So You Do Want Me To Read Your Holy Book (a FVC)
After the overwhelming response on my last blog entry “Don’t Ask Me To Read Your Holy Book,” I figured I finally had material for a FAQ. Then I realized many of the comments would be difficult to formulate in question form, so instead, this is a FVC (Frequently Voiced Criticisms). Since I cannot possibly answer everyone, and since I can hardly expect readers to wade through over 300 comments to find my viewpoint, I will try to answer some general trends here.
How can you criticize something you have never read?
This objection is based on the following quote:
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.
This admittedly looks rather strange without context, possibly even in context, because you can’t read my mind and find out what I really meant. I was not trying to defend the rather indefensible position “It’s OK to criticize something you don’t know anything about”. I do know something about both the Bible and the Koran. I know very well the important stories in the Bible, and I know well the assumption that underlies both Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other monotheistic religions: there is a single creator who is still active in the world. Further, this God is usually given the powers omnipotence and omniscience, possibly even omnibenevolence.
I feel confident to reject the foundations of all these monotheistic religions because of lack of evidence.
I should also note that theists, by virtue of following one religion, automatically reject all other religions, and I would guess that no one has read the major works on every religion. It seems we all do it: we reject religions based on their foundations rather than based on thorough reading of their holy texts. Christians will reject all religions not based on the Christian god. Atheists will reject all religions based on a god.
Just because some believers use circular reasoning doesn’t mean all believers are wrong
True. I wasn’t trying to prove all believers wrong. I was simply pointing out a common flaw.
Little bonus factoid: there’s actually an apologetic tradition called presuppositionalism that is entirely based on circular reasoning. It tries to show that one must assume God in order to use logic, science, morality, or some other highly useful method, and that it therefore would be absurd not to assume God exists.
You have concluded without experiment that the Bible or some other holy book is untrue – that’s not very scientific, is it?
On the contrary, it is a basic scientific and logical principle that we assume something is wrong. The burden of proof lies on the positive claim, and in science, one sets out to disprove a hypothesis, only verifying it by showing that one is unable to falsify it.
It stands to reason that the Bible, or rather those who claim it to be true, has the burden of proof on proving it. I’m entirely justified in reading religious texts with a skeptical attitude. If it makes you feel any better, that’s what I do with other nonfiction texts too.
You seem awfully determined on discrediting religion; did you have a bad experience, or what?
I can’t name any particular experience that made me an atheist, and neither can I name any experience that has led me to write about religion and lack thereof on the internet. I’m not bitter, because I never was much more than a cultural Christian anyway.
I am, as I like to think others are, concerned with finding the truth. If that means rejecting all religions, I will reject all religions.
You will notice that I don’t write much about Greek or Norse mythology. It has to do with the fact that (1) no one believes them and (2) even if there were some believers, they would have had zero influence on society. Now the situation with Christianity or Islam is quite different: they’re widely held to be true (taken together, half the world’s population believe in Islam or Christianity), and decisions that have to do with the real world are based on them.
Besides, I like discussing eternal questions. There comes a point when the discussion gets so clouded with fallacies and anger and fundamentalism that all the fun is gone. After one such moment, I wrote the post about circular reasoning.
You are rude and/or a fundamentalist
I’m sorry you feel that way. If you’d be so kind as to provide examples, I’d be grateful.
Also, I think you have a peculiar definition of fundamentalism.
God is love, your criticisms are irrelevant
There are a billion different interpretations of scripture. I can’t say which one is most valid, and I don’t think anyone else can either. What I do know is that it would be rather silly to call oneself a Christian if one didn’t believe in the Christian god and the key events: crurifixion, resurrection and so on.
As someone in the comments said (Pollyanna?), Christianity is a package deal. Yes, I believe in love, though it doesn’t make me a Christian.
You should allow people to have whatever faith they want
This is an atheism/skepticism blog. It would be rather silly not to expect some writings on the topic. You, having gone to the active step of visiting this blog, should expect to see your faith challenged.
Unlike the impression you might get, I’m usually pretty casual about my nonbelief. I rarely if ever discuss religion in real life. If I do, it’s usually because someone else brought it up. I don’t approach people on the street and tell them about atheism, I don’t vandalize churches, I don’t harass Christians.
I do however think that when a discussion warrants it, attacking religions is fair. If you argue that gay marriages shouldn’t be allowed because the Bible describes it as sin, I’m well within my rights to attack the Bible’s moral and historical authority. People can have what faith they want, but when it’s relevant in a discussion, it’s fair to discuss it.
I have previously criticized Dawkins, Harris and their intellectual comrades for being a bit too active in their religious critiques; I find some of their critiques to be irrelevant. Still, I agree with much they say, in particular that religions shouldn’t be artificially sealed from criticism. The question is simply, when is it relevant? I’d say it’s definitively relevant on de-conversion.com, but maybe that’s just me.
The Bible was written so long ago that we’d be hard-pressed to find other sources; therefore, you should accept the Bible as validating itself
If the events in the Bible cannot be verified with outside sources, the Bible’s authencity is in serious trouble, because those events are too damn extraordinary not to leave some mark on the world outside of religious scripture.
Genesis and the resurrection (or other important biblical events) were one-off events; they’re not reproducable, so we can’t scientifically investigate them
I guess all the scientists who work on the beginning of the universe, our planet and life would be pissed to hear that their work isn’t scientific.
The Big Bang is the ultimate one-off event, happening only once in the lifetime of a universe. Still, that’s the model scientists have stuck to for forty years. If you’re interested in why, you can check out the evidence over at talk.origins.
What I’m saying is that this is a poor excuse. We’d expect these events to have consequences, just like BB or the beginning of life, and we’d expect to be able to find them.
Science cannot say anything about areas that require faith
It depends: are you admitting that the only way to justify a belief in God is faith, or are you saying that science cannot discuss religious claims? If the latter, you’re in the area of NOMA (Non-overlapping magisteria), which claims that religion and science are equally valid, non-overlapping methods to explain non-overlapping fields of interest.
Unfortunately, an active god is bound to leave some mark on the world. If you still want to claim NOMA, you must either admit that God isn’t doing anything in the world (i.e., you are a deist) and consequently that you have no reason to believe, or you must take the agnostic position, which means you’re basically saying “all we can ever know about God is that God is unknowable”. That severely handicaps religions, because they tend to say a lot about God.
NOMA and its flaws is a topic for another blog post. If you really can’t wait, I’ve written about it before, on my personal, now-discontinued blog.
Science/atheism is just another religion
No, they’re not. They don’t fulfill any of the criteria. There are no systems of ethics, no teachings, no gods, no beliefs, no anything. Atheism is a position on a single question, and science is a method for finding out things in the world.
OK, so they’re not, but you certainly have a religious attitude towards them
I don’t think I have any absolute knowledge. I do however think science is the best approximation for knowledge about the physical world.
None of what you say is as novel or insightful as you seem to think
I’m far from the only one to notice these patterns in religious thought, nor have I claimed to be. All thinkers, great or small, stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.
The comments are more insightful than the essay
Well, that’s great. The comments wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t write the post in the first place, no would they?
I agree completely, but you’re not radical enough; Christians are stupid/incapable of rational thought/uncreative/something like that
You are wrong. Generalizing over two billion people in that way is beyond stupid.
If I’ve missed anything here, feel free to ask in the comments. Now that the worst storm has gone, hopefully the comment field won’t be so cluttered that it becomes impossible to keep track.