It is written: “There is no straw which lacks the power to break your back.”
There is one error in thought which, if understood, is sufficient to reveal the wrongness of all religious belief. One straw, which sufficeth for the backs of a whole nation of religions.
A detailed belief. I did not use to understand the incredible burden of a detailed belief. Justifying a detailed belief is like trying to stack pieces of paper for a ladder. You need an enormous number of pieces to get even slightly closer to your goal.
A detailed belief is like a stadium with a ceiling of lead, requiring a million support beams to avoid collapsing in on itself.
It’s simple if you think about it. Every detail must be tested and found sturdy. So, more details = more testing = more evidence = more work = more hard. Let’s use an example other than God. Let’s suppose someone’s been promised a puppy for their birthday.
“Great!” they say. “I’ve always wanted a brown and white Terrier!”
“Eh, what makes you think it’s a brown and white Terrier?”
“Well, I know I’m getting a dog, and a brown and white Terrier is a dog, so it fits!”
You see the mistake. This person is justified in thinking they’ll get a dog. But they have no justification for also thinking that it’ll be a Terrier, and that it’ll be brown and white.
Their belief is more detailed than their evidence. You need some evidence to know you’re getting a dog. Then you need more evidence to know it’s a Terrier. Then you need still more evidence to know it’ll be brown and white.
It’s much worse if you have another 10 details in your belief about the dog. Even if you had good reason to believe nine of them, you would still need even more evidence before you could be justified in believing the 10th.
The evidence must be as equally detailed as the belief.
Each detail must be correct for the whole belief to be correct.
A belief with a thousand details requires evidence which supports a thousand details! Imagine the study and care required to check every detail for accuracy! A detailed belief is like a ladder a thousand feet high. Every rung requires its own effort. The taller the ladder, the more effort required, and the more detailed the belief, the more detailed the evidence needed.
To prove that all religions should not be believed, we must first accept all of their evidence. Yes, all of it.
Some have profound emotional experiences, which they say could not possibly come from something natural, and therefore are caused by something supernatural. We accept this argument.
Some have ideas come to mind which lead them to find people in need, or lost objects, or to know things which no one could possibly have known by natural means. So, these experiences can only be explained by something supernatural. We accept this.
Some say that miracles are performed before their eyes, or on their own person. People are transported out of danger, they are healed of awful diseases, they are protected. They say these things could not be caused by any natural means, and so, are supernatural. We accept.
There are arguments, which claim to prove that there is a cause to the universe, and that the cause is a being. There are others which claim to prove that the being is transcendent and personal.
There are more arguments which claim to prove that the being is omnipotent, omniscient, timeless, spaceless, and massless. People point to the order in the universe, and it’s fine-tuned constants and prove that an intelligent designer is behind it all. Morals are proven to have come from an objective lawgiver outside of humanity.
Other arguments prove that Jesus rose from the dead, that the Dead Sea destroyed the Egyptian army, that Noah built an ark and escaped a great flood.
We accept all of these.
Together, these arguments, these evidences, “prove” about 15 things. Evidence this detailed justifies believing something equally detailed. We can believe everything that has been so proven.
But what about everything else? Religion’s teachings about God have a thousand details, and we’ve only proven 15! These arguments justify believing in: A timeless, spaceless, massless, transcendent, personal, omnipotent, omniscient, being that created, ordered, and fine-tuned the universe, established morality, raised Jesus from the dead, performed other miracles, and still communicates with people around the world to this day.
Now. The other 985 details. How do you justify believing that the being mentioned above is male? That it wants you to pray? That it loves you? That it’s going to give you an afterlife? That it cares what you do? That it created Adam and Eve? That it wants you to have faith? That it’s going to judge you? That it’s honest! Sweet Lord, how do know that it’s honest???
We’re talking about an omnipotent being. It can do anything it wants. It can make anything happen, or it can fake anything having happened. It can talk to you. And it can lie to you.
Suppose the being wants you to believe that it’s honest. It might tell you it’s honest. Well, that’s not very convincing, anyone can say that they’re honest, just like anyone can say that they love you.
You might point to how it’s said things that are true before. But it’s omnipotent. An omnipotent being can do anything! No possible occurrence could happen to show you that the being was honest, rather than pretending to be honest, because an omnipotent being that was pretending to be honest could make any possible occurrence happen. It could fake any evidence. It could make us certain of its honesty, even if it were dishonest!
Imagine I told you I had a machine that beeped for winning lottery tickets. As a matter of fact, I do. But…you see, it also beeps for losing lottery tickets.
Yes, that makes it useless.
For a test to tell you whether a ticket is a winner versus a loser, it has to give one answer for the winner, and a different answer for the loser. If it gives the same answer either way, then you’re left not knowing anything.
It’s the same with God. If you say that we can know whether this being is honest, or just pretending to be honest, that’s like pointing at my machine and saying “Look, it beeped! Must be a winner!” An all-powerful being pretending to be honest can do anything that an all-powerful honest being could do. They both give the same “answer,” so this test doesn’t help us know anything.
And if we don’t know if this being is honest…
Then we can agree that the being talked to people, and told them to write things down in books. You can prove that these people couldn’t have written what they did without supernatural help. But then we still don’t know if the books are true, because we don’t know if the supernatural being that was talking to these people was telling them true things or not.
Maybe it told them to write down how very perfect and moral and honest and glorious it was so that everyone would say nice things about it and make it feel good about itself.
Maybe it’s just having fun, messing with someone here, trying out a little social experiment there, seeing how people react.
I’m afraid there’s more. I’ve been being very generous. All those arguments above, that prove that the being created the universe, and that it made morals, and that it has those 15 qualities, and is talking to people and performing miracles? They don’t prove that the same being is behind everything.
One argument proves that something supernatural is giving you emotional experiences. But…we don’t know if it’s the same supernatural thing giving you those experiences every time. One being might have caused the first experience, and another might have caused the second, and so on.
And we don’t know if any of those emotion-giving supernatural beings are the same ones that cause miracles. And those miracles could each be being done by a different supernatural thing, too. An argument claims to prove that a transcendent, personal, timeless, spaceless, massless, omnipotent being created the universe. But we don’t know if that same being is also the one talking to people.
We don’t even know if that Creator being is still alive. Or if it ever knew about us. If it even created the universe on purpose.
You can prove that the order in the universe, or the fine-tuning of the universe must have been caused by a supernatural designer. But we don’t know if the same being did both of those things, or if one made the order, and the other the fine-tuning. Or maybe two committees of beings each did one. Maybe a vast number of committees of supernatural beings are behind all the supernatural things we’ve proven.
You can prove that a supernatural being must have established morality, but that doesn’t prove it’s the same being that also causes miracles or created the universe. And we don’t know if the morality-maker is still alive, either.
In short, we can grant all the evidence and arguments on the side of religions. They don’t even have to be refuted . Just ask, “Even if all of these arguments are true, what have we really proven?” (Though, to be honest, not all of those arguments are true).
You’ve proven enough to hold up a belief with 15 details. But not one with a thousand. The other 985 details remain unproven. And the detail about the being being honest is impossible to prove even a little bit.
You’ve provided enough support to hold up a hut, not a stadium. You’ve taken 15 steps up the ladder, not a thousand. You’ve proven that you’re getting a dog for your birthday, but not what kind and what color.
The picture of God is of a man with certain characteristics, a certain history, with certain plans, certain desires, and certain abilities. A detailed belief. It is like an exquisite marble Michaelangelo statue, every detail just right, forming a beautiful image.
But you only have 15 cuts of evidence you can use to shape the marble. It’s not enough to even begin to look anything close to the detailed image of a man you want. Most of the cuts of evidence you need aren’t there.
God belief is like taking 15 steps, and claiming you’ve reached the end of a thousand-mile journey. Like climbing 15 stairs of the Empire State Building and claiming you’ve reached the roof.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The longer the chain, the greater the chance for a link somewhere to be weak.
God belief is like a thousand link chain. Even if you prove that 15 of the links are strong, what makes you think the other 985 are, too?