Death to God: The Cancer of Illusion
There are many atheists who believe that religious faith, while irrational and untrue, is a harmless hobby, a merely personal weakness, or a sentimental comfort. Nothing could be further from the truth. The belief in God is an active cancer in the world. Supporting this belief in any manner adds to that sickness, which is consuming our species.
An example. George Bush believes in God. He prays to God to figure out whether to invade Iraq. And he gets answers. This is rather an incredible thing. A man kneels and prays to God – and gets an answer, even though there is no God.
This can only mean one thing. The man is receiving an answer from the part of himself that thinks it is God. An unbelievably narcissistic, grandiose and megalomaniacal part of himself. He has asked a non-existent Supreme Being for advice, and received it – thus it can only be himself that he is worshipping. And it is perhaps the sickest part of him.
What happens to people when they pray? Since God does not exist, what guidance can they be receiving? Are they not just listening to their own prejudices? Their preconceived notions? Or, to put it another way, blind habit? How many people pray to God for guidance and receive replies which they find morally repugnant? God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and drowned the whole world with the Flood – how many times do Christians pray to God and receive genocidal instructions? And if they did, would they follow them? Of course not. Gentle people tend to receive advice on being nice; violent people tend to receive more aggressive instructions. So what is really going on? Well, personal opinions are being recast as universal, omniscient commandments. Impulses are becoming absolutes. And if a ‘reply’ occurs which is distasteful, then it can be easily chalked up to devilish interference and dismissed.
Imagine a world where surgeons did not go to school, but rather prayed for guidance while cutting people open. Wouldn’t we think that sadistic? How would that be indistinguishable from evil? The metaphor is not misplaced. We live in a world where people vote on complex social decisions using their own narcissism as their ultimate authority. Where parents rule over their children by appealing to sick fantasies in their own minds. Where State leaders make decisions in war, theft and welfare by crushing reality under the wheels of their own megalomania.
The existence of God is not a matter of indifference or tolerance. It cannot be permitted to stand. Personal fantasies are one thing. Making them universal law turns preference into pestilence.
There are three main criteria for truth, and the idea of God fails them all. The first, of course, is empirical observation. The second is logical consistency. How can God punish you for what He knows you will do in advance? Christians justify this by saying that God is ‘beyond time’, and so everything is simultaneous to him, or other such nonsense. Removing a criteria of truth does not constitute proof – or even a defense. If I say I can predict the stock market, but refuse to divulge any of my predictions, am I then to be believed? Or, if I produce my predictions, and they’re wrong, can I then say that in some other dimension they are right?
The third criteria for truth is predictability. In other words, faith should allow the believer to predict God’s actions. Of course it does not, because God works in mysterious ways.
Even the idea that consciousness – an observable effect of matter and energy – can exist in the absence of matter is laughable. Do dreams exist in the absence of a dreamer? Can I pay for my lunch with the concept of money? Of course not! Concepts – ideas – are useless mental creations that only gain value through their strict subservience to material reality. Scientists know this perfectly well. A theory which does not predict or describe the behavior of matter is a useless creation. Thus an effect of matter cannot be said to exist in the absence of matter. A fire produces heat. Heat does not exist without the fire. The brain produces consciousness. Consciousness cannot exist without the brain.
Free will is a cause of constant mental frippery, since some believe that it cannot exist without God. However, free will is really a rather simple concept. There are four main arguments for free will:
1. Empirical evidence. We experience it every day.
2. Anyone who tries to argue against free will is trying to change someone else’s mind. Case closed.
3. People change their behaviour depending on their circumstances. If you give a poor man a million dollars, his behavior will change. However, it is impossible to predict exactly how his behaviour will change. Thus he is choosing to change, but in an unforeseeable manner. This is freedom.
4. Even if everything is foreordained, so what? Even if God knows everything I’m going to do for the rest of my life, I certainly don’t, so His knowledge doesn’t matter to me in the least. If an invisible man is dancing a jig on the far side of the moon, how would that affect any decision I might make?
Christians also love to talk about the mechanistic, ‘fixed-state’ nature of the physical universe, and how material reality opposes the existence of free will. “If we knew all the variables, we could predict everyone’s behaviour.” But even if that were theoretically true, so what? We can never know all of the variables. Valid propositions respect basic realities – and one basic reality is that people have free will. Christians can’t say that material reality is fixed, and so free will must come from God, because the most basic fact of material reality is that it is not fixed – because of free will. A central fact of material reality is that it contains self-generating electrical and chemical activity in the form of the human brain. Of course, we don’t know why. We may never know why. But that doesn’t matter – it’s still a fact that it exists. The science of geology did not invent earthquakes, and explaining earthquakes did not change their nature. Failing to explain them would not cause them to be more or less frequent. And so, even if we never figure out why we are the only self-generating matter in the universe, the fact remains that we are, and no God has to be brought into the equation to explain that.
The concept of God does nothing to explain free will anyway. Imagine a scientist saying: “I can’t figure out the cause of this material phenomenon, so it must have an imaginary, illogical, immaterial cause.” We believe that everything falls down – then we see a helium balloon. Do we imagine that invisible ghosts are lifting it up out of love? Of course not! We examine the balloon and figure it out – and learn a great deal more about physical reality in the process. Taking refuge in fairy tales is no way to advance the species.
It is also important to remember that new claims – especially non-empirical claims – cannot violate all existing knowledge. I have never seen the Great Wall of China, but I have no problem believing that it exists. I’ve seen walls. I’ve been to China. There are photographs. However, if someone said that the Great Wall of China was composed of ice that did not melt above 0 degrees, I would feel entirely comfortable telling them that they were wrong. And if a thousand people told me that, all at once, I would still tell them they were wrong. Billions of people believe the most arrant nonsense. Angels. UFO’s. Horoscopes. Telepathy. A ruler is special. We need the State. In the past, they believed the world sat on top of turtles. That the Earth was the center of the universe. All false. Even now, every time a ‘miracle’ is investigated, frauds, lies and mass delusions are always found to be the case. People lie. They have been taught from day one that fantasies trump reality. They are loyal to those who have lied to them. They love being thought of as special. Not because they are bad. But because they have been mentally crippled by sick and socially-inflicted fantasies.
So when a religious man tells you that you believe in Queen Elizabeth I, even though you have never seen her physically, just reply that her historical existence does not fly in the face of all known empirical and scientific facts. That is how we know the difference between Queen Elizabeth I and Pinocchio.
So – God is logically ridiculous, because He must be an effect of matter – consciousness – which does not involve matter. He exists ‘above time’ – whatever that means, it might as well be ‘below the number two’. He is both ‘all knowing’ and ‘all powerful’ – but if He knows the future, He cannot change it, and so cannot be all ‘powerful’. God is morally squalid, because He murders and damns and condemns and endorses slavery and commands that atheists be put to death – all the while repeating that murder is evil. If murder is evil, then God is evil. If murder is not evil, then God is a hypocrite for commanding mankind to abhor it. If God’s morality is utterly different from ours, then how do we know He is good? It is all the purest nonsense.
Faith in God also destroys civility and empathy among people. A man who believes his own opinions are absolute truths can never be reasoned with. He will never change his mind. He will never submit to evidence, empathy, the implorings of others or any such base material concerns. With him, it is either: submit, fight blindly or walk away. There can be no intimacy. No connection. He is wedded to his fantasies, and cannot be reached.
The idea of God is socially deadly, because people take their own murky impulses as divine commandments, subject to no rational examination or empirical challenges. Since there is no God, all who receive replies from this void are hearing merely the echoes of their own madness.
During a plague, a doctor does no good by pretending that the sick are healthy. He will only aid the spread of the pathogen. As atheists, we must stop sanctioning religious ideas. We must always call this cancer by its name. The world is sick with God-fever. And the time has come for us to cure it, no matter what the cost.
Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.