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May 3 2008
People Modifying Their Own Religion

It's funny to me how people modify their religion's beliefs to fit their personal ones. Christians especially have evolved in regards to what they accept scientifically despite the fact that their bibles (which are the infallible words of 'god') have not changed. I run into people all of the time who, when I point out something obviously wrong in their religious text, they respond by saying, "Well, I believe that.....". It never fails but there's no consensus amongst them. So many people walk around with a hybrid of their religion yet it's still acceptable. The last time I checked, the bible, for instance, did not leave open ended questions on morality or the world that would rely on individual interpretation. If you believe part of your religion is incorrect, why would you think the rest is any more legit? Doesn't even one wrong completely throw out the ability to be called 'infallible'? People need that belief in something else so bad that instead of coming to terms with the truths of the world, they just keep modifying what they used to afraid to let go. It's sad. I don't know who I feel worse for, the people who believe wholeheartedly in every word of their religion, or the ones who are stuck in a middle ground between religion and reason - intelligent enough to know better but foolish enough to hang on.

May 3 2008

According to a recent Pew Report, 42 percent of people believe that humans and other living things have existed in their present form only. Another 21 percent believe that living things have evolved over time guided by a supreme being. Only 26 percent believe that humans and other living things evolved over time through natural selection. That last figure doesn't move at all between surveys. The rest are in the "don't know" category and when people move off of this list they move into the supreme being category.

Not a lot of change is observed from survey to survey.


May 5 2008

I don't know, this doesn't seem like a terribly serious problem for religion to me. Those that believe their religious text to be the inerrant word of "God" could still believe that there is room for disagreement about its interpretation. And then there are lots of people who don't think it is the inerrant word of a deity: some believe that it began as a 100% accurate text but has changed and lost its claim to inerrancy through human error. Of course, I think quite a few people do recognize that the religious texts were written by humans and had problems from the start, but still think there is somewhere between a grain of truth and a good deal of truth in it.

There are a lot of different ways to approach religion that leave room for some personal interpretation or even clear difference of opinion with the clear intent of the religious text. This is not unique to religion either. In politics and science as well, people tend to put up with a little bit of disagreement with the official position because they believe that there is still enough agreement with what they do believe to be correct that they see it as "close enough". This does not seem like a big problem to me.

The big problem with religion for me is that when I look at it objectively and try to find that amount of "truth" in it -- to determine whether it is a grain or a good deal -- I reach the conclusion that there is such a small grain of truth in it that it turns out to be no more useful a guide to reality than the Wizard of Oz. Yes, "there's no place like home" is a good guiding principle, but not always (kids with seriously abusive parents might do well to get away and stay away). I think such stories are useful fictions to read and think about...but when people start believing in them and thinking that they have some supernatural significance beyond a few good ideas of the authors, then they cause more trouble than they are worth. I wouldn't go around calling myself an "Ozist" and basing my life on the idea that Belinda, the good witch of the North, is always watching over me. At least, that's me. I'm perfectly happy, however, to let others believe what they want. And, if they want to believe that they can tell which parts of the Bible are really true and which are just made up, that's fine with me.

May 5 2008

I agree. Science is not a religion, but it does have this similarity. It is possible to believe in the process of science and believe that it is slowly achieving a better and better description of the natural world without necessarily having to believe every article published in a refereed journal. It is not even necessary to believe in the widely held principles.

However, where science differs from religion is in what sort of evidence you need to convince others that your skepticism is justified.

Religion seems to be able to resort to emotion ("in your heart you know that God thinks slavery is wrong") or isolated quotations from books of questionable origin ("the bible clearly says that slavery is okay"). It does not seem to me that religion is moving in any particular direction.

On the other hand, science has a process for self-correction. Certainly, there are things that have been believed in science that have later been completely overturned. The people responsible for these revolutions obviously were people who believed in science but not in some particular scientific "fact"...and they were able to demonstrate the validity of their viewpoint through the scientific method. Instead of mysterious texts, changes in science are based on reproducible experiments, so their veracity is not doubted. Instead of emotion, scientific arguments rely on logic, and cannot be consistent with just SOME of the results, but must be consistent with everything else that is known.

So, I think that the problem with religion is not that people claim to believe in it while being free to have differences from the officially accepted dogma, but rather that there just is no way in religion to figure out which view is right when such differences arise!

May 5 2008

Science seems to be moving in a forwards direction. We can do things with science today that we couldn't do twenty years ago (cell phones, GPS, MRI, digital TV, treat most children with leukemia) and many more things that we couldn't do 100 years ago (land on the moon, cure most bacterial diseases, use a calculator) and even more things that we couldn't do 1000 years ago (fly a plane, drive a car, store food in a refrigerator).

If we believe all the books, then a few thousand years ago religion was responsible for all kinds of miracles. Of course, I think those are just stories...but what do religious people think? It seems like religion barely achieves anything today compared to what it could do in biblical days.

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