TED Conversations

Obey No1kinobe

TEDCRED 100+

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?

Share:

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.

  • Mar 1 2012: I think it's a little early yet. Not because we haven't accumulated sound explanations for all the issues you say, clearly we have. But there is more to human existence than just knowing the facts, and anyway, scientists have a habit of sweeping away old notions that were drilled into us as 'facts' and replacing them with new ideas with each new generation. Science doesn't have all the answers yet, and in such an imperfect state offers far less of the things that people really need than does religion. We can live without perfect knowledge, we have proved that. Can we live wthout a sense of purpose, of community, of destiny or goodwill toward others...? I could write a long list of the needs of humans that science does not even begin to comprehend but religion makes an attempt. Everything we know, everything we have is imperfect and that includes science so let's not get carried away with our little discoveries. There's a long way to go
    • thumb
      Mar 1 2012: Thanks John. Agree science has a long way to go. I guess I differ in that I belief science and rational thought provides the basis that does or will explain our experience and behaviour. We can see the same parts of the brain lighting up in an MRI when meditating/praying whether Christian or Buddhist. We just don't know if an actual God or Nirvana is being connected to. Our capacity to experience is in our brain. Consciousness is a difficult one for sure and there is a way to go. I think an interventionist god is highly unlikely but not as far fetched as a literalist no evolution young earth religious view. Also, don't need god to find a purpose or meaning in life. Goodwill same. Destiny, not in a religious sense.
    • Mar 2 2012: The topic is about fundamentalism's intellectual bankruptcy. So, despite I would like to tell you that the topic is not whether science can or should give us a sense of purpose, or of community, or of goodwill; and despite I doubt that religion would be the only source for such things, I think that whether religion can or attempts at giving us such things, is not the issue. The issue is acknowledging the intellectual bankruptcy that is evident in the quackery pouring out of the creationist propaganda machinery.

      I would say though, that the bankruptcy is well acknowledge by those who have witnessed it. Perhaps the question should be if we should be more vocal about it so that the media, for example, would stop putting authentic scientists next to these quacks as if they were equal. They are not. The quacks by their own will have decided to make a living out of deception. Almost anybody else is better than them.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.