Is Religious Belief Man-Made?

I received this question from a friend. 

“Have you ever run into somebody who says ‘Religion is all man-made.  Because ancient man couldn't figure out the universe he came up with “gods” to answer the questions.  He is still doing it today.’  This is how my boss sees any kind of faith as just something man has come up with.  Not sure how to answer that?  Do you have any suggestions? ”

Before I give an answer we must recognize the difference between an assertion and an argument.  An assertion is simply an opinion.  This statement from the friend is an unwarranted claim; it is an assertion and not an argument.  An argument has to have at least two parts; 1) a conclusion, and 2) one or more supporting statements or evidence.  The friend’s entire statement is simply a conclusion and needs support. 

So how would I respond?  I would begin by asking, “Why should I or anyone else believe that humans made up religious beliefs to explain the existence of the universe?”  Whenever I am challenged with an opinion, I like to pull out the “why” card.  I do this all the time.  I simply listen to the opinion and then ask why should I believe this?  What I have done is put the ball in the court of the challenger, where it belongs.  He made the statement and all I am asking for is support or evidence for his beliefs.  I listen to his support and then need to be prepared to challenge his evidence or ask further clarifying questions.  Many times the support turns out to be absurd and easily refuted.  Other times a well thought out answer will require me to give a more principled response.  I may ask a second question to give me time to think through my answer.  The main point is to make the questioner do the talking rather than the Christian launching into a refutation of an opinion.  We should not be answering opinions; we should be refuting arguments.  As Christians we are to train ourselves not to argue with conclusions or assertions and make the person present an argument. 

As my children grew up, they loved music and would argue who were the best bands.  I would repeatedly tell them not to argue over opinions; always ask why that particular band is the best.  Today my adult children are skilled at the art of arguing.  This same advice goes to anyone who engages in discussions concerning any topic.

Another angle I might use is to answer an opinion with a counter claim.  I do this tactic just for fun to see the reaction on the person’s face.  The person says, “Religion is man-made.”  My response is, “Atheism is man-made, created by people to avoid the obvious conclusion God created the universe and therefore, He exists.”  By doing this you have fashioned a standoff.  You ask now what?  The atheist many times sticks out his chest and tries to give a defense for atheism.  And this is what we really wanted from the challenger; an argument with support versus an opinion.  Now you can engage in a real discussion.  The Christian can present evidence for his or her beliefs and the atheist can do the same.  Both sides should defend their beliefs with arguments and not opinions.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Tom Wright September 6, 2010, 9:39 pm

    Isn’t “the obvious conclusion God created the universe” also an assertion?

  • Steve September 8, 2010, 6:05 am

    Congratulations on recognizing my assertion. However, you missed my subtle attempt at tactical humor. The point was to answer an assertion with an assertion. This is what creates the standoff, which was my goal. After the standoff both sides have to present evidence for what they believe, so now we have a real discussion based on reasons for belief and not opinions. If you could, reread my ending and you may catch my objective.

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