Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Religion is just childish

As it says in my profile, I'm a humanist. I'm also an atheist and a bright. Actually I'm an agnostic when it comes to religion, but like Richard Dawkins, I'm agnostic in the same way as I'm agnostic about teapots in orbit around Pluto. In other words, it's possible that they may be true, but the possibility is so slight as to be not worth worrying about.

It's not that I don't know about religion. My grandfather was a vicar and my mother a missionary. I attended a cathedral school and was confirmed into the Church of England at the age of 14. I've been a scholar of ancient religions all my life. And whilst I understand the religious impulse very well, falling for it is simply absurd.

It's absurd in the same way that an adult believing in the tooth fairy, or father christmas, would be absurd. In the same way that belief in genies , rakshasa's or kami is absurd. It's absurd because as adults, we seek to know truth by the best means available to us. And if we don't do that we are wallowing in a child-like fairyland of magic and superstition.

So what counts as a good method of discovering truth?

My Parents told me so - No
My Teachers told me so * - No
Everyone in my society believes it - No
I intuitively feel it to be true - No
It has been revealed to me in dreams or visions - N0
It is common sense - No
It makes me feel better - No
It must be true for moral reasons - No
You can't prove it's not true - No

There is one way, and one way only of discovering the truth about the world. Observe, Hypothesize, Test your hypothesis. Get other people to test it. If it's correct, repeat and move on.

Luckily we don't have to do all this ourselves. There are many many great people who have spent their lives doing this, so that we can reap the rewards of their work. As Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

All the rest is superstition or hearsay. And that's no way for an adult to live.

* But I said that "My Teachers told me" is not a method of discovering truth. And it isn't if you do it uncritically. If you study what your teachers say, and find a scientist at the root of it, and the arguments are sound, then there is truth there.

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