Naive Rationalizations

When I’m talking to a theist about religion, I am sometimes stunned by arguments I’m presented with that I can only describe as childish. When I say childish arguments, I am not implying that they are either stupid or immature, nor am I calling the person presenting them childish, stupid, or immature. Rather they demonstrate to me that this person, otherwise very intelligent, logical, even skeptical when talking about other topics, has an innocent or even naïve credulity behind their religious superstitions. I’m sure everyone that has been proselytized for one time to another to has heard something similar to the statements below:
“God tells us that he is just.”
“God tells us that he wants none to perish.”
“I know that the Bible is God’s words because it says so.”
“Jesus wouldn’t have claimed to be the Son of God if it wasn’t true.”
The implied argument behind these statements is that decrees or properties attributed to one’s god are not only true; they cannot even be challenged or investigated. I find this idea to be a horrifyingly low standard to set for truth. Where else in life do we take important claims solely on faith, or as I should say, with unquestioning obedience? Foreign leaders? Our own politicians? Our courts? Safety inspectors?

The more power that one can potentially wield over our lives and well-being, the more we expect that they can back up their claims. And if evidence to the contrary arises, then we become even more skeptical. In short, our trust in those who wield power over us is contingent on them demonstrating that they have earned our trust. So why does a god get a free ride? I ask this with all sincerity: shouldn’t an omnipotent being be held to the highest of standards? If it can do anything then proving its own claims should be a trivial exercise for it. We should expect a perfect being to do so clearly and without contradiction or room for error of interpretation. I want to go back to those statements, and explain why – to a non-believer – they sound naïve.

“God tells us that he is just.”

We may not have a perfect grasp of justice, but there is strong consensus amongst humans with modern sensibilities about what constitutes a just punishment. When Yahweh is said to have sent his flood, he did so to kill every man, woman, and child. With only one family left living, this flood would have been the worst genocide in all of human history. Even if every adult was provably an evil and immoral criminal, no one can claim that it was a just punishment to slaughter the millions of infants born to these criminals by no fault of their own. Christians claim their god is perfectly just to imply that it is our fault for not understanding his justice. But a perfectly just god would never have committed such an evil and unjust act as global infanticide.

“God tells us he wants none to perish.”

How one can say this with a straight face when they claim to know their god through the Christian bible is beyond me. As an omnipotent being that created all things, Yahweh could have chosen to not create man as mortals, or to not create a hell. But throughout the Christian bible it is clearly stated that Yahweh intends to stoke the furnaces of hell for all who refuse to glorify his name. Ignorance is no excuse for non-Christians either. The most generous estimates are that one third of the world’s population are self-described Christians. Let’s ignore the contradictory and mutually exclusive theology. Let’s also ignore the fact that many who describe themselves as Christians are not practicing, or only identify as such because of the oppressive social stigma that some societies (much of our own included) puts on someone for not being Christian. This means, at Christianity’s high point in world history, Yahweh will only prevent one-third of the world’s population from perishing. The vast majority of humans that ever have and ever will live shall suffer eternally the fires that Yahweh created for them. Clearly this god doesn’t mind that men and women perish, or he would have created different rules to run eternity.

“I know that the Bible is God’s Word because it says so.”

This is a basic example of circular reasoning and special pleading. Every holy book claims that it is divine revelation, but believers only buy that claim from the book they were raised with. If you are a believer, then ask yourself: Is the Koran the word of God? Is the Book of Mormon? Are the Gnostic Gospels? All of these books make the very same claims to divine origins that are made in the the Old and New Testaments of the Christian bible. Normally only the gullible accept a claim of authority at face value, but it is a universal deception of religions that accepting their unreliable claims at face value is a virtue instead of a vice.

“Jesus wouldn’t have claimed to be the Son of God if it wasn’t true.”

Because clearly no one in history has falsely claimed to be related to a deity. In Roman occupied Palestine alone there were over thirty Jewish prophets who were executed for their claims that they were the messiah. Even John the Baptist was a martyred messiah figure; today a small Middle Eastern church still worships John the Baptist as the Christ. And in our own lifetimes we have seen several cult leaders claim to be a god, or at least one of his or her relatives. Besides any god we were raised to believe by an accident of geography, we dismiss as wild and baseless proclamations any of these other claims that men make about their godhood. Our special preference is simply a naïve impulse that has been reinforced by a lifetime of group-think.

Belief in religions and gods is not a harmless thing. Followers devote time and resources throughout their lives for the purpose of glorifying an entity that (if it’s as perfect as they claim) should have no need to be glorified. In the worst case scenarios we see that this blind obedience to a belief can compel otherwise good people to commit horrible crimes: terrorism, murder, war – in fact the very patriarch of the Abrahamic religions is a hero for his willingness to murder his son in cold blood. This unquestioning acceptance is dangerous. If you believe your god is the most powerful and good being in existence, then you should hold it to a higher standard of proof than anyone else. Your god should be plenty capable of rising to this simple challenge, and you should expect it to do so before devoting your entire existence to it.

In search of reason,



  1. Many other skeptics refer to this same phenomenon, especially James Randi and call it "magical thinking." Magical thinking is, at its most basic, allowing yourself to accept arguments without any logic, evidence, or reasoning. They accept that their god exists, and miracles occurred (but surely won't happen at that scale now that we have video recording), and any number of extraordinary things.

    When asked if religion does any harm, therefore, I must emphatically say "yes." Even the most moderate of religions require, by their very definition, magical thinking. It is bad enough to see this in adults who go on to refuse even strong evidence that conflicts with their beliefs, but I find it abhorrent that this magical thinking is then taught to their children. This can only stymie their intellectual growth, by providing these logical dead-ends to their questions. Worse, the parents would then go on to glorify that same willful ignorance - faith is a virtue, after all.
    A person who cites faith as a reason for believing something is proudly claiming they hold their belief with no supporting evidence asked for or given.

    Again and again through history we've seen that sort of magical thinking be harmful. Consider the anti-vaccination movement. A group of people led by a vocal spokesperson, whose claims are dubious at best. However, they've "seen" it happen, or they know someone who has had it happen to them - their child or their friend's child or their aunt's first cousin twice removed had a friend who definitely caught autism from their MMR shots. The research, the evidence, is overwhelmingly against them. There was even a journalist who was able to prove that the original findings linking autism and the MMR vaccine were faked. Deliberately faked. Yet still, they persist, claiming the new evidence to not be good enough, or planted by "big pharma."

    I'm not saying religion caused this willful ignorance. I'm saying that the magical thinking that allows religion also allows this sort of thing. "Faith is a virtue" is a dangerous statement.

  2. Justin: agreed, agreed, agreed agreed!
    And don't even get me started on the anti-vax people. eugh.

  3. I just have to say that as a devoted believer in God, I am always annoyed by people who tell me the bible is the word of God. It was written by PEOPLE. Not God. And people seem to be willing to take the bits out of it they like and ignore the parts they don't. Even as a Christian, I think we should take the bible for what it is: a story book (fact or fiction, depending on what you believe), but NOT the word of God.


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