How do you evaluate the claims of a religion? Many readers of this blog are agnostic or atheist (as witnessed in the comments of the latest Questions That Haunt (which I will answer in the next 24 hours!)). Well, Gary Cutting has some words of wisdom for you:
To evaluate a religion, we need to distinguish the three great human needs religions typically claim to satisfy: love, understanding, and knowledge. Doing so lets us appreciate religious love and understanding, even if we remain agnostic regarding religious knowledge. (For those with concerns about talking of knowledge here: I’m using “knowledge” to mean believing, with appropriate justification, what is true. Knowledge in this sense may be highly probable but not certain; and faith—e.g., belief on reliable testimony—may provide appropriate justification.)
A religion offers a community in which we are loved by others and in turn learn to love them. Often this love is understood, at least partly, in terms of a moral code that guides all aspects of a believer’s life. Religious understanding offers a way of making sense of the world as a whole and our lives in particular. Among other things, it typically helps believers make sense of the group’s moral code. Religious knowledge offers a metaphysical and/or historical account of supernatural realities that, if true, shows the operation of a benevolent power in the universe. The account is thought to provide a causal explanation of how the religion came to exist and, at the same time, a foundation for its morality and system of understanding.
There remains much more to be said about the status of religious knowledge, looking in detail at the cases for and against various religious claims. My own view is that agnosticism will often be the best stance regarding religious knowledge claims (both religious and atheistic). But my present concern is to emphasize that, even if it falls short of knowledge, religion can be an important source of understanding.
Non-believers — and many believers themselves — assume that, without a grounding in religious knowledge, there is no foothold for fruitful religious understanding. But is this really so? Is it perhaps possible to have understanding without knowledge? Here some reflections on the limits of science, our paradigm of knowledge, will be helpful.
Read the rest: The Way of the Agnostic – NYTimes.com.
I’d be keen to hear what some of you agnostic and atheistic readers think of his essay. (For the record, I’m currently somewhere on the Christian agnosticism/igtheism spectrum.)