Final Thesis: A Personal Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy and particularly the philosophy of religion originate from the same inherent human quality of the existential need to know and understand the reasons for our existence and our human experience. Religion and science have similar qualities with each other in the sense that the underlying psychological motivations are born of the same human needs, even though there are other psychological needs that vary. The reason I subscribe to a scientific view of the world is two-fold; I think it is irrational to deny evidence and scientific theory when the information is readily available to you and understood correctly and for equal reason I think it is irrational to accept something as a fact on the same level when there isn’t empirical evidence to back up the claim. When it comes to religious claims I am forgiving in the sense that the claim “God exists” is not falsifiable. In that sense, it is not technically a scientific question, although I would argue a genuine philosophical question and scientific pursuit. I have many questions about the nature of existence and reality that science has not yet had an answer for that some religions claim to have. Science was born out of philosophy and has been demonstrated to be (up to this point) the best way to falsify claims about the world. The problem in understanding arises from the ongoing presence of supernatural beliefs in spite of this. Many people view current world religions differently or hold them to be more rational than religions that are not currently practiced. I think there is no fundamental difference in the two, the claims are not any more difficult to grasp or to believe than another one, but since no one believes it, it can’t be true. This works two ways, simply because a lot of people believe the same thing, just like they once did with ancient religions, it also doesn’t make any of its claims any more true and truth cannot be based upon how many believe or disbelieve a claim. This is simply a bandwagon effect, a psychological reaction in people that have nothing to do with discerning truth from falsehood.
However, I have chosen to refrain from belief, regardless of how satisfying or reassuring it may be for others, because as long as there are some that do refrain, there are some looking for the real answers. I do think it is not necessarily irrational that someone could be accepting of scientific fact and also a theist, the two do not necessarily have to be at odds, however I do think that if you participate in the “god of the gaps” way of seeing the world and believe in a god just past what science can explain, then you stop looking for the real answers and it is detrimental to the process of truly understanding the world based on evidence and what is really the case, instead you have sacrificed intellectual honesty and value of truth for your value of self- satisfaction. The fundamental difference in these two ways to attempt to understand the world are values; I personally value truth and genuine understanding to the best of my ability, regardless of how unsatisfying a truth may be or how satisfying a falsehood may be. I want to believe in as many true things as possible and deny as many false things as possible. However, I would argue that most people whether or not they are a theist or an atheist, is not necessarily concerned with this value. It is not emotionally easy to be a skeptical atheist for many reasons, but it is also not a bleak outlook on life as most people may initially think. On the surface, there is no inherent meaning to life that we can know about anyway, so the question really does become irrelevant. There is no absolute certainty which I also don’t know for certain, and I cannot certainly say whether or not there even is meaning, and if there were, we still don’t know and can’t determine what meaning there is. Humans however have the ability to create meaning in spite of this philosophical problem, which is emotionally healthy and satisfying to us. It may seem bleak, but it is simply admitting to a problem that really does exist and still behaving the same way regarding the meaning we create, the only difference is there is more conscious decision making in the process, there is more careful thought into what you want your life to mean, not how you can mold your life to a prescribed meaning from a religion or spiritual philosophy. So in this sense, it can be satisfying because of the sense of freedom but can also be equally terrifying for the same reason. There are many theists of course that feel as though there is sufficient evidence to justify their belief in God and the one argument I can really sympathize with is teleological arguments. I understand how someone could look at the complexity of the universe and want to believe. I can understand how it might be very difficult for some people to consider any alternative or to even conceive of it. However, our perception of the universe through the lens of someone who can’t conceive of something else is not evidence. What exactly would a universe that wasn’t designed look like?
Probably similar to this one, probably exactly like this one, in which there is evolutionary processes to everything that can be explained without relying on supernatural causality. This is a two way street though, and a designed universe might not appear any different either, perhaps. I would argue that there are features to the universe inherently that makes it depressing and bleak. The idea of a forever expanding universe in which galaxies move further and further apart and eventually cool and die is not my idea of a beautifully designed universe because I can personally conceive of how a better one could reasonably exist, yet that still wouldn’t demonstrate that we had any reason to think it had been designed by some mind or entity either. Beyond philosophical arguments for God’s existence, some theists just say “You’ve got to have faith!” but, why is faith good? Why is the belief something without evidence, good? Or why is it good to believe in something simply because you hope it is true? While I understand the human need to want answers to life’s most important questions, most of them which we don’t have the answers for, I disagree with this approach to belief as if it were a virtue and not simply a remedy to the difficulty of not understanding one’s own existence. Beliefs are extremely powerful and influence our actions and how we interact with others
We do not choose our beliefs necessarily, but we may be able to choose our perceptions of things or decide “how we want to look at something.” I don’t personally accept that freewill exists because there is evidence contrary and it may not at least in the way we understand freewill, however regardless of accepting that notion or not, it doesn’t change the fact that we are forced to behave as though it does exist and experience the act of making a choice.
For me this raises a lot of questions regarding the nature of morality as it really is versus the narrow view of morality influenced by religion. Divine command theory of ethics seems to be a system lacking in any morality. It is not an act of morality to obey someone, when you tell your child to clean his room he is not then deciding to be morally good if he cleans it. He has his own personal agenda, he is being pressured by external forces and there are consequences he may like to avoid. The same goes for people, religion has a reward and punishment system which is now more commonly taken for a mystical interpretation which you can see by more Christians picking up the eastern view of karma instead of the literal view of eternal punishment in the afterlife in a place called hell. There are also commands in religion that have nothing to do with moral circumstances; cutting one’s hair does not directly harm or help other people or oneself and cannot be a moral or immoral act. We know that morality comes inherently from biological evolution. It is in our natural self- interest to survive, to cooperate with others. Whether or not you prescribe to religious doctrine, morality seems more probably relativistic instead of objective. However, because of natural selection, just because morality isn’t objective doesn’t automatically make certain actions morally acceptable, because of that inherent self-interest to cooperate that is beyond our control and a part of our biological processes. The only time our sense of morality seems to break down is during life-boat scenarios which are unlikely situations that evoke extreme survival instincts. The practical applications of our relativistic ethics are still intact regardless of lifeboat scenarios. The issue with religion I would like to combat is the idea that religion makes you a moral person. I don’t think there is good that comes out of religion that doesn’t come from non-believers. However, I do think there is bad in religion that only comes from religion. There are certain extreme behaviors and harmful acts that only come from people with extremely radical beliefs. So because of this I have to ask, would our world be better off without it? I would answer yes. In my opinion, religion has not offered me any comfort or solace to my questions about the universe or my emotional needs as a person. I have always been the type of person that needs to know for sure. I am a skeptic by nature. For lack of a better word, I am incapable of belief in the supernatural up to this point. Perhaps it is “types” of people that determine whether someone is prone to religious beliefs or not. Obviously humanity throughout its history has been prone to this and there is an evolutionary explanation for why this is: (Michael Shermer explained this during his TED talk) a human being on the great plains of Africa thousands of years ago hears a rustle in the woods, the human is safer to assume or believe it to be a lion instead of the wind because of the risk involved.
The Default Position
Skeptical Atheism is viewing belief as if it were on trial in court. In a courtroom, a claim is made against a defendant and if there is sufficient evidence then the jury will decide in favor of the prosecutor. If the defense has evidence that proves that they are innocent then a “not guilty” verdict will take place. What does the jury do when the prosecutor has insufficient evidence, but the claim is not falsifiable and the defendant cannot necessarily prove that what they claim didn’t happen? When faced with insufficient evidence, they vote in favor of the defendant and a “not guilty” verdict takes place. Is it because they all are genuinely convinced that the defendant is in fact not guilty? No. Is it because the defendant had any counter evidence? No. it is because the burden of proof rests on the prosecutor’s claims and the prosecutor himself lacked sufficient evidence and for all practical purposes the only way to avoid putting an innocent person in jail was to declare “not guilty.” This is completely analogous with skeptical atheism.
Just like morality, I think that human rationality is also somewhat relative to your access to information.
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The parts of this pie chart can be different for everyone and I think it is important to be sensitive to this and educate people instead of berate them. I am personally not very interested in changing the world, but in understanding it. Regardless of my opinion of religion and belief, I do not care to necessarily change someone’s mind, nor do my opinions have anything in them that require anyone else to prescribe to them. My goal is to make the largest part of the pie chart, smaller. With access to more information, people can make their own choices to accept or deny, and human emotions are going to influence the majority of human behavior like they always have.
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