Sunday, December 8, 2013

How should we approach religion?

By guest blogger, Natalie.

We have viewed many different views on religion in the course.  Dawkins made it clear that he believes that faith is the greatest vice, so I suppose he would advocate that religion be abandoned altogether.  Gould offered his solution of non-overlapping magisteria, which I believe a person can respect as an approach without respecting religion at all.  Still, others take any seemingly contradictory claims and explain them away as being apparently contradictory, but not contradictory in reality because of some, often long and complicated, explanation. 

It’s clear that many people are convinced that religion is ridiculous and has no place in a rational world.  As the course ends, what we have covered this semester shows that many religious claims seem unreasonable.  However, at the same time, proving that they are all logically impossible seems as difficult as proving that they are true. 

The question I would like to pose here is:  What is the solution?  How should we approach religion?  I think most answers will build on one of these options: 

1.      Do away with religion.
2.      Reconcile religion with logic/reason/science (though not necessarily accepting religion as true, but only as possible since it has yet to be proven false)
3.      Say some religious concepts are “sui generous”, meaning beyond our understanding, and admit that logic may not be applicable.

Option 1 seems unlikely given the persistence of religion through history.  Option 2 is what Gould attempted to do with NOMA, but this has been met with opposition.  Option 3 may be a copout, and when it is made people pose the “what can we know then?” objection (I’m not yet convinced that it should be discounted so easily.  This slippery slope claim appears to be fearful posturing because people find option 3 incredibly unsatisfying.  Option 3 is not a conclusive answer to the question, but rather, it is an admission that people don’t have the capacity to answer the question.)  Are there 4th, 5th, 6th, and/or more options on which an answer can be built that I haven’t thought of?  What is your answer?  How should we approach religion? 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Are Religious People Happier?

From guest blogger, Andrea.

I found this short article on Huffington Post about religion and happiness. The author analyses the claims “Religious people are happier people” and “Religion protects people from depression”. But a 2003 meta 
analysis doesn’t find a strong correlation between happy people and those belonging to a religion vs those that do not.

When comparing religious people of different countries, in the US it was found more religious people are slightly happier, and in the Netherlands and Denmark there was no association between religiousness and happiness. Why is that? A possible explanation is “Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful”

Another study in 2010 showed that the least religious countries were actually the happiest. The study found it was more because of government security and secure standard of living.
The principal source of European happiness is also the main reason for their unprecedented level of atheism. As detailed in an earlier post, when countries become more affluent, and their people acquire greater material security, their religious temperature nose dives.
What do you guys think about this? Or happiness and religion altogether? Should a religion focus on making followers happy and less stressed? If that’s the case then, is it a benefit or detriment for preachers to preach down from the pulpit about all the sin in the world, and death, and eternal suffering of unrepentant sinners and how God unleashes fury against the world, etc?

The Existence of Souls and Evolution

From guest blogger, Caitlin.

I have a lot of difficulty understanding how souls could exist. I read an excerpt from a book while working on my paper that critiqued a few arguments against the existence of souls and then went on to explain why these arguments don’t work. They eventually claimed that the existence of souls is “logically possible” but they do not believe that they exist. I understand how if you believe in God or some kind of higher being you could believe in souls, but if you don’t I find it incredibly difficult to support the existence of souls. I am using the definition of souls as nonphysical entities that are not locatable, which are capable of consciousness.  If you don’t believe in God or anything along the lines of heaven what happens to your soul when you die? Once you die your soul can’t just leave your body and float away because by definition souls are immaterial and unlocatable. If you believe in a higher power you can escape many problems with souls by saying simply “it just is” or “God just made it that way” and be done with it. But that isn’t good enough for me.    
I’ve been trying to figure out if souls could be a result from natural evolution. Perhaps we evolved to have souls for survival. If this is a possibility then it also could be a possibility that souls are inherited, but I find a lot of problems with this too. If our essence is somehow inscribed in our genes then how could we ever be responsible for our actions? We can’t change our genetics, I can’t will myself to grow a few inches so it doesn’t make sense that I could will my soul to be good if it is bad. This inherently seems wrong. People should be held responsible for their actions, we are capable of reason and figuring out what is morally right and acting accordingly, but if our essence is genetic then we can’t possibly be held responsible for our actions just like how we can’t be blamed for our history of heart disease or freckles.

The more I think about the concept of souls the more I find that I really don’t agree with the claim that souls are “logically possible”, especially when you take a higher power out of the equation.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology and Religious Exclusivism

From guest blogger, Zach.

It seems to me that Plantinga's “Reformed Epistemology,” especially when combined with his views on exclusivity, leaves something to be desired.  Admittedly, the papers we read in class should be taken as a broad painting of Plantinga's picture.  But, I believe (ha!) a more specific discussion must be had before we can consider Plantiga's view to be plausible.  Namely, we need a definition or explanation of what counts as a “religious experience” that one might use to to ground a properly basic belief.

I think the discussion of religious exclusivity highlights this need quite clearly.  Without a concrete notion of what might constitute a religious experience worth of causing a properly basic belief, it seems  that many sorts of potential experiences could cause basic beliefs that are mutually exclusive.  For example, if the personal happiness gained from performing traditional religious practices (e.g. attending church, prayer, meditation, recitation of religious doctrine, etc.) can count as a sort of religious experience, many different, contradictory views seem to be justified (on Plantinga's account of justification); and if these views are justified, it seems folks holding any of the views should be (or could be) exclusivists about those differing, contradictory views.  For example, a basic Christian belief and a basic Jewish belief about whether or not Jesus is the son of God would be mutually exclusive, but could both be justified and held by religious exclusivists.  In this scenario, the believers on both sides see themselves as right, and the others as wrong,.  This doesn't help us understand anything, really, other than the fact that the believers on each side believe their respective beliefs.

My main problem, stated broadly, is that an epistemology that allows for many contradictory views to be justified seems to water down the term “justification,” and seems to drastically separate the ideas of knowledge (or, in this case, justified belief) and truth (i.e. the “fact of the matter,” if there is one).  This separation seems to be the opposite of what we generally want to approach in an epistemological theory, and seems like something we should avoid.

It seems plausible that with a specific definition of “religious experience,” we might be able to restrict the sorts of properly basic beliefs formed from such experiences, which might, in turn, eliminate the sorts of beliefs that might be mutually exclusive.

I know that my worry seems very broad, but, like Plantinga, I just wanted to point out a sort of general worry.  What do you guys think?  Do we need a definition of religious experience?  What would a definition of religious experience look like?  Would such a definition eliminate this general worry?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pojman and Perceptual Beliefs

From guest blogger, Rashad.

I wanted to revisit Pojman’s argument about belief. I have been trying to wrap my mind around it for a while, but cannot quite understand his definition of belief when considering Clifford’s Ethics of Belief. Pojman defines belief as “an involuntary assenting of the mind to a certain proposition.” He basically says that beliefs are forced upon us by the world. He provides two examples of perceptual beliefs: he sees the white paper he is writing on (1), and he hears music after someone has played it (2). Yes, I agree that these two cannot be denied, that yes they are forced and involuntary. However, what makes them forced and involuntary is the fact that they involve the senses of sight and sound.

What happens when a person sees something and believes it is one thing. Undoubtedly, the person is forced to believe something is there because he or she SEES it. What Pojman seems to disregard here is exactly what it is the person believes he or she is seeing given the context. My example to illustrate this will be from the Hindu story “Snake Mistaken for a Rope”: A man once walked down a road. Freezing in his tracks, he saw an object in the middle of the road that was long. Because the object was long, the man took the object to be a snake. In this situation, this man was forced to believe he saw something because of his sense of sight to SEE and the fact that an object was physically there. No one forced him to believe WHAT it is that he saw. This man chose to believe he saw a snake; the proposition of there being an object was forced while the proposition of that object being a snake was not forced. Here, we see Clifford’s ethics of belief in action. This man chose to believe given
insufficient evidence without “further investigation.” Because an objects looks like something, or has a quality of something you are familiar with does mean it is what you think it is. So why would you believe it is that thing without concrete evidence?! Overall, this man voluntarily believed the object was a snake.

Pojman does not consider such cases in his claim. To this extent, belief is volitional. Given my argument, how would others agree or disagree. Help me better understand Pojman given Clifford’s account and the example provided.