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.Follow @TimSteppingOut