Saturday, June 16, 2012

Believing in God hurts you

On occasion, I will engage theists in some discussion. On one such occasion, whilst we were minding our own atheisty business, a Christian bardges in and begins with a sililoquoy about how God destroyed all evil on Earth and now the likes of us nonbelievers are taking us down the same path again.

I inquired whether she had any evidence for a God, and any evidence that he destroyed anything - you know, the typical questions.

She obliged, explaining some garbled and misinformed explanation on how the Big Bang theory says everything came from nothing and that it's silly. She continued into a standard cosmological argument. I went through her argument and explained why it doesn't work.

A couple back-and-forths later, never acknowledging that any of her points were refuted, let alone addressed, God Botherer Protocol 4C Gamma kicked in:

Chipmunk sees what you did there
Oh, I see what you did there!
I have to say this to non-believers, it sure is going to be sad if I am right and you are wrong. Because in the end when Christ does return, "every knee shall bend and every tongue shall confess" and if I am right I shall dwell with the Lord, it I am wrong I have nothing to loose. If you are wrong you have everything to lose
Yep, Pascal's Wager - aka, "The Threat".

This argument is shooting fish in a barrel, in terms of problems, and one can look up quite a number of those rebuttals from pretty much any random rock one wishes to overturn. That's not what I'll address here, at least not in full. My interest is in the following assertion:
I am wrong I have nothing to loose(sic)
Well, actually, yes you do.

I am not addressing religion, which tends to carry tenets and dogma, as that's nuking a barrel of fish from orbit. I'm going to address specifically believing that God exists.

Belief in God...

Robs you of the responsibility and motivation to solve your problems yourself.
Robs you of capacity to make informed decisions.
Robs you of the capacity to think critically.
Robs you of time, energy and resources in the one life we're sure you have.

I will now clarify what each point means.

Robs you of the responsibility and motivation to solve your problems yourself.

Many would recognize the phrase, "passing the buck". Common beliefs in a god include that the god is also in control of reality. If one has problems, one asks the god for help.

Typically, this manifests as prayer. One is having financial difficulties, and then prays for the situation to improve. As long as God is watching over these people, their lives will ultimately turn out alright.

Here's the problem. Such action is an abandonment of self responsibility.

Let's say that I detected that someone was occasionally stealing money/valuables from my house. I call the police and ask them to look into it. If the police exist, they can do this, and will likely catch the culprit. If the police don't exist, the theft would continue unabated, because I'll still be waiting around for the non-existent police to do something. If I'm aware that the police don't exist, my first thought would be, "How would I catch this criminal?", and I'll start hatching a plan.

If you believe some other entity is doing things for you, you're less likely to do them for yourself - why would you?

Robs you of capacity to make informed decisions.

Our brains are essentially computers (not the typical sequential calculation type, but a parallel neural net pattern recognition engine, but whatever). Whenever we make a choice about something, some action we wish to take, we decide based on beliefs we have in our minds.

If I believe that my car can't fly, I'm not likely to decide to drive off a cliff.

In order for us to make good accurate decisions, our beliefs need to be accurate. If I believed my car can fly, I'm more likely to drive it off a cliff, even if that belief is actually false.

We don't need to conjure up bizarre examples, though. There are common beliefs that people fall victim to every day. Some Christian doctrines, for example, hold that if you donate money to the church, God will reward you back many fold in other ways ("Prosperity Gospel"). Many people believe this. If it's wrong, then these people are just wasting their money.

For a stark example, I reference you two parents who prayed for their diabetic chlid to get better instead of taking her to the hospital for simple treatments. Because their belief in the power of prayer was inaccurate, their child died.

Our beliefs inform our actions, and in order for us to make accurate decisions, our beliefs must also be accurate. If there's no God, but one believes it anyway, that's going to poison the decision making process, especially when the God concept includes heavy involvement in manipulating reality.

The more prolific your belief of his involvement, the more difficult it is to make cogent decisions.

Robs you of the capacity to think critically.

Skepticism and critical thinking are virtues. They, however, are not automatic skills. They have to be practiced and stringently applied. Similar to laboratory procedures that must be followed meticulously, skepticism and critical thinking can drastically increase the accuracy of one's beliefs.

Most people operate on what they call "common sense", or intuition. It's a fairly fundamental and loose approach to analyzing reality, though unfortunately, aren't terribly accurate.

Common sense would tell us the world is flat, that satellites should fall back to Earth, that injecting the human body with a virus would infect us instead of protecting us. The phrase "the truth is stranger than fiction" is quite apt, and science constantly challenges our common understandings of reality - and correctly so.

We wouldn't know that our intuitions were wrong if we didn't critically think about our assumptions.

Similar to jogging and exercising on a regular basis to keep our physical bodies in shape, we have to regularly practice skepticism and critical thinking in order to be habitual with the practice - to stay sharp.

"You can't know the mind of God", they say, "your intellect can't comprehend this. Just stop thinking about it and accept Jesus into your heart". Most forms of god belief include a heavy dose of anti-intellectualism.

God beliefs contradict what we see in reality, so in order to accept a god, one has to stop critically analyzing it. Then, one falls out of practice critically thinking.

The long term effect is a loss of the capacity to critically think, which severely degrades one's ability to make good wise and accurate decisions.

I'll point out that just because someone happens to believe in a god, doesn't mean they are incapable of critical thinking. It's more of a sliding scale. The more involved your god belief is, the more it hampers you. Many "light Christians" have a very casual belief in a god that doesn't really influence them much, and they don't think frequently.

Robs you of time, energy and resources in the one life we're sure you have.

This one is probably the most straight forward. If I'm right, and this is the only life we have, wasting it is a devastating loss. How many hours have you knelt in prayer or sat in church? How much money have you tithed? How much mileage and gallonage have you put into the car to get to/from church?

If a God exist, and you were supposed to do that, great. If not, then all that was for little to nothing.

It's time and resources you'll never get back.

A belief in God may be casual to many, not to the point where they're investing heavily in church, but it still leads them to make wasting decisions they otherwise might not.

I play video games. I consider it wasted time. Well, it does have entertaining value, if nothing else. Hand-eye coordination and problem solving improvements are included too - but mostly wasted time.

Here's the difference - it's my life and I am knowingly choosing to spend it how I wish. On the other hand, believers have been deceived into wasting their time/resources, in this case. It would be the equivalent to my example if someone had tricked and conned me into buying/playing games, saying it was necessary to get into "video game heaven". I otherwise might not want to play a particular game, but if I'm told I'll be tortured forever, I may "want" to play it to avoid that.

Most theists are theists because they were raised that way, not because they made an informed reasoned decision on how they wish to spend their life, or which religion/culture they wanted to participate.

They were coerced into believing something that was false, which ended up costing them greatly in ways they might not otherwise have chosen, if they weren't essentially brainwashed.

In short, wasting time is great if it's an informed decision, but not if you've been tricked into wasting the only life you have.


I alluded to an objection in #3, about how a belief in God doesn't automatically rob you of these things, and I agree.

If we go back to my video games, me playing Diablo III for 15-30 minutes per day isn't going to ruin my life. It isn't going to ruin relationships or break my bank account. If, however, I started playing it 15 hours a day, every day, at the exclusion of anything else, it would cost me everything - my house, my friends and family, my job, etc.

Sure, that could be said of many things, but we can still recognize that there's a difference between playing video games 8 hours a day and earning a living 8 hours a day, can we not? Because we have an accurate understanding of those two activities, we can assess that one is a colossal waste of time, and the other is not.

If I were mistaken about Diablo III, erroneously believing it to be as worthwhile as working at my job, that false belief will cost me greatly.

When the apologist says that a belief in a god costs you nothing, they are simply mistaken.

It could cost you everything.

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