Quotes Tagged "evidence"
Each religion makes scores of purportedly factual assertions about everything from the creation of the universe to the afterlife. But on what grounds can believers presume to know that these assertions are true? The reasons they give are various, but the ultimate justification for most religious people’s beliefs is a simple one: we believe what we believe because our holy scriptures say so. But how, then, do we know that our holy scriptures are factually accurate? Because the scriptures themselves say so. Theologians specialize in weaving elaborate webs of verbiage to avoid saying anything quite so bluntly, but this gem of circular reasoning really is the epistemological bottom line on which all 'faith' is grounded. In the words of Pope John Paul II: 'By the authority of his absolute transcendence, God who makes himself known is also the source of the credibility of what he reveals.' It goes without saying that this begs the question of whether the texts at issue really were authored or inspired by God, and on what grounds one knows this. 'Faith' is not in fact a rejection of reason, but simply a lazy acceptance of bad reasons. 'Faith' is the pseudo-justification that some people trot out when they want to make claims without the necessary evidence. But of course we never apply these lax standards of evidence to the claims made in the other fellow’s holy scriptures: when it comes to religions other than one’s own, religious people are as rational as everyone else. Only our own religion, whatever it may be, seems to merit some special dispensation from the general standards of evidence. And here, it seems to me, is the crux of the conflict between religion and science. Not the religious rejection of specific scientific theories (be it heliocentrism in the 17th century or evolutionary biology today); over time most religions do find some way to make peace with well-established science. Rather, the scientific worldview and the religious worldview come into conflict over a far more fundamental question: namely, what constitutes evidence. Science relies on publicly reproducible sense experience (that is, experiments and observations) combined with rational reflection on those empirical observations. Religious people acknowledge the validity of that method, but then claim to be in the possession of additional methods for obtaining reliable knowledge of factual matters — methods that go beyond the mere assessment of empirical evidence — such as intuition, revelation, or the reliance on sacred texts. But the trouble is this: What good reason do we have to believe that such methods work, in the sense of steering us systematically (even if not invariably) towards true beliefs rather than towards false ones? At least in the domains where we have been able to test these methods — astronomy, geology and history, for instance — they have not proven terribly reliable. Why should we expect them to work any better when we apply them to problems that are even more difficult, such as the fundamental nature of the universe? Last but not least, these non-empirical methods suffer from an insuperable logical problem: What should we do when different people’s intuitions or revelations conflict? How can we know which of the many purportedly sacred texts — whose assertions frequently contradict one another — are in fact sacred?
...What I have denied and what my reason compels me to deny, is the existence of a Being throned above us as a god, directing our mundane affairs in detail, regarding us as individuals, punishing us, rewarding us as human judges might. When the churches learn to take this rational view of things, when they become true schools of ethics and stop teaching fables, they will be more effective than they are to-day... If they would turn all that ability to teaching this one thing – the fact that honesty is best, that selfishness and lies of any sort must surely fail to produce happiness – they would accomplish actual things. Religious faiths and creeds have greatly hampered our development. They have absorbed and wasted some fine intellects. That creeds are getting to be less and less important to the average mind with every passing year is a good sign, I think, although I do not wish to talk about what is commonly called theology. The criticisms which have been hurled at me have not worried me. A man cannot control his beliefs. If he is honest in his frank expression of them, that is all that can in justice be required of him. Professor Thomson and a thousand others do not in the least agree with me. His criticism of me, as I read it, charged that because I doubted the soul’s immortality, or ‘personality,’ as he called it, my mind must be abnormal, ‘pathological,’ in other, words, diseased... I try to say exactly what I honestly believe to be the truth, and more than that no man can do. I honestly believe that creedists have built up a mighty structure of inaccuracy, based, curiously, on those fundamental truths which I, with every honest man, must not alone admit but earnestly acclaim. I have been working on the same lines for many years. I have tried to go as far as possible toward the bottom of each subject I have studied. I have not reached my conclusions through study of traditions; I have reached them through the study of hard fact. I cannot see that unproved theories or sentiment should be permitted to have influence in the building of conviction upon matters so important. Science proves its theories or it rejects them. I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God. I earnestly believe that I am right; I cannot help believing as I do... I cannot accept as final any theory which is not provable. The theories of the theologians cannot be proved. Proof, proof! That is what I always have been after; that is what my mind requires before it can accept a theory as fact. Some things are provable, some things disprovable, some things are doubtful. All the problems which perplex us, now, will, soon or late, be solved, and solved beyond a question through scientific investigation. The thing which most impresses me about theology is that it does not seem to be investigating. It seems to be asserting, merely, without actual study. ...Moral teaching is the thing we need most in this world, and many of these men could be great moral teachers if they would but give their whole time to it, and to scientific search for the rock-bottom truth, instead of wasting it upon expounding theories of theology which are not in the first place firmly based. What we need is search for fundamentals, not reiteration of traditions born in days when men knew even less than we do now. [Columbian Magazine interview]
Let's say that the consensus is that our species, being the higher primates, Homo Sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Francis Collins says maybe 100,000. Richard Dawkins thinks maybe a quarter-of-a-million. I'll take 100,000. In order to be a Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years, our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25 years, dying of their teeth. Famine, struggle, bitterness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years. Heaven watches this with complete indifference. And then 2000 years ago, thinks 'That's enough of that. It's time to intervene,' and the best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East. Don't lets appeal to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization. Let's go to the desert and have another revelation there. This is nonsense. It can't be believed by a thinking person. Why am I glad this is the case? To get to the point of the wrongness of Christianity, because I think the teachings of Christianity are immoral. The central one is the most immoral of all, and that is the one of vicarious redemption. You can throw your sins onto somebody else, vulgarly known as scapegoating. In fact, originating as scapegoating in the same area, the same desert. I can pay your debt if I love you. I can serve your term in prison if I love you very much. I can volunteer to do that. I can't take your sins away, because I can't abolish your responsibility, and I shouldn't offer to do so. Your responsibility has to stay with you. There's no vicarious redemption. There very probably, in fact, is no redemption at all. It's just a part of wish-thinking, and I don't think wish-thinking is good for people either. It even manages to pollute the central question, the word I just employed, the most important word of all: the word love, by making love compulsory, by saying you MUST love. You must love your neighbour as yourself, something you can't actually do. You'll always fall short, so you can always be found guilty. By saying you must love someone who you also must fear. That's to say a supreme being, an eternal father, someone of whom you must be afraid, but you must love him, too. If you fail in this duty, you're again a wretched sinner. This is not mentally or morally or intellectually healthy. And that brings me to the final objection - I'll condense it, Dr. Orlafsky - which is, this is a totalitarian system. If there was a God who could do these things and demand these things of us, and he was eternal and unchanging, we'd be living under a dictatorship from which there is no appeal, and one that can never change and one that knows our thoughts and can convict us of thought crime, and condemn us to eternal punishment for actions that we are condemned in advance to be taking. All this in the round, and I could say more, it's an excellent thing that we have absolutely no reason to believe any of it to be true.