Over the last two months, I’ve been engaged in quite a busy online debate with a Christian friend of mine regarding the general merits of the Christian and atheist worldviews. To conclude the debate, we each agreed to post a 500 word summary of our arguments. I thought the length made it perfect for a blog post, so here is the summary I used:
There are two ways we can choose a worldview. We can choose one that makes us comfortable, or one that conforms to reality, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I believe the latter approach is superior: those who disagree should consider this précis a failure.
To pursue truth, we must put personal preferences aside, and subject each worldview to the most stringent tests available to modern science. If a worldview cannot stand up to such tests, it is not worth maintaining, no matter how old or popular it is.
Christianity, which I consider representative of religious worldviews, has two central claims: there exists a supernatural entity who has ultimate control over the universe, and this entity had a human son who, three days after his death, was bodily resurrected.
The most common evidence cited for these claims is second-hand reportage in the Bible. However, the only rigorous way to verify a bodily resurrection is with modern medical equipment, and the resurrection is reported to have occurred at a time when our medical knowledge was extremely limited, and superstition widespread. This immediately rules it out as a likely event. The lack of independent (non-Biblical) historical evidence confirms this view.
The existence of God also relies on the Bible as its main support. Once again, the age of the Bible, and the superstitious nature of the culture that produced it, leave its claims in doubt. Furthermore, no one today has seen God, can agree what God wants us to do, or can tell for sure what God himself does, if anything. Personal revelation, another source of evidence claimed by believers, is unreliable because it is subjective and produces contradictory results across religious traditions.
A worldview claim that does pass rigorous testing is evolution, which explains the emergence of homo sapiens, and the instincts that cause us to behave the way we do. It is supported by mountains of evidence accumulated over 150 years, and is now the basis of all biological science.
Finally, there is no evidence of an absolute, divinely inspired morality. Morality is simply a set of behaviors people decide to reward or punish in order to further their goals. And evolution, by definition, has given us the innate desire to live in relative peace and prosperity. To reward or punish a particular behavior in order to further this desire, is a decision made by trial and error: it is based on evidence, and therefore passes the requirements for an accurate worldview.
The rejection of religious myth does not imply the embrace of immorality, it simply means the elimination of a comforting, but otherwise unnecessary delusion. Our desire for moral behavior – which is born of evolution, formalized by rational thought, and realized through empiricism – has no need of God.
By embracing the evidence of our natural existence, we see ourselves as we really are. By discarding the comforting stories of old, we finally come of age. These are the first crucial steps toward greater compassion, peace, and responsibility.