Friday, August 10, 2012

The Skeptic In Me

I found the debate on the Skeptic website. The debaters aren’t important, except that one of them was Shermer, the Skeptic guy. (Too bad “skeptic” sounds so much like “septic.”) The debate was, “Has science made religion irrelevant?” It was a two-hour debate and I didn’t get through but forty-five minutes before I had to go to sleep.
What makes me leery is that I found the debate on the Skeptic site, so how objective could it be? Am I right to be skeptical? Not that I disagreed with Mr. Shermer, but I wondered about the quality of the opponents, were they the best he could find?

If I can characterize the pro-religion arguments, one proposed that there is more than one kind of knowledge, and the other posited that there is a lot science doesn’t know know. Now, both statements are prima facie true, but neither a priori demonstrates the relevance of religion.

Taking the knowledge argument first, the fellow could have had a point. He could have talked about emotional understanding, he could have talked about spiritual reverence for the universe, he could have talked about the educational and societal values of folk tales as allegory. Instead, he tried to argue that miracles happen. Really, that’s what he did. He tried to argue that A) there’s nothing to say God can’t put aside the laws of physics whenever he (it’s always a “he” for these folk) wants; and B) because miracles only happens one at a time at the will of God, there’s no way to scientifically test them. Furthermore, if you didn’t buy that argument, he’s witnessed miracles himself. So there. Are you going to call him a liar?

Or delusional? The third option is that he’s telling the truth, but, of course, there’s no way to verify that. Furthermore, there’s no way for him to tell if he’s delusion or simply misinterpreting data. But, to accept the third option requires a belief in its possibility. And because of the inability to test the proposition of miracles, it’s the same as believing in God. And it has the same value in a debate: none. One can’t argue that miracles are true because they’ve witnessed them; it’s that the old circular argument. It’s no more valid than saying the Bible is true because it’s the word of God.
Which is why I was suspicious of him as a choice; was he chosen because he’s an easy target and doesn’t mind humiliation, or do his delusions extend to his intelligence?

I didn’t listen to all the second pro-religion fellow’s speech, but his opening drift was that there were enormous questions for which science has no answer, such as what came before the Big Bang? Now, that’s a fairly common argument, although relatively recent as it couldn’t have been put forth before science discovered the Big Bang in the first place. It’s conceding the argument before it’s begun. As soon as one accepts the Big Bang, God becomes irrelevant. Sorry, just does. Science is the process of discovery and to say that religion is free to guess about what’s left, is true but in itself irrelevant.

Still, it’s another case of missed argument. While there’s no way to justify religious interpretation of physical reality, because religion is still so important to so many people, an understanding of religion and the psychology of religious belief is crucial to understand the world. But, of course, that’s not what he was arguing. He was arguing that, despite religion being wrong about all other physical realities, it could still be right about what we don’t yet know about. Got that? It’s a tad convoluted.

Again, while that’s logically true, it’s also irrelevant. It’s the sort of argument one should never bring up if they want to look like they’ve eaten their Wheaties.
The question is: were these pro-god guys thrown to the lions because they were schlemiels, or are they the best the believers have to offer? My suspicion is they’re the guys who like to take the bait and who think they can win the argument head-on. I want to say it’s a waste of talent, but obviously it isn’t.

The issue is: no one ever comes to religion logically. That’s not the path. They come to religion through a personal experience they believe holds its own truth and they unite with others of a like mind, just as people who believe they’ve been taken up in spacecrafts by little green, probing men tend to flock together. It’s a belief to which logic is irrelevant.

Did science make religion irrelevant? Did football make golf irrelevant? Did the automobile make walking irrelevant? Did irrigation make praying for rain irrelevant?

Science? Religion? They’re different fish; they don’t swim in the same waters. Sometimes believer fish want to swim in the science waters, but it doesn’t work; they die there. Nothing makes religion irrelevant other than personal experience. Either the light strikes you and you see, “Oh, that’s how it works!” or it strikes you and you proclaim, “It’s a miracle!” Either way, it’s your experience and yours alone. Take it out in the night and look for an honest man; see what you can find.

Pray that you're not a young child.

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