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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Critical Thinking And Religion

Religion requires that a follower abandon logic and rationality in favor of faith. But, why would religion require such a thing? Logic and science have dragged us kicking and screaming into the modern age of technological convenience; they have enhanced the quality of our lives in countless ways. Which means that logic and science are good things for us - why would God create us in a universe where logic is all we can use to improve the quality of our lives, and then turn around and demand that we abandon logic in favor of faith? Does God not want us to be happy?

Let's use logic for a moment to examine religious claims, just to see if we can figure out why religions hate logic and mandate faith. Since my audience is mostly english-speaking, I will use Christianity as an example, since most of us are more familiar with this religion. When hundreds of different claims come together (the collective claims of any particular religion), each claim can be checked against each other claim to see if there exists a contradiction.

For example, take the two conflicting claims that God is (1) all-powerful and (2) all-knowing. If you want to believe both of these claims at the same time, you're going to run into a problem when you try to critically think about it. An all-knowing God would know everything, including everything He would do in the future, which means God would be powerless to change or stop His own future actions. An all-powerful God would be able to change or stop His future actions, which means God would be in some sense blind to His future actions.

Let me show you what happens when people critically examine the concept of the devil. God is claimed to (1) be morally good and (2) have omnipotence and it is also claimed that (3) the devil has the power to attack and manipulate His creations and thwart His divine plan. These three claims cannot coexist logically, because they are contradictory to each other. God cannot possibly be omnipotent if the devil has any kind of power over Him. Assuming the truth of (2), then (3) must only occur because God has chosen to unleash the devil to thwart His divine plan and manipulate His creations - and if that is true, then (1) can't possibly be true.

And what happens when we believe the following claims together? That, (1) God is all-loving, all-merciful, and all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-wise, and that (2) God answers prayers and heals injuries and diseases. Well, what about amputees? There has never once been a case of an amputee regaining their limb(s). So how can we reconcile this information with the two above claims? If God were all-knowing, there's no way that we could say He didn't know about the amputees' injuries. If God were all-merciful, there's no way that we could say He chose not to show mercy to the amputees. If God were all-loving and all-wise, there's no way that we could say He has a prejudice against amputees. If God were all-powerful, there's no way that we could say He cannot achieve the healing of an amputee. Thinking critically, if we want to accept (1), we must discard (2). And if we want to accept (2), we must discard (1).

How about the belief among the general Theist public that God is perfect in all ways possible? Well, a perfectly efficient God would never waste time and effort creating us, right? A perfectly satisfied God would never have any needs, including a need to create us, right? A perfectly modest God would never require endless worship from His creations, right? A perfectly moral God would never put His creations through the suffering we see on the Earth today, right? A perfectly communicative God would never rely on shifting words written by corruptable Humans in order to convey His moral instructions, right? The ideal perfect God would never do anything; would just sit there doing nothing for all of eternity. Sounds more like a rock to me. A rational thinker would conclude with this evidence that, if there is a God, He must not be perfect.

So, why do priests and the like require that logic be abandoned in favor of faith? It's because there's no way that their claims would ever be considered true when viewed from a logical, objective viewpoint. Faith is actually the only way that contradictory non-existent Gods can propagate through the minds of otherwise rational people. A contradictory set of claims always points to non-existence, or falsehood. There is no way that a self-contradictory God could possibly exist. If there truly is an existent God, then wouldn't it be worth trying to find Him, rather than accepting a non-existent God as your own?

Enter the Deist belief. Deists believe either that (1) a Creator/God is likely to exist or (2) a Creator/God does indeed exist. However, this is where the commonality between Deists and Theists ends. Deists believe that everything which exists is subject to non-contradiction, even God. Thus, a self-contradictory God cannot possibly exist to a Deist. A Theist needs no evidence to support their beliefs, so no new information can ever be examined - since the first thing believed is always the only thing believed. A Deist requires evidence and postulates the qualities of God rationally. The Theist is comfortable with the fact that they worship a self-contradictory (non-existent) God, while the Deist wants to actually find the God that can possibly exist.

After all, can we really say that we already know everything there is to know about reality and 'the ultimate truth' of the universe/creation? How likely is it that we are the masters of truth and knowledge, when that claimed knowledge comes from bronze-age intellects from thousands of years ago? And how painful is it to admit to yourself that you don't know everything? It is indeed much more comfortable to go about life assuming everything is already known, because the unknown is a source of anxiety.

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