Puncturing the God Fallacy, Repeatedly and Thoroughly

Religion’s greatest harm: “…the subversion of clear thinking…”

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This famous line from the 1976 film, Network, reflects the approach of so many secular/atheist writers of our time. Outrage is reignited, continually. 

This headline caught my attention a few days ago: Thousands of children abused by members of Portugal’s Catholic Church over 70 years. At the top of the article:

“At least 4,815 children were sexually abused by members of the Portuguese Catholic Church – mostly priests – over the past 70 years, a report by the commission investigating the issue said on Monday, adding the findings are the tip of the iceberg.” Child psychiatrist Pedro Strecht said “the 4,815 cases were the ‘absolute minimum’ number of victims of sexual abuse by clergy members in Portugal since 1950…Most perpetrators (77%) were priests and most of the victims were male…they were abused in Catholic schools, churches, priests’ homes, confessionals, among other locations.”

Such scandals have come to the public’s attention repeatedly, worldwide. We are entitled to wonder: Why isn’t membership in the Catholic Church down to zero by now? Systemic sexual abuse also has come to light in Protestant denominations as well. It would seem that the apostle Paul misjudged the impact of believing in Jesus: “…those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).

If we’re surveying damage done by religion, sex-obsessed clergy is just the tip of the iceberg—and there are a lot of other icebergs. Christopher Hitchens provided a comprehensive overview in his book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Given this reality, theology is overwhelmingly incoherent, but folks keep showing up for church because they’ve perfected the fine art of tuning out. They cling to doctrines and ritual by ignoring solid arguments against god-beliefs: “Oh no, we can’t listen to that!” “Oh no, we don’t want to think about the challenges to faith!” We can suspect that such alarm is based on doubts that lurk just below the surface; they’re afraid—they know all too well—that faith is easily punctured.  

There has been a long tradition of exposing the flaws of theism, especially the Christian version, e.g. Robert Ingersoll, Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Bertrand Russell, to name but a few. But the faith-motivated horrors of 9/11 prompted what I have called the atheist publishing surge: so many serious thinkers raising their voices because they’re mad as hell. The case against theism has been made so thoroughly, so convincingly. Of course, Christian apologists have been fighting back—there is so much at stake, above all, the hope of winning eternal life. But on the more practical, political level: they have a vested interest in the colossal Christian bureaucracy, spread over thousands of denominations: exactly what the world doesn’t need. All the more reason to expose Christianity’s fatal flaws. 

We have the Debunking Christianity Blog because of the focus and determination of John W. Loftus, who has also been busy for quite a few years publishing books on the falsification of Christianity. To see them all at a glance, visit his Amazon Author Page. This is a good place to start in appreciating how thoroughly Christian theology has been smashed. Many of Loftus’ works are anthologies, and are thus helpful portals for finding books by multiple atheist authors.  

I’m always on the lookout for concise refutations of theological pretense, and I found an especially good one a few years ago in S. T. Joshi’s book, God’s Defenders: What They Believe and Why They are Wrong. Among the god-defenders he takes aim at are William F. Buckley, Jr., Jerry Falwell, and C. S. Lewis. Today I want to draw attention, however, to his 18-page Introduction, a scathing rebuke of theism. He explains precisely why religions have been successful; they have been “…perpetuated not through the accumulation of additional evidence that validated their tenants, but through the systematic indoctrination of peoples into religious dogma from infancy onward, generation after generation” (p. 12).

“The dominant question thus becomes not why religion has not died away but why it continues to persist in the face of monumental evidence to the contrary. To my mind, the answer can be summed up in one straightforward sentence: People are stupid. The fundamental fact of human history is that people in the mass are irremediably ignorant” (p. 12). 

Stupidity and ignorance. Certainly this is not a good place to start when I engage with devout Christians: “Oh my, how stupid you are!” “How have you managed to stay so ignorant?”  There’s a better way to go about it. I ask questions about their understanding of Christian origins, their knowledge of the four gospels and how they relate. Mostly commonly, I find that their grasp of such things hovers near zero. How do stupidity and ignorance relate? Joshi suggests this:

“When I declare that religion is so widespread because people in the mass are stupid, I assert that they lack the information needed to make a well-informed evaluation of the truth-claims of religion” (p. 13).

Perhaps refusal to seek important information is one of the fundamentals of stupidity: the brain is stuck in a very bad place: the lack of curiosity, not wanting to learn, the refusal to learn—even contempt for learning, e.g.: 

As the U.S. is caught up in an ongoing epidemic of mass shootings, we see members of congress wearing assault-rifle shaped lapel pins; Lauren Boebert released a photo of her four sons holding rifles, standing in front of a Christmas tree.     

The Nazis kept very careful records of the Holocaust, because they were confident that killing Jews benefited humanity. In fact the Holocaust is one of the most thoroughly documented events in history. In the face of all this, there are Holocaust deniers. Certainly stupidity plays a role here, as well as arrogant and aggressive ignorance. 

These factors are heavily in play when we look at the common reasons advanced for belief in god, but these arguments don’t work, as Joshi points out: “The standard ‘proofs’ for the existence of God—arguments that have held sway throughout the medieval period and well into the nineteenth century—have all been destroyed and are now discarded even by most theologians” (p.16). He mentions five of them.

The First Cause

When Christian defenders have their backs against the wall—because theology is hobbled by so many flaws—they feel confident that there had to have been a creator. And they assume that this creator god is Bible-god, apparently giving no thought whatever to how they would know this: how was it that the ancient tribal deity, Yahweh—imagined by humans who knew nothing about the Cosmos—was present at creation? And it’s risky business indeed, since Bible-god is an authoritarian bully, although this oh-so-obvious fact is usually camouflaged with feel-good Bible verses. In their confidence in the first cause argument, they neglect to consult cosmologists, the scientists who are truly curious and determined in their hunt to discover cosmic origins. Joshi points out the complications:

“…there is no reason to postulate a single First Cause: given the multiplicity of phenomenon throughout the universe, there is no logical reason for assuming that there could not be two, three, or many First Causes…It could always be asserted that God himself caused the Big Bang, but God’s existence must be established independently before one can assume that he triggered the Big Bang” (pp. 16-17). 

The “Consensus of Mankind”

For millennia humans have believed in gods. How could they be wrong about these spiritual intuitions? Charles Darwin once wondered if lightening hadn’t given birth to religion: there’s an angry power in the sky. Now we know it’s a matter of electrical charges. And the diversity of guesses about the gods makes us suspicious, as Joshi notes:

“…comparative religion has shown that conceptions of godhead differ so widely from culture to culture—even from individual to individual within a given culture—that it becomes preposterous to assume that these people are believing in the same or even an approximately similar god” (p. 17). 

John C. Wathey has demonstrated that the impulse to believe is not based on mysteries residing in the sky. See his two books, The Illusion of God's Presence: The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing and The Phantom God: What Neuroscience Reveals about the Compulsion to Believe.


The Argument from Design

This continues to have enormous appeal—“Look how wonderfully the world is put together!”—and derives in part from William Paley’s (1743-1805) analogy of the watchmaker. If you find a watch on the ground while out for a walk, of course you know there was a clever designer/maker who created it. But, again, how do you connect this designer with Bible-god? If anyone wants to make the case for this, Joshi notes the major impediment:

“…there is the plain fact that many things do not seem well designed: if the divine purpose of existence is the fostering of life, then the exact function of diseases, earthquakes, typhoons, and other such embarrassment is, to put it mildly, problematic” (p. 18).

Abby Hafer has made this case in detail: The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not. 

The Argument from Feelings

It bears repeating that feeling Jesus—or any other deity—in your heart, is evidence for what you’re feeling. The chances you’re picking up vibes about how the Cosmos runs are slim to none—unless you can provide reliable, verifiable, objective data to back up the claim. It’s not hard to locate the source of intense feelings, as Joshi notes: “…it can be demonstrated that in the great majority of cases their ‘feelings’ are the result of prior religious indoctrination” (p. 18).

The Moral Argument

“This argument is probably the weakest of all, for it does not even seek to prove that a god exists but merely that it is socially beneficial for the people to believe in a god…” (p. 19). Joshi notes that people who aren’t religious follow high moral standards, and while many devout people don’t. He also points out that so many of the “moral” teachings found in various scriptures are “the products of barbarism, are unsuited for a civilized society…” (p. 19). The list of barbarisms is obvious, including the acceptance of slavery and misogyny. And we all know the horrors committed by Christian fanatics for centuries: the Crusades, the Inquisition, virulent anti-Semitism.  

While Joshi’s focus in this Introduction is exposing the weaknesses of common arguments for god, he mentions briefly the problem of evil that has “dogged religious thinkers for centuries” (p. 24). And indeed this problem abolishes the credibility of theism. Major and minor catastrophes, which have caused so much suffering for millennia, rule out the Christian claim that there is a caring, attentive, competent god. Here’s another headline that caught my attention this week: Robert Hébras, last survivor of World War II Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, has died. 

This another case of Christians tuning out: Oradour-sur-Glane is far beyond their horizon of awareness. On 10 June 1944, German troops retreating from France vented their rage on this small village, killing 643 people: the men had been herded into barns, shot, and then the barns were burned. The women and children were locked in the church and machine-gunned to death. In the church. Robert Hébras was shot several times, but managed to crawl out from under corpses and escape. He dedicated much of his life to telling the story of the massacre, and working for French-German reconciliation. The ruins of the village are preserved as a memorial.

Without resorting to “god works in mysterious ways” and “god has a bigger plan that we don’t know”—both of which are techniques for not thinking—Christians need to always keep Oradour-sur-Glane in mind: women and children massacred in the church. Their god just watched. 

S. T. Joshi has called it correctly:

“…it is plain that the battle against religious obscurantism must and will continue. The moment one folly is snuffed out, another and still greater folly seems to emerge to take its place. The greatest harm that religion has done, and continues to do…is the subversion of clear thinking” (p. 26). 



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 


His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.


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