I have recently come to the conclusion that religion is in fact irrelevant to science. Every major religion since man begun has been logically erroneous. To say that the religious view of the history of the universe is factually correct is impossible. There is no evidence for it, and there is certainly a lot of evidence against it. Just for starters, Christianity told us that the universe as we know it was created in 7 days, with all species coming about in one week. This has been disproved. Many Christians believe that it was a metaphorical passage, but the fact is that can’t be known and is really just a poor defense. Religion is simply wrought with factual inaccuracies. For this reason religious views on the physical world should not be followed because in science only the verifiable ideas become truth.
Another reason that religion is irrelevant to science is that every time they come up with a theory, the true processes are revealed by science and then they continue to say that in fact God designed that process. For example, first Christianity taught that man was created from dust, then we discovered that he evolved from a different species, so Christianity went back and said oh, well God created natural selection to create humans. But here we realize that we never should have put stock in religion in the first place because as stated before, there is no evidence for it. The point here is that religious ideas on the history of the universe are by definition unscientific. For this reason, they cannot be valued as “true” in the conventional sense of the word. What does that mean for religion exactly? It depends. If religion is trying to promote itself as valid in a scientific sense, it needs to stop doing this. The fact is that religious theories cannot be scientific because they cannot be proven. However, if religion instead is trying to promote itself as a way of life then nothing changes. This is the point that I think a lot of religious people miss. Religion is never going to be correct in a scientific sense. After we accept this, we can look at religion for what it’s actually good for. Religion can be a good way to put your mind at ease about the unknown. Religion can be a great sense of community and a source of volunteer work. However, when we start asserting our religion as the only real truth, we get things like the crusades and the inquisitions. Both of these examples were born of men thinking that they were ultimately right. This kind of religion must stop, and hopefully it will prevent future calamities.
This is a great debate between Hitchens and D’Souza at Notre Dame that I highly recommend watching, though it is quite long. D’Souza brought up some interesting points but ultimately they didn’t hold water. For example, one of his main arguments was that because Stephen Hawking the speed of light had to be exactly right in order to create life, the universe must have been designed. He fails to mention however, that Stephen Hawking also developed multiverse theory, which states that there are infinite universes, so chances are one of them will hold life. Based on this theory he states, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing, spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” I feel like this entirely negates D’Souza’s argument on a find tuned universe.
Another large problem I have with the design theory is that we have proven that wrong before. When we saw all the beautiful species of life and noticed that they were perfectly adapted to their habitats, we thought it must be design. How else could all these animals be suited perfectly to their environment and be so diverse. We then were confronted with Darwin who showed exactly how we could arrive at this perfectly designed biosphere and yet that it had a cause that was substantial without a designer. This is what will happen over and over again in religion, because the fact is that the theory of a grand designer based on our brains is very egocentric. Who’s to say there isn’t a species out there with a significantly more evolved brain than ours? In my opinion there is almost certainly such a species out there, considering the size of our universe. This egocentric thinking may suit many people but many others understand that we are such an infinitesimally small part of this universe it is unrealistic to think we have any huge part in it.
Another piece of his argument I dislike is the god of the gaps argument. He makes the point many times that Darwin did not explain the beginning of life. That is a problem that science has not yet solved, but religion is no more likely the answer than no answer is. Religion has no evidence to support it, and thus is a simple guess. The probability of this guess being right is one over the number of guesses possible. This number is of course infinity, so really religion is no more likely the answer to the beginning of life than admitting you don’t know the answer.
Take for example, someone who was not born in an atheist home, or a religious home, free from even hearing about religion and coincidentally he made up none of his own. Then when this man hit 21 years of age he was exposed to our world of countless religions. This man has no connection to any religion in particular and he is asked to pick one or none of them. He would notice that they are all mutually exclusive, that is no two religions can be right. He would also not be able to determine which had any validity. All he could do was read the old religious scriptures, which unfortunately almost every religion has. You could say that he could judge validity based on the most popular religion, however would you base it on people alive or people dead? Really the most popular religion of all time would not necessarily be around today, though the consensus today would be that it was ridiculous and unbelievable. This being the case, it is illogical to be religious. If someone who has never been exposed to religion comes in when he is 21 (so his brain has developed enough to make a conscious decision) and cannot make a rational decision which religion is right, that means there is not enough logic behind religion to make it a rational decision.
You might say, well if it is illogical then why are there so many people making this decision? My response to that is that there are a large number of causes. First, and in my opinion the most formidable, is the practice of childhood indoctrination. Children are extremely impressionable and when they are indoctrinated in religious beliefs it is nearly impossible to convince them otherwise later in life. This is one of the key agents responsible for perpetuating religious belief. Another reason is that religions are attractive. Many effectively say, if you’re on our side, you get eternal bliss but if you aren’t you get eternal torture. If nothing else this promotes choosing a religious belief over no religious belief. The fact is that religion is not perpetuated by logic, it is perpetuated by childhood indoctrination, rewards, and punishments.
This book is quite the finishing touch on the great life of Hitchens. His argument throughout this book is that religion has poisoned history. He concludes the book with the argument that in order to solve this we will need a new enlightenment, however he specifies that it will not need to depend on the work of a few gifted men. Instead he posits that this kind of enlightenment is within the grasp of the average person. This is why I believe writing blogs and getting the word out will have some effect. The average person does not think of the issue of religion often, and as such follows the Church of whoever he/she was taught to. Apart from that, religious people are the overwhelming majority today, so it seems almost unnecessary to deviate from religion because how could all these people be wrong? Well, here we have the fallacy of group think. People assume that others in their religion chose it based on rational thinking, so they therefore conclude that they don’t have to do the thinking. However, the others have chosen their religion the same way they did, so this assumption is void.
Hitchens’ book also discusses a topic not tackled by many intellectuals of the day that is, even if religion is false, does that mean we should attack it? His answer to this question is a resounding yes. My answer is also a yes, as Hitchens has put some great arguments forward. My personal favorite argument of his, is the Old Testament. This book is something that two of the major religions of our day swear by, however it’s morals are dangerously off. God himself commands genocide, and sets up hundreds of irrelevant laws (such as that you can’t wear clothes with multiple fabrics) as I mentioned before in “We don’t need religious morality”. This book is the cornerstone for two major religions, and yet we can’t help but notice it seems much more to be written by humans than an all powerful entity. In another chapter of his book he notes that because religion holds onto the past so dearly, it still bears the mark of its lowly origin in a significantly less moral world than the one we live in today. This is to be found true in the Old Testament, but also in the simple structure of religion. Almost every religion has some sort of reward and punishment after death. In Hinduism a man is reincarnated as something better if they follow their tenets, and worse if they do not. Heaven and Hell are the traditional rewards and punishments, as they are found in the three major monotheistic religions. The fact is that this was a recruitment tactic. It’s pretty clear that the major religions must have recruitment tactics otherwise they would not have been the major religions.
Overall this was a well thought out and stimulating book that was a great swan song for Hitchens.
I’ve heard the argument many times about how religious morality is the only objective set of moral beliefs, and that without religion morals are nonexistent and thus we need religion. I disagree with this for a couple of reasons. First of all, each religion has their own set of moral codes that claim to be objective based on their books. This means each individual religion has a moral theory separate from the others’. They then look at atheism and see that it has no specific moral theory, so they figure that it must not have objective moral truths. This is true for atheism as a whole, it does not have one moral theory attributed to it. However, that’s because atheism is not a moral theory, it is a cosmogonic theory and a natural theory. Atheism in principle says nothing about morals because it is not concerned with that. The reason that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is an objective moral truth in religion is because religious moral theory defines moral truths to be those that god commands. It is objective because you have set up guidelines for moral truths, and that falls into the guideline of being one of god’s commandments. On the other hand, atheists can create this type of moral truth in the same way, they simply have to define their terms. If an atheistic moral theorist argues (like I might) that morality is based upon the well being and health of humans, and to be moral is to promote well being and health, then we have a foundation for objective moral truth. We can say with surety that rape is immoral because it does not promote well being and health, and we have an objective moral truth.
We have to see religious morals as what they are, simply theories. There are so many of them that they must each be given equal weight, and because of this no one religion can claim objective moral truths based on the existence of their god, because each religion can do the same. Instead we need to go off of our innate sense of right and wrong, which in many cases contradicts religious morality. For example, in the old testament god commands genocide against moabites and canaanites. This was used for centuries to declare holy war as an objectively moral action. However, nowadays many of us question whether this was in fact moral. In “Is God a moral monster” Paul Copan argues that god set up his morals based on the society that existed at the time, and that the morals used then are not applicable now. If this is true, why should we take religious morals to mean anything? He claims that because killing and stealing are consistently defined as immoral throughout the religious texts, they are objectively immoral and cannot be argued. I agree with the conclusion here but not the thinking. In his worldview, the old testament was the first moral code by god, and the new testament was simply an update on the moral code of god. In this respect, why don’t we have an update yet? It’s been thousands of years and yet the same moral codes apply to us as did the people living in the first millennium? I think religious morality is shaky at best, and when we follow it we are ignoring the great debate of moral philosophy by copping out. We say, we already figured it out no need to think about it more. This is frustrating for me, especially because much of religious moral philosophy include things like slavery, holy war, and the subjugation of women.
A lot of people I discuss religion with claim that science and religion have no beef with each other, religion focuses on one facet of the universe (namely the supernatural) and science focuses on the other (the natural). Stephen Gould was a large proponent of this idea and coined the term Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). Noma might be the case if every religious person was a deist, but in reality they aren’t and NOMA is not applicable. Religion infringes on the natural world in ways that science has no choice but to oppose.
For example, miracles are supposed temporary suspensions of the otherwise immutable laws of the universe. Science simply rejects this notion because all other evidence points to this being impossible. I don’t understand why it’s more reasonable to believe that people writing years after Jesus’ knew that he had been resurrected than that they made the whole thing up or better yet had a hallucination. The bible literally says that a bunch of dead godly men and women broke out of their tombs and went into the holy city where multiple people saw them (Matthew 27:52). If you believe that part of the bible is figurative, what makes that figurative when Jesus’ resurrection was literal? I mean sure he’s the son of god but if he’s getting resurrected why not saints?
Another issue is that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all believe in a personal god, one who cares about the actions of humans and occasionally intervenes to make his opinion heard. One topic that I shouldn’t even cover but I feel it needs to be said is when religious leaders claim that natural disasters are god’s punishment for sin. This is absurd and most thoughtful Christians will dismiss this theory, considering it holds no scientific water. The fact is nobody has ever proven it, and yet many people have refuted it. Tornadoes hit Oklahoma, one of the most religious states in the United States, and not Massachusetts for allowing gay marriage. If you disagree let me know but I think this is pretty self explanatory.
My final point is that when the Church was strong, it did all it could to limit the progress of science. The Church put Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his life for claiming that the Earth was not the center of the universe. They also persecuted countless other thinkers such as Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for his heretical ideas. Let us not forget the squabbles of early Islamic thinkers either, such as Averroes and Al-Ghazali, whose books were burned by competing ideologies. Today religion does not jump to such drastic measures as burning at the stake, though Islam today is quite radical and has resorted to suicide bombings, executions, and stonings. Another modern example is the ban on condom use declared by the pope years ago. That is effectively telling Africa that condoms are not worth it because while you will die painfully, at least you will be going to heaven. This is counterproductive and you cannot make claims like this without first thinking of the impact it will have on the world. In my opinion, banning condoms will not promote human well-being and as it stands I believe that decree was immoral. The fact is, religion has always been about the most crucial question in human existence, our purpose. When people think they have found the answer to that, they will do anything to preserve it. That includes the persecution of those who disagree with their worldview, as well as the censorship of their ideas.
This blog post will be dedicated to what I believe ‘faith’ really is. To me, what many people call faith in god is actually faith in the word of other people. I feel like this describes the reason I personally don’t adhere to faith well, because in general I don’t wholeheartedly trust things other people tell me. I admit, in the case of religion many people try to convince you, and many people also believe in it, so it is a little more meretricious than the average rumor. That being said, it still is not convincing. The worst part of this type of faith is that in this specific case the words are from people thousands of years ago. Obviously they had a wildly different worldview than we do now, and even with all the evidence we have mounted against most religions most people tend to ignore or reject it because they refuse to consider other options. Religion is not perpetuated by the rational conversation, instead it is inculcated at a young age effectively securing an active participant in the community once he/she comes of age. For me, it’s hard to believe that more religious people don’t notice this (or admit it’s true). This is why I feel that when talking about faith, the only real faith we have is that all the religious people can’t be wrong, and that because so many people believe in religion that it is necessarily reasonable.
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