May 28, 2017

Why I Am Not a Christian

Over the last few years, I've been engaged in an email conversation about religious belief with a Christian friend. Inspired by Tyler Cowen's recent post (a), I decided to publish my latest reply from the thread.

There are two core reasons why I don't identify as Christian:

Multiple religions making mutually exclusive claims. This game-theoretic analysis of Pascal's Wager (a) gives an interesting framework, though I don't think it takes seriously the challenge of assessing the relative probabilities of different religions. This assessment could cash out in a variety of ways – one example:

  • If your prior belief is that consistency of claims matters more than antecedence or popularity, Islam seems most probable ("There is only one God – he loves all believers and hates nonbelievers" is a more consistent position than "There are three forms of God & each one has different attributes & they are all the same thing – the tripartite God loves everyone but some people go to hell" also more consistent than "There is one God and he likes the Jews more than other people but bad things happen to the Jews a lot.")

  • If your prior is that antecedence matters more than consistency or popularity, Judaism seems the most probable. ("Judaism has been around the longest, Christianity & Islam are just distortions of the original true faith.")

  • If your prior is that popularity matters more than consistency or antecedence, Christianity seems the most probable. ("Look at how far this religion has spread! If it wasn't true, so many different types of people wouldn't be able to believe it.")

It seems really difficult to know what your prior should be, and different priors point in different directions.

Also I take the existence of multiple religions making mutually exclusive claims as weak evidence against all religions that make mutually exclusive claims. One nice thing about buddhism is that it can cohabit with other belief systems (e.g. you can be a Christian and a buddhist, but you couldn't be a buddhist and a Christian (because that's some form of idolatry, I think?)).

The problem of evil. If God is all loving and all powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?

A few years ago, I engaged with Christian answers to the problem and nothing really resonated.

Any appeal to mystery holds little water with me. I'm suspicious of appeal to mystery because it functions as a universal justification.

[rereads: 2, edits: added links & archive links, tightened up phrasing]

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