Is the title of a recent post on Greta Christina's Blog , and a good read. For my money, Greta is the best atheist writer extant, better than Dawkins because she writes with human insight and without venom- rare and treasured qualities in any deep discussion. However, being the best of her genre doesn't mean I agree with her.
To attempt to refute her argument, I have to begin a little earlier than that post- "The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful" is really a continuation of an earlier (equally excellent) pair of posts, The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God , so I will handle it as she did, with a two-part answer to "The Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God", and then address "The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful"
Greta's Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God:
1. The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
There's a lot of things I could say to this, but none are better than a poem by J Huger :
The day we learned that The Sun doesn't go around the Earth, The sunset was still beautiful.
The day we learned that Evil spirits don't make us ill, The sick still suffered.
The day we learned that Our hearts are not where we feel, We were still in love.
Our world is not a conjurer's trick. Knowing how it's done Doesn't make the magic go away.
2. The inconsistency of world religions.
"If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do those perceptions differ so wildly?"
Actually, it would be a lot more astonishing if the perceptions were consistent. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable; ask anyone in law enforcement, or has been through one of those class exercises where a crime is performed right in the room, and then the class is asked to describe it- no two versions are identical. The effect is magnified when faced with something totally outside one's experience; odd cloud formations become UFOs, a rhinoceros becomes a unicorn. And these are physical phenomenon; how much more difficult is it to describe something perceived not by sight, but by internal direct perception? Consider the differing descriptions of love. All things considered, it is the amount of agreement between religions that is surprising, not the differences.
3. The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
"The argument from authority. (Example: "God exists because the Bible says God exists.")"
Argument from authority is weak, which is why so many believers don't depend on it- especially Neopagans, who don't depend upon the Bible, and have little respect for any authority.
"The argument that religion shouldn't have to logically defend its claims. (Example: "God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.")"
Agreed- a weak argument... which is why good theologians don't use it. CS Lewis is famous for making a logical case for his God. Though I am no theologian, I have attempted to do the same for my own Pagan beliefs here and here in posts, and intend to do more in the future.
"Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle -- so abstract that it can't be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: "God is love.")"
Agreed that this is incredibly weak; I have a lot of trouble respecting this argument myself. I have long held that theologians who do this are really atheists grasping for something that will allow them to keep drawing their stipend.
"The argument from personal experience. (Example: "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.")"
Ah, here's the rub, the heart of the entire debate. This is not a weak argument, but the strongest argument of all- it is a primary source, and primary sources are the touchstone of logical argument... if it were phrased correctly. What's wrong with the way she stated it is the phrase "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists."- there are tens of millions who don't claim "I feel in my heart that God exists", but "I know the Divine exists because I have experienced it directly." I "believe" in the Divine in the same way that I "believe" in the Earth; I have experienced both as concrete realities. John Franc describes such an experience; mine is similar in spirit, though not in exact detail.
I think Greta phrased it the way she did out of kindness; she didn't address it as a claim to have actually experienced the Divine to avoid saying "Those who have personal experience of God are psychos". Which, if you think about it, is a circular argument: "Those who have known God are psychotic. They are psychotic because they see things that don't exist. God doesn't exist because there's no evidence of God's existence. There's no evidence of God's existence no sane person claims to have seen God. There are no sane claims to seeing God because those who have seen God are psychotic."
4. The increasing diminishment of God.
"When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God himself, among believers themselves, has been diminishing. As our understanding of the natural, physical world has increased -- and our ability to test theories and claims has improved -- the domain of God's miracles (or other purported supernatural/ metaphysical phenomena) has consistently shifted, away from the phenomena that are now understood as physical cause and effect, and onto the increasingly shrinking area of phenomena that we still don't understand."
This is only a problem for the modern religions of Abrahamic descent. When you look at the history of religion, you actually see very, very few claims of omnipotence. World mythology is full of examples of Man outwitting the Gods- Prometheus and Arachne leap immediately to mind. Even the Bible is full of incidents of God testing men; why test, if you know the outcome- a clear lack of omnipotence. The extravagant claims of omnipotence are a medieval phenomenon, of the church asserting its dominance. Many of the World's religions, including my own Pagan beliefs and Christians of the "Process Theology" sort, do not now and never have made any such extravagant claims to diminish.
5. The fact that religion runs in families.
"Very, very few people carefully examine all the religious beliefs currently being followed -- or even some of those beliefs -- and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children."
I think this is a result of the perceptual difficulties referred to in point 2. If you have a religious experience, (and I agree there's little reason to believe if you don't), how can you understand what you experienced? As in my rhinoceros/unicorn example, you try to find a context for what happened... and if you were raised with such a context, why look further? The only reasons to look beyond what you have been taught is if your experience directly contradicts in an undeniable way what you had been taught, or if you had not had confidence in your initial instruction. (both, in my case)
End of part one.