My Alternative Hypothesis On Religion

I think it’s a reasonable statement that the general position of atheists is that they reject claims made by theists; atheists make no claim in their rejection of the theist’s claim, and therefore, they own no burden of proof to demonstrate their claims.  To put it another way, the burden of proof is on a person making a claim that something exists…not on the person rejecting the claim that something exists.

That seems reasonable to me, even though I think it’s a bit of a cop-out.  I think it’s easy to get lost in logical misdirection when talking about asserting whether a claim is true or false.  Atheists indeed do make claims, but there’s a bigger point and a bigger underlying philosophy that doesn’t lend itself well to easy dialog.  Below is a list of the claims that I feel are easily demonstrable and make it clear why an atheist might be skeptical of the God claim.

1.  We belong to a species that evolved from more primitive species over the course of many millions of years.  Over the course of that evolution, we developed behavioral and social patterns that gave rise to a ubiquitous inclination to provide supernatural explanations for complicated physical and natural phenomena.  These behavioral and social patterns include superstition, hyperbole, social hierarchy, self-reflection, emotional turbulence, and pattern seeking.

2.  Religious institutions, regardless of how formalized they are, are ubiquitous across cultures because they cater to inherent desires of humanity, including socialization, a sense of belonging, and simple explanations of natural phenomena, regardless of whether they are true or not.  They also tend to provide psychological support for a number of psychologically distressful phenomena, including death and disease.

3.  The inclination to invoke supernatural explanations is reinforced by a variety of social and religious institutions, and human beings have historically gotten very little pushback when they have appealed to the supernatural, particularly when these explanations agreed with preconceived notions of God or gods.

4.  Many of the existential questions to which human beings lacked explanations during the rise of modern theisms have now been answered.  These questions include:  How did we get here?  Why are we here?  Why does the sun rise?  Why does the weather change?  Why do people I care about die?  Why do babies die?  Why is there suffering?

These questions are answered in our understanding of various fields including medicine, biology, evolutionary biology, germ theory of disease, chemistry, physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, meteorology, and sound deductive logic.

5.  Answers and explanations provided in various religions, specifically Christianity, tend to be very simplistic, and are appealing to people who are poor and uneducated.  This would have been particularly true for people who could not read, which would have represented the overwhelming majority of Christians up until the late-1800s.  Subsequent discoveries that reveal religion’s profound failures to accurately explain natural phenomena have given rise to the rejection of its claims.  The writing was on the proverbial wall beginning in the 1400s, after western Europe was reintroduced to Aristotle and other Greek philosophers.   In 1633, Galileo Galilei was put on house arrest for the rest of his life for heresy because of his assertion that the Earth rotates and revolves around the sun.  Other Renaissance and Enlightenment figures who, sometimes inadvertently, introduced skepticism towards supernatural explanations include Leonardo da Vinci, Giordano Bruno, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Baruch Spinoza.  Interestingly, the amount of Catholic Church pushback increased around the same time as natural understanding of the world began to increase.  This is demonstrated by examples such as the Spanish inquisition, which began in 1478, and witch burnings, which killed tens-of-thousands of people across multiple contents over the course of several hundred years, from 1450-1750.

6.  There are natural phenomenon that are not well-explained by science, including events that gave rise to the big bang, and abiogenesis.  Our lack of clarity about these specific phenomena, along with a fiercely anti-intellectual population who reject well-supported scientific claims, are the engine of perpetuity for modern religions.

These supporting facts and claims support my hypothesis that religion is man-made, and is therefore an instrument people use to explain the world.  There are a lot of reasons why religion fits well into human models of the world, and this explains why people are slow to let go of those ideas, even in the presence of better explanations for the phenomena that gave rise to religion in the first place.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

11 thoughts on “My Alternative Hypothesis On Religion”

  1. Atheism is the belief that everything just happened all by itself because that is the inescapable conclusion of God, the Creator, not existing.

    Since that is a positive claim, atheists need to be able to explain, with scientific evidence, that everything is able to just happen all by itself.

    Additionally, the claim that nature would evolve a creature that believed in the supernatural is not born out by science.

    No other creature besides man believes in God or practices religion. That means that somehow, man is fundamentally different from every creature on the face of the earth.

    And that fact alone, pokes a huge hole in the claim that man’s religious tendencies are a product of evolution.

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    1. I appreciate your comment! Congratulations – you’re my first commenter 🙂

      I think you have to be careful to paint such a broad brush. My personal view RE: “the belief that everything just happened all by itself because that is the inescapable conclusion of God, the Creator, not existing” is that we simply don’t know. But even if you invoke the supernatural to argue that the beginning of life and the universe must have had “a primary cause”, that only gets you to deism.

      Since atheism is the rejection of theism (a God who reveals himself via ways described in *a* bible/religious text), I think it’s probably philosophically closer to deism than Christianity is.

      In my process of deconversion, I found myself arriving at Deism (or maybe pantheism), and still retaining some warm-and-fuzzies about it. I considered myself a deist until quite recently. But I think Occam’s razor tends to blow a hole in deism for a variety of reasons, and ultimately, the stretch that Deism makes is invoking the supernatural instead of saying what it should say, which is “I don’t know”.

      I don’t have an explanation for abiogenesis or for what caused the big bang, but I don’t think that gives us license to make stuff up, especially when we haven’t observed what we claim must exist (God)

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      1. SOM – There have been a lot of non-Christian religions over the millenia that have claimed to have had personal revelation from God, and formal rules for behavior that completely contradict one another. So which groups were lying?

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  2. I’m an atheist. Or, at least, an agnostic. And I agree with everything you said, except one thing: the question “what is our purpose for being here?” has categorically not been answered by science. And probably never will. And hence I think religion will probably always be around (sigh!)

    As for what you said, silenceofmind, the fact that man is the only creature that practices religion certainly does not “poke a huge hole” in the claim that evolution got us there. There are tonnes of things that man does that other creatures do not. And the reason for all of them is down to how intelligent man is compared to everything else, which can be explained by evolution. Easy.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment!

      RE: “what is our purpose for being here?”, I guess what I was getting at is that I don’t really believe that humans have a special place in the universe’s hierarchy. We’re here because H. Erectus was here before us, and H. Habilis was here before them, and the Australopithecines were here before that. So, ultimately, I’m happy enough just to exist. I’m not looking for a grand reason, and I think that’s a more practical and pragmatic approach than looking to a deity to reinforce our purpose. In fact, I think it leads to immorality (in the secular sense) to rely on God for our existence, because it ultimately and inevitably gives us license to not treat each other well.

      I agree that some questions might never be fully answered, but then again, many questions (ie evolution) are well-answered and people still don’t believe them, and instead look to religion and the bible for their explanation for creation.

      Thanks again!

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      1. Those questions that seem unanswered or unanswerable might already be answered. Why are we here? Accident. What is our purpose? Reproduce. These are answers though they may not satisify all who question. Science leads us to those answers even if it cannot conclude that they are correct. In the absence of any other values these answers remain valid. The consensus then is that they are true until further information is found. Credible evidence for the existence of a god would be the kind of further information needed to change the consensus but as always it has not yet been found. The arguments for theism are old and broken, no new arguments are being offered. Enough time is all it takes to say truthfully that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

        The notion that no other answer for purpose or meaning has been offered says quite a bit. In all that humans can imagine the only ‘answers’ have been magic with no evidence. The favored answer is magic which is immune to scientific enquiry. This sounds a lot like grade-school role playing games. The answer to magical thinking is education – something that believers in general are afraid of. The real answers all require education to understand so they will stick with their magic no matter the cost.

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      2. Thanks for your comment! I try to think about why religion is so prevalent across cultures, and I think the answer is because it makes people feel better about what a tough world it is that we live in. Imagine small, disjointed communities where there is no science or medicine, and people are lucky to live to 35 or 40 years old. The compelling evidence in a situation like that is that we are alone, we are not special, and death is about the best reward we can get for such a painful and turbulent life. It’s really no wonder people imagined a father figure who can make it all better…

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