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.

  • Mar 2 2012: "Science and rational thought provides the basis that does or will explain our experience and behaviour"

    Yes, G M, i agree with that. However, not everyone does and people are entitled to believe what suits them even if it doesn't appear completely rational. Isn't this the whole point of Neil MacGregor's talk? I recall an episode of Friends where Ross is frustratedly explaining evolutionary evidence to Phoebe and telling her she cannot not believe the science, to which she replies I don't believe it, I just don't. Good for her. What difference would it make to her life if she did believe it rather than the superstitious mumbo jumbo that gives her comfort on a daily basis?

    Scientists' right to state the facts as they see them should certainly be defended and they can be forgiven a little over-enthusiasm given the wonderful things that are being discovered. People rely on science without knowing or realising just how much, and many people, thankfully, just accept the benefits it offers them without regard for the way it clashes with their stated beliefs. Science should continue to make stealthy advance and will probably eventully win out. Meanwhile let's see if we can all find a way to get on together
    • thumb
      Mar 2 2012: Good points John. I guess I support freedom of religion (within limits respecting the rights of others) .

      People can believe the world is flat if they want. No issue.

      However, I would suggest we are at the point that this belief is intellectually unsustainable.
      Same with literal religious beliefs in my view. But I'm not stopping people believing the world is 6,000 years old or that Buddha was born out the side of his mother. You actually can't force people to stop believing what they believe I guess. People change there mind or their views evolve in their own time.

      I suggest that a 50 year old born again believer might have refined views compared to what he believed at 15 as being absolutely 100% correct.

      Jury is technically out on some sort of god in my view.

      I'd like us all to get on too. I suggest its just really hard to find common ground with literalist believers compared to other theists. Literalists believers are locked in the past and believe they have the absolute
      truth. Sure many of us have strongly help opinions. I do. But I have changed some based on the evidence, reading discussion, debate. I was for invading Iraq when I believed there were WMD there. Then I was against it once it was evident we had been misled. A fundamentalist Jew or Muslim believe they have a divine right to the same land. Again there are plenty of land disputes with no gods involved, but I believe religion adds another level of heat.

      I actually believe in freedom of/from religion. I suggest many literalists see it as their mission to convert all of us.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.