Arguments against religion

Any child will be capable of designing and implementing a better, more complex, more beautiful, and also far more moral biosphere than the Earth’s, within a video game – perhaps by placing it in such a state by fiat, or perhaps by inventing fictional laws of physics that are more conducive to enlightenments than the actual laws. At that point, a supposed designer of our biosphere will seem not only morally deficient, but intellectually unremarkable. And the latter attribute is not so easy to brush aside. Religions will no longer want to claim the design of the biosphere as one of the achievements of their deities, just as today they no longer bother to claim thunder.

There are examples of non-functional design. For instance, most animals have a gene for synthesizing vitamin C, but in primates, including humans, though that gene is recognizably present, it is faulty: it does not do anything. This is very difficult to account for except as a vestigial feature that primates have inherited from non-primate ancestors.

The evidence of apparent design for a purpose is not only that the parts all serve that purpose, but that if they were slightly altered they would serve it less well, or not at all.

  • As an example, if you were to design something, you would of course construct that object of components that enhance the value of that object in some way. A designer would not add a component to an object that lowers the value of it

Evolution can even favour genes that are not just suboptimal, but wholly harmful to the species and all its individuals. A famous example is the peacock’s large, colourful tail, which is believed to diminish the bird's viability by making it harder to evade predators, and to have no useful function at all.

The existence of an unsolved problem in physics is no more evidence for a supernatural explanation than the existence of an unsolved crime is evidence that a ghost committed it.

Debating religion

"Beliefs inform actions. We all share the same planet. That's why magical thinking is dangerous for everyone."

"Why are you an atheist" is not the right question to ask. Imagine someone claims that they have garden gnomes in their backyard. They make the grass grow if you say kind words to them before dinner. That person also points to a book that says so. Who would you say has the explaining to do, the person who claims there are garden gnomes or the person who makes no such claim?

  • ask them "how would you put your level of belief on a scale of 1 - 10?"
    • this is a good question to start the conversation, and provide follow up questions to the response they give you: "what makes it only a 9 and not a 10?" "what gives you the confidence that it is a 10/10?".
  • the purpose of persuasion when it comes to religion is not to convince, but to place a peddle in the other person's shoe— something they can begin to notice and may prompt them to think about and consider.
  • ask them to define faith
    • often religious people will claim that athetists too will use faith. Instead of refuting it, just ask how they define faith. Their definition of it doesn't matter— what matters is "is it reliable to support the belief?"
    • ask them "is faith a reliable way to know that God exists if people of other religions use faith to arrive at wildly different conclusions?"
  • always probe for a deeper belief that is propping up other beliefs
    • your views against pornography may stem from your values as a Christian. Therefore debating pornography is fruitless.

Bad/Good Responses to rationale of God's existence

imagine each "proof" the person gives as a building block that reinforced their belief. When we are debating religion, too often we focus on refuting those building blocks

  • ex. below each "proof" is the first sentence
  • "peel back, not pile on"
  • The point of these questions is to keep focus on the "proof" they just gave, and shake their confidence in it. Note that their "proof" is normally not the sole reason they believe in God, so they are open to conceding this point as 100% true.
  1. "I survived a serious rollover accident"
    • bad: "the survival rates of rollover victims are quite high"
    • good: "if we were to look at the statistics of rollover accidents, and we discovered to your satisfaction that survival of rollovers is actually quite high, would you still believe in God?"
  2. "The human eye is so complex, it must have been designed"
    • bad: "the complexity of the eye is due to evolution"
    • good: "if we could demonstrate to your satisfaction the process that an eye went through to evolve, would you still believe in God?"
  3. "God exists because the belief was fed to me as a child"
    • has everything that you've been taught turned out to be true?

Responding to typical arguments for God

The extremely low probability of humanity's existence proves we came from God

  • This is the survivorship bias. Take Casanova, by all accounts a major risk taker. Looking back at his story, it would seem he defied odds and had some sort of built-in well of luck that he could always draw from to persevere. The problem with this narrative is that it ignores all of the risk-loving individuals that didn't live to tell the tale. Casanova was simply lucky that he survived, and the fact that he did causes us to attribute that fact to a more satisfying response (like he was divinely chosen). This is the same bias that we succumb to when we use this logic to reason that "we must have divine origins, since the odds of us being here are so low".
    • this is called the self-sampling assumption— our presence in the sample skews how we see these odds being calculated.
    • for the 1/10000 that happened to survive, they will reason "hey, otherwise the odds would be too low to get here just by luck". Yet, for someone who observes all 10000, the odds of finding just one survivor aren't so low: there are many adventurers, and one is bound to win the lottery ticket


  • "extraordinary claims requre extraordinary proof" —Carl Sagan
  • "emancipate yourself from the idea of a celestial dictatorship, and you've taken the first step toward becoming free" —Christopher Hitchens
  • "Religion is true according to the common man; false according to the wise; and useful according to those desiring power."

UE Resources

  • A Manual for Creating Atheists— a book that influenced Street Epistemology
  • Letting go of God - Julia Sweeney
    • a highly recommended thing to watch for people making the transition from religion to atheism

E Resources