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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 6 2012: Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
    [14] I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

    http://blog.acton.org/archives/27593-science-meets-divinity.html

    Are we blind ?

    :-)
    • Mar 7 2012: The process of seed to fruit is indeed amazing no matter what living entity it may be. Perhaps the gestation of a human is most impressive but I am also struck by the complexity of what appear to be "simple" life forms. How can there be that much information density in anything? Even things that are not defined as alive have processes that take on the semblance of life. I recently went to a talk about waves and currents. Wow!

      In the end though, I don't see how one transfers that appreciation to a "you" even metaphorically. It doesn't seem to me that all this complexity and information that humans are aware of and all that is still unknown can be attributed to a "you". "You" s have faces and personalities; they have bodies. It is just not a big enough concept. I'm a bit partial to the longer but more fitting "That which cannot be named". It seems to confer the proper respect.
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        Mar 7 2012: Hi Karen.
        It depends to a large extent on what, or who, you think you are. Are you a child of God, or are you something else? If you are a CofG then there would be a family resemblance. God might have a face & a personality, or other attributes similar to you. We as humans should be able to understand something about how He has made things; we should have similar logic.
        As it happens, we do have a fair grasp on how things work, & we continue to learn.
        Only one man has made a claim to be God, & he backed it up with a lot of evidence, culminating in rising from the dead. He even has a face & a personality.
        If he was a liar, then we are back at the start; what are we ? And why should we just happen to understand so much science, Mathis etc. I go for the CofG hypotheses .

        :-)
        • Mar 7 2012: Peter, thank you for responding. Here is what I am thinking and I have more questions. To arrive at the “who” in Psalms, you are making assumptions that I have not made in arriving at a spiritual understanding. I confess to having a logical mind, math oriented type, so it rebels at leaps of logic and building constructs on possibly faulty assumptions. Right off, I don’t know what “I” am because there is more than one possibility and I don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion. Do you include only humans as CoG? You assume a family resemblance. That seems very unlikely to me so I wonder how you so easily make that assumption. The power of this world and the universe, stars, galaxies, infinite space, black holes, the source of all knowledge great and small……looks like me? I would say “In your dreams” and you seem to readily accept this idea as given. I am really curious what it is about you and me that brings us to such different views of this probability. That is a segue to the next assumption, that we as humans would share God’s logic. I need to ask which one of us is sharing that logic because it seems like we two do not have the same kind? : ) My weak little brain is no match for minds of many humans so I would feel excessively prideful to make any comparison between myself and the intelligence contained in universe. Yes, I am a bit of that universe and contain some of that intelligence, but the enormity of the whole makes the comparison to me meaningless as I see it.
          Judging by history I’m not ready to say we have a fair grasp on how things work. It seems like we have learned a great deal in the realm of the hard sciences but I have no concept of what we still do not know so I would hesitate to make any measure of our success. You seem much more optimistic in your assessment. Can you tell me why?
          Oh space is up. I have more.
        • Mar 7 2012: You are speaking of Jesus I assume. I’ve heard that he never claimed to be God so can you help me with a quote. Of course, for me, a quote will not seal the deal because, knowing the limits of language and human ability, I would consider the chance of a misquote a high probability. And of course it follows that I would question anything in the Bible so would not use it as a reliable single source to base my understanding on. By the way, I think there have been quite a few men who claimed to be God and mostly folks think they are delusional.
          So where are we? Well I’m still at “what am I” but I don’t see it as the start. I say, “I don’t know” and move on from there. I’m guessing that you want the answer first so you are starting with a hypothesis, “I am a child of a human like God” and go from there. I’ve tried that hypothesis and some others over time but have found them unsatisfactory for my logical mind. The bottom keeps falling out when it rests on conjecture. If it works for you then you will keep embracing it. I am not so much bothered that people believe they were made in God’s image as that they make God in their own image and then put their own words in his mouth. The first seems like hubris, the second is blasphemy in my book of ethics.
          I would very much like to hear/read your response to my thoughts. I appreciate your willingness to engage.
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          Mar 7 2012: Hi Peter,
          Just focusing on the father part of god (not Jesus) - even the term child of god can be taken many ways including no family resemblance.
          Even the masculinity often assigned god is so arbitrary.

          One similarity any creator deity may have with humans is some sort of consciousness or intelligence. We don't even know this for sure. We may be the unconscious dream of something beyond our comprehension.

          If there are gods I expect they are nothing like humans. Can't blame humans for anthropomorphising god. Its just the way we have evolved to think in human terms. This probably goes against primitive literal interpretations such as Zeus impregnating women. But probably should not be held against the potential existence of actual deities - god entities.

          The ideas of god we have seem consistent with them being human created constructs.
          If there are no gods it is best to invent invisible gods. I can see a certain fit between some god beyond our comprehension, beyond space and time, and a universe whose origins and complexity are also pushing the limits of our comprehension.

          Its interesting that I see god created by man in our image (or reflecting an element of human experience e.g. looking like an animal) and you see us created in gods image.
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        Mar 7 2012: Hi Karen, the natural universe is amazing with or without any deities. Science continues to reveal how wondrous and complex it is. A 12 grader today (that paid attention in class) has a basic understanding of the universe far beyond what our forebears responsible for many of the worlds most popular religions. Although, it would be a rare school kid who would insights into the human condition and consciousness say of Buddhism etc.

        I believe many of our supernatural beliefs in invisible entities reflect human (and some animals) evolving to see agency behind natural phenomena where none actually exists. Lightening from the angry gods. Volcano Gods. Natural spirits. Faeries. Fertility gods. Sea gods. Even a dog will growl if it hears a noise, probably because survival is enhanced if we assume the worse - that this might be some dangerous entity - rather than assuming it's the wind.

        Modern monotheism seems a lot more sophisticated than natural spirits or tribal gods. However, in the bible in Genesis and older testament whether symbolic or literal intent, god is more overtly active in human affairs, more human, more a person walking the garden of Eden, destroying cities, testing Job, speaking to kings. Most of the sophisticated thinking seems to have gone on outside of the bible, closer and closer to modern times.

        Makes me think myth. I note all these entities are invisible to humans nearly all the time. A big pointer as to their actual existence. Suggest godidea evolved to suit facts. Invisibility is necesity

        Some believers think he is God. Others don't. I'm not sure if the bible is a good place for evidence of the truth of the situation, but I guess you can test it from a scriptural perspective. My recall are there are some inferences - only way to father thru me etc. Not much I am God, and there is a trinity. If you take the bibical stories as gospel he certainly didn't parade around shouting I am god, I am the messiah. Most the time he acted as a man, as a guru
        • Mar 9 2012: Hi G M, I am fascinated by the human drive to create a story. I try to put myself in the place of someone who knows nothing of the information that inquiry and observation and new tools have reaped in the last 500, 1000, 5000 years. My Earth would be flat and magical lights would move around it. The weather would be a complete mystery (which reminds me that I turned on the computer to get the forecast) I would like to understand how it is that so many good and intelligent people embrace and cherish beliefs that seem to be diminished or negated by modern knowledge. That is, for me, another of life's many mysteries. I don't expect to find an answer but that doesn't lessen my curiosity. Thanks for the conversation.
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        Mar 8 2012: Hi Karen.
        I appreciate your civility & willingness to listen, this is a new experience for me on TED. One thing we need to get our heads around is that we, & the universe exist. Something absolutely astounding has happened, & we are a part of that. It totally boggles our minds & swamps our understanding. So logically, the cause of it all must be unbelievable from our standpoint.
        Matthew 18:3 (NIV)
        And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
        We have to understand that we must have a degree of trust, our brains cannot work it all out. That is not to say that we go against our reason. We enter a marriage with a degree of knowledge, & some faith. Christianity is very similar, we have a relationship with Christ.
        We can get some way by brainpower. We see the results of something happening; what are the possible candidates? My first 35 years of searching came up with evolution as the most likely. The trouble, from my perspective, is the lack of any hard evidence. It's a great theory, but has no 'killer punch'. Much has to be taken on faith, too much for my liking.
        Romans 1:18-20 (NIV)
        "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, [19] since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. [20] For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities---his eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."
        So Paul reckons that the truth of God should be obvious to anyone examining the creation.
        God is the only other candidate; but which one?
        Look at it another way; which book? As you are analytical, then you will probably have to plough through lots of books. I started with the bible, so saving a lot of time.
        Back later
        :-)
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          Mar 9 2012: Good reminder to be civil. Its easy to forget you are conversing with people when typing looking at a screen
          .
          The conversation s would be of little value if we all thought the same.
        • Mar 9 2012: Hi Peter, Looking at you first paragraph I would agree but would change unbelievable to something like unknowable or unfathomable. One doesn't have to believe anything, only to observe that the the material world exists in our perception. As we have learned through ever more thorough observation, what we are seeing, what we are all part of is beyond comprehension. There are some human geniuses that delve into the complexity and try to sort things out but we have only grazed the surface of what is there. Look at the confusion around the effects of increased carbon in out atmosphere. Scientists began voicing concern decades ago but people with money at stake want to wait it out before making changes to significantly reduce carbon emissions. No human can precisely describe the workings of our climate with absolute certainty and those that oppose carbon reduction point to any shred of doubt or disagreement to disregard all evidence that says we should get right on it. The public is left trying to figure out who to listen to and the whole topic has turned into another ring in our political circus. In our idiotic polarization of every issue it becomes a matter of "belief" instead of inquiry. I don't "believe" we have a climate, I live in one. I don't "believe or not believe" that there is warming because of carbon in our atmosphere, I rely on those geniuses to figure it out for me. I guess some have the luxury of thinking that God is going to save them anyway so no worry. It doesn't matter what humans do because God is in charge of the weather. I know Pat Robertson definitively believes that. Anyway, I'm not a fan of the work "unbelievable" because some things really are and yet lots and lots of people still believe. Gosh I really regret that i have to stop here because the children topic is another one I'd like to discuss but I have to go and won't be back until after the end of this TED conversation.
        • Mar 9 2012: I must run on too much, ran out of room again. Anyway I hope you have the above saved and can post it again on another related topic. Nice visiting with you and others. Until next itme
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          Mar 9 2012: OK Karin, I'll be gone for the whole next week so, we'll meet again.
          I thought you were looking for information as how people look at the passage, sorry.
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        Mar 8 2012: I started out to prove the bible wrong; my wife had become a Christian & it bugged me. Like most skeptics, I soon found that I didn't agree with this god, but I also realised that my approval was not a measure of truth. The 66 books merged into one & told a coherent story of planet earth from start to finish. It checked out uncannily with recorded history, & the daily papers. The Old Testament told of the coming Messiah in detail. The NT tells the story of his life, death, & resurrection, & the fact that the Jewish people would not recognise the very one they were expecting.
        I could write a book myself, but the point is that it rung true to me. History, Archeology, Experience, even the anger the very mention of Jesus invokes in people, all made me wonder.
        Revelation 3:20 (NIV)
        "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."
        Head knowledge doesn't do it. We are by nature antagonistic to our dad, & hate the thought of him telling us what to do. He loves us & wants to be part of our lives. I took up his challenge, & asked his forgiveness. My life has never been the same. Millions can testify to that. This is the faith bit, however that faith will be repaid by fuller understanding as you get aquainted.
        If you check out the other Holy Books, you mostly find a distortion of the Christian Bible.
        There are 150 or so flood stories; therefore skeptics deduce there wasn't a flood. Go figure!
        The Koran claims to be an update of the Bible, but the two books are totally at odds. Muslims demote Jesus to prophet.
        Jehovah's Witnesses demote Jesus to Archangel.
        All the Christian cults demote Jesus, deny the virgin birth etc.
        God is a Spirit, out with time & space, we have a similar eternal component. We are in kindergarten to make our choices. Jesus came to pay the price for our freedom. He now inhabits a human-like body in eternity. We can too; it's awesome! It has to be.

        :-)
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          Mar 9 2012: We might disagree Peter in many areas, but have to respect your journey to your views and beliefs.
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        Mar 8 2012: Hi Karen, may I introduce you to our way of seeing who Jesus is? This is based on all the text in the Bible based on and related to the subject of Jesus asking, "But who do you say I am?" (and the answer was NOT, you are one of three..)

        This article is more than 2000 so I'll give you a link to our interpretation. I hope you find the time.
        Best regards
        http://webhome.idirect.com/~abraam/studies/Who_is_Jesus.pdf
        If any questions, do please let me know.
        • Mar 9 2012: Hi Adriaan, I have resisted the impulse to post any links because I want this to be a conversation in which people find their own words. That has been an excellent exercise for me; it forces me to really think through what I am saying. I am not going to read your link but I am interested if you have something more direct to offer.

          I have explored some interpretations of the Bible but, to be honest, I have little interest in exploring it more. Perhaps it was a book meant for the priesthood filled with symbolic meaning that somehow made it into the hands of millions of uninformed lay people, I do not know. I've also read a bit on different takes on Jesus including did he even exist. The thing is, i just don't put so much emphasis on the Bible. To me it is a book written by men, translated by men, and it is an expression of their thought and beliefs and political agenda. For me Jesus is the Jesus in my head, an imaginary person who was a comfort to me when I was a child. A virtual port in the storm. For some reason I call his name when I an really frustrated. Perhaps some would call it swearing but maybe I'm just need some of that peace energy right away. I don't have much interest in the Jesus of the Bible. I don't think anybody died for my sins. That evil concept was probably one of the things that moved me away from the Bible.

          As I said, if you have something direct to share that would be welcome. I won't be able to respond any more as I will not be at a computer until next week. As they say, Adios
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        Mar 8 2012: Hi G M
        "Its interesting that I see god created by man in our image (or reflecting an element of human experience e.g. looking like an animal) and you see us created in gods image."

        Genesis 1:26 (NIV)
        "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”"
        I don't just make it up. Note God uses the plural "our image".

        "Even the masculinity often assigned god is so arbitrary."
        Our spirits are sexless, but in this life we are assigned sex. I imagine so that we can learn about love, service, forgiveness, & such emotions which make up a close male/female/ child relationship. Adam was a man, as was Jesus; God refers to himself as father. He is the head, in the same way, the man should be the head of the house. He loves us & provides for us, just as we should do for our spouse & children. It is not supposed to be a hierarchy, it should be an equal partnership. Jesus said we should be "one flesh" with our wife. Mankind warps everything & then blames God.
        I confess I'm not sure about sex in eternity, but there will be no warping. So I reckon God is male because of Jesus, & because of his role. BTW Christians are also called the bride of Christ, that feels a bit weird, but I'm getting used to it :)
        "The ideas of god we have seem consistent with them being human created constructs. "
        Only if you buy into a self creating universe, & ignore the empirical evidence in the bible. There are lots of constructs about, I grant you, but these mask a basic truth. No-one forges a £9 note, only something genuine is worth forging.
        Jeremiah 9:6 (NIV)
        "You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the Lord.

        :-)
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          Mar 9 2012: Hi Peter,
          I'm not saying you made it up. It comes from the bible.
          You see the bible as the key handbook for life.
          You see it as having some sort of authority or truth
          I see it as a man made compilation.
          One of thousands of religions, sects, beliefs systems what have you.

          I suspect never the twain shall meet.

          If the bible says god made man in the image of a primate or a pumpkin...
          If it said we should kill naughty children
          That the colour blue is the best one
          I still wouldn't take much notice except where it affects the behaviour of believers that impacts the lives of others.

          If the bible says it is so - it doesn't mean anything to me it terms of truth or fact or authority
          Same buddhist texts, hindu, whatever.

          No issue examining it. But it is not a statement of the facts of the universe as accepted in my view and a few billion others.

          No issue discussing the tenants of the religion and referring to the texts. But some statement from a religious text has little validity as to nature of man and god etc unless you are a believer.

          I'm waffling on.

          I can see how from the perspective of one belief system you would interpret things the way you do.

          Sure some elements of behaviour by the religious might be contrary to the views of others based on the same book.

          If Jesus had been a woman no one would have listened to him at the time. She probably would have been married at 13, kids by 14.

          Actually you could probably accept the cultural perspective of religion rather than they are forgeries deliberately there mislead without impacting your core beliefs about Jesus, creation etc.

          Perhaps we are in 2 completely different bubbles.
          I'm not saying your beliefs are inconsistent with the bible.
          I just don't see the bible as an absolute authority on anything
          I don't see Christianity as particularly special compared to any other of the major religions today.
          Your beliefs, or another relgious view could be correct
          I see no errors of logic in my world view either.

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