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Why I Am Not A Christian

Dan Ferrisi

In roughly descending order of importance, I endeavor to explain the principal reasons why I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because god is absent or, at the least, silent. In essence, those of the Christian faith proclaim that our universe, and all that is part of it, is in the hands of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator deity who takes a personal interest in human affairs. It is completely inexplicable, then, that this creator deity would be entirely undetectable and utterly absent from day-to-day life. If one reads the Bible, one finds an active, present, immediate god; moreover, one finds copious miracles and prodigies that are unlike anything with which we are familiar.

David Hume writes:

It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations ... When we peruse the first histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine ourselves transported into some new world; where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations in a different manner, from what it does at present. Battles, revolutions, pestilence, famine and death, are never the effect of those natural causes, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we soon learn, that there is nothing mysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvelous ...

Hume rightly adds, "It is strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that such prodigious events never happen in our days."[1]

Why would a god who, in barbarous and ignorant times, was so clear, present and active suddenly, upon the emergence of a scientific understanding of the natural order, become a silent, inert sluggard whose presence could only be discerned in the most obscure, skepticism-baiting ways? Where are the miracles and prodigies for our scientific age? Richard Carrier writes:

For example, only those who believe in the true Christian Gospel [could] be granted ... supernatural powers that could be confirmed by science; only true Christian Bibles [could] be indestructible, unalterable, and self-translating; and [a] Divine Voice [could] consistently convey to everyone the will and desires of the Christian message alone.[2]

Because god, if existent, is a do-nothing layabout, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because the Bible, despite the fact it is purported to be inspired by god himself, wallows in pitiable prescientific primitivism and yawn-inducing mundanity. Certainly, considering its divine inspiration, one might expect the Bible to be full of dazzlingly specific information of which no one had been previously aware. Considering its divine inspiration, one might expect the pinnacle of all intellectual achievement. This is not so. Sam Harris writes, "[The Bible] does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century."[3] There is nothing about the actual age or size of our universe. There is nothing about the germ theory of disease. Earth's vast geography is shrunk down to claustrophobically local levels. It is not even clear from the Bible whether the creator of our universe is aware of Australia. The Bible is not a product of divine inspiration but, rather, lamentable ancient ignorance.

How, Christopher Hitchens asks, can Genesis be proven the mundane work of ignorant humans in merely a paragraph? He writes:

Because man is given "dominion" over all beasts, fowl and fish. But no dinosaurs or plesiosaurs or pterodactyls are specified, because the authors did not know of their existence, let alone of their supposedly special and immediate creation. Nor are any marsupials mentioned, because Australia—the next candidate after Mesoamerica for a new "Eden"—was not on any known map. Most important, in Genesis man is not awarded dominion over germs and bacteria because the existence of these necessary yet dangerous fellow creatures was not known or understood. And if it had been known or understood, it would at once have become apparent that these forms of life had "dominion" over us, and would continue to enjoy it uncontested until the priests had been elbowed aside and medical research at last given an opportunity.[4]

Because the Bible's mundanity belies the claim of divine inspiration, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because worship of Yahweh as the singular creator deity did not arise independently among numerous geographically isolated populations. Any delusional belief system, if designed cleverly enough, has the potential to "catch fire," as it were, and spread pervasively throughout our species. Much less likely, however, would be for the same delusional belief system to arise independently in many different places. Imagine if, around 2000 BCE, worship of Yahweh had arisen, nearly simultaneously, in the Middle East, China, the Americas and central Africa. What would the odds have been of an identical god character—with distinctive quirks, commandments, preferences and fetishes—having been invented by completely different populations? They seem infinitesimal. However, there is no evidence of Yahweh-worship arising independently. However spiritual they might previously have been, primitive populations began to worship Yahweh specifically when believers in Yahweh arrived at their shores.

Christopher Hitchens writes:

One recalls the question that was asked by the Chinese when the first Christian missionaries made their appearance. If god has revealed himself, how is it that he has allowed so many centuries to elapse before informing the Chinese?[5]

Whatever deities might have haunted Chinese history, none was distinguishably Yahweh. Because god did not independently reveal himself to several geographically isolated populations, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because the Bible contains palpably nonsensical claims. Matthew attests to a horde of zombies roaming about Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53). Lot's luckless wife was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). People attain impossible ages: Adam, 930 years; Noah, 950 years; Abraham, 175 years; Sarah, 127 years (less ludicrous, but still). Jesus is alleged to have been born by what can only be presumed to be parthenogenesis, despite the fact that, as Christopher Hitchens astutely notes, "... parthenogenesis is not possible for human mammals."[6]

When confronted with flagrant nonsense, one has no obligation to proffer any counterargument. As David Hume writes, for a just reasoner, "a miracle, supported by any human testimony, [is] more properly a subject of derision than of argument."[7] Because the Bible testifies to self-evidently ludicrous claims, which justly demand derision, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because, though archaeological evidence could have substantiated the biblical narrative, it does not. Christopher Hitchens writes:

... much more extensive and objective work was undertaken, presented most notably by Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and his colleague Neil Asher Silberman. These men regard the "Hebrew Bible" or Pentateuch as beautiful, and the story of modern Israel as an all-around inspiration, in which respects I humbly beg to differ. But their conclusion is final, and the more creditable for asserting evidence over self-interest. There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert (let alone for the incredible four-decade length of time mentioned in the Pentateuch), and no dramatic conquest of the Promised Land. It was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date. No Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode either, even in passing, and Egypt was the garrison power in Canaan as well as the Nilotic region at all the material times. Indeed, much of the evidence is the other way. Archaeology does confirm the presence of Jewish communities in Palestine from many thousands of years ago (this can be deduced, among other things, from the absence of those pig bones in the middens and dumps), and it does show that there was a "kingdom of David," albeit rather a modest one, but all the Mosaic myths can be safely and easily discarded.[8]

Because archaeological evidence contradicts biblical claims and shows them to be false, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because prayer is useless and, in its very design, self-deluding. Prayer has been tested in a scientific manner, and failed. The Harvard Medical School Office of Public Affairs issued a news release entitled "Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery" on March 31, 2006. The paper appears in the April issue of American Heart Journal.[9] The release reads:

Researchers in the Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), the largest study to examine the effects of intercessory prayer—prayer provided by others—evaluated the impact of such prayer on patients recovering from coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.

The STEP team, composed of investigators at six academic medical centers, including Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts; Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida; Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C; and the Mind/Body Medical Institute, found that intercessory prayer had no effect on recovery from surgery without complications. The study also found that patients who knew they were receiving intercessory prayer fared worse. [Emphasis mine.]

Prayer could have evidence value in proving Christianity correct. If prayer resulted in amputees' missing limbs growing back, it would be hard to dispute its efficacy. As things actually are, when people indulge in the folly of prayer, they almost always pray for things that might happen anyway. A husband prays that his wife gets a lucrative job. A mother prays that her son, trapped underground in a mine, gets out safely. Parents-to-be pray that their son is healthy. Grandchildren pray that their grandfather beats his cancer. By contrast, few widows pray that their dead husbands reanimate and come back home. Even though god is supposed to be omnipotent, people have the good sense not to pray for things that are impossible; deep in the subconscious, people very much want to maintain the comforting illusion of prayer's usefulness. And that is why amputees do not pray for limbs to grow back. It is also why, if they did pray, and their limbs did regrow, there would be evidence value. Because prayer is ineffective and self-deluding, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because Darwinian evolution by natural selection is true, but any clear-eyed reading of the Bible reveals the text (and not merely Genesis, but also statements by Jesus and Paul) is fundamentally incompatible with common descent. Darwinian evolution reveals that various orders of animal roamed the planet (and, indeed, went extinct) before other orders of animal even came to be. Biblical-literalist Christians argue that all orders of animal were created at about the same time; that is, humans and dinosaurs coexisted. Despite mighty efforts, such Christians have been completely unsuccessful in falsifying Darwin's brilliant theory, although, theoretically, the geologic strata present a falsification opportunity. A biblical-literalist Christian could find horse fossils in the Silurian (among multitudinous trilobites). Alternatively, as requested by the late J. B. S. Haldane, a Christian could discover fossil rabbits in the Precambrian. Of course, though, as Jerry A. Coyne writes, "Needless to say, no Precambrian rabbits, or any other anachronistic fossils, have ever been found."[10]

Because Darwinian evolution by natural selection is true, whereas the biblical creation narrative is false, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because it is a solipsistic religion that places humans at our universe's center. There are very possibly 130 billion galaxies in our universe. A dwarf galaxy can be populated with as few as 10 million stars. Spiral galaxies—much more massive than dwarf galaxies—can contain hundreds of billions of stars. The Andromeda galaxy, by itself, has about a trillion stars. The Sun is one star. We are on one planet that orbits it.

Michael Shermer writes:

What science tells us is that we are but one among hundreds of millions of species that evolved over the course of three-and-a-half billion years on one tiny planet among many orbiting an ordinary star, itself one of possibly billions of solar systems in an ordinary galaxy that contains hundreds of billions of stars, itself located in a cluster of galaxies not so different from millions of other galaxy clusters, themselves whirling away from one another in an expanding cosmic bubble universe that very possibly is only one among a near infinite number of bubble universes. Is it really possible that this entire cosmological multiverse was designed and exists for one tiny subgroup of a single species on one planet in a lone galaxy in that solitary bubble universe? It seems unlikely.[11]

Remember, too, human evolutionary history on our planet. Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old. By contrast, Homo sapiens, in more modern forms, first made their appearance about 195,000 years ago. This, of course, means humanlike creatures have been around less than one-hundredth of one percent of Earth's natural history. And yet, for Christians, humans are central not only to Earth, but to our unimaginably vast universe. We, essentially, are what all of this is "for." Talk about a prodigal god...

When one considers the size and age of our universe—and the inescapable fact of our ultimate cosmic insignificance—Christianity seems yet sillier for its stern moral proscriptions. Our universe has been in existence for between 13.5 and 14 billion years. Its enormity exceeds the mind's ability to conceive properly. And, yet, the creator of this natural reality—the artist behind cosmic beauty and wonder—is perturbed, is rather miffed, about what humans on Earth are doing while naked?

Because Christianity ludicrously inflates humanity's importance and centrality, both to Earth and to our universe, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because the god of Christianity is too statistically improbable. Some Christians accept the truth of Darwinian evolution by natural selection (despite common descent's incompatibility with the Bible), but believe god must be invoked to explain the appearance of that first life form, on which Darwinian evolution acted. That is, to these people, god is not required to explain biodiversity—Darwinian evolution does that—but, rather, is required to explain the origin of simple life. The problem with this is one of simplicity versus extravagance. In order to explain the appearance of monocellular life ... we must appeal to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator deity who has the ability to monitor the thoughts, deeds and desires of every human who has ever existed while, simultaneously, listening to billions of prayers and, if so moved, answering them (while also, of course, reigning over heaven)?

Appealing to a god is laughably extravagant as an explanation for monocellular life and, indeed, completely unhelpful when seeking an explanation for our universe. Richard Dawkins writes:

Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable—and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.

To midwife such emergence is the singular achievement of Darwinian evolution. It starts with primeval simplicity and fosters, by slow, explicable degrees, the emergence of complexity: seemingly limitless complexity—certainly up to our human level of complexity and very probably way beyond. There may be worlds on which superhuman life thrives, superhuman to a level that our imaginations cannot grasp. But superhuman does not mean supernatural. Darwinian evolution is the only process we know that is ultimately capable of generating anything as complicated as creative intelligences. Once it has done so, of course, those intelligences can create other complex things: works of art and music, advanced technology, computers, the Internet and who knows what in the future? Darwinian evolution may not be the only such generative process in the universe. There may be other "cranes" (Daniel Dennett's term, which he opposes to "skyhooks") that we have not yet discovered or imagined. But, however wonderful and however different from Darwinian evolution those putative cranes may be, they cannot be magic. They will share with Darwinian evolution the facility to raise up complexity, as an emergent property, out of simplicity, while never violating natural law.[12]

Because god is too statistically improbable, and serves as no kind of explanation for either monocellular life or our universe, I am not a Christian.

I am not a Christian because religion all too often tends to be an accident of geography. Frequently, I pose a question to my theist friends who still follow the religion into which their parents indoctrinated them: Do you feel fortunate to have been born into the correct religion? Researchers have concluded that nineteen major world religious groupings exist on this planet. Those groupings are subdivided into roughly 10,000 distinct religions (which is not to mention all the belief systems that have gone extinct over the millennia). Leaf through the list of religions, and ponder just how different your life would have been had a different superstition been inculcated into you during your youth.

I would suggest that if a devout Christian, who was born in Topeka, Kansas, had instead been born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he would have been a devout Muslim. If Osama bin Laden, who is a devout Muslim, had instead been born in Athens, Alabama, he would have been a devout Christian. Religion spreads, passively, by the coincidental geography of one's place of birth and, actively, by parents' talent for inculcating their defenseless, trusting offspring. Some people seemingly have a predisposition to religious zeal; the religion to which they wed themselves has nothing to do with evidence and everything to do with inculcative history. The Christian apologetics that utterly convince a person born in Hendersonville, Tennessee, would be infidelic venom to that very person had he instead been born in Tehran, Iran.

Because a fundamentalist Christian, in an alternate reality, would be just another mujahid—and for all the other reasons I have just explicated—I am not a Christian.

Works Cited

[1] Hume, David. "Of Miracles" (1748). LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1985.

[2] Carrier, Richard. "Why I Am Not a Christian." The Secular Web Library. Internet Infidels, 2006.

[3] Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Knopf, 2006.

[4] Hitchens, Christopher. god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Warner Twelve, 2007.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hume, op. cit.

[8] Hitchens, op. cit.

[9] Harvard Medical School Office of Public Affairs. "Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery." 31 Mar. 2006.

[10] Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 2009.

[11] Shermer, Michael. Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design. New York: Times Books, 2006.

[12] Dawkins, Richard. "Man vs. God." The Wall Street Journal 12 Sept. 2009.


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Published:
  2009-12-12

Categories:
  Atheism, Science

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