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The Evidence for Religion January 6, 2009

Posted by Ian in Religion.
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Time to kick off 2009 my blogging by diving in the deep end 🙂

What evidence is there that Religion’s view of the world is correct?  Leaving aside the trivialities of which version to believe (since they all seem to believe roughly the same thing) what are the basic claims about the way the world is that religion makes for which evidence is needed?  The way I see it these fall into two basic claims around which the rest of the belief system operates:

  1. A supernaturally powerful god exists
  2. There exists an afterlife for humans

At first glance this might seem too short a list but I think everything else pins itself to these two fundamentals.

A supernaturally powerful god exists

What actual evidence is there for this?  Not a whole lot really.  In fact the only direct thing I can think of is personal experience and this can be explained in several ways (mostly around expectations and the way the brain is seemingly wired to expect agency).  Of course this is ignoring the significant question of just what exactly such a thing actually is – not an easy question to answer at all.

There is also the idea that creation is such that it requires a creator.  However since the world seems to look pretty much exactly what it would look like without any creator this is a very hard one to justify.  None of the arguments out there so far do much more than try and discredit existing theories of how things got to how they are – and then adopt creation as a default position assuming science is wrong.  However even if evolution is completely disproven and every other scientific law is overthrown you are no closer to proving a god created anything.  So far there is no positive evidence for the god created things hypothesis.

The other piece of “evidence” often used is the bible.  However it is hard to take the bible seriously as evidence for god. If you accept god exists then the bible becomes useful but if you don’t then it doesn’t help at all because all you have is a variant on the classic circular argument which goes nowhere:

god wrote bible –>bible is true –> bible says god exists –> god exists

So we have very little evidence that a god does exist, just a tradition of believing it is so.  Not very convincing in my humble opinion.


Afterlife

To the best of our objective knowledge when people die they cease to exist.  Therefore the notion of an afterlife and places where that afterlife occur is pretty weak and I’d go so far as to say there is precisely zero evidence for this, wishful thinking aside.  The evidence that does exist (psychics, ghosts, etc) is all pretty weak, anecdotal and usually easily exposed as mistakes or fraud.  It is telling that most proponents of the idea of an afterlife try to dress it up in pseudoscience, particularly the misuse of the concept of energy.


Conclusion

So it seems to me that the direct evidence of the fundamental claims of Christianity (or any other religion) are fairly weak.  In fact it seems very clear to me that one has to believe in god before any of this evidence is compelling at all.  Perhaps this is why the most common tactic of those trying to convert me has been to ask that I first give my heart to Jesus/God before I do anything else.  In other words they are asking me to believe first, ask questions second, knowing the questions will be more convincingly answered once I believe. 

I wonder if the opposite also works?  Is it possible for believers to view the evidence through the eyes of unbelievers and see it how I see it?  Perhaps a believer could suspend belief and then see if they still believe the evidence justifies their belief…

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Comments»

1. entonces27 - January 6, 2009

Actually, the latin etymologists categorize the word “religion” into three: Religion comes from relegere (meaning to read or pursue together; the same root goes to legible and intelligent) or (much more likely and generally accepted) from relegare (to tie back, to bind fast) or re-legeon (03. legeon leg-eh-ohn’ of Latin origin; a “legion”, i.e. Roman regiment (figuratively):–legion). So, there must likely be :
1. reading (Revelations 1:3)
2. tie by rules (James 1:27)
3. gathering (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1)
But in greek,
2356. threskeia thrace-ki’-ah from a derivative of 2357; ceremonial observance:–religion, worshipping.
40. hagios hag’-ee-os from hagos (an awful thing) (compare 53, 2282); sacred (physically, pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated):–(most) holy (one, thing), saint.

2. Ian - January 6, 2009

Interesting comment but I’m not sure I get the point you are trying to make?

3. Dace - January 6, 2009

“In other words they are asking me to believe first, ask questions second, knowing the questions will be more convincingly answered once I believe.”
– That’s a good psychological observation there. It helps explain why the doorknockers are hardly bashful when they come to the conversation without evidence. It’s also the same psychological quirk which underpins confirmation bias, which scientists seek to reduce through the explicit publication of their work, which is reviewed by peers (including competitors).

“I wonder if the opposite also works? Is it possible for believers to view the evidence through the eyes of unbelievers and see it how I see it?”
– This surely happens, but the theist needs to be concerned with the truth. Alas, I think theists are often less concerned with the truth of their belief then they are with the psychological benefits of it – the consolation and reward of an afterlife, being part of a religious community, a moral certainty, etc.. Why is this? Perhaps because theists see that belief in a god is so widespread, is so entrenched in culture, that it *must* be reasonable.
In general, the heuristic principle “Everybody believes it, therefore it must be true” stands us in good steed, but here it fails. Unfortunately, the cultural fiction can only be eroded but slowly, and with effort. There might, hopefully, come a time when a large enough proportion of society are non-believers that the effect no longer insulates believers from doubt – perhaps then we will see an avalanche of non-belief.

4. A Pilgrim - January 7, 2009

“god wrote bible –>bible is true –> bible says god exists –> god exists”

Where does this idea come from?! It’s the Quran that is supposedly the literal word of God (though not written by God, but transcribed by Muhammad.)

Why do so many try to say that God wrote the Bible?

5. Ian - January 7, 2009

Dace: Good points, and I agree with all of them. I’d also add that religion is increasing difficult to get rid of the more lucrative it becomes. I’d quite like to see what would happen if their tax-exempt status was removed.

A Pilgrim: Well most people claim the bible is the word of god which is effectively the same thing. Of course I don’t think the bible was written by god because I don’t think any gods exist.

6. entonces27 - January 7, 2009

Ian, my point is the word “religion” alone. It’s up to you to extract the onomastic ideas of the word.

7. Ian - January 7, 2009

I’m still not sure I follow – are you trying to say I have misused the word religion in my post? If so, does this make the points I am making ambiguous in some way?

8. Damian - January 7, 2009

Onomasics are onanistic 😉

(Happy New Year Ian and good to see you back up and blogging again fella)

9. Ian - January 7, 2009

Lmao – I love obscure words 🙂

Tis good to be a-blogging once more!

10. Paul - January 30, 2009

Great post Ian. Very succinct. Paul

11. shamtest - May 14, 2011

I can’t seem to access this post from my iphone!!!!

12. Ian - May 14, 2011

Curious – I don’t have an iphone so I can’t test it. Do other posts on my blog work?

13. Damian - May 20, 2011

Your site works fine on smartphones. I’m pretty sure that comment was spam (I get a lot of similar ones).

14. Ian - May 20, 2011

Cheers mate, I was fairly suspicious given it is just a standard wordpress site lol


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