Monday, January 29, 2007

Religion and Reason

This piece from the March 2004 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is perhaps one of the most interesting things I've read about religion in a long time.

There are, as there always are when dealing with religion, a few limitations.

1. The assumption of naturalism necessary to science and thus to scientific explanations of religion cannot be logically or empirically justified in their entirety. Science, like any system, is incapable of validating its necessary assumptions.

2. This means that the consideration of the existence of supernatural or paranormal entities is not possible within science in any adequate way. A system which assumes the nonexistence of the supernatural cannot then demonstrate the nonexistence of the supernatural.

3. As I've mentioned in my review of The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal, we have yet to adequately examine the possibility that the oft-repeated anecdotal evidence of "ghost" sightings may represent an external natural phenomena. The assumption that these experiences MUST naturally flow from a dysfunction in the brain (hallucination) has limited examination of this possibility. Please note that some supernatural "experiences" have been adequately explained by neurological examinations (i.e. hypnogogic and hypnopompic states) BUT this does not necessarily imply that ALL such experiences can or will be.

4. The explanations within the article (by the author's admission) apply as much to non-supernatural, nonreligious beliefs as they do to supernatural and religious beliefs. The truth value of these beliefs seems therefore to be irrelevant to the explanation.

5. The author takes a bit of liberty in overstating the strength of scientific evidence and consensus on the nature of the mind/consciousness, however, this seems an extraordinarily minor matter in the grand scheme of things.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend the article. I believe that the dissemination of the ideas within (accepted provisionally as all scientific theories must be) can contribute greatly to our discussions of religion. I also hope that it could contribute to ameliorating the anti-religious sentiment that seems to be growing in our society. By this, I mean not atheism or skepticism about religious ideas but instead prejudice against religious people that presents them as inherently irrational, incapable of reason, willfully ignorant, gullible or stupid.


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