WHERE WE ARE
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus? In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint. Here is the first reason:
1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God.
My doubts about the existence of God are related to skepticism in general, and to three specific areas of skepticism:
- Skepticism about Supernatural Claims
- Skepticism about Religion
- Skepticism about the Existence of God
In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.
My skepticism about supernatural claims also reinforces my skepticism in general, because billions of people over many centuries have believed many false supernatural claims about various alleged supernatural powers and forces, and about various alleged supernatural beings, confirming my CYNICISM, the view that human beings are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
In this post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about religion, and in a future post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.
SKEPTICISM ABOUT RELIGION
A. Almost all religions are false or contain significant errors.
The major world religions contradict each other, and not just on minor points. They disagree about some of the most basic and important issues that religions address. At best only ONE of the major world religions can be true, only ONE can be consistently correct about it’s basic teachings, and the rest are false or are fundamentally mistaken about some of their most basic teachings:
B. Christianity and most other religions involve a conjunction of several questionable beliefs.
Because there is a significant number of independent beliefs and a significant degree of independence even with those Christian beliefs that have some logical or causal relationship, probabilities must generally be multiplied here. Although Christians often assert these beliefs dogmatically and with great confidence, it seems clear to me that an objective evaluation of these beliefs can at most arrive at the conclusion that the belief is probable or in a few cases, very probable. But with a dozen beliefs at issue, it is highly probable that at least one of the dozen or so of these beliefs is false. The same objection applies to all major world religions (and to at least some secular worldviews):
C. Religious belief is distributed geographically, and is based primarily on socialization and indoctrination.
Why is the religion of a person so closely related to the location where he or she was born and raised? The answer is obvious: religious beliefs are typically based on cultural bias and social conditioning. People who are born and raised in Turkey or Saudi Arabia are raised to be Muslims. People who are born and raised in Venezuela or Bolivia are raised to be Christians. People who are born and raised in Cambodia or Thailand are raised to be Buddhists. The society or culture of the country where one is born and raised has a great deal of influence over which religion one will believe and practice:
John Loftus rightly emphasizes this point:
D. The natural biases of egocentrism and sociocentrism motivate uncritical religious belief.
It is very obvious to most Christians that the Quran was NOT inspired by God. But the very same reasons why Christians reject the inspiration of the Quran apply to the Bible, especially to the Old Testament. This belief in the inspiration of the Bible is partly based on socialization and indoctination, but it is also based on egocentrism and sociocentrism. Christians firmly believe that their in–group is right about the Bible being inspired and the Quran NOT being inspired, not based on an objective analysis of the relevant facts, but because they identify with Christians: “WE believe what is true and wise, but THEY (Muslims) believe what is false and foolish.” People in every century and every country commonly believe that their people are the best and wisest people in the world and that people of other cultures are bad and foolish, or at least not as good and wise as the people of their own culture.
Dr. Richard Paul, a leading theorist and advocate of Critical Thinking, emphasized the problem of motivated bias in thinking, especially the biases of egocentrism and sociocentrism:
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism. [emphasis added]
Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. [emphasis added]
E. Historical examples of wishful thinking (such as belief in panaceas) support skepticism about most religions and worldviews.
For historical examples see the section called “HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF WISHFUL THINKING” in Part 2 of this series.
The Christian worldview is dubious because it presents a panacea (Slides 22 and 23 from the PowerPoint that I created for a podcast: Thinking Critically about Christianity – Podcast 5). For a clearer view, click on the images below:
The same objection can be raised against MOST religions (as well as at least some secular worldviews), so MOST religions should be viewed with significant skepticism.
F. Happiness and virtue do NOT correlate with religion.
…if religion is not the key to happiness, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to happiness. Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to happiness, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to happiness. So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to happiness, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true. If religion in general is disconnected from happiness, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion:
…if religion is not the key to virtue, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to virtue. Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to virtue, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to virtue. So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to virtue, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true. If religion in general is disconnected from virtue, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion.
If religion was the key to virtue, then we would expect that the most religious states in the USA would have the least amount of crime, the lowest crime rates. But in fact, the most religious states tend to have the highest crime rates. … If religion was the key to virtue, then we would expect that the least religious states in the USA to have the most crime, the highest crime rates. But in fact, the least religious states tend to have the lowest crime rates:
G. As science explains more and more of reality, religion explains less and less.
The Bible used to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of species, the origin of human beings, and the origin of languages. But in the 21st century, science explains the origin and development of the universe, science explains the origin of species, and science explains the origin of human beings, and science and history explain the origin of languages.
Earthquakes, floods, lightning, pandemics, and famines used to be explained as acts of God by Christians and by other religious people. But now science explains how and why these kinds of events happen. Diseases and mental illnesses used to be explained in terms of the actions of God or the activity of demons. But science now provides us with explanations of diseases and mental illnesses, as well as providing us with cures and therapies for treating diseases and mental illnesses. So, with the continuing advance of science, there is less and less for religion to explain by appeals to supernatural causes (like the actions of God, or demons, or angels).
It now appears that about the only thing left for religion to explain is human nature, especially human minds, thinking, and consciousness. But science is beginning to make significant advances in helping us to understand human minds, thinking, and consciousness, so it is reasonable to think that religion will soon lose this final bit of territory to further advances of science. Given that there is very little left for religions to explain, and given that the explanations that religion provided in the past have nearly always turned out to be false and unsupported by facts and data, we now have very good reason to be skeptical about religion as a source of truth and wisdom.
H. Skepticism about Miracles and Revelation casts doubt on Western theistic religions (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
First, there are no modern-day miracles. This is just as clear as that there are no modern-day psychics (who actually move objects with their minds or who actually “see” events in the future), no modern-day wizards or witches (who actually perform feats of magic), no modern-day mediums (who actually communicate with dead people), no modern-day philosopher’s stone, no modern-day elixir of life, no modern-day panacea. Many people still believe in such bullshit, but there is no significant scientific evidence for such alleged supernatural phenomena.
Thus, it is reasonable to be suspicious of miracle stories from ancient times, especially in view of the fact that modern science has only been around since Galileo (around 1600), and the masses have never been particularly fond of science (e.g. the current president is proud of his anti-scientific beliefs, and he has millions of idiotic fans who adore him precisely because of his antagonism to science and scholarship).
Why would God perform miracles in the ancient past, when people were hopelessly ignorant, superstitious, and credulous, but then stop performing miracles when science, careful empirical observation, and education became common? The most obvious explanation is NOT that God changed policies on interfering in human lives, but that miracle claims were always FALSE, and that it has simply become more difficult to get people to believe FALSE miracle claims in the age of science, careful empirical observation, and widespread public education.
Miracles play an important role in Western theistic religious traditions. They provide “evidence” for divine revelation. Jesus, for example, allegedly performed nature miracles (walking on water, turning water into wine, stopping a storm with a single command, and bringing a dead person back to life). These miracles are supposed to provide “evidence” that Jesus was a true prophet, and that his claims to be the Messiah and the divine Son of God were true, and thus miracles provide “evidence” to show that the teachings of Jesus are teachings from God, revelations from God. Moses allegedly performed many amazing miracles, which is supposed to provide “evidence” that Moses was a true prophet, and thus that the laws of Moses were, as Moses claimed, from God himself, revelations from God.
Miracles, in short, are the main “evidence” that certain teachings or messages or sacred writings were inspired by God, messages from God. But there is a fundamental problem with this way of supporting claims of divine revelation: In order to be able to identify an event as being a MIRACLE, we must first figure out the plans and purposes of God. Apart from such knowledge, we cannot identify a particular event as being something that God intentionally brought about.
We cannot see God. We cannot observe God by means of any of our senses. God has no body, according to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So, we cannot physically observe God doing something, in the way that we can observe people and animals (who have physical bodies) do something. Because God has no physical body, God does not leave any physical traces. No finger prints, no foot prints, no hairs, no saliva, no sperm, no blood, no urine, no skin cells.
The only way to try to identify God as the being who intentionally brought about event X, is to know what the plans and purposes of God are, and to determine whether bringing about event X fits well with God’s plans and purposes. The problem is that we don’t know anything specific about God’s plans and purposes.
We can infer from the definition of God that God will only do things that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person would do. But that doesn’t really tell us much. Afterall, God, if God exists, appears to have created a world with a great deal of evil and suffering in it, which doesn’t seem like what we would expect an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person to do. God, if God exists, created a world where everything dies, and where billions of sentient creatures suffer from physical injuries, mutations, poisons, diseases, parasites, cancer, predators, fires, floods, earthquakes, famines, etc.
If there is a God, God does not behave in the way that we would expect a perfect being to behave. So, either there is no God, or we are not very good at figuring out the plans and purposes God. Of course religious people often claim to know God’s plans and purposes, but their claims are based either on scriptural revelation (e.g. the Bible, the Quran, Book of Mormon) or on alleged personal communication with God. But if the Bible and Jesus require miracles to support their claims to divine inspiration, then so do individuals who claim to talk with God today. There is no reason to accept such claims about personal communication with God apart from strong evidence, namely the occurrence of a miracle associated directly with that person.
But now we are reasoning in a BIG CIRCLE. In order to show that Jesus or the Bible (or the Quran or the Book of Mormon) are truly communicating messages from God, we must first determine whether some alleged events actually occurred and were actually miracles (e.g. Jesus really did walk on water AND this happened because God intentionally caused it to happen, and Jesus really did turn water into wine AND this happened because God intentionally caused it to happen). But in order to determine whether some alleged event really was a miracle, we must first know details about the plans and purposes of God, which we can only know on the basis of revelation (i.e. messages from God).
So, it appears to me that it is NOT possible to identify an event as being a miracle, because we don’t know any details about God’s plans and purposes (if God exists), and because we need to first identify a miracle before we can get specific information about God’s plans and purposes:
The above is slide 13 from my PowerPoint called “Belief in Miracles“.
In the next post in this series, I will give my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.