You May Have It Cockeyed If…

September 6, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Science cannot disprove the existence of god.

I have heard this claim made so often and by such a broad spectrum of people that I rarely really think about it.

But is that the end of it?

Science is concerned with materialism ( in a philosophic sense) and does best when avoiding questions best described as Numinous.  However, nothing humans do is ever neatly isolated.  Our thinking, our inquiries, getting out of bed in the morning, all generates overlapping considerations that cross-germinate (and cross-pollute) every category of our apprehension of the world.  We sort through it all and find the best description/explanation/justification for the task at hand.  At least, we hope we do, and this is often called the application of common sense.

We assign axioms when we stop to think about it.  You know, we do this for these reasons, the results are such-n-such because of XYZ, and we make rules by which we may conduct ourselves through life without having to do a top-to-bottom epistemological analysis of every single thing we do each time we do it.

For generations, centuries, millennia, there has been a category for Things We Cannot Immediately Explain But Seem To Be Important–it’s called, today, religion.  (Superstition is a subset–which covers everything from throwing spilled salt over the shoulder to attending high mass to leaving your fortune, if any, to a given charity/cause/or church.  Lighting candles in someone’s memory, talking to the disembodied at gravesites, crossing oneself, expecting deaths to come in threes…all this stuff is part of what can be described as sympathetic magic–doing this with the expectation of something happening.  No matter how often the causal links are shown to be demonstrably NOT THERE, people still do them, mainly because it is a ritual that makes them feel some degree of control where none may be found.)

We don’t really have any solid axioms for when a religious assertion is just plain wrong. 

Oh, there are negative assertions–if you don’t believe this, then you are in error.  If you think it happened that way, you have your history wrong.  If you pray in such-n-such a language, you won’t get through.  But we only vaguely comprehend axioms that will categorically denounce an error-filled religion.

Personal anecdote:  back when David Koresh and his followers died, I had a conversation with a couple of Catholics who dismissed Koresh as a nutcase.  “Why?”  “Well, he claimed he talked with god.”  “Oh.  So that makes him a nutcase?”  “Well, sure.”  “Hm  But doesn’t the pope claim to do that every day?”  An argument ensued, but their response boiled down to “Well, that’s different.”

Why?  And how would you know if at some point (assuming for the sake of argument that popes ever did actually talk to god) god changed its mind and stopped talking to the popes?  Would the popes tell you?  Or would they fall back on self-illusion and metaphor?  That the actual dialogue never really did happen, it was always a question of prayer answered by inspiration?  How would you know if god stopped talking to the pope and actually did start talking to a “nutcase” like Koresh?

You wouldn’t.

But we could actually come up with some axioms that would define a legitimate religion.  I’ll offer one just to start and see how many we might collectively come up with.

You know you have it wrong if your religion tells you to condemn people who don’t think like you.

Simple, common sense attitude, easily stated.  But what a lot of chaos could ensue among the believers over that one.

Now, what’s built into that axiom is not a blanket acceptance of all modes of thought.  I mean, one of the ideas of the 20th Century that gave (and in some ways still gives) us a lot of trouble is the notion that all ideas are equal.  That’s bunk.  Some ideas are garbage.  But you have to think about them before you relegate them to the trash heap.  They have to stand or fall on their own, not because of a cookie-cutter piece of dogma that sells you a “not invented here” standard for dismisal.  (Probably anything that can be described as a “Just Because” statement is wrong.)

Anyway, I think something like this would be useful.  Establish a set of common sense, morally consistent axioms by which to test religious assertions and help cull out the cockeyed ones.  Killing people of a different faith because “god” told you to is pretty obviously a good candidate.  Accepting that some people will go to hell because your religion tells you they will–and thereby leads you to treat them horribly in this life–is a pretty good sign that you have it cockeyed.

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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Communication, Culture, Education, Good and Evil, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    Here's why "science cannot disprove god": Science is based on testing testable hypotheses (disprovable ideas). Nothing is admitted to scientific scrutiny if an idea does not in itself contain at least one essential assertion that can cause this idea to be disproved, technically falsified, by measurement.

    Now, find any definition of God that contains criteria that could be directly observed, that if observed prove its falsehood.

    If can find such a definition, then science could disprove the existence of that god.

    The closest we come is that peculiar minority American philosophy of Biblical Literalism: The entire Bible is the pure, literal, and exact word of God, and therefore everything in it is perfectly true, therefore God exists. Given this, it is easy to show the internal contradictions in the text. These are why the majority of followers of Abrahamic religions (revealed by Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed, and the rest) read the Torah as a literary exercise full of allusion, poetic license, and metaphor.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    I'd nominate this woman (paired with Sean Hannity in an interview dripping with irony) as a person espousing "cockeyed" beliefs.  Click here and watch it as long as you can stand to watch it.

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