Monday, March 23, 2009

"I was raised religious," . . . .

Many people present and justify their religious views by appealing to their backgrounds, the way they were raised, or by their religious affiliation. "Well, I'm a Catholic, and we believe." or "I was raised Lutheran, and we believe....." or "My family has been Buddhist for centuries, and the views we hold are . . . . . "

There's a mistake lurking here. Imagine if someone said, "Well, I was raised as a serial killer, and we believe that more pain is better." "I come from a long line of pedophiles, and we have always done . . . . " and so on. My point is that merely pointing out that one was raised in some fashion doesn't give you any justification whatsoever for its being a reasonable, just, sensible, or moral thing to do. Whether or not the belief is reasonable is an entirely separate question from how you were raised. The comment stems from a fundamental confusion between the causes of belief and the justifications of belief. Analyzing your own belief as an effect of some external causes makes you a helpless machine--you can no more help what you are, in this sense, than a dog can change its breed.

The dangerous side, of course, is that many people feel that appealing to their family or cultural background like this is all the justification they could ever need for believing whatever they believe. It's as if the fact that you were raised that way effectively eliminates any further discussion of whether one should actually believe it. Even if you were caused to believe by your environment, finding that belief in yourself as a result doesn't entitle you to say or think that the claim is true. Only epistemic justification will do that for you.

I think part of this trend arises from our reluctance to criticize religious beliefs and practices and from our concerns to be respectful and honor the rights of individuals. That's fair. But in fact, we'll all benefit more and a person will be respected more if you take the belief seriously and try to understand why it is true (or false) or reasonable (or unreasonable), and not be satisfied merely with "I was just raised that way. . . ." We shouldn't let that go in ourselves or in others. These matters are too important.

26 comments:

Codswallop said...

I really enjoy this blog, but I have a quibble, just a sidebar issue, really. It comes up a lot in discussions about belief in gods: what is your deal with Buddhists? Sure, there are theistic Buddhists, but there are also non-theistic Buddhists. Buddhism is totally uninterested in gods.
Despite the fact that some of the cultures in which it has taken root do have supernatural beliefs, lumping Buddhism together with Lutherans and Catholics is like associating Paul McCartney and Jerry Falwell just because both were left-handed.

(NOTE: I have no idea if Falwell was actually left-handed. It's just an illustration of an irrelevant correlation.)

Matt McCormick said...

I have the same issue with Buddhism that I have with anyone: If you are making claims about the nature of things in this world (and the next) that you maintain are true, then there needs to be adequate justification for them or they are not reasonable. They don't get a pass on being irrational simply because they don't make any explicit theistic claims.

Reginald Selkirk said...

While some brands of Buddhism are not concerned with gods, others are. But I believe (and I'm sure someone will correct me if I am wrong) they all assume a cycle of reincarnation. Nirvana is escape from the dharma wheel. The putative existence of this cycle of reincarnation is a supernatural claim.

Eric Sotnak said...

There are a number of potential problems facing Buddhists. Here are just a few. As Reginald Selkirk poits out, Buddhism embraces the doctrine of rebirth. There is, however, no plausible account of just how the psychological dispositions of a person can carry over to another person born far away from and perhaps even many years after the first person dies. (Actually, this is an especially big problem for Bu=ddhists, since they also have to reconcile their endorsement of rebirth with a denial of any substantial self).

On an epistemological front, Buddhists claim that it is possible to know the fundamental character of reality by sitting in meditation. But how exactly does this work? If a Buddhist tells you, I know that all things are fundamentally impermanent because I meditated, what reason do we have to accept either the claim or the proffered rationale? What happens when a Buddhist, claiming that all living things lack souls, meets an adherent of Jainism, who claims that all living things have souls, where both claim to come to this knowledge through meditative insight?

Now add a Christian who claims to have experienced the personal presence of Jesus Christ. The Buddhist, the Jain, and the Christian all hold incoompatible beliefs, each appealing to his/her own experience as justification. Why should we believe any one of them more than the others?

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks all for the interesting comments. Codswallop's post brings up another issue. It shouldn't be enough for the non-believer to find out that some group like the Buddhists are atheistic. Our converging on the same conclusion isn't enough for me to conclude that they must be reasonable or they must have their heads on straight. There are potentially just as many bad reasons for being an atheist as there are lousy arguments for believing. A person who cares about what's justified by the evidence can't be satisfied merely by Buddhists not being theistic--how they arrived at that conclusion is more important that what they concluded.

That bears repeating, because that's the real test of whether someone's atheism is an ideological dogma, or the result of careful, responsible reflection on the evidence: how you arrive at your conclusion is more important that what you conclude. So epistemologically, it would be better to believe on the basis of deliberate and thorough considerations of all the evidence while doing one's best to avoid fallacy and bias, than to be an unreflective, knee jerk atheist.

MM

Steve Martin said...

I agree with your post.

Being raised something or other is no good reason to believe in something.

Anonymous said...

Matt M

"I have the same issue with Buddhism that I have with anyone: If you are making claims about the nature of things in this world (and the next) that you maintain are true, then there needs to be adequate justification for them or they are not reasonable. They don't get a pass on being irrational simply because they don't make any explicit theistic claims."

What makes you think religious beliefs are true in the sense of propositions? Perhaps religious beliefs are based on value judgments?

Also, let me know when you have justified the method of scientific process, mkay? i am willing to bet science isnt just true becasue it is true but rather it has some pragmatic (value judgement) justification.

M. Tully said...

Matt,

Please excuse me for jumping in on a question that was meant for you.

Anon,

"Also, let me know when you have justified the method of scientific process, mkay?"

The "method of scientific process" has:

Uncovered the germ theory of disease, yes you can thank us for that whole smallpox thing going away.

How did praying work to make that scourge disappear? I'll wait.

Eric Sotnak said...

anonymous wrote:

"What makes you think religious beliefs are true in the sense of propositions?"

What other sense of "true" is interesting? Suppose religious belief has pragmatic value. But that is not what is at issue. Most theists would be unwilling to say, "Well, sure, God doesn't really exist, but it makes me feel good to pretend he does. You see, there is pragmatic value in believing in God even though he doesn't exist."

Anonymous said...

Um tully are you presuming I am anti-science? Where in my post did I claim this?

Anonymous said...

Eric,

Here are some interesting truth theories:

1 Correspondence theory
2 Coherence theory
3 Constructivist theory
4 Consensus theory
5 Pragmatic theory
6 Pluralist theories

Of course you pointed to pragmatism, which i think is a good one. Consensus can also be a strong theory and might perhaps be what some theist rely on for the question of God.

I am not sure the way you framed the theist use of pragmatism for God is correct. Perhaps the belief in God does make people feel good. but this does not mean it is the root for a pragmatic belief in God. i am sure I coudl frame science in the same manner as you did using pragmatism i.e. science makes us feel good. but both God and science seem to do more for folks than just provide good feelings. Science allows us to achieve our goals in a materialistic sense (fly palnes, medicine etc). God can help provide ethical guidence and in some cases inspire a scientist to make discovers, explore etc. Not that I think a pragmatic theory of truth is correct in confirming God but that it can be framed in the same way as any other strongly held assertion.

Reginald Selkirk said...

God can help provide ethical guidence and in some cases inspire a scientist to make discovers, explore etc.

God can't do any of those things if he doesn't exist. Perhaps you meant to say "belief in God" can do those things. Otherwise you are begging the question.

Anonymous said...

Reginald,

"God can't do any of those things if he doesn't exist. Perhaps you meant to say "belief in God" can do those things. Otherwise you are begging the question."

God's existence isnt dependent upon what I said. I can also say you are begging the question by presuming God does not exist when he does. Obviously what you thought was a rebuttal is really moot...

Reginald Selkirk said...

God's existence isnt dependent upon what I said.

Of course not, but what you said is dependent on God's existence.

I can also say you are begging the question by presuming God does not exist when he does.

I'm not presuming anything, I'm waiting for you to support your claims with evidence.

Obviously what you thought was a rebuttal is really moot...

Lose the attitude until you have arguments and evidence to back it up.

Anonymous said...

Reginald,

The fact that you turned your response into debating God's existence proves you did not consider what I said - its a distraction.

You may believe that you have evidence for a non entity

I don't need evidence for God. He just is. I am sure there are propositions for which you cannot provide evidence for - you got to start somewhere.

But what does this have to do with what i said again?

Anonymous said...

So I hear from a lot of atheist on here that they must have evidence to believe in a proposition. Is this true?

Reginald Selkirk said...

The fact that you turned your response into debating God's existence proves you did not consider what I said - its a distraction.

The fact that I noted your presumption of God's existence presupposes the you actually did presuppose God's existence. Which you did. The evidence is apparent.

I don't need evidence for God. He just is.

Bye bye. I'm not wasting any more time on remedial education for the irrational.

Ketan said...

Re: Buddhism. To the extent I remember reading in my history textbooks (in India), the form in which it had originated in India was bereft of intricate rituals, but was a neglected religion in India in terms of how much it appealed to the "common man". In that form of Buddhism, Buddha was merely considered a wise man, and not worshipped. So, it didn't become much popular as it was considered too intellectual. It gained popularity when exported out of India, but only when it had become very ritualistic, and required Buddha to be worshipped as a God. The former form was called the "Hinayana" sect roughly translated as the "lesser vehicle", and the latter was called "Mahayana" (roughly, the greater vehicle). It's a fact that the Hinayana sect had almost become extinct quite long back immediately after origins of the religion, and the form of Buddhism currently PRACTICED is far removed from the original tenets of Buddha. I pointed this out as I was not sure which form of Buddhism was being discussed here, and also because what Buddha actually taught or felt might have not survived in their original form. TC.

Ketan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ketan said...

I'd been thinking of this line of argument (against the existence of God) for quite some time, but what M. Tully pointed about small pox reminded me of it, and I put it here:

Think of an algebraic equation of factors (belief in God + medical knowledge) that affect quality of health and lifespan on the left hand side (LHS), and health improvement itself on the right hand side (RHS).

m=medical knowledge in arbitrary units; b=belief in God in terms of strength of belief and fraction of population believing.

So, 0 (zero) m + 0 b = 0; 35 being the probable average lifespan of early man, who had no medical knowledge or belief in God.

Then think of average improvement in health status (over baseline of 35) in modern times as 35 (years, the approximate improvement in average lifespan, as the current average lifespan could be approximated to 70) and call it equation 1.

Equation 1 would read like:
50m + 20b = 35.

Likewise, if we've to make an equation for situation thousand years back and call it equation 2, it would read thus:

10m + 50b = 5 (improvement of 5 years over 35 years). Where 40 would be the approximate lifespan at that time.

I'm not going to solve the equation, but it will easily show that "m" correlates positively with increased lifespan, and "b" negatively so. It remains of a theist to choose between one of the two possiblities: that current improved health status is because of improved medical knowledge, or because of weakened belief in God, (or of course, because of both!).

This analysis should leave very little doubt in anyone's mind what role could praying play in healing a patient.

TC.

Eric Sotnak said...

Ketan:
A couple point re. Buddhism:

- There are really no varieties of Buddhism where the Buddha is worshipped as a God.

- The term "Hinayana" is a pejorative term invented by those who self-identified as so-called Mahayana. The history of doctrinal divisions within Buddhism is quite complex, but (VERY roughly) in fact both traditions existed side by side, and in fact both survive to the present day as theravada and mahayana.

- All varieties of Buddhism have the same problem of trying to explain how karmic rebirth is possible.

- All varieties of Buddhism accept meditation as the route by which knowledge of the fundamental nature of reality is discovered.

So my comments are generic enough to apply to whatever variant of Buddhism one wants to consider. Of course, each individual variant may also have its own particular set of concerns, as well.

Eric Sotnak said...

anonymous wrote:
"Here are some interesting truth theories:

1 Correspondence theory
2 Coherence theory
3 Constructivist theory
4 Consensus theory
5 Pragmatic theory
6 Pluralist theories"

And all of them have in common that they propose analyses of what it is for propositions to be true.

逆円助 said...

さあ、今夏も新たな出会いを経験してみませんか?当サイトは円助交際の逆、つまり女性が男性を円助する『逆円助交際』を提供します。逆円交際を未経験の方でも気軽に遊べる大人のマッチングシステムです。年齢上限・容姿・経験一切問いません。男性の方は無料で登録して頂けます。貴方も新たな出会いを経験してみませんか

精神年齢 said...

みんなの精神年齢を測定できる、メンタル年齢チェッカーで秘められた年齢がズバリわかっちゃう!かわいいあの子も実は精神年齢オバサンということも…合コンや話のネタに一度チャレンジしてみよう

メル友募集 said...

最近仕事ばかりで毎日退屈してます。そろそろ恋人欲しいです☆もう夏だし海とか行きたいな♪ k.c.0720@docomo.ne.jp 連絡待ってるよ☆

家出 said...

最近TVや雑誌で紹介されている家出掲示板では、全国各地のネットカフェ等を泊り歩いている家出娘のメッセージが多数書き込みされています。彼女たちはお金がないので掲示板で知り合った男性の家にでもすぐに泊まりに行くようです。あなたも書き込みに返事を返してみませんか