Religion Quickly Sorted.


It’s all very simple really.  The key question is, on what grounds should one believe something?  Why should I believe the truth claims, the propositions asserted by this or that religion.   Just as a scientist will say copper or gorillas exist, and sea shells have calcium in them, so a Christian will say God exists and there is life after death.  I am taking it for granted that you should have reasons for believing something, and that the strength of your belief should depend on the strength of the reasons. In other words you should always ask, “How good are the reasons for believing this claim or theory or proposition?”

As I see it the only sensible way to decide whether a claim about the nature of reality is true, or to decide the degree to which acceptance of it is warranted, is the way science proceeds.  You collect evidence and reason from it.  Sometimes this supports a very strong belief, or probability, that the claim or theory is true, and sometimes you end up saying the evidence and reasoning you have provides some but not very persuasive support for it.  The strength of your belief, the confidence with which you can accept it, depends on the evidence or reasons supporting it.  No claim or theory is ever 100% proven or true or probable; it is always possible in principle that further evidence will come in that provides better support for some other theory.

Often there are big difficulties. Sometimes it’s not clear whether something is good evidence, or even relevant evidence. For instance is the fact that a famous scholar believes a claim evidence that it is true? But there is no other way to proceed than to try to work out what the evidence means.  Often the attempt is inconclusive, in which case you should either accept that you can’t tell shat the answer is, or say what it seems most likely to be in view of the evidence you have.

Often there is support for a particular claim or theory but better support for another.  In my view there is a lot of evidence that supports the claim that the earth is flat and that there is a god...but there are far better explanations for the evidence.  In my view the case for the existence of god is at best extremely weak and the evidence or reasons for accepting it can be explained much better by other theories.

Also science involves many problems to do with the interpretation of evidence, what constitutes impressive evidence, what theory doers the evidence best support, but all this is still working within the limits set by evidence or reason.

So I’m arguing that it is not justified to believe beyond one’s evidence or reasons, and that the nature and strength of one’s belief should be in proportion to one’s reasons and evidence.  But religious people typically do go far beyond this position.  They typically say they believe regardless of evidence or that their belief is stronger than what reason indicates is warranted.  At this point they often refer to “faith”, indicating that faith takes them from where the evidence and reasoning leaves them, to a strong or 100% belief or conviction.   This is obviously a mistake; it is an invalid, unjustifiable thing to do.  More importantly, it is incoherent, meaningless. What on earth can having faith mean if it is about holding a belief more strongly than the evidence etc. warrants?  How can it be acceptable to go beyond one’s evidence?  What is the logic that explains why it is in order to say, ”My evidence only takes me this far, but I am willing to go much further?”  What could be the reasons or a justification for doing this, for having faith beyond reason?  It doesn’t make much sense to talk about having reasons for going beyond where one’s reasons leave one. 

This is to say that there is no justification whatsoever for faith, for believing any proposition beyond the evidence supporting it.  (The word faith is used in other senses, for instance when I say I have faith in my errant spouse, or faith that my lousy team will win on Saturday, but this just means something like I will stick by them.)

To think in any other way is to be irrational, and this can quickly get you into superstition. That is what religious doctrine is. There are realms of thought other than that in which reason is the guiding principle, such as to do with aesthetics and affect; e.g., my preference for vanilla ice cream is not a matter of rationality, but when it comes to propositions, statements about the nature of reality, and whether one can/should believe something, to go beyond where reasoning about evidence takes you is to venture into the realm of superstition.  If I stick pins in an image of my enemy he will die… if I pray to god he will intervene … this water is now holy … it is lright tro kill non-believers…there are two levels in hell … god wants me to be celebate …there is life after death … heaven exists …

It seems to me this eliminates, disqualifies religious thinking, and religion. It is I think understandable, indeed inevitable, that religion would have emerged via our evolution and our cultural development, but it is a serious mistake that we should move on from. The main problem I think is not the terrible things religion has led humans to do to each other, but the fact that it is based on and reinforces bad thinking.  It is important that humans should be rational  in all their thinking, not superstitious. (It is, in my opinion, even more important that they should be driven by the “right” values, that is, the one’s I am for, such as empathy, kindness, cooperation, equality, humility, bio-philia, nurturance, and desire to see others flourish.)

(Morality is quickly sorted at