This short book (84 pages in the Kindle edition) is another instance of the proverb, “Good things come in small packages.” Borrowing Bertrand Russell’s title, Dr. Carrier gives four main reasons why belief in Christianity makes no sense. While every atheist should take the time and read through the arguments he presents, the real value of this book is that it is the perfect book to give your Christian friends and family members who will almost certainly state at some point, “I don’t understand how anyone could be an atheist given all the evidence for God and Christianity.”
Leaving aside the fact that were there any evidence, any evidence at all, for Christianity’s claims this debate would have been over centuries ago and there would be only one religion, this book presents four arguments that it is incumbent on Christians to answer since they are the ones making the claims. While the arguments are directed towards the Christian religion, they could easily be used in a debate over Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or any faith-based belief.
I’ve often posed the question to people, “What do you consider the greatest discovery in our species’ history?” The answers are all over the board; all of them very good ones. Many point to writing, some go even further back to the discovery of language. Some point to our building skills, clothing, various monetary systems, and such. Some will dive into science where there are a plethora of ideas all seeming to vie for the moniker of “Greatest Discovery”. Darwin’s evolution, Semmelweis’s nascent discovery of antiseptic, the discoveries of anesthesia, vaccines, and the pathogen theory of disease are but a few that could be named. Astronomy would strenuously wave the flag as well, as would Physics and I could devote paragraphs delineating the many history-changing discoveries of both.
I’m sure the reader has thought of a number of things that they might offer as “the greatest”. Let me ask the reader: were the discoveries that came to mind discoveries about the world we live in? Discoveries that changed how we lived, discoveries that lessened the suffering that for thousands of years seemed to be our lot? I humbly suggest an answer that it was a discovery about ourselves, not the world external to us, that was the greatest discovery of all.
“The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.” — Christopher Hitchens
Up until this discovery, certainty was a hallmark of our understanding of the universe and our place in it. We only needed to ask the religious leaders of whatever land we found ourselves in. We can even do it today. Take any religious leader that you know. Are they absolutely certain about what they know? This claimed knowledge and the certainty of it were beyond questioning. In the cases of religions that were in the position of making an offer no one could refuse, questioning this certainty would cost your life. Not giving verbal assent to those certainties would cost you your life. There are places in the world today where this is the state of affairs and in those places where it is not, the religious continually yearn for a return to those days and are actively working on making that happen. The discovery that I would offer rejected that certainty and in its stead claimed to be certain of nothing and to know nothing about the world operated. It was that seminal grasp of our ignorance when looking out at the universe we found ourselves in is what I would claim to be the greatest discovery of our species. It was that intellectual cornerstone upon which all the future great discoveries depended on.
Can we pinpoint in history when this happened? No, I don’t think we can and even if we could point to a specific example, I would suggest that this epiphany has happened many, many times, over many centuries and in many lands. It happens today. It is the driving force behind science and the search for truth. The understanding of how little we know about the universe lights in us a quest to fill that void with knowledge. This knowledge has turned our existence from what Thomas Hobbs called, “nasty, brutish and short” into the lives that we experience today.
More to come….
“While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about.” – Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation
Each day we are bombarded with article after article, news report after news report of the horrors that religion inflicts on the world. From Muslims throwing homosexuals off the tops of buildings, widespread female genital mutilation, and the censorship of ideas in the name of “religious liberty” just to name a few. As egregious as the above examples are, and I could write a number of articles enumerating the barbaric acts of the religious, these all pale into insignificance when one considers the greatest lie of religion: the idea that death is not the end. When Christopher Hitchens talks about religion poisoning everything, the idea that death is not the end is how the poison is introduced. There is a stark contrast between how an atheist and a religious person views this life. As an atheist, I understand fully that the few years I have on this planet will come to an end and so will I. This makes every single moment we have here precious. Contrast that to the religious person who, when faced with an appalling situation will rationalize it and say, “When we get to heaven, all wrongs will be righted.” The most pungent example of this occurred during a discussion panel. Christopher Hitchens had this to say:
“What about Fraulein Friesel in Austria, whose father, unwilling to get out of the way, kept her in a dungeon where she didn’t see daylight for twenty-four years and came down most nights to rape and to sodomize her, often in front of the children… I want you just to take a moment to imagine how she must have begged him. Imagine how she must have pleaded. Imagine for how long. Imagine how she must of prayed everyday, how she must have beseeched Heaven. Imagine, for twenty-four years. And no. No answer at all. Nothing! No-thing! NOTHING! Imagine how those children must have felt. Now, you say, ‘That’s all right that she went through that, because she’ll get a better deal in another life.’ I have to ask you if you can be morally or ethically serious and postulate such a question. No that had to happen, and Heaven did watch it with indifference, because it knows that that score will later on be settled. So it was well worth her going through it – she’ll have a better time next time. I don’t see how you can look anyone – ANYONE- in the face, or live with yourself and say anything so hideously, wickedly immoral as that, or even imply it.”
I hope the reader understands that the response of the religious makes sense only if they believe the lie that death is not the end; that there is a life after we die where all wrongs will be righted. Implied in this idea is the poison that we are morally released from doing anything to alleviate the suffering of others as “god will right all wrongs in the great by and by”. Nothing could be more corrosive to morality than this and the above example shows how effective that poison is.