In this part 2, I examine the idea that “religion is scientifically untestable”, and the consequences of that philosophy.
Note that while I refer to “religion”, my scope is specifically Christianity.
One of the great things about science is that it is rational. Ideas and beliefs are tested, and only kept if the hypotheses are supported by the results of the experimental method. It’s very sensible and works well. It expects that the universe follows some well-ordered principles, so the result obtained last year can be reproduced this year. Happily, the universe seems to oblige us.
Meanwhile, atheists say or imply, religion is not rational. It’s not testable (by definition, how can miracles be tested?). So its followers aren’t scientific; they’ve got this faith thing which every intelligent person knows is Very Silly.
That’s where I say: I must disagree. There are several wrong ideas lurking. First, that religion is untestable. Second, that science is the path to all truth.
Anyone who says religion is not testable isn’t trying hard enough. But it does require us to expand our scope far beyond the laboratory. Christianity makes many bold claims, which can be tested, but we may need to branch out into diverse fields such as Biblical history, Biblical archaeology, and sociology. We may need to dig into an ancient book, and thoroughly read what it says. That ancient book makes ancient claims about morality, prophetic predictions, and an extraordinary individual called Jesus Christ. We should explore its claims, and try living by its principles. We need to invest not only rational thinking, but our hearts. This is well beyond the scope of science as commonly practised. Yet done properly there is no conflict with rationality.
Perhaps the pursuit is unappealing because it demands so much commitment. The experiment can take years before we start to get conclusive results, but demands top priority in our life. It asks for a high level of trust before many people would be willing to yield such trust. It expects that we commit to it for life, as soon as we see its truth. It says we must surrender personal self-will to a higher authority, because that higher authority knows better than we do, because He is God and created us.
To the modern mind, a barrier to this journey would be the prevailing idea that science is the path to all truth. Secular humanism says that science and rational thought will enable us to find every gem of truth that’s worth knowing. True, science has enabled us to take many huge steps forward in technology and medicine, and in understanding the world around us. Yet we still don’t seem to have made any breakthroughs on the most perplexing of human problems, especially that of humans living together in robust peace. Secular humanism, however, continues to stake its hopes on science and rational thinking as the key to solve the tough problems. As a Christian and an engineer, I thoroughly appreciate the benefits of science in many fields. But to believe science will solve our hardest human problems looks to me like misplaced blind faith.
The philosophy of science as the highest ideal is constantly pushed on western society. Let’s be totally honest: that philosophy denies religion in its very essence.
So religion, compared to science, is truly in a class of its own. Woe to anyone who scorns religion because it’s “not scientific”, for it is science that has the limitations. To turn our backs on religion, because it doesn’t fit well within the limited expectations of our scientific method, is a recipe for never discovering the greatest truths of life.
Some kinds of science aren't testable either
I agree with your general points in these posts. I'd just add that when it comes to evolution the idea that science is testable is really an illusion because testability requires replicability and you can't replicate a one-time event in the past. History is not replicable.
Evolution theory is in fact NOT tested and NOT testable. It is constructed entirely on imaginative scenarios, hypotheses such as the apparent ordering of the fossils -- how do you test that ordering? You can't. You can only interpret it. They say it shows ages of time in which only certain living things populated the earth; creationists say it shows the massive Flood of Noah that killed every living thing that populated the early creation and deposited it all in stratified sediments to a huge depth. You cannot TEST either hypothesis. All you can do is collect plausibilities in support of them.
They depend so much on that apparent ordering the fact that the fossils are embedded in stratified rock that can't possibly have been laid down either gradually or in periodic events is simply subsumed to their theory and not recognized for the total contradiction it really is to their time scale. The whole edifice of evolution is put together like that, one imaginative construct built upon another, BECAUSE it is NOT testable.
Really, the only objective tool they have at all is radiometric dating, and even that is questionable because there's no way to really KNOW if events in the past are really accurately reflected by it, because THAT can't be tested either -- that is, they get a reading and that's that, no way to test it. But the readings are also questioned by people who know more about how it works than I'll ever know anyway.
“Evolution theory is in fact NOT tested and NOT testable”.
Just because one cannot go back in time and observe evolution as it happened does not mean that the theory is not testable. The theory is tested and supported with the many predictable results science observes in research and in observations of the natural world. Your stance is based on a need to deny the theory of evolution because it contradicts your religious beliefs. Better to observe reality and reassess your religious beliefs. Evolution is actively happening now and is readily observable even within our short life spans. Read a book on microbiology.
“It is constructed entirely on imaginative scenarios, hypotheses such as the apparent ordering of the fossils -- how do you test that ordering? You can't.”
Yes you can. Every time you observe a new fossil site.
“creationists say it shows the massive Flood of Noah that killed every living thing that populated the early creation and deposited it all in stratified sediments to a huge depth”
Many creationists would be embarrassed to even suggest such a ridiculous theory. It unquestionably fails to account for, and is contradicted by the observed patterns of fossil evidence. Only someone blinded by faith would suggest such an unintelligent view.
“they depend so much on that apparent ordering the fact that the fossils are embedded in stratified rock that can't possibly have been laid down either gradually or in periodic events is simply subsumed to their theory and not recognized for the total contradiction it really is to their time scale. The whole edifice of evolution is put together like that, one imaginative construct built upon another, BECAUSE it is NOT testable.”
Evolutionists do not depend on fossils at all. They are just one field of compelling evidence. Your assertions about it are quite false. Genetics, embryology, biochemistry, geology, physics, archeology, history, etc all tell the same story. I guess you can deny the evidence (and be viewed an ignorant fool) or you can believe god created the universe and all life on earth and arranged it such that in every detail (to the microscopic) it is exactly as it would be if it had evolved over billions of years. Now that is some fancy work ...... but why?
“Really, the only objective tool they have at all is radiometric dating”
This is one valuable collection of tools but it is not the only tool.
“But the readings are also questioned by people who know more about how it works than I'll ever know anyway.”
Firstly, it is not difficult to believe that people who know more about it than you may question it, as you appear to have received your science education from your church. Secondly, maybe you would cite some evidence as to who is seriously questioning the veracity of radiometric dating techniques (someone with qualifications in the relevant field please).
Rational thought required.
"Yet we still don’t seem to have made any breakthroughs on the most perplexing of human problems, especially that of humans living together in robust peace. Secular humanism, however, continues to stake its hopes on science and rational thinking as the key to solve the tough problems."
Given what you say it is somewhat ironic therefore that many of humanities problems with violence are due to religious beliefs. The very book that christians are so devoted reeks of genocidal madness at the direction of god. The morality of the OT god is consistent with that of a bronze age jealous tribal maniac. I believe that only when humanity puts aside these silly notions of invisible beings who are supposedly directing his followers to kill or dispise everyone that doesn't follow the same particular flavour of belief, will mankind finally realize that we are one family and that our survival is dependent on each other.
This earth and all its life was not put here for our benefit as the bible says. We are merely a bit player and rational thought is needed. Time to put aside these juvenile beliefs. Time to grow up. All children eventually stop believing in Santa Claus. There is no need that he be replaced by another imaginary person.
I hear that Richard Dawkins also portrays God as a jealous maniac, and a bunch more insults besides. I suppose I can understand the claim, if you focus on a small (but I agree significant) aspect of the Old Testament to the exclusion of all else. If you read the whole thing, the big picture is more interesting and appealing.
(Note, as one complication, I don't believe that any American pro-war or pro-gun factions embody the essense of the religion of the Bible, although some critics try to equate the two.)
First, the religion of the Bible is in a unique position compared to all other world religions, in a number of ways, the most important of which is the death of Jesus Christ—an entirely unexpected event according to what humanly-devised religions would dream up.
Second, God as depicted in the Bible in Old Testament times is notably different from the contemporary local religions in that:
Third, the Bible is not what you would get from a maniac god or the followers of an imaginary god. It speaks of a meticulous and dedicated God carefully working out a grand plan over long time periods (much longer than a human lifetime; much greater than the capabilities of any human-originated endeavour).
I believe God's jealous nature is self proclaimed - Exodus 20:5; Ex 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deut 5:9; Deut 6:15. He declares that he will punish (possibly meaning to kill?) the 4th generation of children born to worshipers of other Gods. This raises 2 issues - firstly how moral is a god that punishes children for the transgressions of the father and secondly it appears to be an acknowledgement that there are other gods.
I think it takes a great deal of selective reasoning to put aside the personality traits clearly displayed in the OT to arive at a position that this is a loving god worth our worship. I think Dawkins description of the OT god is reasonable and based squarely on the evidence of scripture. There are many other far nicer gods to worship.
Assuming that God is real, and created everything including humans with a long-term purpose, it would be sensible for God to be "jealous", I think. It would be like a human father being upset if his children disowned him and went around saying a wooden statue in their backyard was their father.
Those verses also say that God shows mercy to thousands, or alternatively "to the thousandth generation", which means says God is much more merciful than punishing. The "iniquity visited on the children to the 4th generation" is presuming that the children are continuing in the sins of their ancestors. Genesis 15:16 talks about God intending to punish the Amorites for their sins, but seeing that it was a collective national judgement, holding off for a few more generations until such a time as their national sins really justified it. Genesis 18:16-33 also talks about Abraham asking God about His character—would God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there were as few as 50 righteous people in it? In the end God said, no, if their were 10 righteous people in a city, He would spare it. Sounds pretty reasonable.
It doesn't need selective reasoning, just taking the scriptures at face value.
Your reasoning leaves me speechless. Would a loving father threaten death to a child for disowning him or going his own way? I think not. I don't think jealousy is virtuous in any way. It's immature, petty and contolling. There are far more appealing god myths to worship if that's your need.
If a visitor to your house were threatened by your neighbour you would offer the sexual services of your virgin daughter or slave to resolve the problem? Does a quick peek at a monumentous and extraordinary event deserve your summary execution? Nice morals from a loving god!
Just taking the scriptures at face value.
You focus on death threats and punishments. But I've read the whole Bible, and putting it all together, I get a different characterisation of God. The god myths have no appeal to me, while the God of the Bible is very appealing. God does indeed kill people, and punish people. God also resurrects, and bears long with iniquity. It makes perfect sense that God's long-term plan is to have a family leaving in peace, united with the one true God and each other. The father whose child has disowned him knows that the prospect for peace and unity is zero until their situation changes.
The impression I get is that atheists imagine that a hypothetical righteous God would be one who makes no moral demands on humans, has no right to punish, and at the same time is obligated to "fix" every human discomfort (diseases, accidents, natural disasters). I would have no desire to live in such a world. Our most significant problems that challenge humanity are self-inflicted, and moral issues.
As for the Biblical story you're referring to (from Genesis 19), Lot's actions there were not actually consistent with Biblical morals. It is presented as an honest account of what happened, presenting both the good and the bad of someone who was called "righteous" (comparatively) but hardly perfect. It doesn't present the people of God as being perfect in every way, but shows how God works with imperfect people. The Bible also seems to assume a certain level of understanding from its readers, and not feel the need to say explicitly, "and note: that was bad" everywhere it might be applicable.
“But I've read the whole
“But I've read the whole Bible”
So have I, a few times - cover to cover. But I didn’t have any childhood preconditioning that has affected my objectivity.
“The father whose child has disowned him knows that the prospect for peace and unity is zero until their situation changes.”
A reasonable statement but the problem I see is that the consequence dictated by the “loving” God is the death of the son.
“The impression I get is that atheists imagine that a hypothetical righteous God would be one who makes no moral demands on humans, has no right to punish, and at the same time is obligated to "fix" every human discomfort (diseases, accidents, natural disasters).”
If there was a god I dare say he would basically share our moral values (the whole being created in his image thing). Punishing the child for the sins of the father, vicarious redemption, genocide, murder, rape etc are simply immoral and I wouldn’t expect a loving god to have any part in these actions. So the question of his right to make moral demands or punish or his obligation to fix everything is not relevant.
“Our most significant problems that challenge humanity are self-inflicted, and moral issues.”
I agree to the first part and state further that they have been since we reached a point that we could control our environment and attained a population size that is unsustainable. On the subject of morals, I’m less sure. Morals have evolved with the changes in the circumstances of humans. One’s ethics may differ from another so is that a problem? You may believe that morals are purely objective. I don’t. I don’t buy the declining morality story as preached by many churches. I don’t see mankind as having fallen. We’re just doing the best we can in the circumstances. I’m not banking on a supernatural quick fix. It will take a lot of hard work. It worries me that there are believers in positions of great power who believe god gave us this earth for our sole benefit and there is no point taking care of it because Christ will return shortly.
“As for the Biblical story you're referring to (from Genesis 19), Lot's actions there were not actually consistent with Biblical morals.”
It would assist me greatly if God would please clarify his requirements. Surely that’s not a difficult thing to do. As an engineer would you think much of a manufacturer that provided an instruction manual written in a way that required so much subjective interpretation? And starts with "Rule 1: never press the red button".
"Secular humanism says that science and rational thought will enable us to find every gem of truth that’s worth knowing."
I do not think this statement is true. Secular humanism merely describes a method for reaching an understanding about reality. It is an approach to life that tries to be positive, rational, realistic, and open-minded. It says nothing about the ability of the process to successfully achieve these understandings. It takes a naturalistic approach to understanding reality and excludes supernatural explanations (until such time as the existence of anything supernatural can be supported by any credible evidence). Hence its appreciation of science. I do not think any rational secular humanist would believe every truth worth knowing is within our ability to acquire or comprehend.
In my experience it is only some of the religious persuasion that claim they already know with absolute certainty all the truths worth knowing. It inevitably follows that a good dose of faith is a prerequisite to understanding these so-called truths.
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