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Why There Is No God: The Evidence

by Don Cameron




The first thing we must say about religion, or the lack of it, is the need for tolerance. For as long as history is recorded, and certainly in our own time, we see people hating and killing in the name of their gods, despite the professed tenets of most religions against such behaviour. Europe has seen wars, terrorism, massacres, executions for blasphemy, and the deposition and even execution of monarchs for religious reasons. Much of the hatred has been between slightly different versions of the same religion, which would be difficult for an outsider to tell apart.

Although the hatred and violence continues to the present day, there is now a substantial community of opinion that stands against it. It is important that we accept that we do not need to agree on religion. It is not the job of the state to decide the religious opinions of its citizens. We must respect our neighbour’s right to have a different view with the right to proclaim it. We must demand an equal right in return. There is a fine line to be drawn. We must have a right to argue against beliefs that we consider false and even to mock them with humour. Yet we must not expect the right to be gratuitously offensive, nor to incite hatred of people because of their religious beliefs or lack of them. 


There is now evidence that proves that no gods exist and no gods have ever existed. The quality of proof is beyond all reasonable doubt. There is so much evidence, all confirming the same thing, that we do not have room to show more than a small part of it here yet it is more than enough. Some recommendations are given for further reading – we hope you will follow these up.

    Much of what follows concerns the falsehood of Christianity (because that is the one we know best), but no religion based on supernatural claims is better supported than any other. They are all false for very similar reasons; they have no convincing evidential support and much evidence against. All depend on claims about the supernatural and invisible which are impossible to verify.

    Evangelists say, if you want to believe, you must open your heart to Jesus. We say, it is better to open your brain to the evidence. I use the following headings:

1) The nature of Human Belief

2) Why are all Gods invisible?

3) Of the many Religions, at most Only One could be True,

4) The Conflict with Science.

5) One Life and Neuroscience.

6) What use is Scripture as Evidence?

7) Evidence for the Supernatural is Never Quite Good Enough.

8) Can we be Moral without Religion?

9) Unattractive Religion.

10) The Garbled Tale.

11) Arguments in Favour of Religion.

12) Who believes What Today?


The Human species diverged from the other great apes around seven million years ago. Upright walking, freeing the fore limbs for manipulation came early. Much later came the evolution of larger brains and power of speech which allowed information to be shared and passed down the generations. Humans have since become the dominant species all over the world leaving the other apes in small enclaves.

The power of speech gave an overwhelming advantage for increased knowledge and negotiation of cooperation but it sadly also gave the possibility of false beliefs. The human brain has certain powers of scepticism and the detection of false claims but these can never be more than partially successful. Children believe everything at early ages and later, although teenagers often challenge beliefs, they still must accept much on trust. Adults attempt, with only partial success to check what they have been told. Yet most of what we believe is unverifiable and we rely on the status of the source or just that “everybody knows”. Perhaps you are certain that the world is round and not flat, but how do you know that?

It takes only a little thought to understand how the acceptance of religious belief would have been in the pre-scientific age. Most people had no formal education and spent their entire lives without travelling far from home. The only people who had some education were the priests. In a way that is incomprehensible to us today, belief in religion was total. Most people would never have heard of, or could not even imagine, a voice of dissent. Anyone who dared to challenge the prevailing belief system faced execution. In Christian times this was often by the incredibly cruel method of burning to death.

It is in this atmosphere of absolute belief, that the Jewish people believed the story of Exodus; how God had rescued their ancestors from oppression in Egypt. Of course, they had been oppressed later by Babylonians and others and God hadn’t helped, but the priests explained this by saying it was because of their sins. Now they were being oppressed by the Romans. Jesus told them that the Kingdom of God, banishing all ills, would come here on Earth within the lifetime of those present. People were ready to believe it with a confidence that we today cannot visualise. Of course it didn’t happen but, when people began to notice, the Kingdom was rapidly transferred to the afterlife.

In the last few hundred years, things have changed more than the preceding hundred thousand. People began making observations and experiments. Curiously, many of these were clergymen who had the education and leisure. Science began to challenge religion. Beginning with the invention of printing, communication improved and now it has increased beyond all expectations. Even the most devout believer hears many different voices and opinions. In most (but sadly not yet all) parts of the world, dissenters are no longer executed. The total monopoly of any religious orthodoxy is gone forever.

But progress is far from complete. Millions still believe in astrology, homeopathy, water divining, that vaccination is a conspiracy to harm people and countless other categories of rubbish. Humans continue to have difficulty in checking the truth of what comes to them through the power of speech.


In all religions, including the ancient ones that nobody believes in any more, the gods are invisible. There is no trace of them. Apologists sometime say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but, of course, it really is. The number of things that we could imagine without evidence is infinite. There is no point believing something even a little bit probable until there are at least some grounds to suggest it. The fact that some of the greatest minds over thousands of years have failed to find any tiny scrap of evidence is pretty good proof of non existence (although perhaps not absolute).

If god exists, he has gone to extreme lengths to conceal himself, even putting false fossils in the ground to make us think we are descended from apes. And if he felt the need to go that far, how could he allow priests to go around telling everybody?

They tell us that he really wants us to believe and that he offers almost infinite reward to those that believe and infinite torment to those who don’t. But all he needs to do is to tell us. We are told that he remains invisible to test our faith. Does this sound like a rational god, or an incentive dreamed up by priests to explain away the obvious conclusion?

Some claim that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-caring. Now this gives us the opportunity to test the hypothesis of his existence.

For example, when disasters happen, which he could easily prevent, he never turns up. This is the “problem of evil” which theologians have tried without success to answer for centuries. He cannot be all-caring, all-knowing and almighty as is claimed. At most he could be two out of the three. It is really odd that, after a disaster, people hold a church service. If god exists he has failed. Apparently he could have easily prevented the disaster, but chose not to. Praise does not seem to be an appropriate reaction.

Sometimes they say evil is the result of human free will, but how could that apply to volcanoes and pandemics? And why are there innocent victims of the sins of others? Some say it is punishment for sin, but misfortune happens to the good and bad at random.

People pray to gods, but never get an answer. It’s a one-way conversation. Outcomes are indistinguishable from chance. Survivors think their prayers were answered, but those who prayed but didn’t survive do not give their side of the story.

If God really doesn’t exist, is this perhaps exactly what it would look like? 


There are several contradictory religions in the world. Why should the one we grew up with be the true one? And what about the historical religions that no-one believes in today?

It is sometimes claimed that religions all say the same thing. They don’t. Although they have some common features, such as supernatural (and, of course, unverifiable) claims and origin stories that have been disproved by science, their claims are often different and contradict each other. No more than one religion could be true, but none can be shown to have better evidence than any other.

It is also remarkable that there is so much division within any one religion. With a god that does not exist, is it not wonderful that so many people have been so sure that they alone know what is his will?


Before around 1500 CE life was little different from thousands of years before. Most people had little education, worked in agriculture or basic trades and lived and died without travelling far from where they were born. Communication was limited and most people would have little awareness of what was happening outside their immediate area.

The only people with education would have been priests. Their curriculum would be mostly about religion, perhaps with Latin or Greek and some history. Little that could be described as science existed. The orthodox version of Christianity had secured total victory in Europe over other religions and the many early variant versions of Christianity or “heresies”. It enforced its beliefs with draconian vigour. To defy the Church would lead to a most horrible death, often by burning. The individual was powerless.

But in 1436 Gutenberg invented printing. He was the first in Europe although a version had existed in the Orient long before. Ideas could now be distributed widely and across distance and passed down generations. Luther could never have defied the Catholic Church without printing. Observation and enquiry began to take hold. Ironically, early science was often carried out by clergymen because they had education and leisure time.

By the late 1700s the Enlightenment was firmly established and religion had to adapt. They could no longer execute people, but the churches remained powerful. As time went on, people began to notice that science proved that many biblical accounts are false. It was only then that they began to say, oh it’s not meant to be taken literally; it’s all an allegory really. But they had never said that before.

There are many conflicts, but evolution is more important than all the others. Evolution has sunk the Genesis creation myth and the story of the flood. Some say it can be reconciled with the creation story, but it could not be more different. On the one hand we have come into existence by an undirected process of selection in nature over billions of years. On the other, our finished design was made by an intelligent creator in a day. It follows from evolution that the Adam and Eve story cannot be true as there was always a population in our descent from apes.

Evolution also implies that our consciousness can only be a biological phenomenon of nerve cells which could not survive the death of an individual.

One of the most curious stories from the history of science is that Lord Kelvin said that evolution was impossible. He had made boreholes in the ground and worked out, from the temperature gradient, that the Earth was cooling and must have been hot and molten only 20 million years ago. Only after both Kelvin and Darwin had died, it was discovered that radioactivity is slowly producing heat and has been doing so for billions of years.

Religious zealots have gone into simple denial based on ignoring the vast evidence confirming evolution and promoting creationism. It is very difficult to find a professional biologist who will take them seriously. It is amazing, but true, that they have even built well funded theme parks in USA to spread their hopeless message.

Some cling to their beliefs by saying that evolution happened but God was guiding it. There is not the tiniest scrap of evidence for that. The whole point of evolution is that natural selection acts without external direction.

The Roman Catholic Church accepts evolution but tries to co-exist with it. It leads to fantastic ideas. We would have to assume that evolution followed its course over billions of years until humans appeared in their finished form, complete with speech and a moral sense. Then God installed souls in two of them called Adam and Eve. We must assume that the rest of the population were soulless including the parents of Adam and Eve and their siblings if any. Perhaps there are soulless descendants around today (no doubt employed as parking wardens). Did humans with souls and those without interbreed? The whole idea is too far-fetched to be worthy of argument.

Since the 1700s there has been a growing conflict between a developing science and religion. Evolution was the biggest and most controversial, but there were many more.

The first attempts to find the age of the Earth was by analysis of the ages of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. Archbishop Ussher in 1650 calculated the date of the creation as 23rd October 4004 BC and other biblical scholars had reached similar (if not quite such precise) answers.

The developing science of geology began to question these estimates which seemed too short to account for sedimentary rock formations. Modern science has now established that the Earth is more than four and a half billion years old. There are still some creationists who maintain that the Earth is about 6000 years old.

The Bible says that the earth is flat, even though Greek scientists knew it was a sphere at around the same time that the Old-Testament priests were writing the scriptures. Their idea was a three-storey world with Hell below and a solid firmament sky above with Heaven on top of that.

The Bible also states that the earth is fixed and cannot move. The Church in Rome kicked up quite a fuss when it was discovered that it rotated on its axis once a day and it travels in an orbit around the Sun each year. They tried to suppress this knowledge, but without success.

In 1615 Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition for suggesting that the Earth orbited the Sun, when the Bible clearly stated that it is fixed. He escaped burning, but spent the later part of his life in permanent house arrest.

Astronomy has shown that the stars are not lights hanging on the firmament as the old priests believed, but are other suns a very long way away. Giordano Bruno, who was burned to death, suggested that.

Later astronomical discoveries revealed the Earth’s total insignificance. It is a piece of rock orbiting a minor star which is only one of millions in a minor galaxy. And even that galaxy is one of many stretching to unimaginable distances. It became harder to suppose that the Universe had been created as a home for humanity.

Further Reading:

Paul Kurtz (editor): Science and Religion, an excellent compendium of articles covering many aspects of the conflict between science and religion.


Studies of the human brain and nervous system are still incomplete, but a great deal has been discovered. The structure of nerve cells and the understanding of the vast numbers of these that comprise the brain make it clear that it is an amazing information-processing organ. Many of the mechanisms within it are understood and it is impossible to believe that our consciousness could exist without these billions of neurons. It would hard for anyone who has studied these mechanisms to believe in life after death or the concept of a disembodied soul. When we die, nerve cells rot. It is impossible to see how our mental activity could continue. I wish it could, of course, but “wishin’ don’t make it so”.

Philosophers have much discussion of the exact nature of consciousness, but it clearly depends on our sensory inputs and on our ability to store information in our long and short term memory. The information is processed by other brain mechanisms taking account of innate and acquired instincts. All of these depend on the brain cells and the nervous system and obviously could not continue without them.

The ancients did not know this when they wrote their best guesses. They thought that consciousness consisted of a spirit or soul which simply inhabited the body and could exist independently of it. The authors of the Bible believed that the cause of mental illness is possession by demons, whereas it is now known to be due to malfunction of the brain. Allegedly, Jesus cured a man who was possessed by seven devils by commanding them to migrate into a herd of pigs (the Gadarene swine) that then ran into a lake and drowned themselves. No-one could reasonably believe this story today.


The Old Testament is impossible to verify. It was written over many centuries by ancient scribes and priests and its origins together with Jewish history have been intensively studied by scholars. The known history of the region and the accounts given on the Old Testament show it to be very inaccurate. Religious apologists tell us that God guided the hands of its authors and that it is our moral guide. Unfortunately this is hard to believe. We would have to believe that God, the creator of the universe, has a knowledge of science inferior to a modern ten-year-old. As a moral guide it doesn’t do much better; it commends genocide, rape, incest, human sacrifice, slavery and other appalling things. Most Christians admit this, but point out that the New Testament is much better. That is true, but it still contains some out-of-date morality. For example, Jesus approves of beating a slave as long as the punishment is in proportion to the offence (Luke 12:47).

    For some decades Christian belief was only an oral tradition and it is inevitable that the Gospel story was “improved” during that time to make evangelism more successful. As the stories were embellished by preachers, the movement split into many different beliefs; this proves that things were being made up. Most of these were later suppressed as heresy by those who finally gained power.

Gospels were put in writing from these oral traditions more than forty years after Jesus’ death by Greek writers who had no contact with Aramaic-speaking eye-witnesses. Only four of these were admitted to the New Testament which was brought together only after individual books had circulated for centuries. Other books were later condemned as “apocryphal”. Despite the care with which it was assembled, scholars are now aware that several of the books of the New Testament are forgeries.

We know that claims were being invented from the proliferation of different beliefs. With the limited means of communication in ancient times there was little risk of being contradicted. Evangelism must have been much easier if the stories included supernatural claims. Some of those making a living as a preacher would be more honest than others, but once a story had been invented it would have spread within the oral movement.

We know that earlier pagan themes were built into the repertoires of Christian preachers. Having a miraculous birth, having a god as a parent, performing miracles, rising from the dead all have precedents. Some Christians later explained this as “diabolical mimicry”. The devil, we are told, invented these ideas before they happened to cause trouble. It is much more plausible that the early Christian preachers incorporated them as useful material.

The big problem was that Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was going to come at the end of time which would be very soon, here on earth, and within the lifetime of his hearers. All evil would be prevented and all ills cured. Death would not happen again. The Romans would be removed. It was a powerful message but, of course, it did not happen. To keep the movement going some fancy footwork was necessary and, in the later gospel of John, the Kingdom of God has migrated to heaven to be enjoyed only after death.

Biblical scholarship has established that the scriptures are completely unreliable and internally contradictory. Such a mixture of unsupported assertion and hearsay does not meet any standard of evidence.

Further reading:

Bart D Ehrman is a scholar of ancient texts and he has written a series of books describing what has been found. He began life as an enthusiastic believer in American Evangelical Christianity which motivated him to enter biblical scholarship. He became a leading expert in the earliest surviving texts of scripture in their original Greek and Hebrew. He now calls himself an agnostic.

He has shown that, during the first few decades of Christianity following the death of Jesus, preachers were inventing theologies and founding different sects. There were several widely different versions of Christianity, all of which were later stamped out as heresy by the orthodoxy which gained power. For centuries many contradictory texts circulated before the orthodox defined a “canon” which now makes up the New Testament, condemning the rest as apocryphal.

Forgeries were common in the days when books were reproduced one at a time by scribes. A book which claimed to be by a famous author was worth more money and carried more respect than one by an unknown. Only about half of Paul’s letters in the Bible were written by him; the rest are fakes. Some of the forgeries are easy to detect, for example when an event is mentioned that happened after the death of the alleged author. Even genuine documents, after repeated copying, have had mistakes and deliberate changes introduced by scribes.

The inconsistencies are great, even within the writings admitted into the bible. The earliest gospel (called Mark although not written by him) is dated about 40 years after the crucifixion. In it, Jesus is preaching that the Kingdom of God will arrive here within the lifetimes of his hearers. All suffering will end and people will live forever in their present bodies here on Earth. But in the gospel of John, written around 25 years later, when people were beginning to notice that this had not happened, the story changes. The Kingdom of God is only up above in some spiritual sense. This is not quite so exciting, but has the advantage of being much more difficult to disprove.

Anyone interested in the origins of scripture should read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. His Lost Christianities and Forged are eye-openers. If only one of his books is to be read, perhaps his Jesus Interrupted would be a good choice.

Dan Barker was an evangelical preacher before he began to realise that none of the stuff he was delivering was true. His book Godless recounts his journey to disbelief and explores the evidence that proves religion untrue. In God: the most unpleasant character in all of fiction he sets out many of the bad things in the Bible.

Karen Armstrong is a writer on religious matters, Her book The First Christian: St Paul’s impact on Christianity gives some of the background to the way that orthodoxy came together.

Don Cameron has written a Gospel! You can read one outline of the origin of Christianity in The Gospel According to Reality here.  


David Hume (1711-76) said we can only believe in a miracle, if we also believe it would be more miraculous that the report of it could be either false or mistaken.

Thomas Paine in 1795, in the Age of Reason, put the same thought this way: “Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course, but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.

It was put another way by Carl Sagan who said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

There can be little doubt that supernatural claims were embellished during the oral tradition phase of early Christianity. And once invented, stories would have spread to others who would have had no reason for doubt. But, in Hume’s terms, it would certainly not be miraculous for the accounts to be either false or mistaken.

    Christians claim that the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection are reliable evidence proving the truth of Christianity. But the accounts show contradictions and it seems Jesus, after his crucifixion, only made a few appearances before finally vanishing from the scene (ascending into the clouds apparently). There are no accounts written by witnesses at the time.

The miracles related in the scriptures are quoted by priests as a reason to believe, but if we ask to see a miracle for ourselves, the answer is sorry, no. It seems that God has stopped doing them. He could do them, if he wanted to, but he wants to test your faith (that is your ability to believe propositions when there are no grounds for doing so.)

Prophecies are also offered as evidence of the supernatural, but they are not convincing. When the prophecy and the event prophesied happened a very long time ago, how can we verify that the prophecy came before the event? All religious prophecies in recent times (usually the end of the world) have failed. 


Apologists for religion often claim that without the incentive of Heaven and the terrors of Hell, we would all feel free to become wicked. They then say that atheists must all be really bad people.

The simple answer is that we can do without your religious morality thank you very much. We have no need to hate people with a slightly different version of our views. We have never needed to burn people to death for not agreeing with us. And we can do without the murder, rape, incest, genocide and slavery that the Bible recommends.

Most of the time, people are guided by internal moral feelings and even religious people do that rather than thinking about Heaven and Hell. Our moral instincts evolved in our evolutionary history as social animals. Those who could cooperate had a reproductive advantage over those who were selfish. Our evolved morality includes an instinct to cooperate but sadly with an instinct to cheat sometimes. We have also evolved an instinct to defend ourselves against cheating and to join with others in preventing it. These are complex instincts, but are exactly what we would expect from natural selection, and not from an intelligent creator.

The Bible is often suggested as a moral guide, but it is full of the most immoral ideas. The moral treaties that humans negotiate with each other change with time and place, and hopefully improve. Those in the Bible were acceptable at the time and place of writing, but they are not what should guide us today. The church, which burned hundreds of thousands to death in almost unimaginable agony, does not start from a position of moral authority.

Further reading: See the Youtube talk by Alice Roberts describing the reactions to Margaret Knight’s famous broadcasts “Morals Without Religion” in the 1950s:


Strictly, this is not evidence against the truth of religion but is evidence of its unattractiveness. The crusades, jihads and other wars were, and continue to be, justified by religion. Unbelievable cruelty has been carried out in its name. Many were burned at the stake (sometimes for less than the content of this list of evidence). Apostates from Islam are still executed in some countries today and even children are executed for religious crimes under Sharia law. But before we consider ourselves superior, we must remember that the death penalty for expressing atheist opinions was used in Edinburgh as late as 1697. In 1766 in France, a 19-year-old was tortured, beheaded and burned for failing to doff his cap for a religious procession. And in 1826 a schoolmaster was executed for heresy in Spain.

But when did you hear of an atheist being violent to another atheist because he is the wrong sort of atheist? To be fair, of course, we must admit also that many people have done good things under religious motivation.

But the churches have a horrible record of cruelty and abuse of power. From the fourth century CE until the sixteenth, the Roman Catholic Church had almost complete control in Western Europe. It held the power of life and death and confiscation of wealth. Even kings could not defy it but found it better to be in alliance. Its leaders had the status of near-royalty.

In modern times, the Catholic Church and Islam have consistently opposed the use of condoms, causing over-population and poverty and the spread of AIDS. Genital mutilation of children continues today.

Some people have been repulsed by the frequent reports of sexual abuse by priests. Others have resented the clergy’s disapproval of their own sexual preferences. Some just think religious ceremonies are boring.

One of the objections many have to religions is their continuing vast accumulations of wealth. The promise of advantages in a non-existent afterlife in exchange for money is the greatest scam of all time and it is made more effective by being immune from law enforcement. One can only wonder how many of the gullible elderly have left their assets to the church instead of their families.

Religion may be rightly despised, but we must recognise that the people who support it should not be. The people who have strong religious belief are victims, not the perpetrators. Even those who derive income and status from religion are mostly sincere believers in the religious fabrications, so they are victims too. Of course, it does not escape them that their position gives advantages. Since critical thought threatens not only their worldview, but also their social standing and material welfare, they are likely to be the most deeply resentful of it.

But while we might find many aspects of religion despicable, they do not provide any proof that the supernatural claims of religion are untrue. The main reason to reject religion should not be whether it motivates either good or bad behaviour; it should be because the evidence proves that it is not true.

Further Reading: Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age recounts the destruction of the classical world by Christianity as it progressed to total power.


When we stand back and look at it, as if we were coming on it for the first time, the story of Christianity is very strange, almost incoherent. It would be impossible for the Christian story to have survived if people were introduced to it for the first time as adults. No single person could have made it up; it is a patchwork assembled over centuries. Let us review it:

Six thousand years ago, God made the universe in six days. What a trick, when we now know that, it takes years, at the speed of light, to travel from one star to another!

He made a garden on a small planet, created the first pair of human beings and put them in it. He planted a tree with fruit, which he forbade them to touch.

Then the Devil (when was he created and by whom?) disguised as a talking snake, persuaded them to eat it. God was so angry that he condemned them and their posterity, for about 4000 years, to go to Hell.

In between times, he got cross again and drowned everybody except Noah and his wife. For a second time the human race, and all the animals, must have bred from incestuous siblings: it must have caused some problems with the gene pool as well as being sinful.

He kept on sending people to Hell anyway, because he was still mad about the fruit incident.

Then God had a dalliance with a girl already betrothed to a carpenter and Jesus was born.

Jesus fell foul of the Roman authorities and was executed. Luckily, this was just what God needed to redeem us! For some reason, Jesus’ dying unpleasantly was just what God required, before he could see his way clear to forgive us about those apples. Now, no more need be condemned to hell fire… oh, except those who disbelieve.

Then there is a third spooky character hanging around, whom we don’t hear much about, to make the Trinity. It turns out that God, his son and this third character are all really one individual (don’t even ask).

It seems that priests, by saying a few words, can turn a biscuit into the flesh of Jesus and you can actually eat a bit of him and drink his blood. Yum yum! But curiously, he tastes like biscuit!

Of course, it is wrong to be flippant about such a serious subject [Is it? The best jokes are frequently about serious matters. Ed.]. One should criticize ideas, not people, but some aspects of the tale seem only worthy of ridicule. We might wonder why people believe this stuff and think, “God only knows”. But it is perhaps useful to reflect on why some of our fellow citizens take a different view. These are intelligent people and yet they believe things without evidence, indeed in the face of the clearest contrary evidence.

We all, in the course of our lives, build up a structure of knowledge, or at least belief, about many things. It includes information fed to us as children before we were able to be critical.  As we receive more information in life we confirm or refine our world view. If we receive an isolated piece of contrary information, it is reasonable to assume it is wrong, because it contradicts much of what we already “know”. The world model that we build up in our brains is an important intellectual investment which we cannot readily discard. And that investment increases with time, so it is not surprising that older people are least likely to change.

The reluctance to give up beliefs which have made sense in the past is not illogical, but it is greatly reinforced, if the beliefs are perceived to bring benefit. Religion brings the feeling of being loved and protected by a powerful invisible friend, a sense of community with other believers and a reassurance that we will survive death and meet our loved ones again. To surrender these comforts is too much for many people. Evangelists know this and concentrate on things like “Jesus loves you” and encouraging fellowship, rather than talking about evidence.

There are many human groups, not only religious ones, where accepting a belief is a condition of membership. Sometimes a severe test of loyalty is to believe something which is outrageously absurd such as the Catholic Eucharist. In such cases, reason and evidence are of no interest to the believer.

Invariably, people believe the religion they were born into and this can be important. To deny one’s religion can feel like a betrayal of one’s family or heritage. It can be a painful process.

The result is that even intelligent believers will simply refuse to address the questions listed here. It is too big a pill to swallow. We must recognize that with understanding and empathy.



Faced with the difficulty of producing evidence for religion, it is often said that evidence is not necessary or even desirable. We must believe by faith and God is testing us by this means. This exploits our instinct toward loyalty. But the problem with faith is that it has no specific target. It could be directed at any belief and the only thing that would lead us to one rather than another would be whichever we were introduced to first. This is a deceiving argument that could be used to sell anything. Bertrand Russell defined faith as “a firm belief for which there is no evidence”. (We might add “and often despite strong evidence to the contrary.”)

Something rather than nothing:

Wrong version:  When you see that magnificent mountain, you just know there is a God.

Correct version: When you see that magnificent mountain, you just know there is a mountain.

Most leading scientists and philosophers are sceptics, but there is a minority who have managed to reconcile their scientific knowledge with a belief in God. The more distinguished of these tend to be triumphantly celebrated by evangelists. Some are far from orthodox belief. Some think of God as a first cause but do not believe that he takes an interest in human affairs or that there is an afterlife (Deism). Frequent reasons given for belief are variations on the theme that there is something rather than nothing so there must be a god. Or there is a vast universe out there, so there must be a god. Or the physical constants of the world happen to be such that life can exist, so there must be a god.

The only statement supported by observational data in these is just the first part. We have some evidence that these things exist. We should stop there! Occam would have understood. But it remains true that a minority of eminent and intelligent people are willing to believe.

The First Cause:

Since everything has a prior cause (debatable) there must have been a first cause, so that must be God. But we can ask what caused God? Perhaps he was created by a greater god and so on? Or perhaps something has always been there? This argument came before modern theories such as the Big Bang, but in every case, no purpose is served by holding beliefs which go beyond any available evidence.

The Argument from Design:

It had always been clear that all living things have a complex, non-random and purposeful design. This was a compelling argument for a creator, although it was difficult to know why he had created pestilences. William Paley had written a convincing book, Natural Theology, in 1802 with his famous analogy of someone finding a watch on the ground. The watch could not have occurred at random; it must have had a maker. So living things must have had a maker. The publication of evolution by natural selection in 1859 gave a different way that complexity had occurred. Until then, it had been the most convincing argument for the existence of a god.

Remarkably, many evangelists still use it today to uninformed audiences. It was their best, perhaps their only good, argument and they do not want to give it up. Evolution is disposed of by psychological denial. Creationism and Intelligent Design are vigorously promoted to justify it, but only those driven by intense religious desire can ignore the weight of evidence for natural selection. Promotion of these ideas is particularly strong in USA but, even there, it is not unopposed.

The Natural Law Argument:

Since nature behaves according to natural laws, there must have been a law-giving authority, so that must be a god. This is a rather silly argument which confuses two meanings of the word law. A government law is created by humans as an instruction for other humans to obey, which they sometimes don’t. A natural law is simply a statement of how nature has been observed to behave.

God is needed to establish morality:

This is an expression of desire rather than evidence. If true, he hasn’t done a great job of it. There is the question, is God good? If he is good, there must be a standard of goodness independent of God; where could that have come from? Or perhaps good is just what he says it is? Religious believers seem to behave similarly to others, guided by their instincts of right and wrong, rather than thinking of religious sanctions.

It’s not meant to be taken literally:

At the beginning of the 1700s belief in religion was almost universal. Early scientists accepted that they were discovering and appreciating the work of the Creator and there was a belief in the literal truth of Holy Scripture and its confirmation from science was confidently expected. Anyone thinking otherwise would have been considered mad as well as sinful. But as scientific evidence accumulated there was a gradual conflict of ideas. It began to be shown that one part of scripture after another could not be right. For a time (and even for many today) the problem was solved by accepting that, although the literal meanings of some parts of the bible were wrong, they could be right, given the correct interpretation. For example the age of the earth was reconciled by finding a statement within the Bible which said that, for God, a thousand years are but a day (still doesn’t give the right answer). Christian apologists learned to claim that scripture was only a poetic allegory. By this method, every criticism could be deflected.

Some of this was not easy to do. Humanity being created by God in his own image in one day needs a lot of interpretation to get to all life forms having developed over billions of years by natural selection and humans being modified apes. Nevertheless it has been attempted. While some Christians pin their hopes on the simple denial approach of creationism, the Roman Catholic Church accepts evolution, possibly mindful that they got it spectacularly wrong denying science in the past. Evolution was simply God’s way of creating. Adam and Eve were the first people with souls.

There must be something more than this:

These were the words of film actor Mel Gibson when asked why he had such a strong religious faith. It is a common feeling. Yet it offers neither reason nor evidence; only desire.

But you can’t prove that God does not exist:

This is often claimed but, if true, it does not show that the chance is 50/50. An infinite number of things that the imagination can dream up may be impossible to disprove, but when there is no scrap of good evidence to suggest that they might exist, they are not worth considering. Bertrand Russell illustrated it well in 1952 with his story about a teapot:

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”


In the UK surveys have shown a steady decline in religious belief and observance. Here are some results for the levels of religious identity from 1983 to 2021. There has been a recurring difference between the British Social Attitudes Survey and the Census results. This can be due to the form of the questions or the circumstances in which they are answered. There may a risk of answers being determined by a sense of community rather than actual belief. There has also been a reluctance of non-believers to declare their opinion but this has decreased over recent decades. All of these effects make the results imprecise but there are clear trends.

British Social Attitudes        Census Eng & W  Scot

1983    2008    2018                2011    2021    2021

%         %         %                     %         %         %

No religion                                    31       43       52                  25.2    37.2   36.6

Christian (of which…)              66       50       38                 59.3    46.2   53.8

Church of England / CofS                  40       22       12                                             36.6

Roman Catholic                                   10          9          7                                          {

Presbyterian                                           5          3          2                                          {

Methodist                                               4          2          1                                           {  5.5

Baptist                                                    1          1          *                                             {

Christian – no denomination            3       10       13                                             {

Other Christian                                    3          2          1                                           {

Non-Christian (of which…)        2          7          9                     8.1     10.2         2.6

Muslim                                                    1          3          6                     4.9       6.5         1.5

Jewish                                                      1          1          *                     0.5       0.5         0.1

Other non-Christian                             1          3          3                     2.7       3.2         1.0

Did not answer                                                                                      7.1       6.0         7.0

* = less than 0.5%


Note: The Census question is “What is your religion?” whereas the BSAS question is in two steps: “Do you consider yourself as belonging to a particular religion?” followed by “if ‘yes’, which one?” This may explain the difference in results. The Census may cause some people to put down a religion which is only nominal, whereas the BSAS may pull some who are non-denominational believers into the “no-religion category. But the trend is notably the same in both.

Similar figures are found throughout most of the democratic western nations. Even the United States, which had seemed an outlier, is showing a decline in religious observance. Sadly, in some other parts of the world there have been signs of increasing religiosity accompanied by aggressive enforcement.



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