I wrote this in response to a typical theist post reviewing God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor Stenger by dangoldfinch at Life Under the Blue Sky: The View From Below
His disapproval would make me inclined to buy his book, but I already knew what dangoldfinchs say Stenger has written.
Dangoldfinch needs to check his logic and his atheist sources—most acknowledge that you cannot logically disprove a negative. So it is illogical to demand disproof of God, particularly when it actually behooves theistic claimants to provide ‘proof’ for their claims.
However, it is possible to disprove falsifiable claims about the physical world. I think Stenger’s point is that the Bible does make unsubstantiable claims about natural events. Since the huge body of scientific knowledge provides an empirical (falsifiable, testable, verifiable) body of knowledge that better explains those naturalistic claims, then the God of the Bible is effectively reduced to an infinitesimally small probability and is, in essence, disproved by the fact that science provides much better explanations. The religious typically know virtually no science or logic, so it is hardly surprising that their arguments are risible.
““The [scientific] model need not be proven to be correct, just not proven to be incorrect.”
In other words, Stenger doesn’t actually put forth an argument at all.”
What part of falsifiable does dangoldfinch not understand? If a falsifiable hypothesis is not disproven—note the double negative—then that hypothesis stands until, if ever, it is disproven. If it is not disproven by successive discoveries, then it graduates to full theory, and ultimately to acceptance as scientific knowledge. In logic, it is recognized that inductions cannot be disproven. Dangoldfinch simply failed to understand what Stenger had written, so he misinterpreted Stenger in favor of his own misguided prejudices for unbelievable mythologies.
The burden of proof, or disproof, does not logically fall on the atheist. The burden of proof falls on the claimant—those theists who have failed in over 2,000 years to prove Yahweh, in almost 2,000 years to prove God, and in 1,400 years to prove Allah (same mythical entity, different dogmas). So, atheists do not believe in God because of the lack of evidence, the immeasurably better explanatory power of science, and all the religious mythology that strains credulity. The effective disproof of the God of the Bible is to be found in 200 years of amassed scientific knowledge.
“I think it is just one more piece of evidence that suggests atheists are terribly afraid of the Abrahamic God. After all, doesn’t it make sense to suggest that you can only really attack something that is real? I mean, logically speaking, if the Abrahamic God didn’t exist, would Stenger, Dawkins, Harris, et al have anyone or anything to attack? Their books would be quite meaningless (they are anyhow).”
Dangoldfinch claims that atheists must be arguing against something that must exist—sure, we disbelieve evidence-less improbable mythologies, but we argue against illogic, ignorance, misinformation, pseudoscience, bigotry, and religious violence. Those all exist and, though not all theists exhibit all of these, the correlation is too high to dismiss as a problem confined to fundamentalism.
“They never actually provide conclusive evidence that God doesn’t exist.”
Duh! Again, one cannot disprove a negative. Atheists do not believe that gods exist because religious claims for the existence of supernatural beings are not based on any empirical evidence for which science cannot provide a much better explanation—that is, supernatural mythologies are not believable, which is why faith is demanded of believers.
“Maybe someday atheists will come clean, be honest, and just admit that even though they know in their hearts that there is a God, specifically the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, they simply do not want to believe in Him because then they would be forced to submit to Him.”
Dream on! As to atheists fearing God, dangoldfinch is utterly mistaken and is projecting his own fears onto people who genuinely have none of the fears that theists love to imagine. There is nothing to submit to except stupid human-invented dogma and I have never been impressed by foolishness. The repeatedly observable fact that theist provide falsehoods and resort repeatedly to fallacies of logic do not themselves prove God’s nonexistence, but they do demonstrate that to believe in the unbelievable typically requires ignorance that spreads beyond holding deluded beliefs.
Theists love to make the empty threat that all atheists will go to hell for their disbelief. Theists merely want to believe all the myths about atheists because theists cannot imagine being free of their own indoctrinated fear, which is why they cling so tenaciously to ignorance.
The Bible is the Truth because it is a revealed religion.”
“Your line of reasoning sounds like you are combating a Western Christian view. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I view the place of the Bible within the scheme of revelation somewhat differently. My reasoning goes more like: The Church tells us it is a revealed religion because they got it from reliable sources who tell us that the Apostles tell us it is a revealed religion, because they got it from a man named Jesus, Who said He is God and said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” He was quoted by a guy named John who followed Him around for three years.”
Thank you for the interesting account of your reasoning. (The sequence sounds like that whispering game that we used to play as kids.)
You are quite correct that by “Son of God”, I referred to the Trinity in Western Christian traditions. I certainly have been told by Western Christians that they believe that theirs is a revealed religion. I did not ask those Western Christians exactly what they mean by the term, but I took it to be something akin to what you describe for Eastern traditions.
Jesus may have said exactly those words to John and the sequence may have been exactly as you state. (I would not have expected that many fishermen on the Sea of Galilea could write in those days, so the early steps were necessarily oral.)
I am not telling you not to believe it, but I do say that I find it circular and utterly unconvincing. Regardless of whether we are talking of a monistic view or the trinity, I view who said what to whom and whatever was subsequently written wherever as being mere hearsay evidence and hence part of a circular argument in that regard. That statement includes the Old Testament and all of the published and purported Gospels.
My viewpoint, that there are no supernatural agencies, inherently dismisses any claims of being the Son of God or of God Himself as being unfounded claims. Since there is no God, Jesus could no more be the Son of God than he could be a mortal God. Nowadays, only schizophrenics claim to be Jesus, but I am not saying that Jesus was schizophrenic. I am merely saying that he might have believed himself the Son of God or even God, but one cannot be the Son of something that does not exist, still less be something that does not exist.
I would consider it even more unlikely that the Jews, who had waited so long for the Messiah not to recognize God when they met him in person. It certainly would not seem a good strategy for convincing One’s followers to worship One for that Walking the Earth God to allow himself to be crucified rather than convincingly demonstrating His Divinity by living on and on and on. Had Jesus demonstrably lived 2,000 years, we’d all be obedient Christians.
Even though the Christian Bible was selectively compiled hundreds of years after Jesus’ death, and even though it contains the Jewish-origin Old Testament, and even though the New Testament contradicts the Old, and even though it both are internally self contradictory, and even though the Christian Bible it is attributed to a variety of authors, it is supposedly the revealed Word of God. What? Are we to take it that God couldn’t make His Mind up what to reveal? So much for omniscience!
“Now I may not be a scientist, but here’s an area where I have a bit more technical expertise.The Christian Bible was not selectively compiled over hundreds of years. First of all, the Christian church has always accepted the Old Testament. In fact it accepted a particular canon of the Old Testament before the Jews did, and actually used a slightly different canon until the Protestant Reformation, when that fraction of Christianity opted to use only the Jewish canon adopted in the second century AD.
Second, as for the books of the New Testament, there were those writings that were always accepted from the beginning. There was never any question about the four Gospels (and always rejection of spurious “Gospels” that are now all the rage) nor of the Acts of the Apostles, nor Paul’s letters, nor some of the general letters. The only writings about which there was significant disagreement, but which were eventually universally accepted were Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and the Revelation. The writings were all in existence by the end of the first century.Again you seem to be debating against a Protestant view of Scripture, which, while I understand it very well, is not something to which I subscribe. That view does require quite a bit of mental and theological gymnastics to support the idea of sola scriptura.”
Very interesting indeed. By “spurious Gospels” I take you to be dismissing the later “Gospels” that religious scholars claim to be just as valid as the included Gospels. It really makes no difference to the central claim of whether or not a mortal man was also, by later accounts of his account, Divine or the Son of the Divine. The sheer inconsistency of the included messages, whenever written and compiled and however selected for publication, mitigate against the veracity of the central claim. I am arguing against any view of Scripture that holds hearsay to be verification.
You said earlier that the Church schism that divided Christianity into Eastern and Western Christianity occurred in 451 CE at the Council of Chalcedon. That council took place at least 400 years after Jesus’ death and the schism was arrived at by vote. As I understand it the chief falling out occurred over the subject of the Trinity. Western Christians also claim that their religion is revealed and, fairly or unfairly, voted the Eastern traditions to be heretical.
“As an Orthodox Christian, I believe that Jesus is revealed to us through the Holy Tradition. That includes the writings found in the Bible. They are part of that Tradition. The purpose of all of them is to reveal Jesus to us. The Old Testament tells of the preparation for Jesus arrival, the New Testament of the fulfilment of it.I don’t get how you think the employment of a variety of authors somehow makes it less the Word of God? Why is God’s choice of a variety of authors an indication that He couldn’t make up His mind?”
Because of the improbability (there are no supernatural entities) and the inconsistency. Why go to all that trouble only to be so very inconsistent? The objections that I am describing cover only one of the many reasons for my atheism.
Islam is also touted as being a revealed religion. Since the Koran disagrees with the Bible, most notably on the Trinity, are we to assume that God chose to change the revelations?
“Not if you are a Muslim. Islam teaches that all previous revelations were corrupted and that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets, giving the final word.”
Precisely. Why would I believe any of the accounts. I don’t. I am simply not so credulous as that. Creationists commonly accuse scientist of being credulous in fallacious tu quoque accusations, but scientist are probably the least credulous individuals because we demand evidence.
Or are we just to take it that Islam is not a revealed religion yet Christianity is.
“Yes, that would be my position.”
So, you disagree with Muhammad but not with John. I think that both were describing different variants of invented beliefs that descended from the Greek philosophers through Jewish tradition. Just as others did in their stead.
This leads us to the question of why we should accept any religion’s claims of being a revealed religion.
“Yes it does. You either accept that the historical evidence is that the Apostles accurately handed down what Jesus said or you don’t. If you do (and really only if you do) you are faced with the “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” trilemma made famous by CS Lewis.”
Preachers. That’s a false trichotomy.
Not a fact, which is defined as, “a statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case or has happened.”
“No, a fact defined as “something that is”.”
A statement is something that “is”, this does not make the statement factual unless it is also true. I pulled the definition off the Internet. It was one of several similar definitions.
Why would God. . .The answer to the riddle, of course, is…
“You just set ‘em up and knock ‘em down.”
Like bowling pins they come down very easily. Apologetics attempts to glue the pins to the floor.
Infinity and omniscience are just apologetic excuses invented in an attempt to argue out of a tight corner.
“I think you will find these in theology long before there was a need to argue out of any corners. They didn’t enter the vocabulary after atheism began to be viewed as a credible position.”
You did not state exactly when the idea first appears in theology and I don’t recall reading that this was an issue very early on. The early Churchmen were already arguing and voting over what and what not to believe. The earliest theologists who attempted to construct a logical philosophy came later, as I understand it. Certainly the unknowable idea was included in the writings of the rationalist philosophers. That question will take a lot more digging to answer.
I guess that Christian theologists decided that calling upon an ineffable God was a good argument for tight spots:
“I refer to my previous reply. There weren’t any spots, tight or otherwise, at the time.”
There were and there are, or I could not knock ‘em down and I would be the only atheist in human history. I may be an oddity, but I’m not that much of an oddity.
“We don’t know because we can’t know because it is the Nature of God not to reveal all to His revealed religion.”
“Close. They would say: “We don’t know because we can’t know because it is the Nature of God not to reveal all of Himself.” It goes back to that infinite God/finite man thing.”
Yes, you had explained it quite well. You have just rephrased what I said in more apologetic terms. You can’t have it all ways – either Christianity is a revealed religion, (which it can’t be) or God is not as God is revealed in the Bible (despite its being taken by many, including you by your account, to be the literal Truth), or God is Descartes’ deceiver.
Despite appearances to the contrary, I do understand the concept that you are describing. If there were a God, then that God could only be conceived of as ineffable because man could not comprehend what he was trying to explain. The difficulty with the concept is that, even though it could be taken as an explanation, the difficulty could have arisen for other reasons – as you say, man’s frailty. You are taking it to mean that man’s frailty renders him incapable of understanding an inexplicable God. Your problem is that the illusion of unknowability could also be attributed to attempting to explain how a Single Cause could explain the diverse, chaotic, complex phenomena that we observe. The evidence simply does not point to a single cause, even a whimsical cause.
Man has failed, in more than 2,000 years of recorded intellectual effort to provide a consistent explanation for this Yahweh/God/Allah for which there is no evidence. However, the reason for the concept actually lies in the fact that humans cannot construct a consistent theology that fits the observed facts. That is, even if the earliest instances of this notion were honest attempts to synthesize a philosophical framework by which to envisage the mundane and the divine, the concept of unknowable owes its qualities to difficulties inherent in synthesizing something with no empirical evidence for its postulated existence. The only evidence for the contention that God is unknowable comprises human failure to provide a consistently logical account that explains what is observed, and this failure, together with the concept of unknowability, can be better explained in other ways.
the fallacious argument that if a thing can’t be disproven, then it must be true.
“No, you must have misunderstood me. My argument was simply that if a thing can’t be disproven, then it can’t be disproven.”
That’s tautological and it is exactly what I have been saying about the reason for the claim for unknowability – the strategy attempts to remove the concept out of the reach of disproof (refutation really, since religion is purely philosophy). What I said, and you deleted an important piece was actually, “Such arguments boil down to implied argumentum ad ignorantiam, the fallacious argument that if a thing can’t be disproven, then it must be true.”
(While we’re on that subject you have deleted many significant pieces from what I have written, even though you protested that I had done that over one sentence. I haven’t complained on the basis of two assumptions: that we are the only ones following this discussion, and the point of the discussion is to explore the topic and not to change one anothers’ minds, or, if anyone else is following this discussion, to change their mind.)
I really, really, really do not like this temperamental editor.
The Church authorities feared that scientific knowledge would turn people away from religion en masse.
“My knowledge is weak on the immediate response after Darwin published.”
My goodness! Really? It’s so famous that I thought that every educated person in the Western world was aware of at least some of the response.
Darwin predicted the furor – and both his prediction and the furor are quite famous. In England, it was the C.of E., and initially the Royal Academy of Science as well as the universities. British scientists were mostly convinced within a decade of publication of the Origin of Species (1859). The Descent of Man was not published until 1871. I am confident that you are aware of the American “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925 and of the fact that American creationists continue to attack Darwinism.
Pictures are sometimes worth a thousand words: Darwin as an ape, cartoon, 1871. A caricature of Charles Darwin from the London Sketchbook, 1874. Caricature of Darwin’s theory in the Punch almanac for 1882, published at the end of 1881 when Charles Darwin had recently published his last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. Darwin as a monkey on the cover of La Petite Lune, a Parisian satirical magazine published in the 1880s. There are more cartoons out there and I’m sure that most Westerners have seen them.
“I’m not sure to which Church authorities you refer and I don’t have any evidence as to what they said. You’re statement sound a bit interpretive.”
I read of the reaction of Church authorities somewhere in a book by a Christian religious historian. Accuse him of being interpretive, but I took him to be reporting on the basis of his academic scholarship. I have three such books and I wish that they were electronically searchable in the way that the Internet is! If they were, then I would give you the exact quote. I’m sure that the topic (not the book) is searchable on Google or another search engine. In the absence of such a facility for finding the original, I shall merely have to ask that you accept me on the word of an unbiased authority. I would not have said it otherwise.
“While you may think they excessively complimentary, it seems you are particularly derogatory concerning the human rationality before Darwin.”
Actually, I was being derogatory about human rationality since Darwin. You teach highschool. I think that the 11 plus examination has been abandoned, so I don’t know what measures are currently employed, but I presume that you are acquainted with average rational capacities.
Sometimes the current received wisdom is faulty and an entire conceptual framework must be revised to adapt to a better, more accurate explanation.
“So the whole evolution thing could be completely wrong because we could have the entire conceptual framework wrong?”
I expected you to say this. Yes, that remains within the realms of theoretical possibility – remote possibility. The examples that I gave were specific examples of single special-case conceptualizations within large subject areas (cosmology and geology). Biology is one of the older sciences and biological evolution is acknowledged as an overwhelmingly supported empirical fact by unbiased biologists. The theory of evolution has itself been evolving along the same logical line ever since Darwin. That is the theory has been better refined by new observations, but its is vanishingly unlikely that the modern synthesis will ever be fully overturned, as creationists clearly hope.
Even if the current theory were overturned, rather than merely refined, this does not mean that the unutterably simplistic God-did-it-through-a-miracle explanation will ever be a viable alternative explanation.
Natural selection remains accepted as one of the mechanisms by which biological evolution occurs. Did you know that Darwin reached the insight because of Malthus‘ work on populations? Quite aside from whether or not you accept the principle of natural selection, I always find it interesting how one theory inspires another.
“Who’s to say that a better, more accurate explanation may be more compatible with special creation?”
Who? The unbiased experts in the field. Since there is no supernatural entity that could have brought about special creation, please don’t hold your breath on this every happening. I would not want you to commit suicide-by-anticipation.
“Or are there special interest factions that would immediately assume that such a conceptual framework cannot be true, or that would suppress it because it might turn people toward religion en masse.”
Theists fail to recognize that if there were a God scientists and not theologians would have been the first to know. Nobody would need faith because science would have provided empirical demonstration. If you want to promote deistic ideas and envisage God as setting up the Big Bang and the natural laws that enabled biological evolution then you would be removing the concept of God safely out of the reach of scientific testing. I think that such a deity would devolve the divine into nature.
Scientists originally believed that they were cataloguing the Works of God. The empirical facts eventually convinced most of them otherwise. I think that assuming that scientists simply refuse to see that God is behind it all is probably the commonest theist fantasy. “If only we could prove that for whatever nefarious reason of their own, scientists are simply refusing to see the Truth, then we can prove that God Did It.”
This is a false dichotomy because even if cosmology and the modern synthesis were demonstrated to be incorrect, this would not mean that God did it since there could, indeed certainly would, be a better explanation within the physical and not the religiously-motivated ineffable supernatural realm.
Behe . . . His university has posted a disclaimer about his nonsense on its website.
‘That was fun reading. Not only did his department post a disclaimer but several of his colleagues went out of their way to align themselves with Darwinism with statements on their own pages.”
Hardly surprising. It seems likely that Behe has only been retained on staff because of the protection of his having attained tenure before publishing puerile scientific heresy. Academics are fired pre-tenure for far lesser offences than biased stupidity. Behe’s probably a nice enough guy (he has a nice face), but its hardly surprising that his fellow scientists at Lehigh wish to distance themselves from his nonsense. It’s interesting that you choose to imply that their affirmations are laughable and yet probably applaud the scientists who signed the Declaration of Ignorance.
Scientific knowledge is not up for debate by religious special interest factions.
“I thought scientific knowledge was always up for debate.”
I should have said up for revision. Scientific topics are always open to debate (that is not science.)
Revision is not up to debate by religious special interest factions, which merely make unfounded criticisms based on a desire to prove The God Who Never Was.
I called it the so-called debate because the science is solid and the creationist side comprises only fallacious arguments: arguments from analogy, false dichotomies, arguments from ignorance, arguments from incredulity, red herrings, straw man fallacies, simple denial and outright lies, etcetera, etecetera, etcetera.
I believe that legitimate debate pertains only to topics that do not yet have a clear correct and incorrect.
“Isn’t that why it’s constantly being tested?”
Scientific knowledge is tested and refined by scientists – some of the most illustrious and influential of whom have included amateurs and monks. The special interest religious factions perform no experiments that can be counted as refining scientific knowledge (even Behe’s protein biochemistry efforts fall within the realm of regular science and cannot test for God’s miracles).
Those clearly religious factions, which lie about being religiously motivated, have generated no scientifically valid falsifiable hypotheses. They do generate false and falsifiable philosophy, but lack the honesty to admit that they have been refuted. I suspect that many also lack the rationality to recognize this.
In the final analysis, it probably does not matter in so far as they are preaching to the already convinced who will gleefully believe whatever they are told no matter how unsupported or illogical. After all, isn’t that exactly how religions prosper?
(I wonder, if faith in the absence of empirical evidence is the point, then why should it really matter to deny scientific truths (cosmology and the fact of biological evolution). Doesn’t this fear of science reflect a fear that faith might indeed be unfounded? I think that the real problem is the fear that belief in Special Creation is unfounded. This is probably attributing too much logical awareness to some creationists, but others who can follow the logic will tell them what to think.)
It does matter in so far as damage to education and rationality matter. This is why American parents are suing school boards and winning.
That is, when all religious arguments fail because of internal inconsistency, retreat into the inexplicable (ineffable).
“But they only fail because of the frailty of the human condition.”
The argument has obviously convinced you, but I submit that this is only because you wish to believe for the reasons that you have already explained – rewards are offered for faith. (I also do think that the emotional process of faith offers emotional comfort in the only life the believer will have, though fear of eternal torment tortures some people uneccessarily.)
Let me explain it this way: if God Sent his Son, via Immaculate Conception, to Die For Our Sins, and if Christianity is a Revealed Religion, why did God not bother to leave better Evidence of His Existence or provide us with better arguments when He was dictating the Word of God? If God wished man, his Special Creation, to Worship Him, why would He maintain Himself as Unknowable where it matters?
Oh, yes, I remember – faith.
The answer, of course, is that the ineffable is a clever theological retreat. When all arguments fail, claim that the basis for the arguments remains true but blame human intellectual frailty for inability to generate a convincing argument.
(Don’t trouble yourself to elaborate all the “excuses” that apologists make, we’re probably all familiar with them.) I do understand the objection that you raised. I understand the concept of ineffability – I think that it is a clever artifice.
However, the problem with the objection is that theological arguments were invented by humans and are only intended to convince humans. This means that it should be within human capacity to convince fellow humans if the argument had solid grounds.
So, even if there were a God and that God had elements incomprehensible to a mere mortal, if it were beyond our capacities to understand or explain them, we should not even have discovered those elements that are inexplicable. Think of a fly buzzing around a room – it has absolutely no understanding of the nature of a room, and it has no notion that it does not understand. (I feel safe that most would concur that flies have limited cognitive capacity.)
“There are some religious arguments that fail because they are wrong (since all religions and the arguments that support them are not correct). There are other religious arguments that make seem internally inconsistent, but only because as aspects of them are not known.”
I’d agree on the first statements only.
I was attracted to science for many reasons. Amongst those reasons were the fact that science offers our best opportunity for consistently understanding the natural world and that science is a self-modifying discipline in that it refines and improves itself. Facts are facts, but scientific theories tie observations together into a coherent, logical whole that provides for an Aha! reaction. In a sense, the logic of science is tautological just as any explanation with logical foundation is tautological. If a scientific theory fails to fit the known facts, then it is scrapped and a better explanation is sought. Good explanations can be difficult to induce from empirical facts, but this is part of the intellectual appeal of science. I suppose that this is a little akin to saying that science seeks to conquer the inexplicable. As to the infinite, cosmology indicates that space curves back on itself and that time is event-limited, so infinity and eternity are mere concepts rather than possibilities.
Religions do not provide tautologies. Oh sure, some who believe for emotional reasons will accept the argument for ineffability, but they are in fact merely accepting the arguments because they like the conclusions and the implications of those conclusions, usually because they have been familiar with the concepts since childhood. I’m not knocking the emotional motivations, I’m merely saying that it is not possible to build a completely logical explanation for something that does not actually exists as The determining force for what we observe.
“To use a concept to prove a concept, particularly in a fallacious argumentum ad ignorantium, is simply a form of circular fallacy.”
“You are correct. I took too many shortcuts. Let me further explain what I was saying. If one accepts the existence of a transcendent being, one thereby accepts that empirical evidence is of limited value. It is possible to use the various empirical evidence that can be interpreted as supporting the evidence of such a transcendent being, but the existence of such a being is ultimately based upon faith.”
That’s a good explanation of your position. I think that the existence in question is confined to the act of faith. To some degree, the difficulties lie around how we are to understand “existence”. Faith ‘incorporates’ that same nature of existence in which emotions and ideas exist.
“The burden of proof rests with the claimant.”
“Unless the claimant feels no burning need to prove anything, especially if the claimant is convinced that belief is only possible with faith, not merely the intellectual assent to a set of postulations.”
No, the burden of proof still rests with the claimant. It is obviously the claimant’s prerogative whether or not to bother to take up the burden.
Faith is emotional assent to that set of postulations in the absence of empirical evidence. (I’d also say absence of logical validity, where I’d define that as logic without resort to artificial premises.)
If it left absolutely no trace within human experience, then nobody would ever be discussing that whatever.
“So you are saying that since people are the discussing the whatever, it must have left a trace within the human experience, thus validating its existence?”
No, I’m saying that the truly ineffable would no more have occurred to us than a room does to a fly.
I maintain that there is another, better explanation than the existence of supernatural entities for the human invention of religion:
Start with a brain that has evolved to recognize patterns in the world along with a psychological need to understand our own existence and a desire to control the phenomena that govern survival. Next, toss in the fact that the earliest humans had few interventions and fewer reasonable explanations that were obvious within the phenomena (essentially what Hume said – we infer the cause-effect relationship from the relationship but we don’t directly perceive the cause). Add a little human need to have others behave as we wish, or as leaders order. Add a little human creativity and love of ritual.
What do we now have? The plethora of creation myths and religious beliefs that are observed across almost all societies.
Refine and promote these package through the operation of human intellectual creativity and organizational skill and we have survival of the fittest religious organization.
What do we now have? If there were truly an obviously correct single creed, then only one religious doctrine would have prevailed. If only one creed had predominated, we’d have a lot less strife.
Either supernatural entities are believed to exist, with the associated pantheon of divisive religious dogmas, or supernatural entities are believed not to exist with the concomitant possibility that people could cease to divide one another on the basis of arbitrary enemy beliefs. I am not saying that I think that universal acceptance of atheism would unite the world, but the possibility of questioning arbitrary rules and divisions could reduce conflict. At least the conflict would be ideologically confined to politicoeconomic issues and it is easier to find compromises to reduce those causes of conflict.
“I suppose if the moral lessons of the Bible aren’t explanations, Jesus could have saved a lot of breath. It seems like he went to great lengths to explain appropriate behaviour.”
I think that it is much simpler to explain what one considers appropriate behavior (should-s) than to convincingly argue for those behaviors. However, I’ll concede that moral allegories often suffice to convince and that Jesus’ moral lessons could be regarded as moral explanations. I reacted to the wrong word because my objection is to being should upon.
I have no intention of studying the Bible because I do not accept the underlying precept (a supernatural says that you should behave this way), but I know enough to know that it is inconsistent.
As I said, when I was a kid I liked Jesus’ more tolerant moral tales. Take the story of the adulteress, for example: I think that a punishment should fit a crime (though better to fix the causes of the crime) so the notion of a crowd’s presuming to stone someone to death for mere adultery is preposterous and the crowd’s act is immoral according to other moral rules. The hypocrisy of juxtaposing thou-shalt-not-kill with stoning for adultery is utterly objectionable.
Before you think that Jesus was stopping that act and that such immoral prescriptions no longer occur, I remind you that a few years ago a Muslim woman was sentenced to be stoned to death (as soon as she’d delivered the baby conceived out of wedlock). Stoning and killings – mostly of the female participant – are still perpetrated in Islam. In this sense, Christendom is ahead of Islam, and mostly thanks to secularism in Christendom.
You said that you think that I believe in Christianity. No, I only accept the compassionate segments, and I accept those because we are all united by our common humanity. I don’t care who provides an explanation or under what pretext of authority it is written, the point is whether or not the moral rule makes humanistic sense. The problem that I see with the Bible is that many of the prescriptions are immoral (in a humanistic sense) or contradict one another.
The behavioral problem lies more with people than with religions, but people-problems spread into religion because people administer religions. Still, religions ideally could prescribe only humanistic behavior, and some people would still disobey.
The problem that excites some atheists to anti-religious sentiment lies in the fact that some religions are employed to justify and promote behaviors that are immoral. Intolerance and hatred are anti-humanistic, so Christianity continues to be guilty of less egregious crimes than stoning.
Islam is currently being subverted to the political aims of hateful imams. Those in Muslim countries who lack the education to see where their theocracy is headed are dupes on a collision course.
“If God kills, lies, cheats, discriminates, and otherwise behaves in a manner that puts the Mafia to shame, that’s okay, he’s God. He can do whatever he wants. Anyone who adheres to this philosophy has had his sense of morality, decency, justice and humaneness warped beyond recognition by the very book that is supposedly preaching the opposite.” ~ Dennis McKinsey in newsletter Biblical Errancy