The Logical and Intellectual Bankruptcy of Christianity

by Mike Darwin

I can remember, with unfortunate precision, when I ceased to believe in God. Please note the emphasis on the “I” and the capitalization of God.

I was seven years old and being prepared for my First Communion in the Roman Catholic Church. I do not know what this entails today, but at that time, being enrolled in a Parochial school before the advent of Vatican II, it was an elaborate, 9-month long process of indoctrination and ritual. The church I attended was dark, Gothic, aromatic and overawing.  The nun who instructed me and my class was kind and compassionate, but also knowledgeable, stern in her faith and firm in her convictions.

Sister Mary Ephraim (Right)

Amidst the endless rote memorization of the articles of the faith of the church and the various moral absolutes and injunctions, were told often, and in hushed tones, about the sacred transformation that was about to occur in us. The Holy Ghost was about to enter our bodies and sanctify and purify us, and we when the priest put the Host upon our tongues, the Body of Christ would enter into us and we would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord. This was to be a a transformative moment. In retrospect, it seems very strange that out of that first grade class of 30 or so children, not one ever asked a question along the lines of, “What does it feel like to have the Holy Ghost enter your body?” or “What does it feel like to have Jesus inside you?”

To my knowledge, no one asked those questions there in class, or at home of their parents, or to each other during recess, or after school, or at any other time. Remarkable!

And so the time came and I had my First Communion and the celebratory breakfast at a local restaurant afterwards. I’m smiling in the photos taken at that event and seemingly enjoying my gifts. But inside, I am already desperately unhappy, because whatever  magical feeling was supposed to have happened; it didn’t happen to me. Again, strangely, I didn’t discuss this non-event, and neither did anyone else, if indeed, it was a non-event for them.  And so, from that day forth I knew that for me, at least, there was no god. The capital came off the g and, gradually, as time wore on and my intellectual horizons began to grow, I realized that probably most of the other kids in my class had had a pretty similar experience to mine. There had been no hallelujah moment, no inward whoosh of the Holy Ghost, and urgent need for temporary immunity with a sanctifying jolt from Jesus that had to be renewed once a week with Holy Communion.

Grade School Graduating Cohorts: 1969. How many felt the rapture?

Their belief had become not a direct belief in that tangible supernatural experience, but rather a belief in the belief of the goodness and the rightness and the necessity of that experience, and as a side effect, of all the dogma, doctrine, ritual and machinery of the church that was tied to it. Of course, I did not understand why they believed that and  why they needed to believe it; so I kept my mouth shut and went along with it until cryonics entered my life.

Cryonics changed everything, because it was the key to understanding the fundamental reason for the need to believe in religion and that was in turn the need to deal with the central and most pressing problem of human existence (which is not, as most philosophers would have you believe “man’s purpose in the universe,” but rather, the problem of DEATH. A writer who particularly influenced me (via cryonics) was Alan Harrington. with his radical manifesto The Immortalist. Once I read The Immortalist the key turned in the lock and the door opened. Religion was a coping mechanism it was a sanity mountainous device that had no more basis in reality than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.  From Harrington I learned of Miguel d’Unnamuno and then, in my Sophomore year of High School I read Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death which frames the whole proposition from a more rigorous cognitive perspective.

In more recent years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that religion, religious thought, religious beliefs and mystical experiences are likely rooted in our evolutionary biology and that, as opposed to being merely a social tool for coping with the terrible reality of death, religion may have an evolutionary-biological basis, as well.

The implications of that, if true, are powerful and staggering, because it means that as we outgrow the need for such ancient and irrational coping mechanisms, it will be difficult to set them aside – more difficult than we may have previously imagined. As a consequence, we will need all the tools of logic and reason at our disposal to demolish the infrastructure of religious thought.

Growing up, as I did, in a religious environment, and being both an atheist and a cryonicist, I was confronted with many religion-based arguments against cryonics and immortalism. This was also a time of stunning advances in biomedicine and cryonics was all about the promise of more to come. At that time, and even more so now, the party line within the cryonics community was one of strict appeasement with respect to any conflict with religion. “Don’t antagonize them. We need the members. Keep your mouth shut.” Those were the bylines. Mostly, I held my tongue. But I from time to time I would mumble, under my breath, the thought I often had after the shame  of not feeling the rapture of the Holy Ghost (nee’ Holy Spirit) pouring into me or Jesus not suffusing my being after Holy Communion: Well, you know, the only thing that would have lent real credibility to Christianity is if, when Jesus, God’s beloved only son, exsanguinating on a rough hewn cross of wood, cried out, “E’-Li, E’-Li la’-ma sa-bach’-tha- ni?[1]” there was absolutely no answer, and that was really the end of it. No resurrection 3-days later. No atonement for mankind’s sins. Just oblivion. No backroom deals, no escape clause, no abracadabra, no miracle.

I mean, honestly, how scary is obliteration if it lasts only as long as a 3-day bender, or an especially bad bank holiday weekend? How big a deal is death, if it really isn’t forever? I was coming of age in a time when people were recovering from comas that lasted for weeks for or months – and in rare cases even for years! Three days? Give me a break! On a purely logical basis, Christianity doesn’t make any sense. As we cryonicists are quick to point out, there is a serious logical fallacy if the definition of death is the irreversible loss of life, and yet dead people can supposedly come back to life, get married have children, grow old and die again, ‘cmon!. Where’s the sting in that? So Jesus died?

OK, so lots of people “die” nowadays. They suffer and “die.” They exsanguinate slowly, they suffer injuries so terrible that they make Jesus’ brief tenure on the cross and his march down the Via Dolorosa look like happy hour on Folsom Street in San Francisco. And what’s more, they live – and they live long, satisfying and productive lives, including people like the one in the photo above. And they do so, not because of anantiquated coping mechanism for death and mayhem, but because of rational, scientific inquiry and its application to medicine by courageous and dedicated men who value life and want to preserve and extend it.

One good thing I can say about Roman Catholicism is that a central tenet of the faith is that it must be accepted willingly – not through coercion.  As a consequence, the adherent is asked at numerous junctures if he is he is indeed a believer. Me being me, I said no, early and often. My parents’ response to this was to force me to observe the rituals of the church. I was made to attend Mass. However, to their considerable credit, the priests and nuns would and  did not cooperate in any way with my parents’ attempts to force further participation. So, while my parents sat and stood and keeled and spoke as the ritual dictated, I merely sat. And so it went until this ordeal became too embarrassing for them.

My parents never interfered with my intellectual autonomy. They never even attempted to interfere with my signing up for cryonics at the age of 15, with embrace of Darwinian evolution, or with any other of my beliefs or ideas. Somehow, they knew and respected that cryonics, in particular, was absolutely critical to my person-hood and to my dignity – indeed that it was central to my integrity as a human being. I could then only imagine what it must have cost them to do that.

When I saw that my mother was developing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a number of doable scenarios crossed my mind that would have allowed me to cryopreserve her, or to otherwise render her brain into a fixed, unchanging state. I have done this before in very different situations for very different reasons. How is not material to what I have to say here. The fact is, I would have done almost anything to have saved my mother. I would have stolen or killed  to have saved my mother.

The one thing I would not have done is to have defiled her autonomy. And therein lies a terrible irony, because, at the very cost of her own life, the values she, and her logically bankrupt religion taught me, stayed my hands.

Will she and all the other dead be recoverable some day in some way in an infinite universe or multiverse? Perhaps. That’s what the theoretical physicists tell us this week. Maybe in 13 billion years we will all be united end of the space-time continuum.  Does 13 billion years matter? Hell yes! Three days? No so much. We aren’t gods and the fact is, we are so far from it we can’t even approach that throne, look upon it, or begin to understand it. So for all practical purposes, 13 billion years is forever and for now, dead is dead. We need to keep that in mind as we reason our way forward day by day and make the decisions that shape our lives and the lives of those we love.

[1] “My God, My God, why hath Thou forsaken Me?”

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19 Responses to The Logical and Intellectual Bankruptcy of Christianity

  1. Mark Plus says:

    >In more recent years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that religion, religious thought, religious beliefs and mystical experiences are likely rooted in our evolutionary biology and that, as opposed to being merely a social tool for coping with the terrible reality of death, religion may have an evolutionary-biological basis, as well.

    Gregory S. Paul has drawn attention to data in the social science literature which suggests that religiosity derives from bad living conditions, and that people hold religious beliefs as superficial opinions which they lose interest in when they live in the standard-issue social democracy which includes universal health insurance. Paul disputes the biological and existential conjectures about religiosity by pointing out that the French die like everyone else, but nonbelief in religion has become the norm in the French population because they have arranged things politically to protect themselves from common adversities. You may have observed the similar process in the UK:

    >The implications of that, if true, are powerful and staggering, because it means that as we outgrow the need for such ancient and irrational coping mechanisms, it will be difficult to set them aside – more difficult than we may have previously imagined. As a consequence, we will need all the tools of logic and reason at our disposal to demolish the infrastructure of religious thought.

    I haven’t seen a live demonstration of Siri app yet (some things take awhile to show up in rural Arizona, and Apple doesn’t sell a Siri app version for the iPad), but from looking at the commercials and video demonstrations posted by users on YouTube, including some Siri-based humor, it strikes me how little it takes to trick our theory of mind into attributing a mind to something which lacks it. People who buy iPhones with Siri know that programmers working for Apple created that software, and that it has about as much of a mind as a cartoon character; yet we organically fall into the behavior of treating it like a person.

    From that perspective, a god looks a lot like an imaginary version of the Siri app; and people’s efforts to communicate with this “god app” through prayer, worship and the reading of obscure scriptures makes about as much sense as talking to your Siri app about sex.

    This bug in our theory of mind poses a danger for cryonicists. Unless we can find a way to detect a mind reliably, the conjectural ability to upload minds into computers could in fact become a way of committing suicide by turning yourself into a very sophisticated Siri-like app which give the illusion to outside observers of preserving your life, but without the substance.

    • Eugen Leitl says:

      > This bug in our theory of mind poses a danger for cryonicists. Unless we can find a way to detect a mind reliably, the conjectural ability to upload minds into computers could in fact become a way of committing suicide by turning yourself into a very sophisticated Siri-like app which give the illusion to outside observers of preserving your life, but without the substance.

      How do you suppose you would get a complete emergence of behavior and deep-level operational signatures (EEG on steroids) from digitized neuroanatomy at a low level of theory (roughly BlueBrain) without accurate reproduction of the first person view?

      It’s easy to fool people with simulacra like what Terasem is proposing, but this is not whole body/brain emulation. It’s a fake allright.

    • chronopause says:

      In the laboratory, there is growing evidence that it may be possible to induce/reproduce mystical experiences and to reproduce elements of the near death experience (NDE). It is also possible to manipulate individuals’ moral interpretation of narrative problems via transcranial electrical stimulation, and to do so with considerable repeatability. Indeed, the consistent presence of the NDE and its associated effects of comfort and individual assurance of an afterlife cut across all cultures, and suggest a biological origin. I have talked with many patients who have had NDEs, both right after, and long after their experience; so I am well acquainted with the phenomenon.

      Similarly, this mystical and religious experience transcultural – is seen in all human populations – no matter how isolated or linguistically or culturally separate. Arguably, this behavior is as universal in humans as are language and fire. For some puzzling reason, most atheists find this idea anathema – rather like most Southern white racists would upon discovering that they have black slave ancestors.

      However, I think the biology to support this position is accumulating and is increasingly credible. My home here in Northern Arizona is called Krell House. People often ask me if it is called Krell House as in “Krell” from the move FORBIDDEN PLANET,” to which I respond “Yes,” but funnily enough, they never ask me “Why?” Well, there’s the answer. It’s the monsters from Id in the movie I’m worried about, it’s the god monsters from our evolutionary past – the antique coping mechanisms for death and disease – the introns in our psyche – the horns and tails in our minds – those are the monsters I’m worried about. — Mike Darwin

      • Mark Plus says:

        Perhaps you read different atheist websites from the ones I read, Mike. I see discussions of “neurotheology” all the time, and I don’t understand why the research would make atheists uncomfortable. If you can observe “mystical” brain states under an fMRI, for example, that falls within the realm of science, not in the realm of woo-woo.

        Ironically the research shows the differences between Buddhism versus religions like christianity which depend on unlikely historical claims. Buddhist practices have some consequences which we can observe in the here and now, and in fact those aspects of Buddhism don’t even require postulating an historical Buddha to account for them; monks in ancient India could have stumbled across those techniques empirically, then rationalized them latter with mythology to make the discipline easier to remember & teach.

        For example:

        Buddhists ‘really are happier’

        The same goes for research which allegedly shows that religious observance correlates with better health, fewer social pathologies, happier families and similar secular values, though I find these claims evidence-challenged. Just compare:


        As for NDE’s, anyone who bothers to think about it will realize that we have no reason to believe that an “afterlife,” if it exists, has to last forever. We just make the completely unwarranted assumption that it does. So how does having an NDE make the prospect of dying look any better?

        In fact, I look forward to the day when we have belief-inducing machines in amusement parks where you sit down and choose from a menu which religious or mystical experience induced in your brain you want to have, including the option to flip between them.

      • chronopause says:

        Mark, I confess, I don’t look at atheist websites. The reason for this is that the the only contact I’ve had with organized atheism since the advent of the Internet has been face to face, and that mostly outside of the US. Oh, correction, with the exception of some brief correspondence with those few activist atheists who contact me as a consequence of things I’ve written. As best I can recollect, that’s mostly those in the US. So, I’ll defer to your expertise in this area. Apologies given, sampling bias to blame.

        Beyond sampling bias, there may be selection bias at work, too. Unless I’m mistaken, I got a response from Greg Fahy along the same lines, maybe a year or two ago. My recollection is vague, but I think he was having none of the idea that the “god idea” might have biological roots. His opinion might have influenced my opinion of atheists, since to me, he is sort of the “prototypical” atheist – he was someone I looked up to as kid, and it was he who introduced me to Madalyn Murray O’Hair. — Mike Darwin

      • cath says:

        As part of my bipolar illness I have experienced beatific and ecstatic religious states of mind and body, stopped with a little blue phenothiazine pill. I have met people with temporal lobe brain tumours with wonderful religious visions ‘cured’ by anticonvulsants, and they laugh at themselves and religion afterwards. The content of the religious thinking seems to be enculturated, the mood pancultural, and to exist in greater or lesser degree in many people.

        Another painting for my next show is “Dr Persinger and the God Helmet” based on Goya’s etching “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”.

        I think the religion problem is critical. In my most despairing
        moments I think the reason for Fermi’s Paradox is that every evolving intelligent life form will be mortal, as a general law, and thus need to evolve an irrational mental structure like religion to enhance survival while simultaneously being aware of its own mortality. Perhaps this problem has never been overcome by any extra-terrestrial species to allow it to engineer the extended life or suspended animation for deep space travel. Extra-terrestrial intelligent species enter cultural stasis or self-destruct before extended life and space travel become possible.

        My paintings will be exhibited in a medium sized city (for Australia) downtown in a contemporary art space to coincide with national science week. They will be humane, purposeful and tender images, for any viewer, not for just dyed-in-the-wool life extensionists.

  2. Eugen Leitl says:

    My point was that is very easy to tell a real simulation from a Markov chain gibberbot.

    You can easily spot who’s a fraud: these are the people who’re not starting with neuroanatomy, but claim to reverse-engineer this particular black box by observing inputs/outputs and behavior. Not to say there’s not a market for it among the mourners, but none if it is in the selfish interest of the recently departed.

  3. unperson says:

    religion has little to do with logic. And if you were as smart as you think you are, after being at this cryonics thing for more than 30 years, you surely would have taken in tens of thousands of new cryonicists. Yet, after all these decades, the only reality-based approach to beating death actually has a shrinking membership. Res ipsa loquitur–the thing speaks for itself.

    and here you are again–preaching to the choir. And this sort of internet based marketing is very common–focus in on one particular target demographic, and then give them a pure echo chamber, an echo chamber free from competing ideology, and then from that, money will follow. One can see this sort of approach in american political internet forums such as democraticunderground and Free Republic–a certain well defined political is established and defended. Ideological invaders are ousted, demonized, attacked etc. Preach to the choir. Do not challenge them. Give them what they want to hear and the green will flow.

    Whether this is acceptable depends on your goals.

    • chronopause says:

      Your last comment is the really useful one: “Whether this is acceptable depends on your goals.” The goal of this piece was to provide what I believe were a couple of fundamentally new arguments against Christianity, namely the absurdity of the “sacrifice” of the death of Jesus, the logical fallacy of “death” in the context of resurrection, and the superiority of the heroic power of scientific inquiry and labor in medicine to save lives, restore health and reverse trauma, over the hocus pocus of the arbitrary, and often mean-spirited “miracles” of an old man with a long white beard. I think those are valuable, added arguments to the logical armamentarium.

      However, in contrast to you, I do not think they will be immediately useful, will prove immediately popular, or will provoke cries of hallelujah from the “cryofaithful.” It’s not yet possible to test my prediction that these ideas will prove useful. In fact, I may well have wasted my time in writing this piece, beyond the personal catharsis it provided. There, I must say, it more than paid for itself. It was 30+ years overdue if it was a day. However, unless these argument both show up elsewhere and are effective, then it matters naught in the greater scheme of things. And therein lies the problem, because it is exceedingly difficult to measure those two things. I’m sure I don’t how.

      It is, however, possible to measure whether or not the “choir,” as you put it, liked this post. And the answer there would seem to “no.” Admittedly, I can speak to this issue with greater confidence than my readers, because I get to look at the daily stats, and they do not. The daily stats are exquisitely sensitive to topic “popularity,” mostly this appears as a function of “page views.” Write something truly interesting or nasty, even if you don’t know it at the time, and it will immediately be reflected in page hits. It’s almost magical.

      The graph at the URL above shows the effect of the Christianity post. It is marked by the line in green. It isn’t possible for me to show the trend line, but the impact was immediate, it was like pouring cold water on a fire. Most of the traffic you see reflect on the summary point for that day is not from that post, but from previous posts, much of it from the CryoX post, and the remainder from other posts, some quite ancient. BTW, Chronosphere has clearly failed to build traction and there are no “mainstay” posts that attract consistent attention. Most of the average 300-350 hits a day are random noise: people accessing the site because they are searching key words and then probably leaving quickly. I really don’t know, because to implement the Google stats package requires that each post have an identifying string at the beginning and end – something I haven’t been able to get to work.

      Similarly, consistent promotion of the blog requires a lot of disciplined work by highly knowledgeable people. I’m not either blog or net literate. Look at Less Wrong if you want a good model for what needs to be done on the technical end. Beyond that, Less Wrong is also probably a good model of what needs to be done socially and organizationally.

      Still, I have to chuckle. Look at the power of this medium! Imagine grabbing 300 peoples’ attention each day for a few seconds, and maybe longer, with so little effort. That’s truly incredible. When I think of the contortions Spammers go through to do this, and in so doing, really piss people off in the process – and they still find it economically rewarding to do so. Well, it’s mind boggling!

      Perhaps the most impressive thing about Less Wrong to me is that they appears to be achieving physical meetings between people at diverse locations. Virtual is all well and good, but it is greatly over rated. I don’t think, I know that time will prove me right on this point. — Mike Darwin

      • Eugen Leitl says:

        If you want to use Google Analytics, you need to enable Google Analytics on your Gmail account, and give me the info to feed to the plugin.

        • chronopause says:

          Actually, many moons ago, i sent you that information. I know, you’ve asked several times since. But, I’ve lost it. All that remains of those efforts is an INCREDIBLY annoying gray box that obscures half my WordPress window and whichI cannot figure out how to make go away. –MD

  4. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Needless to say, I’m not keen on Christianity (or any other religion). I never really rebelled as a kid. It just simply did not make any sense to me. I didn’t rebel because, although my family was church-going, they never really pushed it on to me intellectually or socially, and the priests at our church were decent, likable people. I don’t like to argue with decent, likable people.

    • chronopause says:

      I wouldn’t comment here, except that I had a long conversation with a friend on this topic a couple of nights ago. I don’t think kids are (mostly) in any position to deal with or rebel against religion. My situation was pretty unique. I realized death was this horrible, absolutely unacceptable thing at a very early age; a sickeningly early age, even by my own standards. As a result, I understood why religion existed and tried very hard to accept and believe in it. However, once a rational, workable, real-world alternative presented itself (cryonics), then religion was simply revealed as what it always was; an obscene death trap. That this happened at the same time as I was becoming an independent person and was beginning to naturally rebel (which is a healthy part of becoming an adult) was just the luck of the draw.

      More now than then, I understand that religion was and still is an invaluable coping tool for our species. It contains elements important to the retention of our sanity in the face of great loss and hopelessness, which cannot simply be discarded absent replacement technology. If we fail to adapt and craft viable replacements for those invaluable elements of religion, we will fail when subjected to the extreme stressors that religion has classically helped human beings to survive. Travel to horribly insecure and chronically dangerous places in the world and what you will see in almost everyone’s hands at almost all times when people are not engaged in labor is some kind of prayer technology. It’s a distraction and stress relieving device. In cultures where it is permissible, you will often see this technology plus one or two pharmacological stress relieving technologies, such as alcohol and/or tobacco – and sometimes three – or four in combination (i.e., betelnut and caffeine)! Devices to inflict pain on a chronic basis, as well as hunger are also used. Almost no one thinks of these things as “coping technologies,” but that, and the belief structures that accompany them, are exactly what they are.

      The anguish of uncertainty that accompanied life when I was a boy was already greatly receding. But it was still imprinted upon the poor and downtrodden – especially the women. Many carried rosaries with them everywhere, because they grew up in a world of chaotic uncertainty where, from day to day, they faced the possibility of eviction, hunger, death of a relative, humiliation from lack of proper clothing, tuition, and so on. The problem with immortality is that it is not really immortality. Immortality is an illusion or an ideal, depending upon your perspective – it’s really a constant battle of life against death – extended indefinitely. That sounds great, and it is, but you must realize that once you expand your timescale indefinitely, problems that were invisible suddenly become of great concern. Today, everyone is focused only the fact that their contemporary problems will vanish: no more wrinkled skin, no more cancer… but what they don’t realize is that by expanding their timescale to “forever” they have widened the event horizon of their problems and exploded the degree of the uncertainty they will have to deal with. In fact, they increased it infinitely. Whilst their uncertainty will be infinite, at any given moment their time and resources will always be FINITE. In short, they’re gonna need some mighty big worry bead technology. — Mike Darwin

  5. Mark F. says:

    I find Xanax is a very good alternative to prayer.

    • chronopause says:

      Me too, and I’ve been using my allotted quota lately, which is a pity, because I was actually tapering down. — MD

      • Mark F. says:

        I use between 1 – 1.5 mg. per day. Is that excessive?

        • Carlotta Pengelley says:

          Ask your doctor that one, Mark. Just because Mike’s initials are MD, and my kids called him Dr. Mike whn they were little, and he may be SMARTER than you own, physician- he can only give you his opinion and not medical advise. Or he can do whatever he wants to. Xanax is more fun than prayer, but it’s much less safe.

          It’s all in fun, guys!
          CP, LVN II and Consultant

          • cath says:

            I’d like to see the proof that prayer is safer. I worked in the lab alongside a born again christian who prayed and sang hymns rather than use a fume hood for quite toxic solvents. She was brought into line, but the other woman we shared a lab with gave birth to a child with leukemia, maybe not caused by the solvent, but a possibility. Of course, that was just punishment from God because the pregnant lady was a Muslim.

            Best anxiety reduction can be obtained by lots of little calculations and speculations about uploading and the singularity.

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