Uncritical thinking is one of the deepest philosophical problems that plague religions. There are a set of dogmas subscribed to unconditionally that are never questioned.
So, if you are to be a believing Christian you are to believe in a certain set of doctrines that would be considered ludicrous or insane to believe in other psychological settings.
Somehow, religion is a domain that is supposed to be immune from these same judgments.
For example, to be a good Christian you are to believe that a man, Jesus Christ, was born of a virgin, had walked on water, raised the dead, changed water into wine, calmed the sea,
healed many of their
afflictions, miraculously multiplied limited resources of food to feed thousands of people, and came back from the dead. In addition to these beliefs the good Christian is to believe that
by participating in the Eucharist, they are eating a cracker that has actually turned into the body of Jesus and drink wine that has actually turned into Jesus' blood.
All of these doctrines and events are supposed to be accepted without question. Why? In our normal, everyday lives, we are confronted with challenges and statements that do not
even come close to these claims and yet we question them and make judgment calls on those who are making these statements. We try to avoid getting duped. This is natural. By questioning
claims that seem to be out of the ordinary or just too good to be true, we are helping ourselves find the correct decision to make at those times of choices.
We try to avoid paying too much by being skeptical of many car salesman claims. We question them and challenge them. We would like to take our children to a safe and proper school,
so we question and challenge those who stand to benefit from accepting a quota of students. When buying a home, we make every effort at due diligence in order to make a reasoned decision.
Think about it, these are examples of choices we make and how to handle them in our ordinary lives. Think about those claims that will, if believed, take hold of your life and command
you how to live. Shouldn't they be the ones that deserve, if not the same then much more, criticism and challenge? Then why are so many people controlled by their religious convictions
under such little critical analysis of them?
The life of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the New Testament was a portrayal of a man who had supposedly lived decades after the books that were written about him were made. Books of the Bible
have been added, deleted and edited, so much so that it's very difficult even for biblical scholars to make much sense of their chronologies, authorship and truth. Yet when a
clergyman stands at the pulpit and says, without a hint of skepticism, that a certain event had actually occurred and the congregation accepts this as the actual revealed word of God...
well, it's very troublesome to say the least. We are much better than that.
Sam Harris has used a great analogy about delusional thinking. He paints a picture about sitting in a subway car and a person nearby mentions that he has been listening and talking
to the voices in his head that tell him to do things in his life. Would the best course of action be to inch toward this guy or away from him? What makes this situation any different
from the countless ones from so many people who say that they regularly talk to God? Our last president, George W. Bush, when he met with a Palestinian delegation had said:1
I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'.
And I did...
And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it.
You may ask, what can be of harm in believing a few doctrines from the Bible without questioning. Take a look at all the religious strife in the world and then ask that question again.
Each one of these conflicts is based on a belief held without question and the subsequent intolerance and aggression are the harms that result.
You may think that you are just a moderately religious person, not one who dabbles in the extremism found in so much of the world. That may, in fact, be true. We can go father and
say that most religious people in the world are moderates. However, by showing that belief in the same fundamental principles and claims as those from the fundamentalist and
extremist camps, we unknowingly substantiate, support, and legitimize their extended fanaticisms. Without that support, the fanatics would have a very hard time existing in the first
RELIGIOUS VS SCIENTIFIC APPROACH
Religious thinking and scientific thinking (what atheism is based on) have two completely different approaches. The scientific approach is such that data is gathered by interrogating
the universe in some way, such as through instruments. Hypotheses are formed that compete to explain phenomena. Data is then analyzed to determine if it confirms or rules out the hypothesis.
If the hypothesis continues to hold up to mounting evidence, it is called a theory. Keep in mind, however, and this is a very important point about the scientific approach, that hypotheses and
theories are falsifiable; they can be found to be wrong with the correct evidence. For example, we can continue bringing in evidence for evolution by natural selection for thousands of years
and it would only take one piece of verified evidence to bring the whole construct down. Theories are held up for as long as there is evidence supporting them. If today a scientist were to find
that there was a human skeleton embedded in Precambrian rock strata, that evidence would completely demolish the idea of evolution from natural selection in one fell swoop. Scientists can give
examples of what could potentially be found to demolish their hypotheses and theories.
Another important point: when a claim is made, the burden of proof is upon the ones making that claim...not the ones refusing to believe it.
I'll give an easy example of what I mean. If I were to claim that there exists an almighty flying spaghetti monster that looks after all of us from upon high, the burden of proof lies with me.
Not with those who are skeptical of my claim. What and where is my proof of the flying spaghetti monster? This seems so obvious to me that I go completely nuts when I hear believers, who
know nothing about the way the world works, say that they demand proof that their god doesn't exist! What? It's up to the ones making the claim that a god exists, to provide the evidence.
It's not up the non-believers to disprove a single thing. If that were the case, then anything could go. I could claim that I saw Elvis Presley today and that I need you to
disprove my claim. I could claim that a certain store-sold tablet called "Airborne" cures or prevents colds on planes and that I need you to disprove my claim. Is it up to me to prove
my claims or up to you to "disprove" my them (in other words: prove my claim is wrong)? When you go to buy your next car at the dealership, is it up to the dealership prove that
their advertised sales price holds or is it up to you to somehow disprove their claim? I think the answers are self-explanatory.
Let's take a look at the religious approach to the real world. An article of faith or a religious doctrine is presented and pronounced to be true. If evidence is later found to be counter
to that doctrine, then the evidence is called into question! The article of faith is held to a higher standard than the data itself. Intelligent Design (ID) adherents and Creationists
will make the claim that a great flood inundated the world and destroyed all living things (save two of each animal), all in the period of forty days and forty nights. That's some claim!
A pretty extraordinary one at that! The question, then, should be: "where is the evidence to support that claim?" Instead, we have a plethora of evidence that absolutely falsifies that claim,
such as rock strata around the world that is known to take millions of years to form (not forty days); completely different extinct species fossilized within different rock strata (not all
species in one strata, as one would expect in a great flood that killed all), etc. Knowing all of this, the ID adherents and the Creationists have called into question the evidence presented
that falsifies their claims. This is absolutely not how science works. As mentioned earlier, if a piece of evidence is presented that falsifies a claim, then that claim must be jettisoned.
Period. End of story. If it doesn't then great, it holds up for now. Hard evidence is king in science, it trumps everything else. Your ideas do not. Ideas are fleeting; the universe's
machinery is not.
Another important point to make about the religious approach is that, in many cases, the article of faith or the principle that is pronounced to be true is such that it cannot be
falsified in the first place! Many claims will and are being made from religion that simply cannot be falsified. When asked to give an example of something that would falsify their claim
believers cannot. Even though we know that, as mentioned earlier, the one making the claim must be the one to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt; we could still ask the believer
what evidence would need to be given that would falsify that claim. If none can be given, then the claim is an empty one and should be given no more time for consideration.
This is one of the most beautiful things about the scientific world: its claims are falsifiable. One of the ugliest things about religion, however, is that its claims are not.
Notes and References