This House Believes That belief in God is irrational

The majority of the population of the world is at least nominally committed to some religion or another. And despite the perception in some parts of the Western world that religious belief is in terminal decline, or that economic and social development go hand in hand with secularisation, there are many parts of the world where fundamentalist religious belief is firmly entrenched (including arguably the most ‘developed’ nation on earth, the USA). Religious belief, it seems, refuses to go away. Some people might think that religion is not an appropriate topic for debate – perhaps because it is too personal, too sacred, or outside the realms of rational debate. For the rest of us, however, there is a fascinating and lively debate to be had. There are many different dimensions to debates about religion. To start with there is the philosophical question of how plausible belief in God is. Then there are social, moral, and political questions about the effects of religious belief on individuals and communities both in the present and historically. Has religious belief, on balance, been a force for good or for harm in the world? This is an enormous area.

The arguments below provide only the most basic of skeletons. It is for debaters themselves to do research and find their own examples from the present and from history to substantiate and illustrate the arguments. This debate can range across many areas such as: Is it necessary for God to work in miracles in order to exist? And why does his existence need to be proven? If you were somewhere else, outside of the parameters of human sight, would you need a human being to verify your existence? Isn't evidence also interpretation and dependent on interpreting data? If God is everything, like some people say, then aren't all living and non living things proof of God? So then why is there punishment? If good and evil is needed for the development of human beings, then why is it punishable by God? He created this entity called evil and as a result, we may unknowingly or knowingly choose it. Do we blame a clock for not working properly or do we blame the creator of it? Why is it different with God, given that he is the ultimate decider of everything? How can free will truly be free if it is being judged? How can it be free choice if one choice is clearly favoured over another? Science has uncovered all mysteries? How do you know this? Where did the energy needed for the big bang come from? Did this energy always exist or were they created out of nothing? If energy always existed then matter is eternal if they didn't then shouldn't something have to account for their existence in a logical sense? Are there really no more questions? Does proving religion wrong prove the non-existence of a creator? What about conscience? Do we not have the capacity to tell right from wrong? And what is your definition of right or wrong? Is it determined through reason or is it determined through what you have been told? Is it absolute or relative? Doesn't religion in some cases accept, even order certain acts that would be considered wrong in many other situations? Why is it justified as right simply because it is ordained by religion?

Title 
Religious belief is completely irrational
Point 

There is no evidence that God exists. Reported miracles, healings etc. are never reliably proved actually to have happened, and in any case everyone’s religious experiences are different and point to the psychological differences between human beings not to any objective divine reality. Belief in God is simply wish-fulfilment. It would be nice if there was a loving all powerful being watching over us, but there isn’t.

Counterpoint 

There is good evidence that God exists and there are good arguments for accepting religious beliefs. The fact that we live in a beautiful, orderly universe in which human beings exist and have special moral and spiritual awareness points clearly to the existence of a divine Creator behind the universe. Billions of people have had religious experiences of one sort or another - all of them revealing the existence of divine reality - the only good explanation of this fact is that the divine reality is really there.

Title 
The problem of suffering
Point 

The world is full of suffering and pain among innocent people. If God is good and all-powerful then why is this the case? Either God does not exist or he is not worth believing in since he does not care about human suffering.

Counterpoint 

Most suffering and pain can be accounted for by the free will that humans exercise; God made us free and we use that freedom for evil as well as for good. As for illness and disease, it is hard for us to know the mind of God, but it may be that these trials are a necessary part of a world in which free and spiritual human beings can evolve and develop.

Title 
The God hypothesis is unnecessary
Point 

Science provides us with the tools to form a comprehensive view of the Universe which does not include a supernatural being. From Galileo to Darwin to the modern day, scientists have continually uncovered the true natural mechanisms behind the creation and evolution of the universe. There are no gaps left for God to act in[1] - science has revealed a closed natural order governed by natural laws. Brain science has shown that there is not a ‘soul’ but that all our mental states are simply caused by brain activity. There is, therefore, no reason to believe in life after death - one of the main tenets of religious belief.

[1] Bube, Richard H, ‘Man Come of Age: Bonhoeffer’s Response to the God-of-the-gaps’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/14/14-4/14-4-pp203-220_JETS.pdf, p.207

Counterpoint 

This is an inaccurate caricature of the relationship between science and religion. In fact most of the great scientists of history, such as Descartes, Newton and Einstein, have been religious believers, and the more we learn about the physical world (e.g. the fine balance between the fundamental forces of the universe, necessary for organic life to develop) the more it seems that it has been designed to produce human life by an intelligent God. The fact that there is a physical side to reality does not, in any case, mean that there cannot also be a spiritual dimension. Nor does the fact that the mind and brain are closely correlated mean that they are the same thing.

Title 
Religions have no true claim to special moral knowledge
Point 

Religions through the ages, and still today, have been agents of repression, sexism, elitism, homophobia, and - most of all - conflict, war, and racial hatred. The very nature of belief in received wisdom means that it must be, at its core, a conservative and regressive force.  Moreover the positive moral rules that religions claim to promote tend to have existed independently of those religions – the world did not have to wait for the ten commandments to learn that murder and theft was wrong, but it waited until the 19th Century to reach a consensus that Slavery was wrong.

Whatever small amount of psychological comfort religious belief may give, the evils it is responsible for in the social and political worlds easily outweigh it.

Counterpoint 

Religion may have been the occasion for various social and political wrongs, but it is not the cause. You can be quite sure that if you took away all the world’s religions people would still identify themselves with national and political groups and go to war over territory, political conflict etc. Equally elitism and bigotry are, sadly, parts of human nature with or without religion. In fact religious belief, when taken seriously and sincerely, is a force for good in the world, promoting humility, morality, wisdom, equality, and social justice. Social justice is at the heart of the Christian gospel.

Title 
The Null Hypothesis
Point 

With regards to any proposition the only consistent and rational view is to assume that it is not true unless sufficient evidence is put forward to nullify that assumption. 

The proposition need also be falsifiable, that is to say, there must be some potential fact that could be proven in order to disprove it.  God is unfalsifiable because there is nothing.

Counterpoint 

All beliefs rely upon some form of presupposition as their grounding.  The null hypothesis presupposes a natural world – but belief in God presupposes a supernatural world.  It is unfair therefore to apply the null hypothesis to religious faith.

Moreover, belief in God is a different to belief in an object in the physical world that we would expect to be physically verifiable.[1]

[1] Wolf, Gary. ‘The Church of the Non-Believers’ WIRED Magazine.  November 2006.

Title 
Revealed wisdom
Point 

Godly wisdom is not the same as human wisdom and cannot be subject to the same criticism.  The nature of humanity means that our ability to understand God’s wisdom is fundamentally limited; and thus arguments based on morality or science are irrelevant – what matters is that God has revealed Himself.

Counterpoint 

This is just special pleading; firstly there is no reason to consider Godly wisdom as being beyond our capacity to comprehend; and secondly there are discernable flaws in that wisdom as it is presented in a way that humans are supposed to be able to perceive and understand.

Title 
The Prime Mover
Point 

The universe follows rules of causality – cause precedes effect.  But it cannot be the case that cause and effect regress infinitely into the past – there must be a ‘prime cause’.  There is an identifiable point for this – the Universe was formed about 14 billion years ago with the Big Bang, before which we cannot detect any chain of causality.  What was the prime mover?  It had by definition to be a being existing outside of our conception of reality – the natural answer being ‘God’.

Counterpoint 

This argument is an attempt to shoehorn God into one of the ever-shrinking gaps in our knowledge of the Universe and should be treated as such – it doesn’t really give reasons why one should believe in God, it throws up conjecture and asks ‘why not’?

If everything needs a prime cause, what is the prime cause of God? If God can be an exception, why can't the universe be one especially since it is more rational with accordance to Occam's Razor - that the simplest hypothosis is most likely to be correct. This point is merely a substitution of one problem by another.

Title 
The rareness of Life
Point 

Life requires an extremely fine set of conditions in order to exist. The right distance from the Sun, a magnetic field to deflect solar radiation, the right atmospheric composition and conditions etc.  These conditions are extremely rare; indeed only on Earth have we observed that they are just right for life to have evolved.[1]  This is so unlikely that it leads to the conclusion that God must have intervened.

[1] McAlpine, Kate, ‘Extraterrestrial life could be extremely rare’, physicsworld.com, 1 August 2011, http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/46736

Counterpoint 

This argument is based on a subtle fallacy – the only reason we are here to observe the fact that the Earth is so well suited to support life is that fact that it is so well suited to support life – if the Earth was a barren rock then we would not exist to see it.  It shouldn’t be surprising therefore that out of the billions of solar systems in the Universe; we live on the planet that is suited to our survival.

Additionally, while the conditions necessary for life appear to be rare (and our ability to observe planets from even relatively nearby solar systems is limited), the Universe has billions and billions of chances to ‘get it right’.  It is very unlikely that you will win the lottery, but with millions of people playing it is actually very likely that somebody will win the lottery.

Bibliography 

Bube, Richard H, ‘Man Come of Age: Bonhoeffer’s Response to the God-of-the-gaps’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/14/14-4/14-4-pp203-220_JETS.pdf

McAlpine, Kate, ‘Extraterrestrial life could be extremely rare’, physicsworld.com, 1 August 2011, http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/46736

Wolf, Gary. ‘The Church of the Non-Believers’ WIRED Magazine.  November 2006. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html

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