Saturday, 5 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Pseudoreligion

When science is done wrong, it's called pseudoscience. It's pseudoscience because it's theoretically or empirically unfounded and making scientific claims that don't sit within the body of knowledge that is collectively referred to as scientific knowledge. Now it's often said that like bad science, there is bad religion. That is religion done right is a good thing while religion gone wrong is the problem. That sounds reasonable, except by what standard does religion become a pseudoreligion? With science, there's the strength of the claim proportional to the evidence and the commitment to methodology. I really don't see a parallel when it comes to religion going wrong.

The only way it makes sense to me is that religion gone wrong is akin to describing the atomic bomb as science gone wrong. The science is just fine, it's just the negative consequences that came from its use.


Richard T said...

I would assume it is a religion that strays from the one true way of doing that religion. The religious texts are generally clear enough on what to do. Of course, working out that one true way is way super hard generally.

Kel said...

But what is the "one true way of doing religion"? This is where my problem lies. By what standard can someone differentiate between Roman Catholicism and Sufism? What about Hinduism or Scientology? Or even within a particular denomination, what standard could we say by which someone has the wrong religion?

In other words, what would an impartial observer be able to do to differentiate between the claims of a young earth creationist and a pantheist?

Richard T said...

I guess I wasn't clear. I should have stated practicing a specific religion. So it would more be like which denomination of Christianity is correct rather than whether Islam or Christianity are correct. You could take Christianity to be say geology and Islam to be physics. There are correct and incorrect ways to practice both.

So to determine whether someone is practicing a religion correctly you would have to have lots of fun with the relevant holy book. That would pretty much lead you to get heavily in to theology.

So to me the question would be who is correct, a young earth creationist or a Christian who accepts evolution and the timeframes that entails. Answering that question is really, really hard though.

So to me, Christianity gone wrong is for instance legalism which is basically saying you need to follow a set of rules to get saved rather being saved by faith. Practically it might be say bombing an abortion clinic.

Kel said...

But isn't Christianity and Islam more like String Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity than physics and geology, i.e. that they're two different ways to come up with the same solution? It would be a bit weird to find them complementary "ways of knowing" when quite clearly they're both attempts at expressing the same thing.

The point about the YEC vs TE was something out of a documentary called Did Darwin Kill God? Where the theologian after talking to a YECer gave the rebuttal "That's not Christianity as I understand it". Likewise, I've heard YECs time and time again refer to people who don't take a literal interpretation as "Cafeteria Christians", and arguing that once you lose a literal interpretation where do you stop? Both are claiming the other does Christianity wrong, but how could an impartial observer determine that?

I get your point about that there are certain things that OUGHT to be unambiguous, and in the context of the religion that there ought to be ways of obtaining the right answer. Someone interpreting Christianity as salvation through cookies is probably very wrong. But isn't using the religion itself as the unit of selection philosophically hindering the religion's claims at reality? If there's a right way to practice Christianity and a right way to practice Islam, how do we determine which is right beyond the confines of the construct? Both are making truth claims about reality after all. The right way to practice Christianity might only be right by its own standard, yet a different way of practising Christianity might be the right way in the context of reality. Perhaps the Mormons really were right, even though they've absolutely bastardised Christianity.

Richard T said...

The assumption in Christianity (and quite a lot of religions) is that they are right but the world is somewhat broken such that people can't follow all the "rules" perfectly. There are a few weakish arguments that could be made but in the end you can't really determine what is right beyond the confines of the construct. Moreso in the arguments such as YEC vs TE. In Christianity, things should be self-evident from creation but I am not sure how far this goes. It at least says that it should be obvious from creation that God exists.

The right way to practice Christianity is also determined differently from say Islam (outside of there being complete differences in what is done). Different weights are put to religious text or leaders or tradition or revelation. In the end, the right way to practice Christianity is determined by God and he reveals how to do that through a number of sources but primarily the bible. To know how a Christian is doing his religion properly would involve a solid amount of study in theology and even then your (and anyones) innate biases mean you may come to a different conclusion to someone else.