This letter is for my Christian family and friends, but may be relevant to any other religious person who happens to read it. Due to recent conversations and comments, I think I should talk about a few things and clarify my position.
Hello. I’m a secular humanist. I think all religions are made up by humans, because none of them have produced evidence beyond ancient books and lots of hearsay. None of them have given me any good reason to think their gods are real, and in fact most of them make claims that contradict observable reality.
However, I used to be a completely serious Christian. Contrary to what I’m often told by Christians who are aspiring (and failing) to be mind-readers, I did in fact want to believe in god, and I did not leave because of some bad experience or because I was never saved or because I wanted to sin. The only reason I got where I am now is because I was open-minded and genuinely wanted to know the truth, so that I could more effectively spread the religion I was indoctrinated to propagate. I just wanted to find the true version of Christianity, never imagining that the true version would be fictional.
I really did believe, and my deconversion was something that happened to me despite my desires at the time. Believing something you know to be false isn’t easy, even if you really want to believe it. By attempting to become the best Christian I could be, I set myself on a path straight out of the religion. I learned that the bible is riddled with demonstrably false claims and internal contradictions, and after studying it deeply I couldn’t ignore that the god portrayed therein was the most evil character I’d ever seen. I really had no choice. As the evidence piled up that the bible was untrustworthy, I still believed in a god, and I prayed, trusting that he would set the record straight.
He never did.
If the Christian god exists then he’ll have to answer for his utter failure to communicate clearly (among a lot of other things). I was serious about my religion, and he didn’t bother to provide any of the simple verification I asked for (on the advice of the bible itself, see 1 John 4:1). I did all I could, and he did nothing. The only reasonable conclusions were that either he didn’t exist, or he didn’t care whether or not I believed in him. Then Christians told me I wouldn’t get any evidence if I asked for it, because that would be testing god, which is bad. Yeah right, someone tell Gideon. And god himself, who told someone to test his promises in Malachi 3:10.
I don’t reject the Christian bible because I want to sin, in fact the truth is almost the opposite. I reject it because it is evil and I know better. It endorses slavery, calls for the killing of unbelievers, exalts faith without evidence over knowledge based on evidence, and presents an arbitrary and relative morality that is inconsistent and often ludicrous. I’ve written before about the irredeemable problems with god telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, and how the only right answer in that situation would be to refuse, because child sacrifice is wrong no matter which god demands it. I’ve written about how morality in the real world is inherently subjective, but not relative like it is in the bible. I’ve written about how the gaping flaws in the Old Testament laws make it ridiculous to believe they were inspired by a perfect god. And still Christians act like my moral opposition to the bible is somehow unfounded or irrational, like I should just accept a god who commands evil things and clearly doesn’t understand female anatomy and wants people killed and tortured for having thoughts.
I also hear Pascal’s Wager a lot, which is a false dichotomy that gets you nowhere. There are plenty of contradictory religions with punishment for unbelievers, so you’re right back to the issue of figuring out which one is more reasonable to believe. And with stakes that high you’d want to make sure your confidence is high, which takes evidence and careful testing. Pascal’s Wager takes you in a circle and doesn’t solve anything. Also, the concept of hell it uses is abhorrent and entirely unnecessary, nothing but a tool to enslave indoctrinated kids to the fear of eternal suffering. We call things evil when they cause suffering that isn’t necessary to prevent greater suffering. The infinite suffering in an eternal hell cannot prevent greater suffering because it’s already as extreme as it can get. It serves no purpose, and an omnipotent god could infinitely reduce suffering by erasing those people from existence. Even just allowing such suffering to happen, when he has the power to stop it, would make him infinitely evil.
If an omnipotent and omniscient god created the universe, he would be directly and knowingly responsible for all suffering. And not just in the sense that he knew it was going to happen and created the universe anyway, but there are living things in this world that must suffer in order to continue existing, or to sustain other species. Suffering is a fundamental part of life, necessary, ubiquitous, and without it we would not exist. All complex life was created through suffering. A god who designs his creation to suffer, and indeed to function by suffering, is not a good god.
Furthermore, his designs do not indicate much intelligence on the part of the designer, let alone perfection. The many small bones in our feet, derived from the hand-like feet of tree dwelling apes, are a bad design for walking upright and cause painful injuries. Ostriches have a much longer history of running about on two legs (inherited from the dinosaurs) and they are obviously better adapted to it. The spine has a similar story, since we became upright relatively recently and our backbone has only changed slightly from that of a typical quadruped. Over the longer lifetimes of today, a large majority of people will experience serious pain as the inherent weakness of the design causes problems in the low back and knees. Evolution has done better elsewhere, as you can see in the incredible backbone of the hero shrew. Our eyeballs have some weird quirks, one of which makes a blindness-causing condition more likely. Octopuses do not have this problem.
If a sentient being created all this life without evolution, then he was lazy, he was incompetent, and he worked very hard to dishonestly make it look like evolution happened. Evolution and geology were used to predict a location where fish-amphibian transitional fossils should be, and then tiktaalik with its amphibian-like wrists was found precisely where it was expected. Numerous other transitional fossils have been found for all sorts of animals. Whales and snakes still have remnants of a pelvis and legs. Chickens and baleen whales have no teeth, but they still have the gene for tooth enamel. Chicken embryos can be grown with reptilian snouts and tails by turning off the genes that develop the beak and bird tail. Every line of evidence converges beautifully on the answer, and none of it fits creationism. Our genomes read like a history of our evolution, showing us some mutations shared among closely related species, and some that are unique. It shows us that we couldn’t possibly be descended from just one breeding pair.
I have another article coming up soon that will have more detail about the many features of life on earth that are explained perfectly by evolution, but would make an intelligent designer look rather unintelligent and deceptive.
If you want me to join your religion, prayer is as useless as it has always been. Appeals to emotion are useless. Dishonest and fallacious arguments that attempt to establish truth without evidence are useless (which rules out every apologetics book I’ve seen). Your bible is the claim, not the evidence, so bible verses are useless. At this point, knowing what I do about reality, I see only two possible ways to get me back into Christianity.
- I’m pulled out of the matrix into a completely different reality where god’s presence is actually observable and testable and real, and the real bible is actually miraculously clear and understandable, and Christianity is actually a unified force for good like Jesus thought it should be to prove his legitimacy to the world.
- Someone manages to provide conclusive evidence that Jesus was really a god, but he’s actually an outgunned underdog fighting against big bad Satan, who controls the world and inspired the writing of a confusing and misleading book called the bible to divide people and keep them from finding the truth. And Jesus has been lying low for a couple millennia while he builds up an army of human ghosts to take on the Dark Side in an epic final battle for the universe. Why is this not your mythology? Underdogs are far more relatable than viciously cruel and jealous tyrants who demand the death of innocents to forgive the guilty.
I can’t think of any other distinctive scenarios that are compatible with the reality I’ve observed and experienced my whole life. In the world I’m familiar with, the only disembodied voices in my head are from my own subconscious mind, which has provided me with several imaginary friends over the years, including a version of the Christian god. In the world I’m familiar with, the bible is immoral, unoriginal, inconsistent, and a reflection of little but the primitive imaginations of tribal patriarchs. God is a meme that each believer customizes to their own needs and desires.
When you realize that essentially nothing noteworthy in the bible was new or uniquely useful even at the time it was written, that numerous other “false religions” beat the bible to almost every piece of moral advice it contains that is actually worthwhile, it’s impossible to see it as anything special. It’s just another false religion, sharing every basic defining feature with every other man-made religion in history. Even if you demonstrated that there is a god, you’d have to do a lot more to demonstrate that it’s the Christian god, and then I’d still think he’s evil.
You exalt faith, as if it’s good to act on the lack of knowledge, as if it’s good to assume a conclusion without evidence. But you could use faith to believe in anything. It can’t give me a reason to choose one religion over all others. Yahweh will be angry if I don’t have faith in him? Well, won’t Allah also be angry if I don’t have faith in him? And what reason is there to be angry at people for not thinking a deity is real when they haven’t been given clear evidence that he is? That’s literally abusive behavior, blaming the powerless for lacking something that is unavailable to them.
Clear evidence is all that can resolve this standoff between the world’s religions. I don’t just want to believe, I want to know, because I care about truth. I see no reason to invest anything in stories that are as meaningful to my life as literal bullshit. If you’ve constructed a more reasonable religion out of your favorite interpretation of selected bible verses, then good for you. I can respect anyone who values goodness and truth enough not to let religious traditions hijack their morality.
But if your goal is to reconvert me to a religion with an eternal hell, if you think evolution is false, if you think the earth is very young, if you are willing to say slavery and murdering unbelievers are morally good things in order to defend your evil god, then you have renounced the use of facts and reason and have nothing to offer me but fear and ignorance.
I’ve been there; I know what it’s like. I’m not going back. So keep your silly claims to yourself until you find some evidence to back them up.
“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” – Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp (30 July 1816)