Self-evident religion

Considerations of religious issues in general

Self-evident religion

Postby Elliott » 01 Aug 2011, 01:14

I am no fan of Richard Dawkins, but I do think he makes good arguments. When heckled by a man who said he "knew" Jesus Christ was real and loved him, Dawkins said that in a previous age, the man would have "known" that Odin was real, that Zeus was real, that Yahweh was real etc.

When people believe in religion, is it primarily because they were raised to "know" it was true?

Do you believe in a religion? If so, why? Is it self-evidently true?
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Re: Self-evident religion

Postby Michael » 01 Aug 2011, 23:08

I agree that most "belief" in religion is being raised to assent to the truth of propositions about it, which is all the more powerful for being learned in the formative stages when we are (appropriately!) credulous to what our parents, who want the best for us, tell us. The other part is the identification of a powerful emotion as "knowing" something is true. The proposition that "S believes that p" is true independently of p's being true.

I am not a religious person, in that I do not assent to the propositions of any religion. I do, however, believe in "God", though I am hesitant to use that term. I would call my beliefs philosophical theism, the belief, founded on argument, that every contingent existent is dependent for its existent on a first, necessary being (first in order of existence, not necessarily first in time). Further, this first being possesses the omni attributes attributed to "God". This is a belief without any revelation, founded on complex metaphysical arguments, subject to disproof. In no way would I consider it self-evident. Nor do I believe that we can point to any events in the history of the universe and call them divine interventions.

If I have any 'religion' it is a regularly reaffirmed gratitude for both my existence and the manifold good things in my life. I don't pray for interventions or special relief, and expect no future existence after my death.
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Re: Self-evident religion

Postby George » 02 Aug 2011, 06:04

Elliott wrote:When people believe in religion, is it primarily because they were raised to "know" it was true?

To the same extent as any other belief.

Elliott wrote:Do you believe in a religion?

I'm a Christian.

Elliott wrote:If so, why? Is it self-evidently true?

No, it's definitely not self-evident. There's a lot of unsearchable mysteries which we probably won't ever be capable of 'knowing' (in the scientific sense). I'd put the origin of the universe, consciousness, morality, and the existence of a God, etc. in this category. What we know about these things we only know because God has revealed them to us.
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Re: Self-evident religion

Postby Mike » 02 Aug 2011, 09:53

I have had very fluctuating views on religion over the years. My brother is militantly anti-religion in the Dawkins mould (we were raised without any religion), while I've always struggled with the dichotomy of the great artistic and cultural achievements wrought in the name of religion and the useful social glue it provides, as opposed to the appalling wars and slaughter it has given rise to.

I also think it tends to be the case that the religion of whichever culture is dominant at a given historical moment tends to be the most generous and the most consistent with civilisation and good government. Today it's probably Christianity, in the 12th century it was probably Islam. As TD says in one of his essays, it is a shame for the world that there was never an Islamic version of the Enlightenment (not to mention a proper articulation of the separation of church and state, which is one of the great strengths of Christianity in my view).

In an ideal world, everyone would have the capacity for abstraction to dedicate themselves to a worthy transcendent cause (such as cilivisation) without the aid of religion. But I tend to agree with TD that such an aim is impractical, hence the net benefit to the world at large of religion (or at least religious feeling).
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Re: Self-evident religion

Postby Jeff » 02 Aug 2011, 23:35

I have always been impressed with the argument from contingency; that is, the cosmological argument, particularly the form in which Samuel Clarke castes it in his On the Being and Attributes of God. Even if Clarke's argument holds, which I, not being a logician, have no great confidence in, I see no way to get from the existence of God to a validation of the Christian religion.
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Re: Self-evident religion

Postby JoelUpchurch » 03 Aug 2011, 18:09

I actually found Dalrymple's essay on this topic to come close to describing how I feel.

I'm an atheist myself, but I simply fail to be offended by other people's religious beliefs as long as they don't believe in oppressing or killing infidels or apostates. The less tolerant forms of atheism, that Dalrymple describes in his essay tend to rub me the wrong way also. I even admire people who actually practice their religious duty of charity to their fellow man.

A lot of this is predicated on my observation that most people who lose their religious beliefs are rarely converted into rational skeptics. They instead come up with new beliefs that are just as absurd and often more harmful than the ones they left behind.

The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked...
H. L. Mencken

It is far more likely that if you disabuse someone of their religion, that you will end up with someone who belives in spiritualism or ancient astronauts or pyramidology or Scientology or Communist. It is usually better to let sleeping dogs lie.
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Re: Self-evident religion

Postby Mike » 03 Aug 2011, 23:22

There's a lot of truth to that Mencken quote. There's a similar one whose origin I've forgotten: "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, no explanation is possible."

I tend to think that the positives of religion, even if it is simply "the beautiful lie", are regularly underestimated. An example was a former teaching colleague of mine, a wonderful teacher and a transparently good person. Another colleague used to say that he admired the way this fellow "had such a close connection with God" when he saw him at prayer during morning mass (it was a Catholic school at which one of the priests said mass in the chapel before school started). What I thought then and still think now was simply that this man was simply fully alive to the idea of transcendence, of a life beyond himself and his immediate surroundings, and that can only be a positive thing in my view.
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