There are many beliefs one can hold that can neither be proven nor disproved. The most famous, perhaps, is a belief in god. No one can verify or disprove with any evidence whether or not a creator exists. The mere belief in a creator is, in itself, pretty harmless.
There must be a distinction made between lack of evidence for something, and evidence against something. We can’t prove or disprove the existence of god because there is no evidence either way. Scientific protocol can’t test such a thing. It is just as irrational and scientific to say one knows for a fact that there is no god as it is for one to say for a fact that there is. In this, the religious person and the atheist are on equal ground.
Same goes for things like reincarnation, or the existence of spirits or the soul. However, there are religious beliefs that can be either upheld or disproved through evidence. For instance, if a religious person said that there were no rainbows until after the flood in the Noah story, where it is said god placed a rainbow in the sky as some form of promise not to flood the earth again.
We know that rainbows exist and are not a supernatural phenomena. We know they are created by sunlight being refracted through moisture in the air creating a visible spectrum of light. As long as there has been rain on this planet, there must have been rainbows. It’s not like refraction didn’t exist and then suddenly did out of nowhere. Anyone can create a rainbow with a sprinkler if they like. Since evidence holds up that this phenomena of refraction always happens when the correct conditions exist, then it is irrational to suggest that they did not exist for many years of human existence until god suddenly decided to make them appear.
Similarly, we have fossil records showing gradual evolution of various species. If one said that a creator created the universe and all life in it, then we are at an impasse as that supposition can neither be proven nor disproved. If one said that all creatures on earth arrived in their final form, created by god all at once, then we would know they are wrong due to vast amounts of evidence showing that life certainly has evolved from simpler beginnings to more complex organisms. We have evidence to refute the claim.
This distinction is where many discussions regarding science and theology get muddled. When people start throwing around ideas stating as fact that something does or does not exist and neither side has evidence to back up their claim, then there’s really no point in the discussion at all. It’s fruitless as it will never come to a conclusion.
Just as bad are those who ignore or reject evidence in favor of a belief that has been disproved.
One more distinction must be made. A religious text (or any text for that matter) can’t be proven true as a whole simply because it contains some truths. Some parts being true do not make the untrue parts magically become factual. If a book says a certain king lived at a certain time in a certain land and there are several corroborating historical records to support this, then that one claim alone has been proven true and the entire remainder of the book remains unaffected by this. If we prove one passage true in a book, it doesn’t mean the whole book is true. Even if such a book had 90% of it’s claims supported by fact, there could still be 10% that is in error. To say that a book is true as a whole, one must prove every statement in it as true with evidence.
The mere question of whether or not the bible is “true” is too vague to answer. We must ask “Which part do you mean? Every sentence?”
many errors have already been found, not to mention a great many contradictions. A text that contradicts itself certainly can’t be counted on as truth.
Also, claims that fly directly in the face of science such as talking snakes and virgins giving birth can’t be treated with any seriousness. If we had other examples that were, at the very least, corroborated by other texts of the period, then we could perhaps start to consider it, but if it’s just one book making this claim, and this same book is fraught with other blunders, how can one rationally buy into such a claim?
If one does consider these things as true, then they must reject reality to do so. This is generally considered insanity. However, if one chooses to have such belief, that’s their right. It is not their right, however, to expect or insist, or in any way seek to enforce these beliefs upon others.
The hardest thing is that there are people who will reject science completely yet want the entire nation, if not the world, to conform to their beliefs. This is completely irrational and insane. Yet, for some reason, we’re supposed to afford these beliefs some kind of respect or reverence. That is unreasonable. I can respect a person having whatever beliefs they choose, but I can’t bring myself to respect a person who tries to get everyone to share their beliefs, especially if they try to infiltrate the educational system, politics, law or any other major part of our societal framework. In fact, such things should be resisted very strongly and not respected at all.
Again, having beliefs is one thing. Seeking to have them replace sound science or rational laws is not. In order to understand why this is wrong, these people must put themselves in the shoes of others. What if it were another religion that was spreading its beliefs in the same way that fundamentalist Christians seek to spread theirs? If there were Muslim mega-mosques spreading throughout America that were trying to get the teachings of Mohammed in public school and posted in courthouses, these Christians would flip, and rightly so. Just as it is right for us to not be alright with Christianity being spread in the same way. No one religion should have its teachings replace science. In order to be fair to all, education and law must be free of religious dogma.
Sure, the Christians believe completely that god wants everyone to believe as they do, but many other religions feel the exact same way about their beliefs. Not a one of them has any evidence to back up their claims. When they can provide some hard, factual evidence that there even is a god, let alone what god wants, then some kind of discussion can be had about making some changes. Until that moment, religion must have no place in education, law or policy.
People are free to have whatever religious beliefs and practices they wish. No one is banning any religions in America. Religion is not in danger. People are free to pray and worship as they wish. People are also free to have no religion whatsoever, and this must be equally respected.
© 2015 William Suphan
- Balanced Atheism
- Bleak Without God?