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Obey No1kinobe

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Is it time to accept literal religious belief systems are intellectually bankrupt?

Is it time to accept literal religious belief systems are intellectually bankrupt given our current scientific understanding of the universe?

For thousands of years different religious belief systems have explained how the universe came into existence and appears the way it is, why we are here, how we should live, and what happens when we die.

Often these beliefs are enshrined in religious texts, from prophets, revelations, or interpreted by a priestly class. In addition to creation myths, there are laws and tribal history/mythologies, miraculous claims etc.

Today we have the benefit of being more aware of the variety of religious beliefs and science to show us that life and the universe is far more complex than most religious traditions give credit. The older religions are so often clearly products of their time and place in terms of explaining the world, what is acceptable, how we should live.

In asking this question I note at best only one of the many religious views could be literally correct and likely none are. While other foreign beliefs seem alien, strange and far fetched, if we are examine the traditions we are familiar with they too are strange. Religions are like clothes and language - artifacts of culture.

Today we laugh at the idea the world is flat, or the centre or the universe, that the sun and the moon are gods. We understand atoms and bacteria, plate tectonics and are starting to grasp the age and size of the universe, evolution and the diversity of life, the quantum.

Science better explains the universe, human behaviour. While never complete, perhaps science gives us a better basis for a rationale debate on the meaning and wonder of life and how best to live.

Do different religions support tribalism, or at least make it worse?
Are fundamental religious views holding back science and social development?
Are Deism or beliefs related to a non interventionist intelligence or creator still valid hypotheses and less damaging?

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Closing Statement from Obey No1kinobe

There was an article in the paper yesterday discussing the US Republican candidates. It mentioned that over 40% of US Americans believe in the genesis stories. In the only country to put humans on the moon and holding the most powerful and technologically advanced military in human history, nearly half the population believes the universe was created in 6 days, Eden, the tree of knowledge, god walking in the garden, Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain, people living 900+ years etc.

I note many religious folk commented below that that they believe these scriptures are not meant to be taken literally.

Perhaps some literal beliefs are easy to discount. If you believe the Earth is a flat disc sitting on the back of a giant turtle flying through space, or gods routinely walking the earth, I suggest we can file these away as myth.

Key considerations for the other literal beliefs may include (1) whether humans were created as is or evolved and (2) whether the universe is about 6,000 years old or about 13 billion years old. (3) Are the other super normal/natural claims believable?

A god could have created the universe to look much older than it is. Our genetic similarity with other living creatures may just be the way we were created. But what a tenuous connection to reality this is. I suggest this is getting as close to being intellectually unsustainable as possible if not already over the line.

A literalist believes all the other interpretations are false. I suggest they are just one away from a more intellectually sustainable position. There is no proof for even a non interventionist creator.

A big question is how these seemingly nonsense stories, some with roots in the Bronze Age, are still believed today. Perhaps a topic for another conversation?

Thank you for all the thoughtful comments.

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  • Feb 27 2012: It depends on your meaning of the word "literal". The Biblical creation and flood stories were lifted from earlier Mesopotamian legends (who may have gotten them from even older legends from India, or from oral histories from the end of the last ice age). The Bible gives a moral meaning to the events- it's no longer the warring of opposing gods and supernatural beings, with humans as an insignificant by-product; it's the action of a single Deity bringing order from chaos, culminating in a being made in His own image. A devout Jew or Christian can be "non-literal" in the descriptive part (literal six days of creation) but "literal" in the perceived moral part (the universe as having inherent direction, purpose, capacity to generate value). Mind you that this covers a wide spectrum- from the "weak anthropists" (say, Teilhard de Chardin) to the Intelligent Designers. Although I wouldn't give anyone from the Discovery Institute the time of day, I'm not about ready to consider Teilhard intellectually bankrupt.
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      Feb 27 2012: Thanks Luis. I mean taking it all literally. Adam and Eve. Noah and his boat. Parting of the red sea. The creation story.
      God picking the hebrew tribes. Young earthers etc.Similar for Buddha being born out the side of his mother etc.

      I also mean taking the old laws as applying today.

      Also any belief that thinks it has the correct view of god. God is Yahweh. God is the trinity. God is Allah. Zeus etc are gods.

      I think Teilhard might have been less literal about the creation story. Accepting evolution removes some dissonance. Guess there are less issues conflicting with science etc is you cut the most mythical bits.

      Not sure how you pick and choose the themes. Seems very subjective. Expect many have changed to suit the times.

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