Friday, November 20, 2009

"The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful" Part Two

6. The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.

This is confusing hardware with software. If you damage a computer, the software won't run- but that doesn't deny the separate existence of the software. The mind, and presumably the soul, are dependent upon the brain for existence, yes- but then, I think the Divine may have a physical presence, too, as I speculated here . Please keep in mind, however, that it is only idle speculation to explain observed phenomenon, not a doctrine.

7. The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.

Scientific testing assumes a consistency of result you don't always find when dealing with autonomous sentient beings. For example, if tested under laboratory conditions, one might conclude that my cat doesn't know his name because saying "Here, Garfunkle" has erratic results in producing said cat. Calling "Here, Goddy Goddy Goddy" is unlikely to be any more reliable. But that doesn't mean that neither one has ever responded when addressed.

8. The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
"If things go the believer's way, it's a sign of God's grace and intervention; if they don't, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don't understand, and it's not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right."

As with "The increasing diminishment of God.", this is a problem with certain specific religions, not all religion as a whole. Those of us who believe that the Divine does not punish by causing natural disasters, nor rewards by salvation from natural disasters, don't have this problem.

9. The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.

There's a lot of things in this category, not just religion. We have no better understanding of love or life or even how to live together without oppression and war than we did 35,000 years ago. Like all of these things, the Divine is something experienced personally, new and different for each person. Centuries of trying in this arena is meaningless, because your experience- the only one that counts for you- is only decades old. All of Man's literature on love doesn't tell me how to live with a broken heart, and neither the Bible nor the Bhagavad Gita told me how to deal with my own religious experiences.

10. The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.

Greta, I'll agree with you completely if you rephrase it: You have no solid evidence for God's existence. In fact, I'll even say you'd be a fool to believe in a flying spaghetti monster if you've never seen one. I'll also agree that it's not up to you to prove that God doesn't exist. I agree that it's an extraordinary claim. But I'm not trying to convince you. I know I cannot convince you; my evidence is non-transferable. Moreover, I don't care what you believe; I do not proselytize. Since I don't believe in the inherent depravity of man, or Hell, I don't even have the altruistic motive of trying to "save" you.

So what do I want?

I want atheists to stop saying "there is no evidence", when what they mean is "I haven't seen any evidence". First of all, it's not logical to say that because you haven't seen it, it doesn't exist; the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. (I'm not speaking here of the existence of Divine itself, but of the existence of the evidence- the personal experience) This is why some theists get angry at the more activist of the atheists- if the theist has explained that his or her belief is based on actual experience, than repeating "There is no evidence" is a personal insult, an accusation that the theist is either lying or insane. A corollary to this is saying things like "Faith is believing what you know ain't so", as some of us know it is so. Why do atheists find it so hard to understand that calling someone a liar, a crook, or a kook makes them angry? I fully acknowledge that my proof is non-transferable and unconvincing to anyone else; why can't atheists acknowledge that there are those who have experienced the Divine and yet, by actual medical evidence, are not schizophrenic, nor have any neurological pathologies, and are not of subnormal intelligence?

I want atheists to be more specific. If you have a problem with fundamental Christians, say so; stop using the term "religion" if you mean Christianity. Funny how some of the atheists who are the most insistent on precise definitions of the words "atheist", "agnostic". etc., are the biggest offenders in painting all faiths with a broad Abrahamic brush.

These two concessions alone- and surely they are not too much to ask for- would take most of the heat out of the discussion. And by doing so, atheists might be surprised at how many allies they'd find among even the strongest of theists on issues such as Evolution, keeping religion out of schools, etc., just as I have been surprised sometimes by Christians supporting me, a Pagan, when attacked in forums by aggressive atheists.

Next: why religion is not harmful.


Strange Attractor said...

Very interesting dialogue. There is real value to both arguments here. This religious debate is thought-provoking rather than shrill.

#8 is one of my all-time pet peeves.

Anonymous said...

“7. The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing."

"if tested under laboratory conditions, one might conclude that my cat doesn't know his name because saying "Here, Garfunkle" has erratic results in producing said cat."

But the major difference here is that we can observe the cat. The flaw in equating your cat having different reactions to the same stimulus with God is that your cat actually has reactions. Observable, evidentiary reactions. Furthermore, under laboratory conditions, we know Garfunkle is there because we can see him.

Furthermore, what we’re testing isn’t whether or not God knows his name, but rather if he’s there. If Garfunkle weren’t in the room, the scientists would run tests and they would conclude he isn’t there. Religion posits that God is there a priori, so with testing we should see some evidence from a being that is supposed to be there. Some sort of reaction or intervention or miracle or whatever you want to call it, but we don’t. Consistently.

Furthermore, if your hypothesis is that you have a cat and he knows his name (just as religion’s hypothesis is that God is real and affects our world) and the scientists who’ve devised this test on your cat ask you to bring Garfunkle forward, you don’t get to exclaim that “No, you will not bring him out of my house; no you cannot test him, just trust me he’s there."

And then the scientists look around your yard and peer in your windows and still find no evidence of your cat. There’s no cat smell, no cat fur, nothing. And they ask your neighbors and they say, “No, we’ve never seen him with a cat but we believe he has one. His cat is just afraid to come outside and he doesn’t like to have company over to see his cat. Besides, it’s just rude to question him about it.”

To recap, you say there is a cat, all the evidence points to there not being a cat. In fact, the only thing that corroborates you having a cat is other people saying they believe you and you saying that you do. If we assume there is a cat (like your neighbors), we can rationalize it. But if what we’re testing is whether or not you have a cat, we can’t assume there is one. The same for God.

Religion wants us to assume there is a God and rationalize out problems with that assumption rather than test that assumption. We can’t assume the “vision” or “religious experience” you had came from God. We have to assume what the evidence shows. And the evidence always shows that this “vision” or “religious experience” is a construct of your own brain or a misunderstanding of a natural phenomena. I say always, because never, once, in the history of mankind has a vision or decree been shown conclusively to come from a divine being, any divine being.

In short, Atheism isn’t the “denial” of God, it’s the refutation of God. Religion, all religion, posits that the divine exist and has an effect on the natural world. Throughout history, religions have declared a supernatural cause for natural phenomena time and time and time again. (And I have to note, that you don’t have to be deranged or have a disorder to have a “divine experience.” But you do have to have talked to God. Our brains are hardwired to see cause where there is only correlation, and see pattern where there is only randomness. Thinking critically is a discipline, and it does not come easily or naturally.)

And it’s looking at this evidence, that makes Atheists say that the God hypothesis is most likely not true. In fact, the likelihood of God existing is neglible at best, unfalsifiable and therefore discardable at worst.