The merits of religion

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by ophelia, Oct 20, 2002.

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  1. ophelia Cards Against Humanity Host. Ex-Mod

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    Member Since:
    Jun 25, 2002
    star 6
    Earlier today a member named Doomsday- posted a thread in which he called religion a scam. Not surprisingly, the thread was locked almost immediately for being inflammatory. However, I think his points are worth responding to if you look past the four-letter words.

    (I don't mean for this thread to intrude upon the territory of other atheism vs. theism threads. However, I checked into a few of those and found their current discussions were on topics that don't mesh well with this one).

    This is my attempt to summarize Doomsday-'s argument (correct me, Doomsday-, if I'm wrong):

    1) Religion is untrue because:

    (a) There is no empirical evidence for God's existence

    (b) The presence of evil in the world disproves the existence of a God who is both benevolent and omnipotent

    (c) Science has shown that many historical events are extremely unlikely to have happened in the manner they're described in the Bible

    2) Religion is useless because:

    (a) Religious people don't behave any better (or perhaps behave worse) than non-religious people

    (b) Since God is presumed non-existent, any supernatural benefits of believing in him are also non-existent

    3) Religion is destructive because:

    (a) It acts as a social stabilizer, thus reinforcing the traditional distribution (or misdistribution) of power

    (b) It provides justification for crimes of prejudice and xenophobia

    These points encompass just about every major objection to theism. If it weren't for the baiting tone, Doomsday-'s post would have been a first rate summary of the atheist position. If you accept his premises, his conclusions are nearly inescapable.

    This is my attempt at a response:

    Implied but unstated in his argument is the assumption that religion's validity should be measured in the same way we measure scientific hypotheses or social policies. Few theists would agree this is the best way to examine religion. Instead, most place religion--or rather their relationship to God--in the emotional realm.

    Religious people infer the existence of God from a collection of feelings, which they experience as a strong emotional bond with an unseen presence. "Unseen presence" is not a logical flaw here. After all, subatomic particles are unseen presences, and yet we believe in them because we trust in the validity of the evidence supporting their existence.

    So the real issue is whether personal experience alone can ever count as valid evidence for something's existence. In general, society has said "yes" to this question when:

    1) The experience is common enough
    2) It deals primarily with the emotional realm

    Take romantic love as an example. It did not always exist. Lust and affection have always been around, of course, but there was a time when no one professed the life-guiding, quasi-spiritual devotion and transcendent desire that we associate with being "in love." Romantic love as we know it was "just made up" during the High Middle Ages, particularly in and around the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

    Some scholars think the ideal of romantic love began as a way to flatter favors out of bored queens whose husbands were away on the Crusades. Others emphasize the theory that it evolved out of the medieval Marian cult. (In this case "cult" means "following." It has nothing to do with David Koresh). In any case, romantic love is demonstrably a man-made institution, and one that the world lived without for all but the last thousand years or so. (Please correct this if any of it's wrong, you medievalists). :)

    Yet modern people talk as if the experience of being "in love" exists. We devote holidays and celebrations to it. We use its presumed existence to explain things that happen around us: "Yeah, it was stupid for them to run off together. But what do you expect? They were in love."

    Our primary evidence that such a thing as "in love" exists is our own personal experience of it. We use the same argument to defend the idea that parental love exists. After al
  2. TheScarletBanner Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 19, 2002
    star 4
    These points encompass just about every major objection to theism. If it weren't for the baiting tone, Doomsday-'s post would have been a first rate summary of the atheist position. If you accept his premises, his conclusions are nearly inescapable.

    While I wont involve myself in this particular thread (I tried to post a reply to Doomsday-, a rather long one, actually, before it got locked), I'll just venture one point:

    Doomsday- did not provide a first-rate summary of anything. Regardless of his tone, half of it was flat-out ridiculous, all of it inflammatory, most of it ignorant and the vast majority of it full of inconsistencies. As an Atheist, I wouldn't choose my views on the subject to be represented by him. He's a good example of a religious Atheist - people who believe with religious fervour that religion is bad ;).

    - TheScarletBanner.
  3. Whimper Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 1999
    star 4
    I personally take great issue with the fact that both Doomsday's post and your own use the word "Religion" to mean "certain branches of Judeo-Christian and Muslim religion."

    There's more to religion than "beliving in God(s)."
  4. Darth_Xio_Jade Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 29, 2001
    star 3
    There is no tangible "merit(s)" of religion as such (i.e. as a whole in and of itself). Certain individuals might claim individual psychological benefits, but that's really the extent of it.
  5. Darth Dane Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 10, 2000
    star 4

    1) Religion is untrue because:

    (a) There is no empirical evidence for God's existence

    Well if all is God, then you can look EVERYWHERE and you have found proof of God, because God is ALL

    (b) The presence of evil in the world disproves the existence of a God who is both benevolent and omnipotent

    Evil is a matter of your point of view. As it says in teh bible :p "God works in mysterious ways", So maybe all these things are supposed to happen, because it is the will of God, however we choose to categorize it as good or evil, God is beyond and encompasses both.





    DD - More as this unfolds

  6. TheScarletBanner Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 19, 2002
    star 4
    Well if all is God, then you can look EVERYWHERE and you have found proof of God, because God is ALL

    You can't use a belief to prove itself. Just like you can't define a word using itself, claiming that God is true because the Bible says he's all around, then pointing out that 'all around' is in existence, is dependant on God actually being 'all around' - which requires you taking something on faith, in order to prove something else.

    Evil is a matter of your point of view.

    The Holocaust, the Crusades, child abuse, rape, racism - this stuff being evil is just a matter of a point of view? I think a lot of people would disagree, there.


    - TheScarletBanner.
  7. Darth Dane Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 10, 2000
    star 4

    LOL I liked the way you emphasized IF, very cute :p

    "because the Bible says he's all around" It says this?

    But, so far, I agree that it isn't a good way to argue


    "The Holocaust, the Crusades, child abuse, rape, racism - this stuff being evil is just a matter of a point of view? I think a lot of people would disagree, there."

    Of course they will, they have a different point of view!



    Edit: Important additions so it makes sense [face_laugh]


    DD - It's unfolding :p

  8. DarthYama Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 16, 2001
    star 4
    Religions are a wealth of stories.
  9. EnforcerSG Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 12, 2001
    star 4
    I said this in another thread, but since it does not belong there, let me re say it.

    Religion has IMHO done allot more good than harm. It has given billions hope, confort, morals, stablity and friends. Yes, the major religious events in history have not always been good, but think of the billions of people who are good people in part because of religion?

    Although I am not religious, the beliefe in god has done allot. Many religious people I know are good people, only a few handful I would concider snobby or pushing it in my face, or overall bad people. Heck, religion does more to control people who would harm others than if there was no religion.
  10. ophelia Cards Against Humanity Host. Ex-Mod

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    Member Since:
    Jun 25, 2002
    star 6
    In case anyone cares, :p the post I was originally responding to largely relied on utilitarian arguments against religion. (I.e., religion does no good or it does more harm than good). This is not a very strong argument because it presupposes a common ground for defining what "good" and "useful" are. (Does good = useful? Or are some things good in themselves, even if they aren't useful)?

    The original post also brought up the existential argument against God's existence:

    (a) There is no empirical evidence for God's existence
    (b) The presence of evil in the world disproves the existence of a God who is both benevolent and omnipotent

    This is about a strong an argument for atheism as I know of, precisely because it works from within a theistic frame of reference. (I'd say more theists lose their faith over the question of why evil exists than for any other reason). I had to give short shrift to this question because it's the sort of thing people write dissertations about. I'd say the chances of us resolving it on the JC are pretty slim. ;)

    I chose to respond to the utilitarian argument from a natural law standpoint, which is one way of asking, "What is true?" instead of "What is useful?" This counters (but does not disprove) the utilitarian objections.

    The weakness of the natural law argument in this case is that all you can "prove," (actually it's more like "suggest)," is that some kind of supernatural force exists. This force could be Jesus, it could be ghosts, it could be Gitchi Manito.

    This may or may not be a Pyrrhic victory for a theist--depending on whether her goal is to convert others to a particular faith or simply to avoid being mocked for using personal experience as the basis for belief. (My goal would be the second one). ;)

    So if I were an atheist who wanted to argue with me, I'd dismiss the "weak proof" of natural law and demand a "strong proof" response to the existential argument. (It's possible to present such a response, but it's much harder).

    It's also possible to counter the natural law argument with hard-line utilitarianism, but since the two don't share basic assumptions, that's likely to end in a draw. (I'm willing to give it a go, though).

    Of course, I may be the only person who's interested in talking about this. :p
  11. Kyle Katarn Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 10, 1998
    star 6
    One could very well say that Atheism has done more harm than good. The Russian and Chinese communists killed more people than just about any regeime or any group acting in the name of a religion.

    Of course, I have very little desire to debate much about religion (or the lack thereof) as the end result is merely more petty bickering from people who will refuse to change their minds about anything.
  12. Darth Dane Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 10, 2000
    star 4

    Oh I have more question.

    Give me empirical evidence that God does not exist.

    It seems to me, we can't determine it either way, but please....prove me wrong :)




    DD - Spiffed op til lir

  13. MRHA Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 23, 2000
    star 2
    Religion is important when you lead a nation, not when you're leaded.

    God exist or not, I don't want him around me.
  14. TheScarletBanner Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 19, 2002
    star 4
    One could very well say that Atheism has done more harm than good.

    I have racked my brain for any incident perpetrated by an atheist, in the name of atheism, that was harmful. Hrm. Care to enlighten me?

    The Russian and Chinese communists killed more people than just about any regeime or any group acting in the name of a religion.

    1. So? They weren't fighting for the cause of atheism. The Crusades were in the name of Christianity, and the appropriation of the Holy Land.

    2. They weren't Communists. The Russian's who you are vilifying (justifiably) were Stalinists, and the Chinese are/were Maoists.

    3. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. - Karl Marx. This came from the generally-accepted founder of Communism. He argued that, under present society, religion was necessary, to dull the pain of an unpleasant societal theory (capitalism). Hardly the attitude of someone who would sacrifice life and limb to abolish it.

    ...petty bickering from people who will refuse to change their minds about anything.

    If I given convincing reason to become religious, I'd like to think I would.

    - TheScarletBanner.
  15. Whimper Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 1999
    star 4
    For goodness sakes here, would people stop saying "Religion" when they only mean a specific kind of religion?! There are plenty of religions that do all sorts of good that have nothing at all to do with any single omnipotent/omnipresent God-figure.

    Shinto
    Taoism
    Buddhism
    Zen Buddhism
    Hinduism
    Wicca
    etc. etc. etc.

    If you are talking about the Bible, God, Allah, Jesus, Genesis, and so on, talk about Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Don't just lump it all under "Religion" and attack that as though it were some unified whole.
  16. TheScarletBanner Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 19, 2002
    star 4
    If you are talking about the Bible, God, Allah, Jesus, Genesis, and so on, talk about Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Don't just lump it all under "Religion" and attack that as though it were some unified whole.

    It's pretty obvious that is what is being discussed. I don't think it's necessary to define it as Islamic-Judeo-Christian-Creationist-Whateverthehellelseyouwanttocallitist, when it's pretty obvious from the outset. Maybe at first, but afterwards, I'm sure "religion" can be just fine a term. That's what the word means to most Westerners, anyway, and quibbling about it here wont change a thing. :)

    - TSB.


  17. Whimper Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 1999
    star 4
    Saying that "Religion" means that to "Westerners" is just a big a generalization as the first one.

    I am a 'Westerner' and that is most certainly not what religion means to me. And if you check up on your statistics, there's a pretty big percentage of 'Westerners' (by this, I assume you include all of North and South America, Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand) who don't define religion in these terms at all.

    This is not nitpicking, but rather a valid point about the ethnocentricity of the original post, and this new thread.
  18. TheScarletBanner Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 19, 2002
    star 4
    Saying that "Religion" means that to "Westerners" is just a big a generalization as the first one.

    A valid one. The majority of people do equate 'religion' with Judeo-Christian religions. That's because Eastern religions don't get much say over here.

    I am a 'Westerner' and that is most certainly not what religion means to me.

    Well, you're one of many exceptions. Not the majority, though. :)

    And if you check up on your statistics, there's a pretty big percentage of 'Westerners' (by this, I assume you include all of North and South America, Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand) who don't define religion in these terms at all.

    I'd be interested to see the percentage.


    This is not nitpicking,

    Well, that's a matter of opinion.

    - TSB
  19. tenorjedi Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 2000
    star 5
    Religion made the world what it is today. Whatever the society maybe, their religion shaped it.

    It has been many things, and has been used by many rulers to devious ends but in it's core it has been an overall positive if you're a capitalist like me. It's promoted hard work, self disipline, accountability, and helped organized early man. It also helped bring about laws and was the basis from which we draw our basic ideals of right and wrong. Religion has and will be misused by individuals to do terrible things, but if religion wasn't there, something else would take it's place so those that hate religion and want it banned must realize that if not religion, then nationalism, if not nationalism, then self preservation, if not self preservation, than some other noble cause will be drummed up.

    Religion is not the cause of the worlds suffering. Man is. Those that advocate banning religion are no better than some of history's worst dictators. Truely, think before you speak (just to clarify, "you" is directed towards those misguided individuals that radiate moronic hypocracy). To reverse the thinking, think of what you feel if I say that science and atheisim should be banned. Not a pleasant thought no? Someone telling you what you can and can't believe. The freedom to believe what you want is one basic founding principals of the US. To advocate removing this freedom from others voids your right to it as well. Think of that the next time you make an ignorant statement about banning or removing religion.
  20. TheScarletBanner Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 19, 2002
    star 4
    Religion made the world what it is today.

    Don't you dare demean amazing human achievement as the doing of religion.

    Whatever the society maybe, their religion shaped it.

    No. Humans, social animals, shaped it. Their ideologies and beliefs. Not religion.

    it has been an overall positive if you're a capitalist like me.

    I'm sure it has. Little would you believe that when capitalism first started it out, it was by revolutionaries who believed in reason foremost, rebelling against those who kept up superstitions to subjugate the masses. Now, after two-hundred-or-so years of power, they've come full circle and are now using it themselves.

    It's promoted hard work, self disipline, accountability, and helped organized early man.

    It's also promoted fanaticism, intolerance, superstition and servility. Which is good for Capitalism, I'll agree - people wont care so much about being exploited in this world, if they think there's a better one to go to.

    It also helped bring about laws and was the basis from which we draw our basic ideals of right and wrong.

    No. Again, this is dead wrong. Religion shapes morals, it does not create them. Morals are a purely human creation, not religion or god-endowed.

    Religion has and will be misused by individuals to do terrible things, but if religion wasn't there, something else would take it's place so those that hate religion and want it banned must realize that if not religion, then nationalism, if not nationalism, then self preservation, if not self preservation, than some other noble cause will be drummed up.

    PPOR. Nationalism and self-preservation are already used. Give me something that would take the place of religion as a tool of rule.

    Religion is not the cause of the worlds suffering. Man is. Those that advocate banning religion are no better than some of history's worst dictators.

    I agree. People should be free to practice religion. But what irritates me is when people pass off genuine human achievement as the work of God.

    To reverse the thinking, think of what you feel if I say that science and atheisim should be banned.

    Science is actual, veritable, fact. That I can look at. Religion is superstition. I don't believe in banning it, but science, and the atheism which comes from it, is solid material, not faith and belief.

    Think of that the next time you make an ignorant statement about banning or removing religion.

    I would never dream of banning religion. I think that a lot of people are inspired by it to do great things. But people are to thank for that, not religion.

    Don't pass off human accomplishment. As a species, we're capable of so much good, kindness and thought; there's no need to give all the glory to god(s).

    - TSB, who is now off to Devon for a few days, and apologises if this post is inflammatory. If you want to make a riposte that I'll be able to actually read, PM it to me. Cheers.
  21. tenorjedi Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 17, 2000
    star 5
    TSB-I think you took my post all wrong

    Don't you dare demean amazing human achievement as the doing of religion.

    Society in the US, Europe Asia, and everywhere else is resoundedly shaped by religion. Our laws, culture, traditional values, indeed what we strive for as a culture is echoed by religion. I don't demean human achievement, I'm pointing out that since recorded history, religion was there playing a part. The beliefs of a society shape a culture.

    No. Humans, social animals, shaped it. Their ideologies and beliefs. Not religion.
    Religion in it's simplest form is ideologies and beliefs personified. It's a physical reminder of those beliefs.

    It's also promoted fanaticism, intolerance, superstition and servility. Which is good for Capitalism, I'll agree - people wont care so much about being exploited in this world, if they think there's a better one to go to

    The perversions of religion, the wars the suicide bombings, the hate etc is where religion was used as a tool or pawn for another means.

    No. Again, this is dead wrong. Religion shapes morals, it does not create them. Morals are a purely human creation, not religion or god-endowed.

    Religion gave law credibility and legitimacy. If Moses the man said not to kill, that's just a mans opinion. If Moses the man said that God commanded, thou shalt not kill, then those that believe in God must obey it. This is one of the reasons why early governments were religious states or equated their rulers with gods. To give their word authority. If Pharoah were but a mortal, then who cares what pharoah thinks. But if Pharoah is the son of Ra....well you'd better shape up or Ra will punish you. In this way religion helped shape rules and laws. It shaped a culture and a people willing to be governed by laws. That there's a greater moral authority.

    PPOR. Nationalism and self-preservation are already used. Give me something that would take the place of religion as a tool of rule.

    Many would say we in the US use nationalism. Yet we do not use religion. The western world is a perfect example of where religion has been replaced by something more dependable, and something politicians could control. We don't attack in the name of Jesus.

    In other parts of the world nationalism isn't quite there yet. Take terrorists for example. They still attack in the name of allah. There is no national allegience. Take away relgion and they'll choose nationalism, race or self preservation as their justification. You can always find a justification for anything if you really want. That's what it all boils down to. This is what people never seem to get. We as humans can find an excuse for anything.

    But what irritates me is when people pass off genuine human achievement as the work of God.

    I'm not passing off human achievement as the work of God. I'm pointing out religion as an institution's involvment in history played a pivital role in mans social and economic developement. If religion as an institution didn't exist society would be much different.

    Science is actual, veritable, fact. That I can look at. Religion is superstition. I don't believe in banning it, but science, and the atheism which comes from it, is solid material, not faith and belief.

    "It matters not. Science hurts people as well. WOMD, inhumane testing, mutations, science is the great satan and has caused more suffering than religion ever will. It is now banned, so go to mass or be thrown in jail."

    Not a pretty thought right? Science is athesism's bible so I thought I'd include it in there for added effect. To dictate beliefs to anyone is a horrible thought.

    I would never dream of banning religion. I think that a lot of people are inspired by it to do great things. But people are to thank for that, not religion.

    I wasn't refering to you, merely to those that advocate it. Those were the people I was ranting against. Hypocracy is the one weakness that drives me nuts.

    Don't pass off human acco
  22. Whimper Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 11, 1999
    star 4
    Although it's a Christian site, this page gives North American religious trends from 1900-2000. It shows the religions I mentioned sitting at around .25% of N.Americans, or 800,000 people.

    While it may seem like a small piece of the pie, 800,000 people saying that your definition of religion is too narrow would sure convince me.
  23. Darth_Drunk Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jun 16, 2002
    star 1
    So what are the other 300 million?

    Anyway, why is it ok to say that religion had nothing to do with our achievements and in the next breath, say it is the basis for all our atrocities? Sounds a litle hpocritical to me.

    God inspires us. Religion helps us to figure out what his message to us is. Can this be exploited for wrong? Sure. We can both give tons of examples. But, then so can any force people will rally around. I have seen little baseball exploited for greed and other reasons, yet no one calls for an end to organized sports.

    And last I checked, Pope John Paul II was fighting for exploited wrkers' rights. Archbishop Oscar Romero was executed for opposing the government's abuse of the poor in El Salvador. Catholic and Mormon missionaries are risking their lives to help bring food, medecine and everything we consider a necessity to countries in Asia, africe and Latin America.

    And stop using religion to push communism or capitolism. If we followed God's plan, we wouldn't need ecenomics.
  24. Darth Guy Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 16, 2002
    star 10
    Religion is a bunch of good and not-so-good stories, nothing more.
  25. JediMasterAaron Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2000
    star 5
    tenorjedi

    I agree wholeheartedly with your arguments, but publicly I'd advise you that it's probably not worth your time to be arguing this. I'm a religious individual, and I've found that atheists, while most have solid reasons for their beliefs (or lack thereof, as the case may be) are as unlikely to change their way of thinking as I am, or any religious individual would be. Basically it's just going to degenerate into senseless flames and bickering if prior experience has anything to say on the matter. This is the basic outline, which the arguments in this thread are already following mind you...

    Atheist: I want hard scientific proof of the existence of God.

    Religious Individual: Well, it doesn't work that way. It's about faith and believing without seeing. The proof of His existence is all around you.

    Atheist: That may work for you, but I personally want physical proof that I can see and feel.

    Religious Individual: Looks like we're at an impasse then.


    And that's the nice version of it, from my experience. :)

    As the case may be, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Religion, that is, belief in a higher power, has shaped this world like no other force. The people who did so, did so in the name of God, so however indirectly, for good or for ill, God had a hand in all this. At least in my opinion.

    I certainly don't want to try to squelch any viewpoints here, and hope I haven't offended anyone. Touchy subject material involved though, which is why I won't be participating in the debate. Have fun! :)

    JMA

    JMA
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