Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Religious Doctrines Fail

Once again, I have played the part of masochist and read a blog article by Denyse O’Leary. She talks about five reasons why people accept religious doctrines. I’ll present each reason – though I must say that in some cases I have not given O’Leary’s full entry – and then give a response.
1. Some doctrines are based strictly on evidence. The existence of G-d, for example, is attested by the nature of the universe.
Of course the problem here is that the nature of the universe does not attest to the existence of G-d. The G-d hypothesis is one way to explain the nature of the universe, and at a very basic level – I’m thinking something like deism – the explanation has plausibility. But O’Leary is quite disingenuous to suggest that modern self-proclaimed monotheistic doctrines have a strict basis in evidence. It just ain’t so. To them, everything attests to the existence of G-d; nothing does not. G-d is inescapable.
2. Some doctrines are based on logic. For example, why are there not Two G-ds? Well, what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? The point is, it can’t happen. So there are not Two G-ds. Or Many.
Some doctrines are indeed based on logic. Religious doctrines can be, but O’Leary is definitely not the best person to articulate that logic. Why aren’t there two G-d’s? Because there can’t be. Oh, that clears up everything. Perhaps she’s suggesting that by definition G-d is one and only one, and cannot be two. Let’s forget that this troubles the idea of a trinity and simply point out that defining G-d is terrific but doesn’t mean anything in the context of reality. I can make “long noodle-like appendages emerging from the forehead” as part of the definition of human. No effect, however.
3. Some doctrines are based on reason. One of the sillier new atheist arguments is “Who designed the designer?” Well, any series can have a beginning. If, as most now think, the Big Bang started the universe, there must have been a wider context. It is reasonable to think this context was the will of G-d, based on the fine-tuned universe we actually see.

The question of God’s origin, if even askable, lies outside this universe and outside anything the human mind can think. That is why God was traditionally called, in philosophical contexts, the First Cause. That’s like the number 1. Don’t ask which natural number comes before it. The answer is none.
O’Leary has hopelessly confused reason with rationalization and speculation. By the way, the number 1 is our human convention for expressing the concept of an initial natural number sequence. I suspect G-d is also a man-made convention.
4. Some doctrines are based on the testimony of reliable witnesses - sane, stable people with no record of deceit, who would rather lose their property, liberty, or life than deny what they saw or heard, and have nothing to gain from promoting a story that would cost them all that. The usual way they explain it is “We must fear God rather than men.”
From her Jesus, to Peter, to Paul, to Augustine, to Ratzi – all of questionable sanity and stability, and all with a record of deceit. Paul is one of the first exponents of “lying for Jesus” – it’s in 2 Corinthians.
5. Some doctrines are based on experience - a form of evidence. I have observed that a great many people who come to an active faith later in life had an experience that they could only account for by returning to the practice of their faith (or finding a new one). An unexpected healing, perhaps?: The doctors have pronounced the patient’s case hopeless but the patient has decided to try prayer and repentance, and suddenly the burden of illness lifts. After that, the patient takes little interest in the views of new atheists, or the views of any atheists at all, on a permanent basis.
Some doctrines are indeed based on experience. But what O’Leary cites above is complete argument from ignorance stuff: I don’t know how I was saved (even though the other equally penitent patients died), so it must have been G-d.

So, can we dispense with the shenanigans? Religious doctrines do not really use as their basis evidence, logic, reason, testimony of witnesses, or experience. They use emotion and willful naïveté; they rely on a person’s wonder and that person’s unwillingness to investigate sources or wonder outside the context of religious thinking.

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