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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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    Mar 2 2012: There are atheist and theists who have tremendous respect and admiration for each others "intellect".And neither would presume the other to be intellectual bankrupt at all and these minds are the best of the best. Even the great Bertrand Russell said of G.K Chesterton (a catholic theologian and journalist) "This is a man of colossal genius". Modern day theologians/apologists such as Timothy Keller and Ravi Zacharias are highly respected by their peers and defend the case for theism in very well known academic settings all over the world. Maybe I have just misunderstood what you mean here. Please elaborate?
    • Mar 2 2012: Hi Jacob,

      I can't talk for GM, but I can give you my take. I don't know anything about Chesterton, so I can't comment on that. The other two, I had never heard about Keller. So I searched and the little I found, he did give straight answers for much. I still liked him as a person. He seems to believe that the Bible is literal, which would be intellectually bankrupt already. But I did not hear if he believes, for example, that the planet is only 6,000 years old, which, if so, would put him more clearly among the intellectually bankrupt. Worse if he believes that there was an actual flood. Zaccharias, I had not heard a lot from him, but he strikes me as a snake-oil salesman, and the reason is that he uses lots of rhetorical trick, while being fallacious (at least in a couple videos I saw).

      Now, don't get me wrong. These guys might be brilliant and ignorant (or brilliant and liars). But ignorance when discussing atheism in a vacuo (without learning about those things that make a lot of the intellectually-bent reject the beliefs in any gods), would be intellectually bankrupt. Wouldn't it?

      As for being in academic circles. Well, Alvin Plantinga has a position in philosophy, and he makes the most outrageous fallacies for "God." I remain perplexed that other philosophers respect the guy because they find "the fallacies hard to pinpoint." I find that reason for respect absurd. I agree that you need intelligence for hiding such fallacies, but in the end, those who buy the fallacies would be intellectually bankrupt.

      To summarize, even clear-cut but genial rhetoricists like Hovind (Kent, not Eric, Eric is a perfect idiot), might give the impression of intellectual power. However, that people would buy into the rhetoric and fallacies is what makes fundamentalist religions intellectually bankrupt.

      Best.
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      Mar 3 2012: Good point Jacob. I'm sure there are many people with a higher IQ and a better education in science that still have literal beliefs. Many reject evolution etc. Some have developed intelligent designer creationism to try and fit the general facts with their beliefs. Others have woven science into their beliefs. Their belief system has evolved.

      I was actually looking for a better word than bankrupt when I started the conversation.
      My focus is on the belief, not the individuals genuinely trying to make sense of the world.
      If someone today said the sun was the golden chariot of Apollo, or the earth was flat we generally agree these beliefs have no reasonable basis. We find them wanting intellectually.

      I'm suggesting the same applies to most literal belief systems both extinct and still going strong - no matter how worthy the proponents.

      I understand a kid in some Amazonian jungle tribe believes in nature spirits and ancestor spirits.
      Honestly, my first impression regarding the highly educated literalist belieavers is how can they believe that their particular version is the truth. But there are strong psychological and social dynamics associated with religion.

      Just the simple fact that at best only one of these belief systems is the truth. Don't they get that point at least?
      There is so much evidence the world and the universe is old. That all species are related via DNA etc. That neuro science at least shows us what is going on in peoples heads when they have transcendent experiences if not the conclusion whether god or nirvana is real.

      Maybe bankrupt is overly emotive. But I'm starting to believe that the literal belief systems and associated stories I'm familiar with (Ra, Zeus, Mithra, Odin, Yahweh etc) just can not stand up to a non bias rational analysis (if that was ever possible). What would an alien think if they examined these beliefs? Man made cultural constructs often with prescientifc roots? Who knows. They might have their own myths.
      • Mar 3 2012: I think bankrupt was spot on. There is intellectual bankruptcy in believing that there was a global flood just a few thousand years ago, or that our planet is just a few thousand years old, or that the grand canyon was carved by Noah's flood. Buying into the rhetorical trickery of televangelists is intellectually bankrupt. Sorry, but adults believing that such fantasies as those in the bible are literally true cannot but be intellectually bankrupt.

        I think GM, that you try too hard to be polite. That's fine. But there must be a point where you draw the line. Right?
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          Mar 4 2012: "Sorry, but adults believing that such fantasies as those in the bible are literally true cannot but be intellectually bankrupt."
          You are right about that. No one believes anything as an adult you can only believe something the right way with the determination to believe it like a child. Intellect only gives the thieves who want it most momentary illusions of grandeur but anyone who knows anything about themselves knows they want a lot more out of life than to just understand something intellectually. Reason may do well for a lot of things but like everything else in life there still remains the issue of practicality.
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          Mar 4 2012: Hi Gabo. Obviously I have strong views abou literalists beliefs
          But I have the benefit of Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein, Watson and Crick, and so much more over the last 100 years. We take evolution and the big bang for granted.
          A very good secular 20/21st century education, the internet in a rich country with reasonable separation of church and state. We have an openly atheist prime minister.
          We can see the patterns, join the dots, how religion is so evidently man made - a cultural institution spreading like language. Diverse and conflicting when taken literally.

          But I remember a time when I wanted to believe. I've seen all sorts of religious experience.
          I feel for Branislav where to go against the Eastern Orthodox church is frankly dangerous.
          I understand childhood indoctrination and also just how you absorb the christian world view just living in the Western world. I understand how faith can be banged into your head as a supreme virtue.

          Religion/god is such a powerful meme. It might be like trying to unlearn English. Bits of it are stuck.

          Then the benefits of socialisation, consolation.
          The power of being surrounded by people who believe something - we are social and hierarchical tribal animals. We don't give up world views easily. We don't like losing an argument etc

          Our brains are amazing. Combined with the hormones etc that drive our memory, feeling, reasoning, I can't blame people for having religious type views.

          I guess I also think that there will be more than what science has reasonably proven today.
          Maybe one day we''ll discover connections and natural forces and sub sub sub atomic particles or the remnants of other universes, or some amazing dimensions of consciousness.

          But I wish people could acknowledge jumping to god, especially a specific god that usually happens to be the one in their neighbourhood, as a reasonable way to fill these gaps. And I wish they would accept they need more than god said so before forcing their way of life on us al

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