I care about what is true. I care very much about what is true.
One of the things about myself that frustrates me the most is how I am often not skeptical enough. I tend to make snap truth judgements in the moment – due to excitement or distraction or whatever – and later I end up feeling like I didn’t properly evaluate the situation before accepting something as true. This is why I prefer written over verbal discourse: it allows me to properly consider my response, evaluate my position and avoid rash acceptance of claims. I recognise confirmation bias in myself and actively work to overcome it. I realise I am essentially an illogical creature and I try hard to overcome it because I care very much about what is true, about what is in accordance with fact and reality.
Fact and reality.
One could complicate the concept of ‘truth’ and discuss correspondence, coherence, constructivist, consensus or pragmatic theory or the opinions of Fromm, Hegel, Nietzsche or Kant. Or one could just stick to the simple definition of:
- The quality or state of being true
- That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality
What got me started on this post was seeing a picture of Penn Jillette with a quote that says something to the effect of: if every trace of every religion had to be removed from human consciousness, something similar might be recreated in its place but it would never be exactly the same. If every trace of science had to be removed from human consciousness then it would still be true and it would be rediscovered again and the discovered truth’s would be exactly the same.
I think that is pretty profound. Remove everything we know about science and find it all out again from scratch and it would be exactly like it was. The truth discovered by science will not have changed. Remove religion and the facsimile which could replace it will never be exactly the same – other than the fact that it will also be nonsense. Religious ‘truth’… changes.
The Christian God by all accounts is unchanging and eternal. From the Christian Bible:
102:26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
102:27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
1:10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
1:11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
1:12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
33:27 The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
To me, and I’m sure to most people, unchanging would mean that what I hold true today is what I will hold true tomorrow. If you ask me a question, whether it be today or tomorrow or in 20 years from now, if I was unchanging my answer would be the same, unchanging. Not changing your opinion or answer to the same question is the very embodiment of ‘unchanging’.
This alleged property of God being ‘unchanging’ poses a bit of a problem for Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It causes two problems in particular:
1. The Bible condones some pretty horrific things such as genocide, slavery, infanticide, rape, murder, child abuse and so forth.
If God does not change then he must still condone these horrible things, yet his current batch of followers decry these horrors when they happen today in the third world. I find it terribly strange how devout followers of a God who commanded genocide get outraged when the same thing happens in Africa. Take the recent obsession with Joseph Kony as an example. The man is the leader of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” (no extra points for guessing the ‘Lord’ referred to there) and he has done things – terrible things – but they are pretty damn similar to what a man called Moses did in the Bible in Numbers 31:
31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
How do these outraged middle class first worlders know that Joseph Kony isn’t following explicit instructions from his God, their God? Because God wouldn’t command it? Is God not ‘unchanging’?
2. For reasons that no religious person has ever adequately explained, religious people almost always get different answers to the same question from the same deity.
Why is it that when people pray to their God, the same God, they can get different answers to the same question? Take the issue in Auckland a while ago where one church put up a billboard and thought it great while another group of Christians thought it was blasphemy. How could two Christians ever disagree over the opinion of the God with which they both have a personal relationship? Is God not unchanging or does he give a different opinion to ever person who prays?
These two issues together pose a massive problem to religious investigation into what is true and what is not. How do you know what is true if your only source of shared knowledge (The Bible for example) contradicts its self in very many places and each person’s personal ‘revelation’ is factually different from virtually every other person’s personal ‘revelation’? On what basis can you decide what is true and what is not?
Science on the other hand has the scientific method.
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”
The process that science follows to arrive at what is true and what is not:
Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses via predictions which can be derived from them. These steps must be repeatable, to guard against mistake or confusion in any particular experimenter. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.
The scientific method has built-in safeguards – such as peer review, repeatable experiments, independent reproduction – against the many psychological properties of humans – such as confirmation bias, belief bias, bandwagon effect – that make us fundamentally illogical beings. By following the scientific method we are most likely to arrive at what is ‘really’ true, at what is in accordance with fact or reality.
When a fact has been proven scientifically it can repeatedly be proven scientifically. It is a cornerstone of the scientific method for results to be independently reproduced – every person who properly conducts an experiment should get the same results.
This is in complete and utter contrast to religious revelation and the way prayer is alleged to work. No credible evidence is ever provided by religious revelation. No second person can independently verify that a person who has allegedly had a ‘revelation’ is telling the truth or is mistaken or is completely delusional. When people pray to the same God for some reason they get different answers. The answers so different there is reported to be over 38,000 denominations of Christianity and they all claim to have personal relationships with the same deity.
What could explain this diversity within Christianity (let alone Islam and Judaism which supposedly worships the same deity…)? The answer is unsurprisingly simple: there is no God. When people claim to know what God wants they are making it up. There is no God. People who claim to know the mind of God are mistaken. It is not coincidence that God almost without fail has the same biases and prejudices as those who claim to know what he wants.
Belief without evidence is a mistake. Faith…
Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.” — Christopher Hitchens
Simply using modern technology, using modern medicine, even eating modern food is tacit acceptance that science works and finds truth. Useful truth. Religion will try to convince you that the shape of a banana, shaped by generations of human directed artificial selection is proof that a supreme super being designed it for you. The irony is that it’s not too far off – the current shape of the banana is due to science and human intellect. I bet Ray Comfort didn’t have this particular truth in mind when he tried to sell his ‘banana revelation’ but fact is fact and empirical evidence trumps religious opinion every time.
Has a specific religion – such as Christianity - ever arisen spontaneously without the intervention of it’s adherents, in a remote part of the world? No, not one time. Copies of religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) never arise spontaneously in other parts of the world because religions are made up by people. They can’t spontaneously arise because the deity that each alleges to worship doesn’t exist and so can’t inform people elsewhere of the religion. If Europeans had arrived in Australia (or pick any remote people in the world, Amazon, Pacific islands, China…) and found that the Aborigines were devout Christians even though they had never had contact with Europe or the Middle East it would have gone a long way towards showing Christian beliefs to be real. This has never happened. Not once. And don’t hold your breath, it never will.
Revelation is baseless opinion and it is disturbing how many people will accept a person’s word that his opinion is true without questioning or demanding verifiable evidence. You’d think by now, through the manifold scandals by church leaders that have been exposed, that people would be a bit more skeptical about the motives and truth espoused by those who claim to know the mind of God. It’s not even hard to test: ask three different church leaders what their God thinks about a subject – blasphemy is usually a good subject – and my money is on three different answers. They all claim to have a personal relationship with the almighty. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to ask your personal friend his opinion. Three different answers, which one is telling the truth? Ask 30. Which one is now telling the truth? Ask 300? Ask 38,000. Who is now telling the truth? All of them? 38,000 different opinions and they are all truthful? Unlikely.
There is a much simpler truth: there is no god.
Science strives to find actual, empirically verified, useful truth while religion tries to sell baseless – often contradictory – opinion as truth. Give me science any day.