Does religion answer factual questions?

In a recent article in The Guardian ‘s “Comment is free” opinion section, Keith Ward defends religion as a source of factual knowledge that eludes science. Thus, Ward rejects (as do I) the principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) advocated by Stephen Jay Gould – according to which, religion and science, properly construed, have separate epistemic territories or areas of authority. According to this view, religion and science investigate different sorts of questions and so can never give conflicting answers unless they stray from their legitimate roles.

Instead, Ward argues that, “Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact – Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims.” I agree with this – various religions do make factual claims that could be just plain false: false in an empirical sense.

It could be – I think it most likely is – just plain empirically false that someone approximately meeting the traditional description of Jesus of Nazareth was executed by crucifixion, then rose from the dead, approximately 1980 years ago. However, it does seem like a factual issue, and one about which Christians have traditionally made claims. To that extent, Ward and I are in agreement. The claims made by religion, or at least some of them, can be seen as answers to factual questions.

Ward also thinks religion can make such statements as, “the cosmos exists because it is created by a God with a purpose”. This, he suggests, is a factual claim that science cannot make but religion can (apparently with some confidence).

I don’t want to dispute the meta-claim that there is at least some sense in which “the cosmos exists because it is created by a God with a purpose” is a factual claim. I suppose the claim may turn out to be incoherent … if, for example, the definition of “a God” turns out to be incoherent. On the face of it, however, the claim looks as if it is a factual one. It seems that the nature of reality, or something about it, could make the claim either true or false.

It’s also clear, however, that the kinds of claims I’ve discussed so far are (sometimes) intended in a metaphorical or otherwise non-literal sense. A particular religious person who claims that Jesus rose from the dead might, for instance, mean something like, “Jesus provides us with an inspiring example of personal transformation through self-sacrifice.” I take it, though, that the traditional Christian idea of the resurrection is quite literal. Most Christians think something to the effect that the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth literally recovered and resuscitated, coming back to life after the functioning of organs and organ systems had irreversibly ceased (as judged by our usual understanding of what is irreversible).

I am what is now known as a non-accommodationist: i.e., I think that it is, at best, misleading to claim that religion and science are “compatible”. There may be some kinds of logical consistency between certain religious claims and certain scientific claims, but, overall, the relationships between religion and the various forms of scientific inquiry into facts about the world are such as to create worries about religion’s truth claims. So it appears to me. I don’t, however, take the position that religion makes no factual claims at all, or that it is somehow illegitimate for it to do so. That would actually make religion and science oddly compatible. It would be a version Gould’s NOMA principle.

Ward’s conception of religion does not especially trouble me. In fact, I accept that religions have often acted as encyclopedic explanatory systems, making many kinds of claims about the world (and other, supernatural, worlds), including claims that look to be, in some reasonably familiar sense, factual. It’s when Ward talks about the limits of science that I think he goes badly wrong. He appears to misunderstand the relationship between the sciences and the humanities, as well as their joint relationship to religion.

That, however, is a topic for another post.

Leave a comment ?

35 Comments.

  1. Hello. First, thank you for the excellent blog that i really enjoy reading. To get to the point. If we take Kant to his word, that “a priori” objects are cognitions which only exist outside the scope of empirical knowledge (akin perhaps to Plato’s “form” but not quite) a fact which make the assimilation of sensual experience into a logic and a set of axioms understandable to us, then one sees the necessity to 1.embark on a critique of pure reason, as Kant did, and 2. Place the “meaning” of whatever a deity might or might not do outside the human-specific cognitive system.
    Part of the reason we cannot accurately define God or create anything resembling of a proof or disproof of Providence is our inherent inability to take a critical position outside our given cognitive system. To that effect, one can not truly be certain about the similarity between the status of religion as a God-given moral/practical/ceremonial/etc. system, and religion as a understood by human minds/brains. Furthermore, the way we take science for granted without yet understanding the fundamental principles that make the universe work, makes it ontologically similar to a belief system not unlike religion.

  2. The fact that so many religions make so many “factual” claims on so many varied subjects should automatically call those claims into question. Take the creation for example. Did a diety named Jehovah create everything from nothing, did Marduk split the body of Tiamat in two, or did Odin create Earth from the corpse of Ymir? Surely, not all of these (nor the hundreds of other creation myths) can be true at the same time. After all, we are all living on the same planet. However, many religions will claim that their “truth” is the only truth, regardless even of what science states (some people still believe that thunder is the rumblings of an angry god).

    However, the same behavior is seen in the scientific community as well. Going back to creation, the Big Bang is taught in schools as fact when it is only the most commonly accepted hypothesis. In fact, the scientific community is populated with as many theories as to how the universe began as there are religious creation myths. Each one is touted as being the “truth.”

    The difference between the two becomes this: the “factual” claims of science must be reinforced by hard evidence (formulas, samples, experiments, etc.) while religion claims to teach “fact” simply because it is written in a book.

  3. To speak of religion as a ‘source’ of factual knowledge is simply muddled thinking that we should have been rid of at least since Kant. The claim that religion, in a wide sense of the term makes factual claims is a different matter: of course religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism – do that, but then they are not religion but history, astronomy, physics, etc., good or bad, more often bad of course than good.

  4. Hard evidence is near impossible. For example, in physics there’s been lots of head-scratching trying to account for time – or in other words, frame it as a scientifically (and logically) accurate proof, or at the very least description. The reason is this: one can never measure time directly. One can only deduct the passing of time through the motion of objects. Now it might have been almost fine if “motion” was a constant, but ,as long speculated, all energy is relative and thus variable.
    The difference between “science” and “religion” cannot lie in their ability to deal with factual truth, since they the latter might be unattainable. Instead, one should argue that the main difference is ins “authorship” and “methodology” of knowledge acquisition.

  5. Religion seems less like a magesteria and more like a travelling minstrel show. It declares ownership over some epistemic space, exploits whatever resources are useful to it, and moves elsewhere once it has annoyed all the locals.

  6. It does seem worth considering whether or not there are viable epistemic avenues that do not fall under the auspices of science. Plato, for example, had souls gaining knowledge by communing with the forms. That does not seem fundamentally stranger than, for example, knowledge via divine revelation.

  7. It seems helpful to provide a link to the CIF article in question. The problems with it are fairly self-evident.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/oct/31/religion-factual-questions-science

    (Btw It is itself a response to an earlier article by Julian Baggini that is easily located from there.)

  8. “Keith Ward defends religion as a source of factual knowledge that eludes science.” (R. Blackford)

    What alleged sources of knowledge (and justification) do elude science?
    The only ones I can think of are extrasensory perceptions, mystical apprehensions or intuitions (different from natural rational intuitions), and divine revelations.
    The big problem with these is that there is no objective reason to believe in their reality and veridicality!

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    The evidence seems overwhelming that our species has evolved an innate need (much stronger with some individuals than with others) which had survival value as we struggled with a world which contained much we couldn’t understand. Technology has evolved and knowledge increased at rates way ahead of anything which could be matched by slow evolutionary changes in our species, and we’re still carrying “religious” pre-dispositions which can lead us to be unable to make distinctions between knowing and believing.

    In the late 40s and 50s I observed Marxists (many of whom were extremely bright) who were incapable of seeing that Marx’s non-theistic religious claims about “scientific” socialism weren’t scientific and were in fact blind leaps of faith not dissimilar from evangelical WASPS at my school. It was, and still is, a painful process to analyse whatever our current belief systems are, which is why, for example, many of the former “true believer” Marxists I knew are now born again equally confident “Greenies”. They needed a cause, they still need a cause; but while their cause of the day may have changed, the basis on which it’s accepted is unchanged. They make just as many statements of “fact” about the world now as they did then, but analysis of the logical arguments by which they reach their “factual” assertions is as diligently avoided as ever. Surely that’s an important feature which separates science from religion?

  10. Religion is surely a metphysical proposition at base, and therefore it establishes and ontology in which it defines its own facts, much as realism defines the facts that comprise the phenomenal world.

    You cant say that any metaphysic answers factual questions, and indeed to say ‘factual questions’ is in itself poor expression. Facts are ipso facto (sic!) not open to question: they are or they are not, true. End of.

    I suppose what I am saying is that I cannot understand what this article purports to be about, since it uses ‘facts’ ‘religion’ and ‘question’ in ways I cannot find properly and clearly defined.

  11. I indeed agree with the fact that the two cannot be compared due to the completely different angles they take on viewing phenomena within their respective areas.lt is due to this that religion is fundamentally meant to be ‘accepted’ and not essentially ‘understood’ as science may put it.

  12. I think you’re correct that religionists assert things which they believe can be true or false. They are claiming that there are religious “truths.” But, while they believe that their claims admit of truth or falsity, I’d argue that they are mistaken.

    Religious utterances are devotional in nature, in the way that verdicts are judicial utterances or promises are contractual ones, etc. They don’t admit of truth or falsity, no matter what the utterer may believe to the contrary. So when someone claims that Jesus loves them or that God created the universe or any other religious utterance in the indicative voice, it is in fact a devotional act, a nod to the mysteries, but really no more.

  13. Norman Hanscombe

    Surely, Miguel, what distinguishes religions (be they theistic or their non-theistic variations such as Marxism) is that whether it be consciously or sub-consciously, their defenders avoid subjecting whatever “truths” true believers happen to accept as gospel to the sorts of analysis which form the basis of the scientific method? It makes little sense to talk about them being merely “devotional” (whatever that means) when the person making the statements believes the claims to be true. Having been an indifferent, but interested, agnostic for more than six decades, I’ve come to accept that our species is highly prone to seeking out beliefs — and in the uncertain storm of life almost any belief will do —which helps provide an illusion of purpose. And once a “true belief” is taken on board by the devotee, it can be accepted happily as a “fact”, without worrying about such niceties as being subjected to the analysis one applies to statements coming from non-believers. That’s a distinguishing feature of all religions.

    The current “debate” on greenhouse gas effects is a case in point, where various sects on every side fulminate against the faults in their opponents’ positions, but make little effort to examine their own respective premisses because they “know” they are right in the same manner evangelical god-botherers “know” they are right. Interestingly, many one-time Marxists and lapsed Christians have sought sanctuary at the altar of Green (sic) politics. These enthusiastic apostates are at home with their new faith because like their former belief systems, it’s not necessary to subject their current religious beliefs to the standards proscribed by scientific method. I guess evolution hasn’t been a resounding intellectual success?

  14. Hi Miguel

    “Judicial utterances” aren’t true or false no, but they can be warranted or unwarranted. The verdicts can be wrong, and if they are wrong (unless the Judge has erred in law) they will be wrong because of facts, some of which are open to broadly ‘scientific’ investigation in principle.”Promises” cannot be true or false either, only kept or broken, if the other party breaks a promise (without exceptional reason) then your beliefs about the promise-maker were unwarranted, you were wrong on a matter of fact. So I think judicial utterances and promises, whilst not truth-apt, are not completely separated from truth and falsehood in the way I think you mean to say (as Wittgenstein does – I think) that all religious utterances are..

    I can certainly agree with the idea that not all religious utterances are true or false (some are petitionary not descriptive). But the problem with your Wittgensteinian interpretation is that it does seem to depend on the idea that virtually all ‘religious believers’ (and that is what they think they are – believers in something) are thoroughly mistaken about what they think they are doing and saying. In a way this seems a harsher judgement than saying they are wrong on matters of fact. And I think you need an error-theory to explain why all these people believe they are believing things when, in fact, they are not. Of course your own ‘religiousty’ may well be exactly of this nature. But clearly the vast majority of religous people don’t view their religious life that way. They think there is a Jesus (if they are Christian) and a Creator God to make devotional acts to or for.

    To be honest I find no more warrant for the claim that theistic utterances are all non-cognitive than I do for the claim that the atheists are all confused when they think that their atheistic utterances are truth-apt.

  15. (Actually if the Judge has erred in law he will have been wrong on a matter of fact too unless he was willfully trying to break it).

  16. Jim, you write that “the problem with your Wittgensteinian interpretation is that it does seem to depend on the idea that virtually all ‘religious believers’ . . . are thoroughly mistaken about what they think they are doing and saying.”

    That is in fact my position. Adherents think they are making assertions which admit of truth or falsity; but the religious import of those assertions comes down to making and believing them. That is to say that they are devotional acts, the religious life being the perfoming of such acts (and of course observing the ethical precepts religion can also prescribe).

    So I like your reminder of the distinction between warranted and unwarranted verdicts – verdicts should be based in fact. But I don’t find that the distinction washes over into religious belief. It is neither warranted or unwarranted because it doesn’t depend on fact. It seems neither more warranted, nor true or false, to say that all wisdom comes from God, or that it comes from Ganesh. It’s the act of belief (and the correlated acts of saying) that constitute the religious life, in spite of what believers believe to the contrary.

  17. Hi Miguel.

    Your position is not without some pedigree and I don’t doubt your sincerity. I would agree that many religious utternaces are speech-acts, whose real importance is do with ceremony and expressions of awe at ‘mystery’ etc rather than making factual claims. BNu still..

    “Adherents think they are making assertions which admit of truth or falsity; but the religious import of those assertions comes down to making and believing them.”

    If an ‘assertion’ does not admit of truth or falsity it is not an assertion, and part of the import can’t be ‘believing them’ because there’s nothing to believe. The ‘ethical precepts religion can also prescribe’ can be understood as imperatives – and therefore not truth-apt – but such imperatives, like judical utterances, can, it seems to me, be warranted or unwarranted. .

    The claim that virtually all religious folk are thoroughly misguided about the ‘import’ of what they think they are saying seems to require strong argument rather than bold assertion. That said, I’m not sure why your own utterances wouldn’t fall into the category of non-truth apt religious utterances themselves…

  18. Myron asked:

    “What alleged sources of knowledge (and justification) do elude science?”

    Science never makes claims about how much a theory ought to be believed — in other words, probability in its old-fashioned sense. Such questions are vital for the practice of science, as scientists have to decide which theories to adopt and which to reject. But they are not answered by science, as they occur at a “meta-scientific” level. In that sense, they “elude” science.

    Of course science makes statistical claims, but these are quite different from claims of epistemic probability (a fact tragically lost when people say things like “scientists are 90% certain that…”).

  19. Of course factual claims can be made under the umbrella of “religion”. Some of the less controversial (and non-supernatural) of such claims may well be justified by the evidence and/or true. I think the real issue is whether religions have any special access to the truth, access that isn’t equally available to a well-informed secular thinker. And as a naturalist I say the answer is no. To the extent that religious believers are able to learn the truth, they are able to do so only by the same means as anyone else: rational inference from evidence.

    Many of the ways of learning that religious believers appeal to are not fundamentally different from secular ways. They are just lacking in rational adequacy. For example, an appeal to scripture is a form of appeal to evidence. The problem is just that the believer is not giving adequate consideration to whether the source is a reliable one.

    The main alternative to an appeal to evidence is an appeal to “faith”. Sometimes a believer will state explicitly that his belief is based on faith and not evidence (or not reason). But even then one might argue that the speaker is trusting the evidence of his feelings or intuition. So I’m not sure there’s a good line to be drawn even here.

    Perhaps the best thing to say is that there is no special religious way of forming beliefs. In broad terms, misguided religious belief is based on much the same sort of unreliable cognitive processes as other misguided beliefs.

  20. Richard Wein wrote:

    “there is no special religious way of forming beliefs”

    I would suggest that there is. I hypothesize that we humans need ritual and/or ceremonies for social cohesion (as in marriage, official namings, family loyalty, etc.). Most religious behavior consists of “acting out” those rituals/ceremonies. But humans — ever the interpreter of content and meaning — have to “make as much sense” of our own behavior as we can. Result: beliefs, or an attenuated version of beliefs, which are mere rationalizations of the behavior. We use he word ‘faith’ to acknowledge the unusual way these sort-of beliefs are acquired.

  21. Norman Hanscombe

    A: Miguel,rather than relying on authority, be it the Pope, Wittgenstein, or anyone else, you might consider what happens with ‘religious’ stances in general. Deists, Greens, et al, all make assumptions about the world which may or may not be true; but what distinguishes them as a variety of “thinking” is that they’re uncomfortable with the notion of analysing those core assumptions in ways that scientific methods require. Surely that’s the key difference between science and religion? Do you really gain anything by asserting “Adherents (falsely) think they are making assertions which admit of truth or falsity;” And keep in mind that the ‘thinking’ of non-theistic ‘true believers’ parallels that of their deistic mirror images.
    Ditto your diversion into “warranted and unwarranted verdicts”. Verdicts are BASED on analysing assumed “facts” (sic) which may or may not be true.

    B: Jim,religious ethical positions are distinguished by the fact that their ‘justification’ lies in them having been received from a deity. Other ethical positions, however, when taken back to their ultimate bases also lack a solid starting point. Very few who pontificate on non-religious ethical positions ever notice they have (usually sub-consciously) accepted unstated premisses which have no more basis than those accepted by the religious leaders they criticise. Ultimately the varied ethical beliefs have been derived from psychological propensities homo sapiens evolved over millions of years. It’s an area most professional philosophers avoid, because it threatens a large slice of their empire, an empire already weakened by declining student numbers as ‘university’ entrance standards are lowered to help swell numbers, and the ability to think has become less important than the ability to believe — in a non-theistic manner, of course.

    C: Jeremy, you’ve answered Myron well.

    D: Richard, your emphasis on the distinctive role of faith as a starting point is well made. Something we need to consider, however, is the increasing tendency of non-theists who mock the religious, then proceed to grant a not altogether dissimilar sacred status to their own starting points. Cognitive dissonance may have been a valuable evolved human trait when we first roamed the primaeval savannah, but it now wreaks havoc with our “thinking”, regardless of whether we be true believers in theistic or non-theistic visions of our world.

  22. “Perhaps the best thing to say is that there is no special religious way of forming beliefs. In broad terms, misguided religious belief is based on much the same sort of unreliable cognitive processes as other misguided beliefs.”

    I agree that for the most of what we believe in, our opinions are malformed, i.e. we cannot quite provide enough proof for anything. It seems dubious to hold a view in which the rationalization of an inherent need for rituals, if there is one, is linked at a fundamental level with belief formation, as Jeremy seems to be saying. My reason for doubting his position, which boarders on psychoanalysis, is the disconnect between “acting out” and “believing” there is a higher purpose for the former.

    Norman, not all religious ethical positions are justified by their source. In some religions, many ethical positions are explained in relation to human nature. For example the prohibition to eat certain animals or drink certain drinks springs from the notion that they are “bad” for the mind and body.

  23. Norman Hanscombe

    ADL, et al, what’s gained by making the distinction between religious faith in a belief (theistic or non-theistic) and the application of scientific method to building theories seem un-necessarily complicated? What could be more (to use your term) “special” than simply adopting the existence of a deity and his ‘sacred’ texts as something beyond the need of the sort of evidence normally associated with reaching conclusions?

    You say, “not all religious ethical positions are justified by their source. In some religions, many ethical positions are explained in relation to human nature.” I’d be interested to hear your BEST example of this from any major religion with which readers would be familiar? Your proposed example that “the prohibition to eat certain animals” certainly comes in its most well-known examples from the dietary edicts of the believers’ god, and while perfectly sound reasons for some of these dietary quirks COULD be provided, such arguments were NOT relevant to why believers bestowed these practices “ethical” import. Similarly the idea of marriage MIGHT be supported for its value in assisting social cohesion, but that was NOT what the major religions relied upon when proclaiming it was God’s instructions re how we should act.

    Still, in such a complex world as ours, belief in something, anything — whether it be ethically or non-theistically inspired — seems to be comforting?

  24. In case anyone is interested, I wrote a blog post about this sort of thing recently (modestly entitled “Religion explained”): http://www.jeremybowman.com/wordpress/?p=419

  25. Norman, I agree with you that questions of diet and marriage were long understood as being direct orders from God, and as such one would need go no further – when arguing for the ethical values of adopting such practices – than simply state his or her belief in the provenance thus sanctity of the orders. However, religion isn’t that simple, but in fact a multi-layered ideology that is hard to penetrate. For example the Quran is filled with text implicitly and explicitly stating that certain moral issues, such as marriage and dietary restrictions, spring for God’s better understanding of the human body and spirit. While the position of authority isn’t changed here, in the sense that there is no obvious diminishing of the need to do something because God wants his believer to, there is an added sense of morality based on consequences (to the human soul or body).
    Certainly, I cannot entirely disagree with you when talking about the central position authority has in convincing believer to follow certain rules. But that is not the whole story; there are many instances where the main argument is more utilitarian that you might admit. Take for example charity, which is encouraged in all major religions, and sometimes even made compulsory(like in islam’s notion of “zakat”).

    And yes belief in anything seems to be comforting, but does that make one who says she believes in something and follows the rituals for the comfort, a true believer?

    Jeremy, thank you for the link. I have witnessed many instances where the inversion (behavior to belief) seems to be true. However that doesn’t quite account for the more agnostic, or those who believe in God, or Universe, without necessarily believing in religion (or follow rituals). Even more interesting are the many atheists who celebrate (or at the very least “enjoy”) Christmas without suddenly leaning towards belief. Some even go to mass for the sake of being alongside certain members of the family. I call it, in their case, theater, but the fact remains that it can be shown that social ritual does not necessarily lead to belief, nor does the lack of ritual (and perhaps group identity) necessitates the lack of belief.

    Perhaps claiming to believe in something for social inclusion should be called hypocrisy. And yes, philosophers (which i am not, I’m an architect) should lose the habit of thinking inside the box constructed by their social circle.

  26. Hi Adl,

    You wrote:

    “that doesn’t quite account for the more agnostic, or those who believe in God, or Universe, without necessarily believing in religion (or follow rituals)”

    I would argue that ritualistic behaviour – shaking hands, recycling, “making an oath” before giving evidence in court, attending mass at Christmas– is much commoner than we think. And while some of these rituals and observances needn’t be interpreted as expressions of out-and-out beliefs, it’s matter of degree. Perhaps we could use the term ‘subdoxastic states’ for states that are almost – but not quite – explicit beliefs.

    So while I agree that not all ritualistic behaviour “necessarily” leads to belief, I think the boundary between belief and non-belief is fuzzy. (It looks less fuzzy than it really is if we think of belief as a conscious occurrence or sort of experience.) Some of the beliefs associated with ritual are pretty indeterminate. People tend to believe in a vague “oneness” between people, in “spirituality”, in “avoiding materialism”, all that sort of thing, as part of a human sense of community.

    I would also argue that religious-type beliefs linger on in that more or less indeterminate form among people who profess not to have any religion at all. For example, by supposing there are “finely-tuned ecosystems” and in trying to preserve them, nearly everyone assumes “there is a way the world was meant to be” that humans should work together to maintain. In other words, “God designed the world and we must respect His design”.

    Or again, by supposing that the Earth’s human population is growing “out of control” and is bound to hit a “wall” when it reaches “carrying capacity”, nearly everyone assumes that the population is not constrained by the food supply. (As it is with most other animals.) Perhaps they vaguely believe that “not much time has elapsed” until now for the human population to grow. In other words, “the Great Flood wasn’t all that long ago”.

    Those last two widespread assumptions are badly inconsistent with evolutionary theory. They have everything to do with human togetherness, and little to do with the way the world actually is. But as assumptions, they count as beliefs – I count them as false religious beliefs although of course the people who have them deny that.

  27. Norman:
    “..increasing tendency of non-theists who mock the religious, then proceed to grant a not altogether dissimilar sacred status to their own starting points. Cognitive dissonance may have been a valuable evolved human trait when we first roamed the primaeval savannah, but it now wreaks havoc with our “thinking”, regardless of whether we be true believers in theistic or non-theistic visions of our world.”

    Now there is a truth in itself!

  28. Miguel,

    It occurs to me that your account of the religious life might be understood prescriptively, as an account of what religion should be. Alternatively your position may be that when factual claims are made by the religious, they have stopped making religious utterances and slipped into something else. Or that the ‘religious’ component is quite separate from the truth-apt claims often intended or assumed. I’m inclined to think that religious utterances and practices are usually thoroughly belief-laden. But it seems they need not be, or need not be so understood, we may be talking past each other. In any casa, a religious life of the nature you envisage is perfectly compatible with any assertions a reasonable atheist may make. It just seems it may be better described without reference to ‘assertion’ or ‘belief’ And in so far as you may have adopted a ‘religious attitude’ of that nature yourself I wouldn’t want to been seen to belittle it. (Not that I would want to belittle the value some find in apparently ‘belief-laden’ religion either).

  29. Jim, you’ve made some nice distinctions in your last post – I may have slipped into a prescriptive mode here, or be taking up an a priori position on what religion is. But I do concede that religion is, as you’ve argued, also a body of beliefs that are bearers of truth value (generally a value of F, I’d say.)

    A parallel case is fiction, in which we can make assertions about a character that are either T or F within the context of the tale. It would be false to say that Dombey or Mr. Tolkinghorse lived in Peoria, IL (for example); just as it would be false to say that they were actual persons living or dead. The same rules apply to God, since he is (at least) a literary figure as well.

    Similarly religious claims can be true or false – claims such as “Jesus was the Son of God.” Such utterances have an “asseverative” force, as well as a “devotional” force. I was focused on the latter at the expene of the former, mostly as way to make sense of something that otherwise makes no sense to me (and I append that terminal qualifier with all respect to religionists.)

    I’d like to be able to say that “when factual claims are made by the religious, they have stopped making religious utterances and slipped into something else.” Well, they have slipped into something else, but they’re still making factual claims, saying what thy believe to be the case.

  30. Jim, you’ve made some nice distinctions in your last post – I may have slipped into a prescriptive mode here, or be taking up an a priori position on what religion is. But I do concede that religion is, as you’ve argued, also a body of beliefs that are bearers of truth value (generally a value of F, I’d say.)

    A parallel case is fiction, in which we can make assertions about a character that are either T or F within the context of the tale. It would be false to say that Dombey or Mr. Tolkinghorse lived in Peoria, IL (for example); just as it would be false to say that they were actual persons living or dead. The same rules apply to God, since he is (at least) a literary figure as well.

    Similarly religious claims can be true or false – claims such as “Jesus was the Son of God.” Such utterances have an “asseverative” force, as well as a “devotional” force. I was focused on the latter at the expene of the former, mostly as way to make sense of something that otherwise makes no sense to me (and I append that terminal qualifier with all respect to religionists.)

  31. Jeremy,
    What I don’t like about those who are too keen on following tradition is what seems to be an inability on their part to recognize that all traditions were invented arbitrarily by someone, and through their invention they violated previous traditions. Now, what I don’t like about any behaviorist account of culture is that it doesn’t seem to give enough room for ideas, ideologies, cultures and traditions to evolve at the same pace that we have witnessed in the last century or two. The Modern phenomenon wouldn’t have been possible, I think, if belief formation was that influenced by societal conditioning. Arendt perhaps had some point when dividing human activity into labour, work and action. Even today there’s a perception that we are capable of both blindly following someone/something and being extremely critical or creative. Some modern philosophers, especially those interested in craftsmanship and building, often use the term techne-poesis (somewhat similar to Arendt’s “work”), where technique – which is copied and relayed – is implemented to create poesis – which is a highly creative endeavor.
    Furthermore, there’s a certain disconnect between intimacy of a belief and the theatricality of ritual. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t have any need for words such as hypocrisy, duplicitarism, dishonesty, etc. The fact that these words have such strong connotations could mean the disconnection is strong.

  32. Talking Philosophy | Is science so limited? - pingback on November 17, 2011 at 8:26 am
  33. Talking Philosophy | Keith Ward & The Jerry Coyne Challenge - pingback on November 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm
  34. Science is part of a part in life . Humanities is full of the the whole of life.What our ancestors instinctively experienced in life have been embedded in mores and codes of culture and traditions in religions . An example is Indigo a herb detox body flesh and scavenges the dead blood red cells in human body . When one is wearing Denim Jeans natural Indigo dyed on organic cotton day work wear he breaths 24,000 times approximately a day . Respiratory canal and vascular system is detoxed and scavenged . They used deep Indigo blue as cleaning and service color in all past civilizations. Blue skinned Krisha is Saviour of the world . Venom is morphine and strong light green /pale green in color. Indigo while dying comes green and pale green only before it is oxidized . Man made synthetic science can never tell us this whole.Only blue skinned Krishna tell us . Religion is whole of whole . Science is part of the part . Humanity is dangerously now dependent on this mix it with Lycra and Spandex to make it killer kind and using 85-thousand metric tons of this poison in global Denim industry. Science is part need be replaced with natural Indigo to the user and producer’s place and benifit and value to whole of humanity .

  35. RE: "Does religion answer factual questions?" - pingback on February 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

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