Consilience and Religious Belief

September 13, 2007 | By | Reply More

It’s not so much that beliefs clash, but that the basis for believing clashes between those who embrace extradinary religious claims and those who don’t.

Over at Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse illustrates this topic well, asking why the extraordinary events of the Bible, many of them allegedly witnessed by thousands, fell into a historical black hole.  Here is the basic problem:

One of the hallmarks of a well-tested scientific theory is that it is supported by numerous, independent lines of evidence. We have the greatest confidence that a theory is true when results from completely different fields of science, which have no obvious reason to agree, all converge in support of the same conclusion, like threads weaving together to form a unified tapestry. This coming together of evidence was called consilience by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson in his book of the same name.

One of the great success stories of science, the theory of continental drift, bears witness to how this process operates. Continental drift is backed up by independent lines of evidence: rock strata that match up across continents, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; fossils of unusual species that exist in only a few, widely separated places; and magnetic striping in the ocean crust which indicates that the seafloor has been steadily spreading over time. All these unrelated lines of evidence independently converge to support the same conclusion.

This sort of evidentiary consilience is notably absent when we examine religious scriptures such as the Bible. Far from possessing independent lines of evidence that converge on the same conclusion, these texts contain numerous fantastic stories that are uncorroborated by history or even by other retellings of the story elsewhere in the book. Instead of weaving a coherent tapestry, these threads unravel into a tangled, confused mess.


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Category: History, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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