Don’t Ask Me to Read Your Holy Book
An A-Religious Commentary:
I’ve been asked, when discussing with theists, to read their various holy books (usually the Bible) with an open mind. The implication is that, if I gave their book an honest and open minded look, I’d become convinced and start believing, as they do. Further it’s implied that I’m not as open minded as I claim to be but rather closed to religion because I do not carefully examining their various books with the agnostic (i.e. undecided) attitude.
Please don’t ask me to read your holy book with an open mind. I can describe my mind as open, but not so open that my common sense fails me. Don’t you see? There’s a fundamental flaw with this request, and it’s staring you right in the eyes. There’s a huge elephant in the room, and yet you close your eyes to it! This is the assumption that a holy book can somehow validate itself.
Let me reiterate what I consider myself to be. I am a skeptic. I am a naturalist (i.e,. I look for natural, as opposed to supernatural causes). I’m not a scientist in the sense that I work with science, but I’m a fan of the scientific method. What does this tell you about me? It should tell you that I will not take any book’s word for its own validity. By reading your Holy Booktm, I will only learn a bit about your brand of mythology. I won’t come to believe it.
Why is that? It should be obvious, but apparently it’s not. I don’t believe it. I will admit that I haven’t read the entire Bible. Does this mean I cannot be critical of Christianity? Does the fact that I haven’t read the Koran mean I cannot be critical of Islam? Absolutely not! I don’t believe them. The basic premise of these books is that they are of divine nature. They’re built on the assumption that they are inspired by or directly delivered from God, creator and all.
Naturally, I can’t find out if the premise is true by assuming the premise. That would be circular reasoning. It would be akin to me writing a book in which I describe myself as Messiah and I then assume that the book (coming from Messiah) is of divine nature and use that assumption to prove that I am, in fact, Messiah. Assuming the conclusion is not a way to prove anything. Actually, it’s valid. If we assume that a preposition is true, it follows that the preposition is true, but in no way have we justified the assumption.
What does this tell you? It tells you that I’m not close minded for not reading assuming your conclusion in order to assess your conclusion. If you want to prove that the Bible or the Koran, or any other Holy Booktm is really of divine nature, you must rely on other sources. This is where the conversation usually halts. “But Messiah said it requires faith to believe!” Obviously. This is the same mindset.
For example, in order to prove to me that Jesus was in fact Son of God, a Christian presented some Bible quote (I can’t remember where from and I can’t be bothered to look it up) that said something to the effect of, “if I [Jesus] don’t do miracles, don’t believe in me.” Miracles should be a sign that Jesus is Son of God. Then this person went on to quote other places in the Bible where Jesus does miracles. Taa-da! Instant Jesus-son-of-God! Of course, this is not how it works. This was all based on the assumption that the Bible was true to begin with.
This is some elementary advice to theists who wish to justify their faiths to nonbelievers or believers of other faiths: never rely on your conclusion to prove your conclusion. No matter how much you obfuscate and complicate matters, if your logic can be traced back from your conclusion to your conclusion, you have built a circle, and circular reasoning is never justification for the assumption it seeks to prove. The moment someone discovers this in your reasoning, they will recognize that you have nothing to come with. So, please, rely on outside resources, if you’d be so kind. It will save you lots of embarrassment.
Update: this comment field is way too long to expect readers to read through it all. I can’t possibly respond to all, but some of the more common criticisms are answered in this follow-up post: Frequently Voiced Criticisms.