There but for the grace of…
She tells of a friend asking her where, in her worldview, moral law comes from:
“I don’t know,” I said. ”I’ve got bupkis.”
“Your best guess.”
“I haven’t got one.”
“You must have some idea.”
“I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
“Ok, ok, yes, I heard what I just said. Give me a second and let me decide if I believe it.”
It turns out I did.
I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth.
I started writing this as a critique of her reasoning, because I think it’s very, very weak. Since I’m a slow writer, though, it’s been several days and many others have beat me to it: here (read this one if you only read one) and here and here.
Instead, here’s a slew of (maybe obvious) reasons why I won’t be going the route of Leah:*
- Science. I don’t subscribe to the idea of non-overlapping magisteria. Our understanding and experience of the world is based 100% in the material, and the immaterial – our thoughts and values and abstract ideas – is always, always still fundamentally based in the material. Even if “material” means neurotransmitters. Religion’s dependence on the truly immaterial is suspicious; if I can’t at the very least expect to find it in a particle accelerator in Switzerland, I have to be skeptical that something exists at all.
- Logic. For there to have been an immaterial creator (already not making much sense), he would have had to have dreamed up the idea of matter before matter existed. Stop and think for a moment how mind-bogglingly impossible that is. Even worse, that matter would have then come from nothing – it would have been thought into existence by a brain that doesn’t itself exist. Remember this the next time you see someone internet-shrieking “But something can’t come from NOTHING!!!1!!”
- Miracles. As someone who spends hours every day in a lab, the idea of miracles bothers me immensely. If a virgin can give birth, if someone can die and come back to life days later, if someone can be healed by a wave of the hand, then we cannot reasonably expect the natural world to follow predictable laws.
- Biology. Was Jesus haploid? If not, what does God’s genome look like? How does God have a genome if he’s not a material being? Did Adam and Eve have really long telomeres or none at all? Once Eve ate the fruit, how did everything from cells to entire organisms suddenly change to accomodate death?
- Original sin. How was original sin passed on? It must have been through epigenetics or socialization. If it’s the former, cooool. Suppression of what made us sinless or activation of what made us sinful? Did God build in genes to increase our propensity for sin just in case? On a larger scale, the idea is simply reprehensible to me. This would be like you stealing a stick of gum and then, whoops. Your descendants have to suffer through war and famine and disease and large moths that accidentally get into the house. Because you stole a stick of gum.
- Love. I find it impossible to imagine someone who loves you infinitely who would let anything bad happen to you. Seriously. Yes, free will** and all that, but if I had the capacity to ensure a happy, healthy, safe existence for someone I loved, I would be a monster not to do it (even if one of their ancestors stole a stick of gum).
- Reason. Religion is not necessarily opposed to reason. But given the choice between blindly following a religion even when you disagree intellectually and trusting your own reason – which could lead you to draw
differentwrong conclusions – the former is preferred every single time.
- Priorities. Living in your nice suburban home with your middle-class comforts, you can count it as a prayer answered when your lost cat is found. What about the people for whom basic things like clean water would be a prayer answered? Is God really more worried about your cat than other people’s guinea worm and cholera?
This is hardly a comprehensive list. There’s the issue of results – if a particular religion is true, shouldn’t its members overall be better members of society? There’s the issue of specific social policies – gay parents are worse than no parents, a woman is worth less than her fetus, AIDS is better than condoms. There’s the issue of morality, which is so huge that I barely touched on it here. This isn’t a post to try to convert anyone, but to point out what I find to be some pretty major logical obstacles to religious belief. If you actually read all of that, here’s your relevant Mitchell and Webb sketch. You deserve it.
* Disclaimer: this is why I am not religious; others will, of course, have had different reasoning and come to different conclusions. I’m certainly not writing this in judgment of those who are religious; if you’re reading this right now, I probably think you’re a pretty fantastic person, I promise.
** Free will might be a discussion for another time once I’ve figured things out…
[Edited slightly for clarity.]