Mailvox: so many gods, so little time

JS asks about comparing religions:

Vox, after reading your article I thought I’d ask how to choose which God(s), Religion, Denomination and Sect to choose from since they each make the claim that they are the unadulterated word of god as spoken to his chosen prophet. Deviance from the doctrines of each of the above results in a fiery end for all eternity; as does belief in any of the other belief systems. Mormonism is getting a lot of attention recently and I can honestly say that I admire Mormons for their family values and the moral backbone they seem to foster in their adherents. However, many of the claims of their prophet are demonstrably false despite the religions overall success.

So how does one choose? Especially since the stakes are so high?

Carl Sagan said it best in his baloney detection kit: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – period. So far we only have the scientific method – with all its flaws – to help use explain natural phenomena and improve our lives. It offers no moral teachings or social fabric to knit our societies together with…only explanations. The best course for the religious is to adopt the “non-overlapping magisteria” model of religion and science. They really do operate in two separate domains. Religion functions on unquestionable faith and absolutes. Science works on constant questioning and probabilities.

I agree with you that Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris are at least misled in their belief that rhetoric and reason can neuter religion. Nor do I believe that it would be a good thing for society as a whole to do so. But the whole polarity between “Irrational Athiests” and “Irrational Theists” leaves out the majority in the middle who don’t believe in either. Theists and Athiests can be moral, rational, upstanding citizens and – statistically speaking – overwhelmingly are.

Actually, as anyone who has examined various religions from Christianity to Nzambi Mpunguism, they really don’t. I recommend JS look into precisely who spoke to Mohammed, which of the Judeo-Christian God’s many prophets one has to consider “his chosen one”, and the Jewish concept of the afterlife. To be blunt, he’s simply repeating a Sam Harris talking point here, it’s evident he doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about.

Shall we offer dueling Carl Sagan quotes? Sagan also said “An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Now, it would be first necessary to define what is and what is not an “extraordinary claim”, then detail precisely what “extraordinary evidence” would suffice to meet any such claim. And once this is defined, then surely some extraordinary evidence would be necessary to explain why the normal standards of historical, testimonial and scientific evidence which have proven satisfactory for everything else in human history have suddenly become a post-1987 imperative on the sole basis of a dead pop astronomer’s say-so.

JS doesn’t seem to realize that this is simply more of the rhetoric that he is, quite rightly, dismissing from the New Atheists.

The best test of a religion is that suggested by the Apostle Paul. Judge a man by his fruits, judge a faith by its fruits as well. Science alone is a very poor yardstick upon which to rely for guidance, it is like attempting to determine WHERE you are driving with nothing but a speedometer for guidance. (Note that I said nothing but a speedometer, this includes the position of the sun outside, etc.) It may be very precise while simultaneously leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

I don’t believe in non-overlapping magisterium, but rather that Science and Religion – particularly Christianity – are complimentary tools. It makes no sense to try to cut down a tree with a hammer, nor is it very effective to use a screwdriver to pound nails. Religion helps Man know what to do, Science gives him the best possible means to go about doing it.

Now, atheists certainly can possess virtues, unfortunately, consistency and rationality are seldom among them. This has little to do with their lack of belief in God, it is mostly because they are human. The great problem with atheism is that its practical form – secular humanism and the various societal utopianisms – depend entirely upon a false foundation of an imaginary human rationality.