furthering the already increasing estrangement between Muslims and Christians. This only leads to more violence. The reason behind going into this war remains in question, but it is steadily spiraling into a war based on ideological differences.
History teaches us that the most virulent situations rise from ideological differences, not from a struggle over land, resources, or other tangibles. What possesses a man to arm himself with the branch of a tree and a few stones, and charge at a tank? Only quintessential hatred will drive a man to such an extreme, and this type of hatred comes from religious discord. People will do anything to assert the validity of their religion. Too many men have died in the name of religion, and these unnecessary deaths will continue until people realize that religion is fictitious. The extent of influence faith has exerted throughout history is appalling, especially considering that many times facts are ignored for faith.
In order to ensure the continued existence of humanity in a nuclear era religion must be subdued. History evinces religion as the catalyst to the bitterest wars. Though this has always been an inane peculiarity of human culture, in the past it was tolerable as the destruction was limited to a locality. However, if a religious war were waged between two nuclear powers the result would be Armageddon. The destruction would be pandemic, quite possibly resulting in the annihilation of the human race. Ending religion will not nullify the inexorable threat of nuclear war; however, it will discernibly reduce the possibility of such a war because nothing in human history has been as divisive as religion. On nearly every other issue the possibility of compromise exists; religion is absolute.
However, it is religion’s attempt to cross into the realm of science which I find most aggravating. It does this mainly two ways: through the legal system, and through the classroom. Recently, in America, there has been a movement to teach “creation science” in science classes in the public school system. Creationism seeks to teach alternative explanations to currently accepted scientific theories by introducing the idea of a deity. It is highly grotesque to try to pass creationism off as a science. First of all, creationism attempts to explain natural phenomena through supernatural causes, therefore it can not, by definition, be a science. Science is based on palpable evidence rather than blind faith. No evidence exists to substantiate the ludicrous arguments purported by creationists, while a myriad of evidence directly refutes them. It is fatuous to controvert observable fact on the basis of blind faith. Furthermore, though many proponents of creationism emphatically claim otherwise, creationism is strongly influenced by the Bible. America generally considers the intervention of the state in matters of faith illegal. Teaching creationism in school would transgress this principle. Most importantly, teaching creationism at school would misinform the minds of impressionable children, and would be horrifically regressive. Over the next few paragraphs, I would like to briefly address the major ideas behind creationism.
The main claim of creationism asserts that life did not evolve on Earth by natural selection, but that a divine entity designed and created life in its present state. Creationists generally mean common descent when they use the term ‘evolution.’ Creationists insist that their claim is as valid as evolution because evolution “is just a theory,” and since it is just a theory it should be removed from class, or all opposing theories should be given equal time in the classroom. The problem here arises from their interpretation of the word ‘theory.’ In American vernacular the term insinuates uncertainty; in the context of science the term is used to describe a group of propositions that explain a natural phenomenon. Gravity, for instance, is a natural phenomenon. There have been many proposed theories to explain the phenomenon, such as Newton’s classical theory, or Einstein’s general theory of relativity, however the fact that two massive bodies will attract each other has remained constant. Similarly, common descent is a natural phenomenon. The theory of evolution explains this phenomenon. It is possible that one day our current theory may be replaced by something else; however that will not change the fact that species are related by common descent.
As an aside, I would like to point out that the current theory that explains gravity has far more opposition in the scientific community than the theory of evolution. Why, then, are creationists not discontent with it being taught in the classroom?
Many people who argue against evolution cite a “missing link,” fossilized evidence which should be a requirement of proof according to some creationists, in the lineage of the human race. I have heard this argument many times. I find it somewhat ironic that though many people will use this as a key point to their argument, this missing link remains esoteric in the sense that no one seems to know exactly what, when, or where this missing link is. This is a moot argument, however. If a missing link exists, it does not refute the theory of evolution. Evolution does not entail a direct fossilized record from ancestor to descendant. Fossilized evidence is contingent on the geological forces of the earth, and is coincidental when found. It supports the theory of evolution. Fossilized evidence is not a requirement for ascertaining the theory’s validity.
Another central argument of many creationists is that the Earth and universe are between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. These creationists generally have a literal view on the bible’s historical accuracy. There is, of course, no real basis for these claims. They are off by a factor of approximately a million. It would be equivalent of saying that San Francisco is 30 feet from New York.
There are a multitude of methods for measuring the age of the Earth, the most common being radiometric dating. This method approximates the age of the earth at 4.5 billion years, along with other independent methods of dating. Creationists often question the legitimacy of radioactive dating. They base their doubt on relatively few examples. Any tool when misused will give inaccurate results, which is generally the case for the basis of creationist’s claims. The fact that independent radiometric techniques, along with other techniques such as Milankovitch cycles, luminescence dating method, and relative dating methods are consistent should be apodictic evidence that should lay to rest any doubt on the validity of radiometric dating.
Since the age of the earth is 4.5 billion years old, it logically follows that the age of the universe is also greater than 4.5 billion years old. This has also been proved by various methods.
Religion is a valid expression of human emotion. Unfortunately, the majority of the people want to aggrandize it into literal truth, which it is not. Such aggrandizement is a threat to the progressiveness of society, a threat to the human species itself, and blinds people from seeing the naturally beautiful truth. At one point in time, religion was not nearly as harmful as it is today, but in the age of reason, religion is antiquated, and does not deserve a place in modern society.