Dr. Schriner’s Case for Atheism

(I recently made a presentation at a Unitarian Universalist church in which I debated with myself about whether God exists. I’m posting it here, one speech at a time. For details, see my post from September 29. At this point “Pastor Chris” has already spoken in favor of deity, and here are opening remarks by “Dr. Schriner.”)

Thank you for your interest in this vital issue. Today I will show that there are no sound reasons for believing in an invisible cosmos-creator, and that there are good reasons to reject this theory. And my first argument is simple. The concept of God is superfluous. We don’t need it. People used to explain everything they didn’t understand by saying God did it, but this gives us a “god of the gaps.” As the gaps in our knowledge keep getting smaller, there is less and less reason for the God-hypothesis.

But even beyond this obvious point, I want to make a more daring claim. We can tell that there is no personal God by looking at the behavior of those who believe in God.

To see why this is so, I will pose a dilemma: Either a deity communicates with us, or it does not. If it does not communicate with us, we have little reason to believe in God. If a powerful and loving super-person existed, surely it would make itself known to humanity.

But now let’s grasp the other horn of the dilemma, and consider the possibility that God does communicate with us. Pastor Chris certainly based a lot of his case on the testimony of those who say they talk with God. And presumably talking with God would be helpful. Believers would become wiser and better than atheists and others who do not receive God’s messages. But that is not so.

Are Christians, for example, wiser than atheists? Christians say God has revealed hidden truths to them which they could never have discovered by themselves. How exciting! But Christianity has fragmented into over 30,000 denominations, repeatedly splitting about – guess what – disagreements about the hidden truths that God is revealing to them! Rather than hearing clear messages, theists are projecting their own fantasies and prejudices onto a great blank screen in the sky.

What’s worse, these alleged communications do not make believers better persons. Of course some religious people are saintly, but so are some atheists. And church history reveals the wickedness of religious organizations – church leaders burning heretics alive, stirring up witch-hunts, and fomenting “holy” wars. Even today religion fans the flames of inter-group conflict.

You’d  think that those who give their whole lives to religion would become especially good people, but we now know that the priesthood of a prominent and powerful denomination was for many years a haven for sexual predators. I trust that those priests were praying every day, but they kept right on abusing children.

Here’s another shocking discovery. Membership in Christian churches is correlated with “ethno-centrism, authoritarianism, dogmatism, … rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, and … prejudice, especially against Jews and blacks.”* The more traditionally religious you are, the more prejudiced you are likely to be! Stanford chaplain Scotty McLennan offers “evidence that religion is itself a root cause of conflict and violence.”** In giving us a sense of identity, it divides us into in-groups and out-groups, so it intensifies people’s viciousness instead of reforming them. If religious people were really relating to an all-powerful being that wanted to fill their hearts with love, wouldn’t this make them better instead of worse?

If churchgoers as a group show no evidence that their spiritual life is making them better persons, how can we believe their testimony that God is speaking to them? Suppose I tell you that I exercise every day in an invisible gymnasium in my house. Even if I managed to convince you that a gym could be invisible, wouldn’t you be skeptical of my claim if you noticed that I was getting weaker instead of stronger?

So if God doesn’t communicate with us, God probably does not exist. But if people do receive such communications, that should make them wiser and better, and it does not. Closely examining the claim that God communicates actually undermines the case for deity.

How did you respond to Dr. Schriner’s statement? I welcome your feedback.

Roger Christan Schriner

* David Wulff, cited by William R. Murry, Reason and Reverence, p. 118.

** Scotty McLennon, Jesus Was a Liberal, p. 116.

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