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Monday, September 13, 2010

"When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."--Stephen Roberts

The above quotation attributed to Stephen Roberts is, I think, profound. Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson points out:
The same cognitive bias that leads pagans to believe in witches and multiple gods leads theists to believe in God. Indeed, once the explanatory principle--to ascribe worldly events that bear on human well-being to the intentions and powers of unseen spirits, when no actual person is observed to have caused them--is admitted, it is hard to deny that the evidence for polytheism and spiritualism of all heretical varieties is exactly on a par with the evidence for theism (("If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted," in Philosophers without Gods, ed. Louise Antony [2007],p. 227).

Anderson recounts her experience at the summer fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan where various religious groups have booths from which to propagate their faith.

Along one street one finds booths of Catholics, Baptists, Calvinists, Christian Orthodox ... Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'i, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews for Jesus, Wiccans, Scientologists, New Age believers--representatives of nearly every religion that has a significant presence in the United States. The believers in each booth offer evidence of exactly the same kind to advance their religion. Every faith points to its own holy texts and oral traditions, its spiritual experiences, miracles and prophets, its testimonies of wayward lives turned around by conversion, rebirth of faith, or return to the church. Each religion takes these experiences and reports them as conclusive evidence for its peculiar set of beliefs.

... [I] am always struck by the fact that they are staffed by people who are convinced of their own revelations and miracles, while most so readily disparage the revelations and miracles of other faiths. To a mainstream Christian, Jew, or Muslim, nothing is more obvious than that founders and prophets of other religions, such as Joseph Smith, the Rev. Moon, Mary Baker Eddy, and L. Ron Hubbard, are either frauds or delusional, their purported miracles or cures tricks played upon a credulous audience, their prophecies false, their metaphysics absurd. To me, nothing is more obvious than that the evidence cited on behalf of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is of exactly the same type and quality cited on behalf of such despised religons. Indeed, it is on a par with the evidence for Zeus, Baal, Thor, and other long-abandoned gods, who are now considered ridiculous by nearly everyone (Ibid
., pp. 226-27).

Man seems to be a religious animal and will look for something beyond the natural world to explain what he does not understand. When one becomes a true believer in a particular religion, other contradictory religions are written off as delusional. Yet, if one applied the same standards to his own religion as he is applying to the ones he rejects, he would reject his own as well (This is essentially "The Outsider Test of Faith" popularized by John Loftus). As Robert Heinlein quipped: One man's religion is another man's belly laugh.

When I was an evangelical Christian, I remember wondering how any intelligent person could believe the teaching of Mormonism. Yet, I encountered intelligent lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who were Mormons. This was always something of a mystery to me. I concluded that they must believe, if they really do, without thinking much about it. They must be Mormons because their families have been Mormons for generations. In other words, they believed not based on an impartial examination of the evidence but because of societal and cultural influences. But when I applied the same logic to my own belief system, I looked for excuses as to why my beliefs were rational and not merely due to cultural considerations. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it is no more logical to believe that God appeared to Moses than it was to believe he appeared to Joseph Smith (or Muhammad or any of the other thousands who have claimed to hear directly from God).


  1. Problem is, there are many who have applied the same standards to Christianity as they have applied to the ones they reject, and have remained Christian (ie passed the Test). It would seem that this 'outsider test' is more of a diversion from the true issues of evidence when comparing religions than any sort of litmus test. As a matter of fact, when one goes through the process of sifting through the evidences between competing religions, this 'outsider test' is but a portion of the overall process, not the process itself. True believers of any belief system should evaluate their own belief systems and examine contrary points of view and criticisms; nothing new here. And who is the one to determine whether or not somebody has taken the outsider test correctly? And what is the criterion for success? Deconversion?

  2. Anon
    We know you must lie to yourself so you can believe what your deluded mind wants to believe. The ridiculous story of an arc and a flood that covered the world. Talking snakes and donkeys, burning bushes. Call it what it is, b.s. If I told you my Donkey talked to me yesterday, I don't think you would believe me and yet you will defend the ignorant Bible.

    Just be consistent so you will reject what you already know to be lies.

  3. "Problem is, there are many who have applied the same standards to Christianity as they have applied to the ones they reject, and have remained Christian (ie passed the Test)."

    Contrariwise, there are plenty of people who have examined the evidence for Christianity and found it wholly unconvincing.

    What point were you trying to make, here?

    Also, if you're going to actively participate in the comments here, would you please generate an actual identity? Just so I don't confuse you with any other anonymous commenters who happen to stop by?

  4. Anon,
    I, too, wish you had a name of some kind. Anyway, I do see what you are saying. Evidence is the main thing. But allowing yourself to truly look at your religion as an outsider and see the silly-sounding, unlikely-sounding parts can be quite freeing. Just learning that Muslims consider Jesus a great prophet but certainly not God himself was mind-opening to me.

    And imagine if the Koran had talking donkeys and snakes-I'd be laughing and saying, "Really??"

  5. I am rereading Philip Yancey's book "Reaching For The Invisible God" Admit it anonymous you have had your doubts about christianity. Yancey writes "Everyone dangles on a pendulum that swings from belief to unbelief, back to belief, and ends-where? Some never find faith. A woman asked Bertrand Russell, what he would say if it turned out he had been wrong and found himself standing outside the pearly gates. His eyes lighting up, Russell replied in his hing, thin voice, "Why, I should say, God you gave us insufficient evidence." I agree with Russell if god is there he should be more evident and should never have instructed anyone to murder and kill another race. Never should have allowed innocent children to be murdered by his instructions. Oh it is alright they died as children they are going to heaven. Does that satisfy you? Would that have been okay for your children to die?

  6. cerbaz
    There are some Christians that believe only elect infants go to heaven. So it would be possible for a child to go to hell.

  7. Ken,
    I find it hard to believe with your profile information that there isn't something about Christianity that you cannot believe in, but it may not be Evangelical Christianity.

    I am not sure that anyone fully understands all the teachings of their own religion even though they might have absolute faith in them. I am a lifelong Christian Scientist and certainly would not even pretend to comprehend all that I have studied, even as Mary Baker Eddy the founder of Christian Science stated in the preface to her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, about herself, ". . . she still finds herself a willing disciple at the heavenly gate, waiting for the Mind of Christ."

    However, each person who believes in - might I say a "higher omnipotent power" - and continues striving to find answers outside himself, I believe, is contributing to a better, safer, more humane society. So, I hope we all keep searching.

  8. We know we must lie to ourselves so we can believe what our deluded minds want to believe: that we can actually make choices in life and that there is a difference between good and evil. We need to just be consistent so we will reject what we already know to be lies.

    Remember; all we are is simply what has happened to us in the past/what is written on our genetic code. Everybody just does what they have to because of their conditioning/genetic code,so to try and act like there are actions that are 'good' and actions that are 'bad' is just meaningless.