Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My thoughs, distilled, on religion

Here's a comment I left on a recent blog post at Secular Right. I suppose it sums up my thoughts on religion and the religious in a brief, readable (hopefully) manner. Any comments would be appreciated.

Kelly at #2 above asks:

“‘I must respect religion.’

Come again? Tolerate it, yes, you do have to do that. But respect it? Why?”

I didn’t see anyone try to answer the question, though I’m sure somewhere on this website there has been a lively discussion of this particular topic. Let me try my own hand at it.

For centuries, many, many very smart people have been religious and have engaged in many, many deep thoughts, discussions, writings, etc. about the topic. To discount that entire body of human thought based on the evidence and arguments any single individual can accumulate in a lifetime, even a very smart, diligent individual (which I’m sure everyone writing for this blog and commenting on this blog post presumes himself to be), I think is too hubristic. Smart and diligent individuals might disagree with these past centuries of thinkers, but I think it prudent to give them respect. (This is not to say that all religious people, or all religions, deserve equal respect.)

On the other hand, one thing that annoys me about the overly religious, like the idol-wielding crowd that is the subject of this post, but more so the smart conservatives generally on the side of good and righteousness, is their certainty. Just as centuries of thinkers and writers have argued in favor of religion, so have many centuries of thinkers and writers, especially since the scientific revolution, argued against the existence of religion. Moreover, any reasonably intelligent person should be able to see that the history of generally accepted human knowledge has moved from religious explanations of observable phenomena to scientific explanations based on observations, hypotheses of regular natural processes, predictions, and repeated confirmations of those predictions. There aren’t too many people who honestly think that a necklace of enchanted animal bones will stop bullets. Even scientific breakthroughs of massive utility for centuries, like Newtonian mechanics, have been shown inaccurate.

Yet with all these centuries of demonstrated failure of religion to explain observable phenomena, and the demonstrated success of the scientific method for discovering useful knowledge, many smart people are still darn sure there is a God, He is of the nature and disposition their particular religion dictates He is, and revel in the fact that they need no “proof” of this because it is a matter of “faith.”

I guess that makes me an “agnostic” but any prudent person (in my opinion) is agnostic, to some degree, about everything (and for each thing, a different level of agnosticism depending on the available evidence).