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Debate: Religious belief

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Are religious beliefs rational or irrational?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Thomas Dixon. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.

Background and context

The majority of the population of the world is at least nominally committed to some religion or another. And despite the perception in some parts of the Western world that religious belief is in terminal decline, or that economic and social development go hand in hand with secularisation, there are many parts of the world where fundamentalist religious belief is firmly entrenched (including arguably the most ‘developed’ nation on earth, the USA). Religious belief, it seems, refuses to go away. Some people might think that religion is not an appropriate topic for debate – perhaps because it is too personal, too sacred, or outside the realms of rational debate. For the rest of us, however, there is a fascinating and lively debate to be had. There are many different dimensions to debates about religion. To start with there is the philosophical question of how plausible belief in God is. Then there are social, moral, and political questions about the effects of religious belief on individuals and communities both in the present and historically. Has religious belief, on balance, been a force for good or for harm in the world? This is an enormous area. The arguments below provide only the most basic of skeletons. It is for debaters themselves to do research and find their own examples from the present and from history to substantiate and illustrate the arguments. Is it necessary for God to work in miracles in order to exist? And why does his existence need to be proven? If you were somewhere else, outside of the parameters of human sight, would you need a human being to verify your existence? Isn't evidence also interpretation and dependent on interpreting data? If God is everything, like some people say, then aren't all living and non living things proof of God? So then why is their punishment? If good and evil is needed for the development of human beings, then why is it punishable by God? He created this entity called evil and as a result, we may unknowingly or knowingly choose it. Do we blame a clock for not working properly or do we blame the creator of it? Why is it different with God, given that he is the ultimate decider of everything? How can free will truly be free if it is being judged? How can it be free choice if one choice is clearly favored over another? Science has uncovered all mysteries? How do you know this? Where did the energy needed for the big bang come from? Did this energy always exist or were they created out of nothing? If energy always existed then matter is eternal if they didn't then shouldn't something have to account for their existence in a logical sense? Are there really no more questions? Does proving religion wrong prove the non-existence of a creator? What about conscience? Do we not have the capacity to tell right from wrong? And what is your definition of right or wrong? Is it determined through reason or is it determined through what you have been told? Is it absolute or relative? Doesn't religion in some cases accept, even order certain acts that would be considered wrong in many other situations? Why is it justified as right simply because it is ordained by religion?

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God's existence: Does God exist?

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Yes

  • It is irrational to say that God doesn't exist. Even science can't prove that God doesn't exist. The Bible could not have been created out of nothing, by nobody. Alike in the case of the creation of the world. The God is the creator of the world.
  • There is good evidence and arguments for God's existence. There is good evidence that God exists and there are good arguments for accepting religious beliefs. The fact that we live in a beautiful, orderly universe in which human beings exist and have special moral and spiritual awareness points clearly to the existence of a divine Creator behind the universe. Billions of people have had religious experiences of one sort or another - all of them revealing the existence of divine reality - the only good explanation of this fact is that the divine reality is really there.
  • Religion explains origin of universe; science cannot Science and religion have more in common than atheists care to admit. What we accept as scientific theory about how the universe came into being, is just as absurd as the notion of an intelligent being willing it to happen.
  • God's existence does not need to be proven. There is no need to prove faith or God's existence. It is just the same to attempt to prove the existence of love. It exists, although it cannot be fully described or proven.
  • God is the only rational explanation of the existence of the Universe. The law of conservation of matter and energy states that the total amount of all the matter plus all the energy in the universe can never change, though matter can be changed into energy and vice versa, and that neither can be created or destroyed. However, at the Big Bang all of the matter and energy in the universe was created, which naturally leads us to the assumption that the Big Bang must have been caused by something which was not subject to these most basic laws of physics, and is therefore almost certainly not subject to any of them- why should it comply with some but not others? If this thing was not subject to the laws of physics, then there is no reason why it should be subject to them now. Being superior to the laws of physics also suggests that this thing must be eternal and unchanging since decay and change only take place on the physical plane. Of course, the Judaeo- Christian view of God complies easily with these concepts and is therefore the most rational explanation of our existence.
  • God is the uncaused first cause. A first cause is necessary for the universe make sense. We make no apology for replying with "no one" to atheist's favourite question "Who made God?". There must have been a first cause and it is God who is the most reasonable candidate for this, especially in the light of the arguments detailed in the previous paragraph.
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No

  • God does not exist. Religious belief is completely irrational. There is no evidence that God exists. Reported miracles, healings etc. are never reliably proved actually to have happened, and in any case everyone’s religious experiences are different and point to the psychological differences between human beings not to any objective divine reality. Belief in God is simply wish-fulfilment. It would be nice if there was a loving all powerful being watching over us, but there isn’t.


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Argument #2

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Yes

The atheist argument that God must be responsible for all our actions if he exists is nonsensical. Yes, he engineers the circumstances of the situation where we have to make a decision but we also have logic, reason, morals, and emotions to influence the decision making process. Illness and disease are a result of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Most suffering and pain can be accounted for by the free will that humans exercise; God made us free and we use that freedom for evil as well as for good. As for illness and disease, it is hard for us to know the mind of God, but it may be that these trials are a necessary part of a world in which free and spiritual human beings can evolve and develop.


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No

The world is full of suffering and pain among innocent people. If God is good and all-powerful then why is this the case? Either God does not exist or he is nor worth believing in since he does not care about human suffering.

Let's examine the "free will" argument. We shall start by assuming that there exists a being which created the World, is omnipotent, and is benevolent; God by any other name. If God created the world and is omnipotent, then he also created me, since I am a consequence of the existence of the world, and, being omnipotent, he was able to anticipate my both my existence and every attribute of it. In short, God made me, and he made me the way I am, on purpose. He knew in advance every decision I would ever make, and was responsible for the conditions that led me to that decision; it was well within his power to create circumstances that would lead to any number of different decision. Consequently it should be impossible for me to do anything that is contrary to this being's will. Since this is obviously not the case, we must conclude that such a being does not exist.



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Argument #3

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Yes

Modern science has shown religious belief to be wrong. From Galileo to Darwin to the modern day, scientists have continually uncovered the true natural mechanisms behind the creation and evolution of the universe. There are no gaps left for God to act in - science has revealed a closed natural order governed by natural laws. Brain science has also proved that there is not a ‘soul’ but that all our mental states are simply caused by brain activity. There is, therefore, no reason to believe in life after death - one of the main tenets of religious belief.

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No

This is an inaccurate caricature of the relationship between science and religion. In fact most of the great scientists of history have been religious believers, and the more we learn about the physical world (e.g. the fine balance between the fundamental forces of the universe, necessary for organic life to develop) the more it seems that it has been designed to produce human life by an intelligent God. The fact that there is a physical side to reality does not, in any case, mean that there cannot also be a spiritual dimension. Nor does the fact that the mind and brain are closely correlated mean that they are the same thing.

Scientific method cannot disprove or prove the existence of a creator, it can however disprove or prove a literal interpretation of religious text. These are two very different things. For example, science has disproved a literal interpretation of the text in Genesis regarding the age of the earth. What that tells us about religious text should be important to people of religious faith, not threatening. The great irony here is that it was the era of the enlightenment and science that set the course for the modern idea that religious text could be read from a literal point of view. Prior to the enlightenment, it was universally accepted that scripture was based in metaphoric truth, not literal truth, something we have become uncomfortable with as post enlightenment beings. To further complicate the pursuit of literal truth in scripture, Christians are reading text that originated in Hebrew, was translated to Greek, then Greek to English. So I believe we can comfortably say that yes, science can disprove literal interpretation of religious text.

The argument that science can disprove a creator God, is entirely a different matter. Science attempts to understand "how" the universe works, not whether an intelligent creator is responsible for why it works. The idea that the more we understand the universe, the more that disproves the existence of God is the same as saying the more we study the architecture of a building, the more that proves there was no architect.

It's also not accurate to present all scientific thought as at odds with religious text. If you read the first creation sequence in Genesis, (NOT Adam and Eve) the order of events is in harmony with the theory of evolution. According to string theory, all of reality exists in ten dimensions. There are four revealed dimensions (the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time) and six concealed dimensions. These are exactly the same numbers found in the Zohar, a Kabbalahist book written in the second century, 1500 years before the enlightenment.

If you look at the histories of both scientific and religious thought, it is more accurate to say that both disciplines have developed and evolved within themselves more often than they have ruled each other out.

Religion has grown, not diminished, through the development of critical theology as a study of text by scholars within modern universities. There are many devout Christian theologians who have challenged the mainstream doctrines of their church regarding the human life of Jesus as a practicing Jew.

Science routinely corrects it's own mistaken notions. Einstein's theory of relativity shattered widely held scientific beliefs as much as it opened the door to new scientific beliefs.


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Argument #4

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Yes

Religions through the ages, and still today, have been agents of repression, sexism, elitism, homophobia, and - most of all - conflict, war, and racial hatred. Whatever small amount of psychological comfort religious belief may give, the evils it is responsible for in the social and political worlds easily outweigh it.

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No

Religion may have been the occasion for various social and political wrongs, but it is not the cause. You can be quite sure that if you took away all the world’s religions people would still identify themselves with national and political groups and go to war over territory, political conflict etc. Equally elitism and bigotry are, sadly, parts of human nature with or without religion. In fact religious belief, when taken seriously and sincerely, is a force for good in the world, promoting humility, morality, wisdom, equality, and social justice. Social justice is at the heart of the Christian gospel.


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Argument #5

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Yes

Religious traditions, and the irrational fervour with which people adhere to them, divide humanity. They provide a proliferation of incompatible and contradictory moral codes and values. The only prospect for a global morality is a secular one based on rational consensual principles rather than partisan, local, irrational prejudices. In the interest of global harmony we should ditch religious beliefs.


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No

We need religious traditions to provide us with morals and values in a rapidly secularising age. Scientists and politicians cannot tell us how to tell right from wrong, we need the moral insight of religious traditions, which are repositories of many generations of spiritual wisdom, to guide in ethical matters.


Motions

  • This house rejoices that God is dead
  • This house does not believe
  • This house believes that religion has done more harm than good

See also

External links and resources

Books

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