In the wide world of religion, we find a number of very, very bad reasons for believing in the divine. Guy Harrison makes this point abundantly clear in his book 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God. Speaking with a wide variety of believers from different religious traditions all over the world, Harrison offers his 50 top responses offered by believers as justification for their faith. He says in the introduction “My fifty replies to common justifications for belief can be read as friendly chats designed to do nothing more than stimulate critical thinking. I am not interested in winning debates or insulting anyone. I only want to encourage readers to think more deeply about why they believe in a god” (p. 14).
The first bad reason for belief we will consider is, “So many people on earth are religious. How can that many people be wrong?” It is true that the vast majority of people on earth claim to have some kind of religious identification or belief in a supreme supernatural being or beings. But the mere fact that so many people are religious cannot be used as evidence that God exists. Indeed, many of these religions do not posit belief in one God, or any particular god at all. Some are animistic/spiritistic religions. Others engage in ancestor worship. Some strains of Buddhism and Taoism are atheistic.
The vast differences between religions make the “millions can’t be wrong” argument untenable. How does the ancient Egyptian belief in the sun god Ra bring any kind of legitimacy to the Muslim’s faith in Allah? Or the Greek view of Zeus speak in any way to the biblical view of God? This becomes especially problematic when we consider that many religions have completely incompatible views on a variety of things ranging from entire worldviews to individual doctrines.
While religiosity in general cannot validate any one religion or system of belief, it does invite questions for a more general matter. If we begin with the idea that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), then to believe in God would be a natural attribute of humanity (cf. Ecc. 3:11). If so, we should find a large number of people choosing to be religious, with a comparatively small number denying the existence of the divine. This is precisely what we find across cultures in our world.
Harrison argues that if one religion is deemed true and the others false, then we should examine the legitimacy of all religions equally. He says, “The mere presence of these billions of misguided believers would be a strong indication that there is something about the human mind or human culture that makes us vulnerable to believing in gods that do not exist … could it simply be an indication that we have always been very good at inventing gods?” (p. 26).
We could respond with a question of our own, “could the diversity of religious belief—and in the case of atheism, its dismissal—be an indication that we have always been very good at replacing God with inferior substitutes?” This is one point that Paul makes in his epistle to the church in Rome: “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25, ESV).
While the preponderance of religion cannot serve as evidence for any single religious tradition, we must realize that its ubiquity is not something that should be dismissed lightly. Why is it that mankind seems to be so religious? Some thinkers are content with merely calling religion a “mind virus” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris) that infects others. Other scientists are looking for a biological reason, that perhaps mankind is genetically predisposed toward faith. But even though it isn’t a good reason for belief, it does raise important questions – the kind that are done a disservice when thinkers like Harrison and the new atheists merely try to sweep them under the rug.