This Is How We Know Christianity Is a Delusion

In researching another article I came across an old piece by Mark McIntyre. On his blog Attempts at Honesty, back in 2011, he wrote a brief piece dismissing New Atheism with the argument that “their unbelief is not due to the lack of evidence but the suppression of it.” The fact that this is disturbingly ironic is precisely the lesson we can learn from it: it’s not the atheists who are suppressing or ignoring evidence. It’s the likes of Mark McIntyre who are.

This is what a delusion looks like: accusing people who actually are matching their beliefs to the evidence of ignoring or suppressing evidence, while ignoring or suppressing evidence yourself, and maintaining a belief irrationally disproportionate to—indeed in direct contradiction with—the actual evidence (see my old talk “Are Christians Delusional?”, although also keep in mind my caveats about using a mental illness model of religion).

Delusions Even of What’s in Scripture

McIntyre affords us an example almost immediately in another article, where in “Truth Whack-a-Mole” he declares, with bizarre earnestness, that “Contrary to what some think, doubts and questions are not condemned in Scripture.”

Um. Dude. Yes they are. And they’re never praised or encouraged either.

In the Epistle of James we’re told:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

In First Timothy (1 Timothy 1:6-7 and 6:3-4) and Second Timothy we’re told not to “wrestle with” the definitions or meanings of words because that kind of questioning is “useless” and leads “to the ruin of the hearers,” in fact any questioning and debate are worldly and vacuous and only lead to “godlessness,” and even talking about one’s doubts and questions will only spread evil like a disease (2 Timothy 2:14-17). Thus “have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies,” we’re told, because they only “breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

And how do you tell what is a “stupid and senseless controversy”? The gist you get everywhere in scripture is that it’s anything contrary to what you were first taught (e.g. Galatians 1:6-9). You don’t need to investigate anything beyond that because “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). In other words, don’t doubt or deviate from what you were first told. Don’t analyze or argue. Don’t discuss your doubts and differing conclusions with anyone. Doing so is wicked. Even having doubts makes you unstable, and unworthy of any support from God.

Everywhere else the subject comes up, this same sentiment is reinforced. Reject philosophical analysis as wicked (Colossians 2:8; Ephesians 4:13-15). The questioners of the world are damnable fools (1 Corinthians 1:20). Every thought and question must be subdued and made captive to Christian doctrine (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). In Luke 1:18-22 Zechariah is struck mute for merely asking for evidence. In John 20:29 we’re only told those who believe without evidence are blessed—thus belittling Thomas for merely asking for evidence, the real message of that passage. Hebrews 11 establishes we should just trust the things we’re told, and not expect there to be evidence (and yes, that’s what it says: see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 236-40).

Doubts and questions are uniformly discouraged in scripture. Indeed I demonstrate this was a general feature of Christianity and Christian scripture for centuries in Chapter 5 of The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire (see also Chs. 7, 13, and 17 of my book Not the Impossible Faith). There is no example in scripture where it’s said that doubt and questioning are cool; to the contrary, plenty of passages communicate the opposite. So how has McIntyre deluded himself into thinking his Scriptures say otherwise? By literally ignoring all the evidence.

Has Liberty Not Made Anyone Happy?

Another such example of McIntyre’s delusionality shows in another article (his most recent as of this writing), “Bars of Wood to Bars of Iron”, where he complains that all our increased freedoms and social progress haven’t made the world better, seriously asking:

But are we any happier as a society? Have the new-found freedoms brought personal peace? Based on the angry rhetoric from those who most loudly proclaim freedom from limits, I struggle to see that we are indeed happier. Perhaps we have exchanged what has been perceived as a yoke and exchanged it for a collar of iron.

Of course one might not marvel at how an able straight white man wouldn’t “see” how things have gotten better—never part of a group having been shit on for centuries as a woman or a black or gay man or a disabled person, and so on. “We ended slavery and enfranchised women and stopped imprisoning gay people and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, but we’d be better off going back and having slaves again and only men voting and queers off the street and cripples even further disadvantaged” is of course the sort of thing only someone completely blind to the improvements these things have entailed to the happiness and welfare of black people and women and gay men and the disabled would ever say.

Ignoring vast realms of evidence—even because of such intense bigotry as to blind oneself to entire realms of reality—is indeed another data point evincing how deluded this guy is. But even outside his racism and sexism and homophobia and ableism and every other bigoted bias blinding him, his statement still ignores other vast realms of evidence to the contrary. As Stephen Pinker and Michael Shermer have documented, the data show considerable improvements worldwide on every measure of pursuing human happiness, from reductions in poverty and violence and morbidity and mortality to measured increases in societal contentment. People are only angry we haven’t gotten farther precisely because there is now no justification for continuing to tolerate so much, given how much we’ve proved we can eliminate. People are angry at so many stalwart attempts like McIntyre’s to go backwards, and thus lose all we’ve gained.

And indeed, the data show one other very secure fact: we now know, both chronologically and geographically (from studies as diverse as those of Gregory Paul to Phil Zuckerman), that the more we remove religion and replace it with meaningful democracy and secular human rights (and yes, they’re secular), the better all these measures improve across an entire population. But alas, McIntyre “sees no improvement” in the world. When you are that certain of a conclusion in the face of such vast evidence to the contrary, you are delusional. You might want to see to that. You need to figure out what’s causing this severe impairment in your empirical access to reality. And in case you can’t figure out what is disabling you, I have a hint: it’s your religion.

Missing All the Evidence

But back to the article I started with. McIntyre goes on there to declare:

I have come to realize that those who refuse to believe (it is a will issue, first and foremost) have to spend a lot of energy whacking down those truth moles as they pop up. How are you going to respond to the claims Jesus made about himself? How could the complexity we see in biology happen by chance? Can you really live as though there are no absolute truths? Why is it that so many believe in the supernatural? These are examples of questions, like moles, that pop up and must be swept aside to remain antagonistic to belief. Those who are truly wrestling with these questions are more open to dialog.

These are not moles. They’re corpses. The reason we don’t “keep entertaining” them is that they’ve been decisively answered already, crushed under tons of plain evidence. “How are you going to respond to the claims Jesus made about himself?” Confront the entirety of mainstream Biblical scholarship today (like, you know, this, this, this, this, …). “How could the complexity we see in biology happen by chance?” Confront the entirety of evolution science including contemporary protobiology. “Why is it that so many believe in the supernatural?” Confront the entirety of the cognitive science of false beliefs (like, you know, this, this, this, this, …).

The evidence is all there. McIntyre ignores it. Why? Because he hasn’t learned how vulnerable to false beliefs humans are, and thus he himself is. “Can you really live as though there are no absolute truths?” Yeah. Every significant belief has a nonzero probability of being false. That’s a fact. And humans can and must learn to cope with that fact if they are to comprehend and navigate reality competently and honestly—while those who don’t learn to cope with this fact become delusional. McIntyre wants a certainty that doesn’t exist. And his resulting quest for it leads him to a delusional superstition, where he remains trapped by stupid questions like “Can you really live as though there are no absolute truths?”

  • Of course we well know we can’t trust that anything we’re told Jesus said, he actually said. Nor that even if he said it, he didn’t as mistakenly believe it as any of hundreds of other self-declared saviors did. McIntyre would admit this of any other religion but his. That’s why he’s delusional.
  • Of course we well know evolution by natural selection has explained or can explain every single complexity in any organism on earth, and that the first life arising by chance accident is not only highly probable in such a large and old cosmos but exactly matches all observations.
  • Of course we well know we can only be certain of anything to varying degrees of probability, and that “absolute certainty” is a characteristic of delusion, not wisdom. This is as true of physical facts of the world as of morality or any other domain of knowledge. Admitting this is a requirement of a competent mind.
  • Of course we well know people believe, and have believed, tons of obviously false supernatural nonsense, and done so because our brains were not intelligently designed and make countless errors in evaluating reality, unless we tame our errant brains with more reliable methods. In fact this is actually evidence against the existence of any concerned god.

Every attempt to avoid these conclusions with rationalizations that always fall apart when analyzed only further demonstrates how delusional Christians resorting to such defenses are.

Conclusion

All theism is built on ignoring evidence. Atheists as a whole have already met their burden of evidence in showing the existence of any imagined god is extraordinarily improbable. The burden is therefore now on theists to find and present some convincing evidence to the contrary—without hiding all the evidence that changes that conclusion! They’ve failed. They’ve failed for thousands of years. So the odds of ever succeeding now are so low as to guarantee anyone still trying can only be delusional.

The ignorant may have an excuse, but not for long. Because it’s not plausibly possible to be a person out in the world today and not find out about all this vast evidence against any plausibility of a god. So one can only persist in believing there is one by choosing to ignore that. And choosing to ignore evidence that would change your mind precisely to avoid changing your mind—whether ignoring that evidence altogether or ignoring its rational consequence to any conclusion—is precisely what it means to be delusional. And that indicates you have a commitment to your beliefs for reasons other than evidence. You might want to seriously confront what those reasons are.

And then understand that wanting a thing to be true, does not make it so.

21 comments

  1. It is sad matter that texts like these should still be written. Fourty years ago, I thought that atheism had won the battle and that all discussions with religious people were the last skirmishes. In Belgium where I live, the former Socialist Party – and other secular parties – had driven most of the religious influence out of public life. Now, the “new left” (social-democrats, green parties) defends religious practices like wearing a headscarf as a religious symbol in a public (and therefore neutral) function, or the separation of girls and boys in a public swimming pool. All in the name of the postmodern misconception that reality is but a social construct and everyone is entitled to his/her reality. I am not against Islam – or at least not in particular : I am against ALL delusional belief-systems, and they should all be pushed back, not promoted !
    So, in stead of rear-guard skirmishes, texts like these should be written and shared more, louder and faster. It’s time to call out religion for what it is : a hindrance and empediment to real humanistic progress.

    Reply
  2. If you’re still having debates, you should try and set up a debate with SR Hickling, the apologist who wrote An Evidentary Analysis of Doctor Richard Carrier’s Objections to the Ressurection. I’ve read a good bit of it and it’s probably the best case for the ressurection I’ve seen. I still don’t beleive in it, but I would be interested to see you debate someone who wrote a detailed response to your arguments.

    Reply
    1. I don’t arrange live debates. Others (usually groups, organizations or clubs) have to do so and invite me, meeting my terms and requirements for such events.

      But if you mean a written debate on my blog in a format like the one I just used with Wallace Marshall and Jonathan Sheffield, then that I can arrange if he asks. So feel free to ask Hickling if he wants to do that (with the same format and requirements) and have him contact me if he does.

      Reply
        1. Hickling is not an attorney so be extremely wary of any analysis he makes regarding “principles of evidence.” The Bible is a major fail if some of those same principles are used against it as it is rife with hearsay, unauthenticated documents, scientifically unreliable events, and so on.

      1. Dr Carrier, how would you address the following :

        Joe Hinman:

        The people who marked the blood and water coming out did not know that was proof he was dead, but it is proof. They had no motive to lie about it, There is no reason to doubt the account. They didn’t know how important that was.

        Joe Hinman:

        Yes the evangelist of 4th Gospel would have had a theological point to Jesus’ death but had no reason to say water came out of his side,

        Joe Hinman:

        He could have said nothing about any thing coming out, why sayit? He didn’t know why a water like liquid would be important so what was the reason for it?

        My question : instead of asking how hinman knows that it was water/water like liquid and why would romans who were about to break legs, allow anyone to view their brutal actions near the crosses , how would one address the question “why mention the water leaking out ?”

        The argument seems to be,

        no body knew the importance of water coming out
        no reason to mention water in the account
        therefore the account is true.

        Reply
        1. Everything stated above is false. We have no source for that information. No named person. We have no record of such a bizarre event from any earlier source (yet have three prior accounts). We have no evidence anyone who would write that was remarkably honest or faced any repercussions for making it up. And John did have theological reasons to make it up: it echoes the water to wine theme that crosses the entire Gospel (from Cana to all the other “water of life” messaging in that Gospel) and originates in symbolizing a theology attested from the start in Paul (who tells us Jesus is the rock from which water poured when struck: 1 Cor. 10).

  3. Dr. Carrier

    I’m curious if you were even aware of it’s existence and if so have had the opportunity to review the specific book in question?

    “An Evidentary Analysis of Doctor Richard Carrier’s Objections to the Ressurection”

    Whether or not a live or written date comes to pass, since this person has actually gone as far as publish a book disputing your findings on the subject, I would love to hear your comprehensive rebuttal to this book in one form or another.

    Please advise if you think that is going to happen and if so when/how?

    https://www.amazon.com/Evidentiary-Objections-Resurrection-Christian-Philosophy/dp/1532663137

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/03b8/332953617735685c779abc44a2bc8a8a7812.pdf

    Reply
    1. Oh yes. It’s on my list of things to look into. Though if he is relying as I’m told on such dubious sources as Strobel and McDowell, this is going to be hack work. But I’ll check it out when I find time.

      Reply
  4. Dr Carrier I just came across this.
    First I’ve hear of it. Have you ever researched this?

    Govt of India Documentry on Jesus in Kashmir !!

    Reply
  5. Your friend McGrath recently said:

    “I would note here that it would be surprising for a purely celestial figure to have an ordinary human name such as that which the distinctive name “Jesus” in English obscures that the main character in Paul’s letters and the Gospels had, namely the relatively common Jewish name Joshua.”

    https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/exorcising-mythicisms-sky-demons-response-raphael-latasters-questioning-jesus-historicity

    So McGrath has no clue about the Rising Jesus from LXX Zechariah.

    Reply
    1. He might contest the interpretation of that passage. Which one can do (see my discussion here).

      Rather, the problem is that Jesus means “God’s Savior,” and thus is not some mere random ordinary name. It is a deeply symbolic name remarkably apposite for God’s Savior.

      Josephus records several messianic figures who, though he does not use the name Joshua (Jesus), all engage in actions that emulate Joshua (i.e. the Joshua of the OT, such as toppling a city’s walls, parting the Jordan, etc.). So the association of that name with the messiah was evidently so popular and commonplace, numerous tales of it reached Josephus. There is therefore more to that name that it just being some random ordinary name.

      Reply
  6. Dr. Carrier, I tried to do a search through the blog but didn’t find anything pointed on these items. If this is the wrong place to ask, sorry.

    Two questions:

    1) What evidence could be realistically discovered that would push you from tentative mythicism to strong historicism on the existence of Jesus (the man, not the god/messiah)?

    2) What evidence could be realistically (this is the crucial point on both questions) discovered that would convince you that the god of the bible exists (though perhaps in some less contradictory way – being very powerful but not omnipotent, knowledgeable but not omniscient)?

    Reply
    1. 1) “Strong” historicism is a tall order; I’d settle for even “weak” historicism. But the answer is given in OHJ, at the end of every evidence chapter: just remove or reverse the evidence I list that produces the probabilities I find, to reverse the probabilities. One can infer similar things for the prior when reading Ch. 6 (simply: remove or reverse all the data that produces the prior I reach). In other words, had the evidence been different, historicity would be assured. It is only not assured because the evidence didn’t turn out that way.

      I discuss this philosophical point directly in my article on Hannibal—and all associated articles and material, which I summarize in paragraph one of my Spartacus article, linked therein. This makes clear what it takes to establish a person’s historicity, which is lacking for Jesus. So just put in what they have, that Jesus lacks, and Jesus’s historicity will be as certain as theirs.

      For example, if the historical record started in the 50s with personal memoirs of witnesses or letters discussing his earth-life as learned from mentioned witnesses, and only became more exaggerated and mythical over time, that would conclusively establish historicity. Alas, the record is the other way around: it starts with him as a celestial superbeing known only through visions, and subsequently becomes more historicized over time, out of contact with any identifiable witnesses (culminating in the most historicizing of Gospels, and yet the least believed: John).

      Really, just a sentence or two from Paul worded more clearly to indicate Jesus had recently been hanging out with people on earth and not just seen in visions would suffice. Provided no evidence existed calling its authenticity into question (e.g. as for the Pastoral epistles or the anti-semitic sentence added in 1 Thess. 2, both discussed in OHJ.)

      2) As for “the Biblical God” (a very specific horrific monster; not at all the same thing as just “God”), the whole world’s history would have had to be different. Therefore, to be convinced now, I’d need solid evidence of something like that the Devil had been tricking me or even the whole world with a mass hallucination, and with God’s consent somehow. Almost impossible even to conceive, and vastly unlikely ever to happen.

      Even more unlikely than that some evidence would convince me the earth is really flat and its sphericity is a two-thousand-year-old lie supported for eons by a massive international ancient conspiracy and a massive complex of extraordinary delusions. Extraordinarily unikely such evidence will ever turn up. Which is why we are sure the earth isn’t flat. The Biblical God’s existence is even less likely than the earth turning out to be flat, as it is a vastly more extraordinary claim, contradicted by a vastly greater array of evidence.

      It didn’t have to be that way. Had that God existed, the world and its history would be so different as to make his existence as obvious to us as it was to the mythical Jews following him around in the desert. A point I explicitly make, with examples, in Sense and Goodness without God (cf. pp. 222-24). I expanded the point in my debate with Wallace Marshall, outlining what evidence would have to have been the opposite, to get the opposite conclusion.

      Reply
  7. Dr Carrier – u explain’d/calculated somewhere that the rise of christianity was naught special – and had comparabl rates to other movements and that it got lucky with a roman emprur. where’s that post please?

    Reply

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