Friday, 19 June 2009

Why should I study Religion?

Tom Gilson made the argument on his own blog that in order to criticise religion one needs to study it. I initially answered this in Why should I study religion or astrology? and want to make a clearer and more succinct response now.

First of all I am not at all interested in religion. been there done that. You want to believe whatever you want to believe go ahead. I fully endorse freedom of belief. Anyone should be able to pursue their beliefs free of intimidation and worse.

What I am interested, as should anyone, regardless of their beliefs, is freedom from belief too. The specific concern is where freedom of belief encroaches on freedom from belief. The principle is simple and should be self-evident to anyone who is capable of transcending their own beliefs whatever they are, which is required to honestly and ethically study this topic. Anyway lets state what this is for those who don't get it.

The principle is that freedom of belief ends where it prevents freedom from belief. It makes no sense to hold that it is the other way around, since if it were the other way around there would be no freedom from belief. The freedom must be equally available to everyone in a fair society and this requires that freedom from belief trumps freedom of belief. In other words you are free to believe whatever you want in the privacy of your own home and amongst those with similar belief, but such a freedom gives you no right to encroach anyone else's similar freedom, whatever they believe.

Now we are talking about belief so far and not actions. There is a whole other set of laws and freedoms related to actions, all that should be equally available to everyone and under which all are equally treated.

The principle is more general than these freedoms. Really I only care about actions however dependent on someone's  beliefs that can harm others, however harm is defined - although harm is an important point of discussion. It does not matter what those beliefs are, whether they have a theist or atheist component or not.

Now another principle applies. The methods that I evaluated astrology in the previous posts was by common methods able to test any such claims, regardless of what the internal beliefs were. The best available methods, those with the fewest errors and mistakes. No-one is entitled to argue for inferior methods, which have more errors and mistakes, as they have to employ these superior methods to make such an argument and that is self-refuting. Of course many people do argue to lower standards say for alternative medicine and so on but those arguments fail, for such reasons.

Similarly when looking at anyone's religion, I am not looking at it to decide which  internal beliefs to examine, but only in terms of its potential external effects on the world and I will use the best available methods to do that. It does not matter what the special internal methods are, special to that belief system,  we can externally examine them to see if they can justify themselves in the world of publicly shareable and mutually critical methods. If not, then is no justification not to be discounted these for such issues as concern everyone.

When regarded this way you might think that me examing Tom Gilson, Scott Pruett and similar others is a waste of time. However they make a specific type of claim, that of an objective morality and claim this gives them a special right to interfere in the business of others (not Pruett specifically in our correspondence, but as general principle probably). Does this claim need to be taken seriously or not? Does it have any justification?

Well regardless of one's take on the possibility of an objective morality one thing is clear. An objective morality would have to satisfy certain conditions to quality as objective. Many moral relativist argues that no system satisfies such conditions but the conditions can still be stated by them and subjectivists. This is that they be independent of any particular individual or group. A test of this is that such a morality could not be biased towards one group and against another, certainly in an a priori sense. Judgement is equally applicable to all with no special dispensation for any, all things considered. After judgement a posteriori there would groups differentially treated such as murderers and rapists etc., but this is only because of their deeds and actions. Any other basis to differentiate or create groups would contradict the basic principle of what an objective could possibly look like.  

There is simple test of this in anyone's claimed objective morality. If it is used to a priori way to prejudice group over another, to preferentially bias one group over another, regardless of desire, dispositions, deeds and actions, then it is not an objective morality. This is certainly the case with the Gilson (and William lane Craig) variety of objective morality. It is objective in name only, not in fact. Further the means and methods by which they continue to claim  their morality is objective in spite of the numerous clear arguments against them, serves only to highlight the immorality of their claims, whether they choose to be aware of this or not. It is one thing to believe one has an objective morality, it is another to wilfully deceive oneself that that is the case and no objective morality could require this.

Given this is no possible need to investigate such beliefs any further, if they are already constructed from intellectual negligence, avoidance and recklessness. That is enough to damn them and all that is needed.

The same applies to any other claims they could make. For example, if they think that faith (however they subjectively define it) gives them special dispensation then these need to examined by publicly shareable mutually critical methods. They cannot arbitrarily assert that their faith claims are superior to such methods they have demonstrate this, since they can only do this by employing  those public methods, which makes their position self-refuting.

Now, of course it is possible that someone identifies new errors or mistakes in these public methods and it is to everyone's benefit to know this. However this can only be shown by applying these methods self-critically, this has been done in the past  successfully, which is why we have the methods that we have now. It will be done in the future again. However the methods proposed by Gilson et al. have long been thoroughly considered and debunked and they have nothing new to offer. If they ever do, I would happily investigate. Given their past record, it is wise not to hold one's  breathe on that ever happnneing.