© Richard Carrier, Ph.D.
Richard Carrier is a world-renowned author and speaker. As a professional historian, published philosopher, and prominent defender of the American freethought movement, Dr. Carrier has appeared across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., and on American television and London radio, defending sound historical methods and the ethical worldview of secular naturalism. His books and articles have received international attention. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University in ancient history, he specializes in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, particularly ancient philosophy, religion, and science, with emphasis on the origins of Christianity and the use and progress of science under the Roman empire. He is also a published expert in the modern philosophy of naturalism as a worldview.
He is the author of, among other works,
1) On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt
2) Jesus from Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed About Christ
3) Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith
4) Hitler Homer Bible Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013
5) Not the Impossible Faith
6) Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?
7) Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism
8) Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus
9) Science Education in the Early Roman Empire
10) Scientist in the Early Roman Empire
and a contributor to:
11) The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave
12) The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails
13) The End of Christianity
14) Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails
I thank Dr. Carrier for allowing me to reprint his essay:
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.
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.
16 thoughts on “Christianity Is a Delusion”
This assumes that people embrace religion from rational calculations. They don’t. People embrace religion for emotional reasons that have no foundations in logic. Religion has nothing to do with philosophy; it is a system for providing emotional support to people faced with the inevitable tragedies of life. Are you afraid of death? Of course! Philosophy won’t help much, but religion can give you reassurance that there’s life after death. Are you frustrated by the evil people of the world? Don’t worry–God will get those evil bastards in the end. Are you confused by the injustices of the world? Hey, God works in mysterious ways, but his overall plan is for your overall benefit.
It takes a great deal of time, much contemplation, and deep wisdom to be able to look Death in the eye and not blink.
1980 : the buggles – video killed the radio star.
2020 : the memes – internet killed the g-ds.
you are right Chris. Bertrand Russell taught me when I was a teenager that religion is not primarily an intellectual but a mostly emotional phenomena. When I use to teach philosophy of religion even the students realized they didn’t talk about Anselm’s ontological argument in church, instead it was mostly devoted to music, incomprehensible mysteries, and the like. JGM
Less intelligent people need religion, Marxism, libertarianism– because they want someone else to think for them. Ideology and religion are dead or dying.
Bravo Richard Carrier! This is the truth and reality is the truth.
I think another reason people engage in religion is that we are not taught much, if anything, about how to think critically, how to trust our senses, or how to apply reason or a measure of skepticism in our relationships or experiences. Our politicians do not value this, many parents do not, nor do almost any authority figures including academics. We rely on what we’ve been told as children or as vulnerable college students.
People who use reason and reject authority based on critical thought are labeled “radicals,” or “anarchists.” For me, there is no legitimate authority in the universe except perhaps that which is held by parents until children reach the ability to reason at which point it evaporates. It is a natural authority that is removed by nature after a time. But it is flimsy and parents can easily forfeit their natural authority by their behavior or by abdication.
To me, emotion is a vestige of evolution. Emotion emerged in humans to aid survival. Reason is superior to emotion. It is a relatively new, and better skill we developed (also to survive and sometimes flourish).
But emotion still lingers and It has to be taken seriously for the pros and cons it carries. Emotion lambic and is a cause of both murder and of heroism. If it is not guided by reason and a total embrace of reality, religion ensues.
thanks Curtiss for the thoughtful reply.
Could not agree with this essay, and with other posts on this blog, more. I was raised in a very Christian household (with many similarities to what you describe in your About section in terms of time spent at church) and, after grappling with existentialism and skepticism from as early as I can recall, I took to religion in college like a drug. It promised to be a panacea to my desperate and yearslong search for meaning and answers, it was appealing as a prepackaged and internally consistent thought system, and it felt familiar due to my upbringing.
But after 2 years of diving in to the deep end (missionary aspirations, studying the ancient Greek, and all), the doubt and questions came back stronger and more painfully than ever. The internal battle of “taking every thought captive” — which trusted church leaders and friends continuously advised me to do — began to feel like I was constantly mentally throwing my weight against a flimsy door to keep a barrage of my own knowledge and reason out. It was like daily self-lobotomy. Needless to say, feeling somewhat driven mad by the end of it, I left the church and took several years regaining oxygen to the brain, figuratively speaking, by allowing myself to think and learn freely, trust my senses and reasoning, and make my choices in life accordingly.
If there is a god, and he or she indeed gave me my mind, I’m sure he/she won’t mind if I use it the way it is built to work. But to do anything other than that is sure to drive me, and any reasonable person, insane.
Ms. Kim: Thanks for the time you took to respond. JGM
Anyone who thinks Christianity is a delusion, is spiritually blinded. …
God makes Himself known and experienced in the Bible. It’s amazing that people condemn what they have no knowledge of and have never experienced. Faith is not experienced through logic. That’s why many can’t experience it. “It’s better to believe and be wrong, than not to believe and be wrong.”
To H Davis: I used to think the same thing. But there is a problem with, “It’s better to believe and be wrong than to not believe and be wrong.” That is exactly why most of the world is in constant turmoil…Religion! And then I started thinking that a god that would have us not use our brains cannot be a benevolent god. And don’t get me started on a nailing to a cross. As a mother of a son I love dearly, even I, a mere mortal, could do no such thing. So, why would a god require such a heinous act for its own creation! Even that is contradictory…Creating something flawed is contradictory from a perfect god. Free will? Really? Did you consent to being born? You might want to check “FRAUD…. written in the name of god”, authored by a biblical scholar.
Belief in God and being a Christian are two different things. Just because christianity is obviously flawed does not give evidence that God does not exist. Proving a negative is almost impossible as we all know. I think using christianity in the argument suggest that many people calling themselves atheist are people rebelling against christianity. Some guy comes along in the ancient past, unlocks some unknown human potentials and people think he is the creator of the universe. Pretty flimsy logic. But also thinking that that random action can produce structure results is even worse. If you think about it logically, the universe exist so we know that something has to have always existed. Now, what makes more sense, intelligent energy has always existed and it created structure and form, or unintelligent energy has always existed and random actions some how produced accidentally a universe with structure and life. You do the math.
Thanks for commenting. If you’re really interested in this topic you might want to read the basics in the philosophy of religion from a reliable source like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. By the way, only 15% of professional philosophers are theists and only 7% of the members of the national academy of scientists. These are very smart people so they must have some reason for their views. And I’m sure they’ve long ago encountered your arguments.
I was raised as a catholic Christian. Alter boy at age 8. Went to church on Sunday. Went to catholic school. And will admit catholic school was very stern but it set you straight quickly about how to act. Fast forward to age 54 and the death of my son and only child. It took me 4 years to stop crying and somewhat heal. Thus began my search for the truth the real truth. Will I be able to see my son again ? Will I?
So sorry Mark. All the best, JGM.
I remember being told by a woman from my former church that it’s a lie to believe that you are born gay, that the so-called “scientific evidence” I saw on TV proving how different a gay man’s brain is compared to that of a hetrosexual male is a lie and that I shouldn’t accept it even though I just saw the evidence for myself. Proves how ignorant and anti-logic and science Christians are.
the evidence that there is a strong genetic component/proclivity/propensity to homosexual behavior is overwhelming.