Reasons not to make a divine leap of faith

There should only be one monotheistic religion

I could become a Christian, or I could become a Muslim; there’s a choice. The two religions are mutually exclusive, and the cases they both make for themselves are equally strong. That is, they both have large numbers of followers, old texts, magnificent buildings, reports of miracles and other impossibilia, etc. The fact that their bases are equal in nature AND that at least one of them is false proves that bases of this sort aren’t solid enough to prove what’s built on top of them. A refusal to believe in them on the grounds of evidence is thus perfectly acceptable.

And why would God tolerate so many conflicting messages about him and his kingdom?

God is a flimsy answer to the mysteries of the universe

First of all, the human brain is “hardwired” to perceive a causal universe with three spatial dimensions and a uniform passage of time. We cannot take this perception to be accurate, so our innate questions about the universe are dubious (What’s outside the universe? What existed before the universe? Etc.) In spite of this, the theistic solution to the paradox relating to the origin of the universe (how something came from nothing) can still be deflated by means of the following Okham’s-Razor-like argument.

In reality, the religious solution isn’t a solution at all: it’s a deferral. This is because it begs a new question – “Where did God come from?” – which takes us straight back to the original paradox. But it doesn’t end here. In introducing a creator, a whole new raft on mind-boggling questions and mysteries spring up: How old is God? What material is he made of? How does his mind work? Where is he now? Etc. etc. Therefore to say “I don’t know where the universe came from” is to leave a question unanswered, and to say “God made the universe” is to leave that and many other questions unanswered. And the crucial point about the latter is that the increase in mystery isn’t balanced by any gains in understanding or insight into anything else. In short, we have a choice between a big unknown and a needlessly-bigger unknown – all things being equal, we should go for the former.

The above questions are, of course, flawed for the reasons given in preceding paragraph, but the object of this exercise was to reject the apparent solution to the paradox from the same premiss as it was originally posed, not in any absolute terms.

Pascal’s Wager is a theological Siren

If there’s no God, then when the theists and the atheists die, that will be the end of it. The atheists will have won, but there’ll be no one to celebrate (or to sulk). If there is a God, then the believers will presumably go to Heaven, and everyone else will go to Hell. In other words, if you believe in God, you can’t lose, but if you’re an atheist, you can’t win. And the defeat here is, by definition, the worst thing anyone can possibly experience. This is Pascal’s Wager; becoming a believer is the best bet.

In spite of the appeal of this argument, there are two significant things to be said against it. Firstly, if someone were to join a religion on the grounds of this wager, then they would have made the decision based on the rewards, not on the likelihood of it being true. By analogy, there could be an FA Cup tie between Chelsea and Accrington Stanley, with odds of 1/1000 and 1000/1 respectively on winning. A man with £1 wouldn’t win anything if he backed a victorious Chelsea side, but he would win £1000 if he backed a victorious Accrington Stanley. This example should make the rift between the likelihood of a result and its payoffs completely clear. When deciding whether or not something’s true, one should look at the thing that’s being thought about, not the consequences.

Secondly, if the wager is assumed to be a good enough reason to convert to religion X, then one wouldn’t be blamed for picking the religion that makes the best offer for the afterlife. It has been reported that Islamic suicide bombers have been promised scores of virgins all to themselves in paradise if they commit their acts of terror. Given that, to their minds, their victims’ post-death fates were already decided (and life on Earth is only a brief flicker compared to the eternity beyond) surely these people have made a sound Pascal’s-Wager-based decision? This, along with the reason above, should make us reluctant to allow this argument to seduce us.

NB: I’ve tried to be as objective, rational, and polite as I can. If anyone who believes in God finds this material offensive, then 1) you’re too easily offended, and 2) I take offence at your conviction that I’m going to Hell, so we may as well call it quits.[/b]

I absolutely see where you’re going with this. However, I like the example Douglas Adam’s gives in God’s Debris (which you can find at http://images.ucomics.com/images/pdfs/sadams/godsdebris.pdf.) He suggests that we imagine that two people independently find their way to the same place. Perhaps they started at two different origins, but that’s besides the point: the point is that these two people have both found adequate paths to the location and have drawn roadmaps to it. Let’s say one map is red and the other is blue.

These lucky people who’ve found their way are going to tell you that their map is completely accurate (which is true) and to distrust other maps, which could potentially lead a follower of the map astray. Eventually, people place faith in the roadmaps instead of where the maps lead to. The point is that the maps are equally good at getting us to the location (an allegory for religious truths: the ideal state, the perfect good, spiritual peace, whatever) but the maps are different. They’re also mutually exclusive. But no map is any more ‘right’ than another.

So there doesn’t have to be just one monotheistic religion. As long as we’re all talking about the same thing under the surface of the words, then we’re doing OK. This jives with what a lot of the prophets of various religions have said, that semantics is less important than being a good person, etc. This also lends credence to the idea that we should focus on the common ground which unites us instead of the (relatively minor) differences which divide us.

Religion has evolved over time just as humanity has. The messages change, not just from culture to culture, but within a culture over time. I’d like to think of this spiritual awareness as growing and tending towards progress and greater understanding, but all too often we see religious ideas misused and abused to become a source of violence, division and strife. The point is that a religion is not identical to God; more than one monotheistic religion doesn’t imply that one person’s God is real and that another’s God isn’t. To me, the point is that god isn’t an entity, but that he is the Being of beings, that is, the ultimate Being or the ultimate Reality, the wholeness from which all else is divided. It is human consciousness and human finitude which limits our understanding of the infinite, of the absolutely other, which makes this unification seem fractured. There is no problem with infinity, only with our perception of it–

Any final answer to the mysteries of the universe is bound to be flawed. Any simple answer to a complex question – like the impossibility of a finite human contemplating true infinity by anything other than an abstraction – is a deferral, a resort to a super-reality whose existence is, as you say, dubious at best. Yet this does not necessarily preclude the existence of a God! Simply because God does not directly answer these questions, and because faith doesn’t provide solutions to universal problems (only personal ones,) we cannot say faith is irrational.

Also, it’s humbling to remember that science has not come up with any hard and fast solutions to the big boys except to call them nonsensical. I call this a deferral, too. Modern theories of the cosmology claim that questions like ‘What existed before the universe?’ and ‘What’s outside of the universe?’ are not paradoxes, just contradictions that imply a lack of understanding of the scientific method.

I prefer to think of God as the mysteries we have not yet uncovered. This does not mean they are undiscoverable, but that there is always a fraction that remains unknown and that this fraction is always diminishing as knowledge and awareness grow. This growth is exponential, and the answers grow ever-stranger as we approach the asymptote of knowledge. Think of chaos theory and quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity–a whole different universe has unfolded in the last century with entirely different ideas about the fundamental forces that are in play and which are responsible for the emergence of order and eventually life in this galaxy…

I really liked this essay a lot. I’ll get to your last point soon if I have time. Good work! -Joe

Thanks for the reply and the compliment :slight_smile:

But the final locations are different, and the key difference between them is who’s in Heaven and who’s in Hell. The conflict remains.

So we’re agreed that religious messages are essentially arbitrary? This being the case, surely scepticism is justified?

Yep, our brains can’t deal with these issues, and yes, it certainly doesn’t preclude God’s existence, but what we can say is that it’s at best only a possibility and worst an unlikely one.

I wouldn’t say science has deferred these questions; rather, it’s simply left them unanswered.

Aye, he’s the God of the gaps. Regarding whether or not we can know everything, I’m not sure. I like to play it safe and say that the best we can do in principle as human beings is reach a saturation level of knowledge and understanding.

@ JoeTheMan

If you think that the human mind’s religious efforts are always blue shifting towards “God” then you are sadly mastaken.

Remember that believing in “God’s” existence cannot physically change him, it only changes you.

ChimneySweep
Good thread. :smiley:

This may be nit-picky but Douglas adams was the guy who wrote ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy’. Gods Debris was written by Scott Adams who is the guy who writes ‘Dilbert’.
(I am a big fan of both. :smiley: )

Back to the topic though, maybe there would not be so many different religions if people stopped being so defensive about their beliefs in a vain attempt to protect their eternal soul’s butt and actually tried questioning everything to dig up the real underlying truth to it all.

There are a few people who do. They are called Agnostics. :sunglasses:

Thanks :slight_smile:

I’ve just read the “God’s Debris” story that JoeTheMan posted about, and it’s very original and thought-provoking, and quite romantic too in a way. The opening question is something that I’ve discussed with two academics I know, and I think he’s got it a bit wrong. If a coin is tossed many times times, the ratio of heads to tails will converge on 1:1, but the numerical difference between the two tallies will almost certainly be a significant non-zero number.

Also, if anyone can make sense of the chapter on evolution, let me know :confused:

actually, the ultimate answer is “that’s the way it is” which is a rather simple and correct finite answer to a rather complex interpretation.

ie, the universe is what the universe is, regardless of whether what we think it is is correct or not. It is what it is, and it is that way, because it is that way.

If you believe that god made the universe, you believe that god made the universe. If you believe that didn’t happen, then you believe that didn’t happen. But ultimately what happened, happened, regardless of what you think happened and why you think it happened.

You are trying to derive the truth by interpreting the truth, but the truth in its uninterpreted format is there infront of you as the truth. So whatever interpretation you derive is but a shaded version of the truth, and is therefore not quite the truth.
eg, a man walks down the road. The man is walking down the road for whatever reason the man is walking down the road regardless of what you, the man and anyone else thinks the reason for the man walking down the road is.

The truth is what the truth is. Your interpretation is but a personal, incomplete attempt at discovery and comprehension of it. Because you will never know everything, you will never know the truth as the truth is.

So beliefs in god, and similar contradictory beliefs, and beliefs in general are rather, insignificant.