TED Conversations

Obey No1kinobe


This conversation is closed.

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?


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.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Feb 27 2012: It is wonderful that we continue to want to share with one another the human experience of “awareness of the infinite” especially now that we know that our “physically detectable” reality is roughly 10% of what might be “out-” or “in-” there.
    Even though we do need practical “functional models” to meet our needs as members of humanity, it seems to me that our open-mindedness to the infinite paths towards the realization “the Theory of Everything” is kept alive both by the progressive understanding of what something is “not” rather than only by the self-limiting exercise of trying to define what something “is.”
    Concerning the literal interpretation of the “Bible” by various present-day Christian sects, in the early years of the “Christian” movement it would fair to say that its “Holy Scriptures” were the Hebrew Scriptures in use at that time. These texts were now understood by the early Christians in the context of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth because it was he who gave them the expanded understanding of how these Scriptures related to him, as illustrated in Luke 24:13-24. The books which are grouped together as the New Testament in Christian Bible resulted from the effort to preserve the “living tradition” and “core” teaching for future generations. During Late Antiquity much was written by Christian scholars and “contemplative masters” that was in keeping with the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. No doubt the Gnostic debates of the second to fourth centuries and other internal challenges over the centuries have complicated the transmission of the original living tradition and eventually gave birth to the literalist movement of the recent past. It is thanks to this literalist movement and the good scholarship that it continues to promote that there is a “rediscovery” of the writings of these early Christian scholars and whose works are becoming increasingly more readily available over the past few years.
    • thumb
      Feb 27 2012: Thank you Emanuel. You offer a valuable perspective on Christianity and insights into the literalist approach.

      I wonder if other religions - Judaism, Islam, Buddhism etc have their own traditions of scholarship as well that are a mix of preserving the original thoughts and exploring them.

      The survival of ancient texts and writings is treasure for all humanity.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.