Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why I Don't Believe in God

Originally written on: December 10, 2014

Someone I know asked me why I don't believe in God. This was my response:

Belief in God is a very intricate web of beliefs that's often taught and reinforced in childhood. Like billions of people, I was raised to believe that there's a god who created everything, loves me, watches everything I do, hears my thoughts, answers my prayers, and sent his son to die for my sins. When I was around 15 I learned more about the evangelical message of sin, repentance, and salvation. I accepted Jesus as savior, was baptized, and became very passionate about my beliefs. I even had thoughts of maybe being a pastor or missionary one day because I was learning Spanish and respected the pastors I'd met during that time.

Yet, I had doubts and questions that were never met with satisfying answers. For example, a Muslim just like me who believed he was right and lived according to the Qur'an would go to Hell if he died without accepting Jesus. The concept of Hell and the notion that so many people would go there didn't make sense if a loving god was behind it all.

At least some kinds of Christians are taught that doubt or negative thoughts toward the Bible are Satan trying to deceive them. There's the fear of letting him in or going to Hell, so many believers seem very uncomfortable questioning their beliefs or the Bible. I began to care whether or not my beliefs are true and found the courage to question everything. After all, if Christianity is true, then people of other religions are supposed to know somehow that they're wrong and that another specific set of beliefs is true. There are over 4,200 religious views in the world, and many if not most people seem to have the same or similar beliefs as their parents; no matter what's true, most people die believing in the wrong thing. How can one truly search for the ultimate truth without really considering the possibility that their own beliefs could be wrong?

After learning about the historical Jesus and how the Bible was written, honestly seeking truth without telling anyone, and investigating other points of view, over time I found less reason to believe and one day realized that I no longer did. I had no answers to the big questions: Why am I here? How am I here? What happens after death? It was uncomfortable not knowing as well as not having the feeling that everything's under control and that I'll spend eternal paradise with loved ones. However, what is true mattered more to me than what I wanted to be true. One of the questions I began to explore is one that I now word as "Why doesn't God answer prayers or perform miracles that require his existence?" He'll apparently help people find their car keys and recover from a disease but not levitate a falling school bus or regrow an amputee's limbs.

It wasn't until later that I learned that there are evidence-based explanations for many of these questions. I began to think critically about everything and demand extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims without putting religion in a special box that can't be questioned. I see mankind's history of inventing gods to explain the unknown — gods that seem to predate Christianity and Judaism. I see the patterns of one creation myth after another. People of one religion tend to think all other religions are silly or absurd but have no problem with things like a talking snake and donkey, a floating ark, weeds existing because a dirt man and a rib woman ate a piece of fruit when commanded not to, and so on.

I'm also appalled at what some churches seem to do to create and reinforce belief in God: target children as young as possible before they can think on their own or question what they're told; instill a fear of questioning or disbelief; orchestrate services that tug on the strings of guilt, fear, and relief; undermine opposing views, especially evolution, modern cosmology (not including Catholicism, since it accepts both as far as I know), and sometimes even science as a whole; influence politics and suggest political candidates; and encourage asking not if the Bible is true but rather how it's true.

I've listened to many debates and actually listen to what both sides have to say. I've heard multiple debates with William Lane Craig, who I admit is a powerhouse and one of the best debaters I've ever listened to. Other debates have included Ken Ham, Ray Comfort, C. S. Lewis, Frank Turek, and other pastors, ministers, theologians, and apologists. Sometimes they make very good points. I'll even admit that I would prefer to exist in some way after death, even as a wandering ghost if not in eternal paradise. Yet, I don't find the evidence presented logically sound or convincing since it often boils down to a logical fallacy called god of the gaps. I'm also aware of the psychology involved such as the confirmation bias.

I'll add that I'm skeptical about any extraordinary claims, not only religious ones. I don't understand how scientists arrived at the conclusion that the Big Bang started with the universe smaller than the size of an atom, so even though I accept the Big Bang overall, that's one detail I'm skeptical about and need to learn the reasoning behind. I also want to know if I'm wrong and like being corrected.

Some have asked what it would take to convince me. One way of answering this is that if God exists and is omniscient (all-knowing), he'll know what it would take to convince me. If he's omnipotent (all-powerful), he'll be able to do this without violating free will or instantly destroying me. If he's benevolent, he'll carry this out. In other words, God would know what it would take to convince me and could make it happen. This wouldn't violate free will because I'd still have the choice to accept or reject him.

But for a specific answer, if I were to suddenly levitate and be surrounded by Bibles open to John 3:16 or Romans 10:9, I'd have a pretty good reason to strongly consider Christianity. What I don't consider evidence for God are changes in the wind, personal testimony, the Bible or other holy texts (since if there was no god, it was written purely by man, so there should be evidence outside of it to prove or at least suggest that there is a god so that there can be a word of God), or life events.

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