The question of whether there is a God has preoccupied humanity for millennia, and will likely continue to do so for long into the future.
For author Harry Margulies, the lack of a satisfactory, evidence-based answer ultimately led him to abandoning his faith. While he respects the individual’s right to belief, he thinks that we should all ask ourselves this most difficult of question and apply perhaps the most famous logical tool—Occam’s razor—to the problem.
His new book, Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest, is aimed at believers and non-believers alike and provides a penetrating logical analysis of the world’s ‘big three’ religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) to help individuals decide if faith is enough. We caught up with him to learn more …
Q. How would you sum up your new book, Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest?
A. Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest is not scientific writing. I am trying to analyse biblical and Quranic texts for what they actually say and not what we are taught to believe.
It is, therefore, a ‘questioning’ book, hopefully inspiring people to find their own answers to a number of questions to do with faith and religion.
Underpinning the book, which took me over two decades in terms of research, is the logical principle of Occam’s razor—that is, that the simplest answer to a question is almost always the right answer. I have sworn by this mental tool across my adult life and it has been invaluable when dealing with the topic of religion. You can see this principle reflected time and again in the religious questions I address in the book, and I encourage my readers to do the same.
For instance, we have a God with so many vile, human, attributes, that the question to be answered is surely as follows: is it more likely that God created us to have something to play with OR that man has created God in his image?
Q. The philosophy of religion is a very deep subject. How have you made this approachable to readers?
A. Religion is such a prominent and common thing in our everyday lives. Personally, I don’t believe it’s too ‘deep’ or abnormal to analyse something we are constantly exposed to.
I have broken it down to 12 individual questions, one for each chapter to give readers a way of thinking when analysing their beliefs. I am looking at texts for what they actually say and not what theologians or apologists would have us believe. It has made the book somewhat challenging for believers while it has made it informative for non-believers, and people sitting on the fence may get a push either way.
Q. Religion is also a thorny topic, to say the least. Were you mindful of potential sensitivities when writing your book?
A. I was at least as mindful as the holy texts being analysed!
Q. What do you hope readers will most gain from your book?
A. Clarity. So many wish to convert their beliefs to a salad bar where they pick and choose which parts of their holy texts they like and wish to abide by. That in itself tells you that you are wavering in your belief—just be honest about it. Leaving the Noah’s Ark scandal aside, God has a kill count of over two million people and Satan has a kill count of 10. Satan’s responsibilities are to tempt us while God has committed just about all evil. Applying Occam’s razor, who is the evil one?
Continuing on clarity, I hope that even devout believers who stick to their faith can at least acknowledge who or what it is they are worshipping.
Q. You have controversially said that the Bible should be banned for sale to under-18s. Can you explain why you think there should be such a ban?
A. If biblical texts would’ve been a movie, it would have certainly been given a rating of R18.
A few examples. The whole creation story—by the way, the Bible features two incompatible ones—is totally unscientific and yet some wish to make creationism an academic subject. Murder seems to pass without too many consequences and is definitely not subject to an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ as when Cain kills his brother and gets a protective mark from God so as not to be killed.
And what would you say about a movie where two male angels came to visit the God-fearing Lot and a mob gathers to ‘know’ these male angels. Instead, Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the mob so that they may ‘know’ them instead. We all know what the biblical term ‘knowing’ means. Lot manages to escape and his wife turns around and becomes a pillar of salt. He ends up in a cave with his two virgin daughters where they get him drunk in order to incestuously seduce him and manage to become pregnant with his grandchildren.
When Eve is created—the same movie—she is created subordinate to man (Adam) and that continues all the way to the New Testament in which a woman must be silent and not teach man.
In the sequel, we find that homosexuality is punishable by death and lusting after somebody is terribly sinful, as is ‘knowing’ yourself. Is that the picture we want to give our youth?
This movie franchise has been so successful that part three is released where God decides to forgive his people but the only way he can do that is to produce a son by a virgin and have him subsequently tortured and crucified. All this to forgive the rest of us for the evils and sins of the world. The big twist of the franchise: God and Jesus are one and the same and God could have just forgiven himself and the rest of us without any sacrifice, but didn’t.
Q. Some families enrol their children in religious schools without being religious themselves, doing it solely because of a school’s academic ranking. Should they reconsider?
A. I am not in the business of giving parents advice on how to raise their children. It is a balancing act between academic skill sets and what else they teach their children. If children are taught to pray instead of solving problems, the academic advantage might be lost.
It would be imperative that the parents are clear with their children on where they themselves stand.
Q. What’s the strongest argument for the non-existence of God?
A. God has the power to regrow all missing limbs of people around the world and empty the hospitals by healing the sick. Instead, he shows himself to one person at a time, mostly in their head. God seems to favour lizards (salamanders), which can regrow limbs—why?
It is that we get our religion from our parents and not from God? Think about it. If the Pope had been born in Saudi Arabia by Muslim parents, he definitely would not have been Pope but would have likely been raised to have a derogatory view on his current faith. If we would have received religion from God, wouldn’t we all have the same religion and not have to fight each other over God’s ‘holy word’?
In a more topical, and tragic case, so many prayers are now being issued on behalf of Ukraine. This raises a few important questions that, once again applying Occam’s razor, lead to a conclusion of the non-existence of a deity: Where was God before the war started? Why would God change his mind now, having let events happen, just because of prayer? Perhaps prayers from the nationalistic Russian Orthodox Church counterbalance other prayers and render God neutral, but I doubt this.
Q. Looking at the bigger picture, why do you think religion is harmful for society?
A. Religion thrives on guilt and shame. Without going to extremes, there are young people who are so indoctrinated that they wash their hands in scalding hot water after feeling they have committed a sin or have engaged in a sinful act. Once indoctrinated, it is very difficult even for adults to shed that security blanket they received in their childhood.
In the absence of clarity from God, theologians and apologists give us their own interpretations, aided by various clergy. Then they pin us against each other in an attempt to keep their flock together and maintain power.
Q. You were raised in the Jewish faith but chose to abandon religion in your teens. How difficult a decision, and transition, was this for you?
A. It was a painful process over a number of years. Like many others who decide to leave religion, I experienced the fear of disappointing my family and the anxiety of losing my community but I had no choice but to side with logic. Honestly, it felt almost like losing a family member.
It took a lot of reading and studying of both the Old and New Testament, even the Quran. Mostly, it was an attempt to apply logic—Occam’s razor—to the questions I had. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing God punish me for what He created me to do? Why would an all-powerful god give me a critical mind whilst providing no evidence of his existence?
For clarity, if God would’ve had just performed ONE miracle for us all to witness, faith would’ve become fact. As it is now, we are supposed to be proud of believing in something without any evidence and even to believe contrary to evidence.
Q. Your children and grandchildren have all continued with atheism, but how does one raise an atheistic family?
A. I would say that the goal is to teach good values to your children. To some extent, some of those values may mirror religiosity—don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t murder etc.—while always applying the golden rule: treat others the way you wish to be treated.
The aim is to teach your kids to be good people. However, I think the core difference of atheist parenting is to encourage accountability, both literally and figuratively. You are responsible for your actions in this life. If kids are raised to understand to be moral on their own without the need of an imaginary supervisor, they will be free individuals in adulthood.
Bring them up to allow themselves to trust their mind and understand that they think with their brain and not with their heart. Let them understand that prayer after the fact, when ‘God’ has already allowed the devastating event, is meaningless. Let them know when an exorcism is being applied to rid an individual of demons, the question is really why God would even allow demons in the first place?
I have found that children are prepared to understand this pretty early, especially if the message is delivered in a somewhat humorous manner. Playing with the tooth fairy and Santa clause might help.
Q. Many people choose to embrace faith, though not dogma, because the alternative—that life ends with death—is deeply unpalatable. Should people not be allowed this glimmer of hope in the hereafter?
A. If we move this question over to a jihadist who is willing to kill himself (and others) for his faith, is his potential answer palatable?
The problem is that it isn’t just the belief in the afterlife, but it is how you need to live this life only to warrant a better ticket to the next, which very likely does not exist.
The people who don’t live this life in the hopes of a better afterlife have the great advantage of living life to the fullest while it lasts and are willing to take that extremely unlikely surprise that they might end up in an afterlife.
Q. Do you think a time will come when humanity, at least at the national/international level, will come to embrace an atheistic outlook, and is this something we should be striving towards?
A. Unfortunately, humans are very tribal. It seems we want to belong to one flock or another. Even many who have left religion turn to spirituality and get new ‘gods’ like Dr. Deeprak Chopra. It is difficult to see that everybody will embrace rationality and logic, although I believe more and more people would be willing to do so.
The religious sector has an outsized power over the rest of society. At a minimum, Church and state should be kept separate. The abortion debate, for instance, comes with religious ‘undertones’. The ultra-religious Jews in Israel have an outsized power on family law. And lastly, let us ask ourselves, what do the countries that punish homosexuality with death have in common?
It might be helpful if people understood that religious institutions are tax-free and want your money since God obviously doesn’t give it to them. If only the very wealthy churches gave away what they had and prayed to Jesus to give them what He thought they deserved, at least we would see that they practice what they preach.
Humanity needs to learn to answer the difficult questions with Occam’s razor in mind.
Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest by Harry Margulies is published through Why Is It Publishing AB and is out now in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats, priced £19.95, £12.95, and £9.99 respectively. It is available online from Amazon and all good book stores. For more information, visit www.whyisitpublishing.com. Follow author Harry Margulies via Twitter or Instagram at @askwhyisit.