Book Review: Why I Am Not A Christian

Dr Richard Carrier wrote Why I Am Not A Christian because he was sponsored to set out his reasons for not being one.

Discussing our experiences, we realized we’d both encountered many Christians like this, who color their entire perception of reality with the assumption that they have to be right, and therefore the evidence must somehow fit.

Although I have not met Dr Carrier personally, I have taken one of his online courses, so I shall take the liberty of referring to him by his first name. Richard’s position is that:

We start with the evidence, and then figure out what the best explanation of it all really is, regardless of where this quest for truth takes us.

He offers four reasons for his lack of faith:

  1. God is silent
  2. God is inert
  3. Wrong Evidence
  4. Wrong Universe

I won’t cover all the subtleties of Richard’s arguments, but will cherrypick a few key points.

God is Silent

If God existed, he would deliver his message clearly and unequivocally. We would not have different religions with varying messages and beliefs. We would all get the same message.

So a God who wanted us to make an informed choice would give us all the information we needed, and not entrust fallible, sinful, contradictory agents to convey a confused mess of ambiguous, poorly supported claims. Therefore, the fact that God hasn’t spoken to us directly, and hasn’t given us all the same, clear message, and the same, clear answers, is enough to prove Christianity false.

God is Inert

Bad shit happens and God just lets it. He does not appear to give a fuck.

In fact, all the ad hoc excuses for God’s total and utter inaction amount to the same thing: claiming that different rules apply to God than to us. But this is not allowed by the terms of the theory, which hold that God is good—which must necessarily mean that God is “good” in the same sense that God expects us to be good.

Yet that is God: An absentee mom—who lets kids get kidnapped and murdered or run over by cars, who does nothing to teach them what they need to know, who never sits down like a loving parent to have an honest chat with them, and who would let them starve if someone else didn’t intervene. As this is unconscionable, almost any idea of a god that fits the actual evidence of the world is unconscionable. And any such deity could never be the Christian God. That leaves no way to escape the conclusion: God’s inaction alone refutes Christianity.

Wrong Evidence

According to Christians, belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ will result in eternal life. Where’s the evidence? There is none:

The only evidence ever offered for the “existence” of God essentially boils down to two things: “The universe exists, therefore God exists” and “I feel God exists, therefore he does.”

This is no different from people hearing voices in their head, which can result in psychiatric treatment, or exposure as charlatanism. In looking over the reviews of the book on Amazon, I came across a long and detailed critique from someone who believed in God (though not as a Christian). Having criticised the book on a number of scientific points, he (I’m assuming a male) claims to have experienced psychic premonitions and other synchronicities failing to recognise the irony that anecdotes don’t count as evidence, which is precisely Richard’s point.

Although the book is short, it could have been shorter. Richard devotes quite a number of paragraphs elaborating the maxim that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Partly, he does this to introduce the argument that there isn’t much evidence for the stories of Jesus Christ—without Jesus, whither Christianity? Still, the text is rather laboured. Richard touches upon other arguments for God: the universe had a beginning, therefore, God did it; the universe is fine-tuned for (human) life.

Wrong Universe

If God did it, the world would look not like this:

For a loving God who wanted to create a universe solely to provide a home for human beings, and to bring his plan of salvation to fruition, would never have invented this universe, but something quite different. Whereas if there is no God, then the universe we actually observe is exactly the sort of universe we would expect to observe.

Life is very unlikely, argue Christians. That may be true, but anyone with a knowledge of probability knows that unlikely events happen all the time; especially, when you’ve had 10 billion years—that’s the age of the universe, 13.8 Byr, minus the time there has been some kind of life on Earth, 3.6 Byr.

“Life from no life is impossible” say some. The evidence is building up that, in fact, it’s not. I’m no expert, but the evidence has continued to accumulate since the publication of WIANAC. Here’s one very recent article.

The variety of life is explained by the Theory of Evolution; the evidence for which is overwhelming.

Richard argues that our big brain is another reason to doubt the existence of God. I find this less convincing because his argument boils down to a “sensible God wouldn’t have done that way”. But that doesn’t make much overall difference to his case.

Richard returns to the fine tuning argument, which he rejects in some detail. There is much more that can be said on this; whole books have been written on the subject, like this one.

The simple fact is that Christianity does not predict our universe, but a completely different one. Atheism, however, predicts exactly the kind of universe we find ourselves in. So the nature of the universe is another failed prediction, confirming our previous conclusion that Christianity is false.

Conclusion

Richard is not a humble man, if one is to judge by the opening remarks when he explains the rationale for the book. And several Amazon reviewers seemed somewhat affronted by his ego and implied self-comparison with Bertrand Russell thanks to his choice of book title. Several, obviously Christian, reviewers did get worked about the good doctor’s personal style because they didn’t like his arguments. Forgetting, of course, that you can be the biggest shit in the world, but if you’re right, you’re right.

He does recognise that his arguments are unlikely to “convince Christians who have locked themselves inside a box of blind faith”. Indeed I don’t think he expects that Christians with an “open mind” will be apostatised, but hopes that they will respect his views as those of an “honest and reasonable man”. I’m not a Christian; I don’t think I ever have been. For a long time, I would put “none” in any box asking about religion. Sinced I’ve retired and had time to be more reflective about such matters, I decided to label myself humanist. The arguments and philosophical ideas around atheism are interesting to me. I know perfectly well that the scientific method requires that I should look at contrary evidence and opinions, but I’m still building my own mental framework. To that end, Richard’s little book has been helpful in further organising my thoughts. The Kindle version is reasonably priced. I do think the writing could have been tauter; so I give 4/5.

On a final, slightly tangential note: reading review threads on Amazon can be entertaining. Here are two snippets that I found particularly noteworthy. The first is from some poor chap who didn’t believe in evolution because no-one had seen it:

In Texas human foot prints are documented and pictured with dinosaur tracks.

The second made me laugh out loud. It was a response to some Young Earther cretin who’d mentioned 6000 years:

Six thousand years? The God Virus is strong in this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: