I do apologize for the length in advance. I had started on this, and wanted to keep it short, but it began to get longer and longer.
The idea that a god or other supreme beings, such as the anthropomorphic deities of the Greeks, Norse, or Abrahamic religions (we may regard the first two as myths now, but to the people during the time at which they were the most widespread within their lands of origin, they were religions), would contact a human being for any purpose isn’t unique. Be it the various aboriginal myths from Australia or North and South America in which the spirits saved, nurtured, or tormented people, the gods of cultures that were around the Mediterranean that tested people such as Job in the Book of Job in Old Testament, punished some people such as Sisyphus who was forced to push a boulder to the top of a hill for all eternity, only to have it roll back down to the bottom once he got it there in the Greek stories, or dictated to people what can and cannot be done such as the case with Moses in the Book of Exodus (chapter 20 and chapter 34 that I know of), or the beliefs of any other region, people seem to have held the belief that their supernatural entities would and did contact people.
So many cultures, and despite the names, teachings, and traditions, many of them have had similar ideas. Think about this the next time you attend a religious service. “We’re the right one.” “If you break the laws of <insert name of entity here>, you’ll suffer in the afterlife. If you do <insert particular action here>, you’ll be well rewarded in the afterlife.” “Our book is from the creator of the universe.” There are only a few religions I haven’t heard this from, such as the Hindus. Not to say that people with ideas such as those mentioned in the quotations can’t identify themselves as Hindu, but merely stating my experience with them. It is because almost everybody makes the same claim, so many of which are mutually exclusive to the claims of another, which contributes to the issues of using holy books.
Sisyphus of Greek mythology
Perhaps the greatest issue, would be that of justification. Which one to start with? Why start with that one? What makes one more valid than another? The greatest issue I have with most of those that follow a particular religion, is that they follow the one they were brought up to believe, along with the book of that particular religion. To compound things, they often do this without thinking, holding the ideals of the religion to be ideals to live by without any justification greater than “I believe it to be true, so it must be.”
For those without a “holy book” such as myself, what criteria should we use to justify acknowledging a particular one as a valid source, and under what conditions? If it is for the purposes of studying religion or understanding the basis of the position of another person, then it will almost certainly be valid. For making conclusions regarding the universe or what people think though, using them can be nearly impossible. Some members and sects of various religions, such as John Shelby Spong, have interpretations that differ from the mainstream version of the religion that they are part of. In instances such as these, reading the books is only good for a loose understanding of their position, while reading their statements and speaking to them is a more effective means of understanding of their ideas and beliefs. Religious books or ancient religious texts are of little more value than that to people such as myself who don’t believe in them, so from here on out, I’ll be focusing on why they should have the same value to the members of the religions.
I’d recommend being very skeptical of any religion that says “we have things that are scientifically accurate.” Just to put emphasis on it, BE VERY SKEPTICAL, AND INVESTIGATE. For example, you’ll see some muslims state that the quran was correct in regards to the development of the fetus, and support it with an article written by Kieth L. Moore, and then roll out some of his credentials (Ph.D, F.I.A.C., Professor of Anatomy and Associate Dean Basic Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M55 IAB, Canada, from Toronto Ontario onwards is part of a mailing address). There are two fallacies that I see at the root of this one in particular:
1.) Quote mining
This involves searching through the entire body of data on a particular subject to find one little nugget that supports their position. To understand why some think that it’s an acceptable practice, I’ve heard some say things along the lines of “It doesn’t matter where it was found, what matters is that it was said.” I can’t help but think to compare this to mining for gold. When you find bits of gold on the surface of a rock, and it is hard, unyielding to pressure applied. How would you interpret that? Now imagine that you found a bit of gold, it is soft, yielding to the slightest bit of pressure. How would you interpret that? If your interpretation of the first example was that it was Fools Gold, and the the second example was gold, then you’d be correct. It is those details about where it is found and it’s traits that we should be interested in when it comes to quotes.
Where quote mines face particular difficulty though in something such as science, is that it’s not the statement that matters, its the evidence that matters. What evidence would be needed to validate your statement? What evidence is available that supports the statement? What evidence do you base your statement on? What evidence would demolish your statement? Given that it is a matter of science, the mere fact that a quote, paragraph, article, or even an entire book can be found that supports your position is irrelevant. As I’ve said, it’s evidence that matters.
2.) Argument from Authority
What makes the use of Keith L. Moore an argument from authority is that it is all to often meant to prevent any critiques of their position. This recently fell flat on it’s face in Dublin, Ireland, where P.Z. Myers, a professor of embryology, was in a discussion with Hamza Tzortzis. During the course of the discussion (I’ll provide a link to it, and you can see it for yourself, and the part I refer to is between 9:50 of part 1 and 4:41 of part 2), P.Z. had stated that Moore was wrong, and once Hamza’s associate stated something along the lines of “That’s what the embryologists are telling us” P.Z. had replied “That’s my field.” He then provided a brief outline of how the fetus develops. I’d recommend watching the rest of the debate between P.Z. Myers with youtuber Aron Ra, against Hamza Tzortzis and his assistant (I’m unaware of his name. If somebody can provide the name, feel free to do so).
Perhaps the other issue, is that the people who believe claims such as “The Quran has an accurate depiction of embryology,” “The Bible has an accurate depiction of how to avoid the spread of disease,” and similar statements, often belief that it was a god that bestowed that knowledge upon people. I’ll leave out the issues of the descriptions being vague, or not taken in full context, or even flat out wrong. What needs to be proven in this case is
a) The existence of a god/goddess/or gods
b) that this god had delivered knowledge to human kind
c) that this knowledge was accurate and reliable.
All too often, what is frequently presented as proof of the existence of god can be used for any number of gods from other religions (the numerous arguments), or depend on a logical fallacy.
Perhaps the greatest issue facing all religions concerning the morality described in their holy books, is the Euthyphro dilemma. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Euthyphro dilemma, it is a question which asks “Is it good because god likes it, or does god like it because it is good?” Some modernized versions ask “Are morally good things commanded by god because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are commanded by god?” If things are commanded by a god because they are good or moral, then we should be able to come to the same conclusions through an objective means, which renders him as little more than a messenger. Meanwhile, if things are good on the basis that a god commanded them, then you have a few issues.
– If justification is provided that can be tested to see if they really are good, then you go back to the idea of god commands it because it is good.
– If the justification provided cannot be tested, then what sort of justification is it? It then has the issue of depending on the position of power that the god in question has, making him akin to a tyrant.
If it is a malevolent or benevolent tyrant isn’t something I’d take into account, on account of the basis that his position of power that god is believed to possess that the commandments and laws need to be taken on, and the very subjective nature that most people tend to use when deciding what is good or bad. If the god would treat you well, such as with something like heaven, then you are more inclined to view that god as good, without taking into account of the fact that his punishment for finite actions is infinite which could change your mind about if he is good or bad.
Of course, the wording ignores religions without gods, but it can easily be rewritten to something along the lines of “Do the spirits command it because it is good, or is it good because the spirits command it?”
For the ability to reach conclusions
Perhaps the weakest aspect of every religion, is that instead of trying to come together, see what aspects are correct, and use those details to come to a conclusion. Instead, they diverge, going further and further apart. Instead of attempting to come to one conclusion which is well supported, the conclusions of each are mutually exclusive to each other. Some religions believe that there is only one god, that there are multiple gods with only one worthy of worship, that there are multiple gods that are equally worthy of worship, with a slim minority of religions not believing in gods, but believing in supernatural entities (especially spirits) and events, such as the variants of North American Aboriginal Spiritualism (beliefs based on the myths of the Aboriginal tribes of North America, such as the Cree, the Sioux, the Inuit, etc) and each of these would have an issue with another. Since it’s emergence as a religion during the time of the Roman empire, there have come to be over thirty thousand denominations and sub-denominations of Christianity. Reliable numbers for the number of denominations, sects, and common beliefs but not-uniformal beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, and other major religions are hard to come by.
If we were to assume a rate of 15 per year (on the basis of the rate that new denominations of Christianity come about, 30,000 over the course of 2,000 years), then we’d get 20,835 for Islam (15*(2011-622)=20,835), and 52,665 for Hinduism (15*(1500+2011)=52,665, formula is different on the basis that Islam started during the 7th century CE (600s) and the one that the most consistency was the year 622 C.E. (Common Era), while the most consistency I could find for the origins of Hinduism was 1500 BCE (before C.E.). In order to get the total number of years it was around, adding was required for Hinduism, while subtraction was required for Islam). Given that christianity had experienced a degree of artificial inflation resulting from the freedom of religion in several western nations (where most of the followers of Christianity can be found), it might be a good idea to lower the rate at which new sects develop.
To lower it, lets treat the rate as 1.1 per year. That gives us 1527.9 for Islam and 3917.1 for Hinduism. This is of course ignoring the possibility of the rate changing, which could result in more denominations being formed, or more denominations ending within a span of time. Granted, this is only done on account of the difficulty of finding the number of sects, denominations, etc of religions such as Islam or Hinduism, and since it fails to take into account a number of other factors, it is likely incorrect. If somebody can provide a list of the number that corresponds with any religion, feel free to do so. If that can be done, then this section can be updated.
Why? Why, then despite these issues, among others that could be brought up, do people use them?
Sources and References
What is Christian? (video on John Shelby Spong) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED0G6zXKRNA I’d recommend watching the related videos in which he speaks to better understand his position if you wish to understand his beliefs concerning most of religion.
Various flood myths http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flood-myths.html
Percentages of various world religions http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm
Atheist Convention in Dublin, Ireland, in which P. Z. Myers and youtuber AronRa are in a discussion with Hamza Tzortzis & assistant.