Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

Rational basis for debunking?

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Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#1  Postby stalidon » Feb 10, 2012 6:28 pm

I've been lately convinced that bracing for absolute truths might come from an authoritarian/absolutist worldview stemming from monotheism.

This comes from my own experience: I found myself having the project of finding an ultimate foundation, a 'rock' in reality that could not be doubted, from which to develop my (personal) epistemology. In the process I found two things: 1) I can't find it without assuming some axiom to be dogmatically non-disputable; and 2) the project itself came from a psychological trend I could only qualify as 'authoritarian': the desire to posses an absolute truth that no one could dispute, and thenceforth anyone I would engage in discourse would have to agree and accept my (logical) deductions from it.

This authoritarian trend and project would seem to have the aim of making everyone else 'see the light', making everyone agree to the 'obvious' truthfulness of what I think; ultimately: eliminate differences making everyone think exactly as I think. Which in my case, I'm happy to accept it might come from having trouble at accepting others as different, just as they are (one could hardly call the emotional reaction culminating in the utterance 'you are an idiot or an ignorant to think that' as 'tolerant'). This is hardly compatible with another psychological trend in me: that I think everyone's entitled to be different, that differences in ways of living, thinking and behaving are enriching rather than troublesome.

Hence, I've cataloged this approach as a remnant of religious thinking, and I'm now tending to adopt the view that no absolute truths exist. At least, when I endeavor to know the world as it is, I don't need to assume a priori that absolute truths exist, nor is it useful to engage in the search of them, or in the search for the 'ultimate Truth'; it is instead more reasonable to conceive epistemology as open ended.

So, now I'm wondering... what's the point of saying 'religion is false'? Why do I care? Where does the desire to do this come from?
Does it come from concern for others? Do I think they'd be happier if I debunked their myths? How do I know they aren't happy just as they are?
Or, does it come from concern for myself? Do I feel threatened by, for example, fundamentalism, in my lifetime?
Or, do I just think this is just a useful social function in the process of achieving some social consensus about reality?

We could say, for example, that Dawkins has the rationale for uttering this propositions by way of a necessary defense of his discipline: biology and science in general. But is this all he's doing? Does he always ground his actions through this rationale?

And I took Dawkins as a reference frame, because I think most of us that frequently expose our atheist worldview and view of religions might have even more trouble grounding our exposing such on rational grounds.

So, what do you think? How do you answer for yourself, in rational terms, the question 'why am I doing this debunking'?

Cheers! :cheers:
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#2  Postby Jeffersonian-marxist » Feb 10, 2012 7:08 pm

Neoplatonic ruminations fused with the metaphysical tales of a first century carpenter is where we get this idea, and obsession, of a fixed and unalterable truth. A good way to view these "problems," indeed all of philosophy, is like Rorty: pontifications on the intuitions of the Greeks. You would never had attempted to find some "solid ground" for your beliefs if you hadn't heard of that seventeenth century snail-eater. You don't need a good reason to criticize religion and its adherents, I do it because they annoy me. I don't need a rationalization.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#3  Postby cavarka9 » Feb 10, 2012 7:25 pm

As a person from physics background, I had to doubt the existence of god and supernatural, like it is so in science and found it to not be true.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#4  Postby Grimstad » Feb 10, 2012 7:32 pm

You lost me at "Truth is Relative".

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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#5  Postby stalidon » Feb 10, 2012 7:50 pm

Jeffersonian-marxist wrote:You would never had attempted to find some "solid ground" for your beliefs if you hadn't heard of that seventeenth century snail-eater.

Who?
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#6  Postby chairman bill » Feb 10, 2012 8:01 pm

I'm with Skolomowski -
The cosmos or the universe is a primordial ontological datum, while the 'world' is an epistemological construct, a form of our understanding.


There are absolute truths, we just don't necessarily know what they are
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#7  Postby andrewk » Feb 12, 2012 9:18 am

The key reasons for criticising religion, in my view, are ethical. For instance if Susie is a utilitarian and she believes some aspects of some religions cause misery, then she is ethically obliged to criticise those aspects, in order to try to reduce the harm done. If Bert is a Kantian deontologist who believes that some claims by some religious people are false, maybe even dishonest, Bert is ethically obliged to refute those claims.

Personally, I criticise religion when I see it used as a means to oppress or otherwise harm others. I particularly dislike when it is used to justify prejudice, violence or brainwashing and terrifying children. I don't think that justifies indiscriminate criticism of religion though. If an individual gets comfort from a particular religious belief, and it harms nobody else, I think it would be mean and arrogant to do anything solely aimed at undermining that belief. That does not however mean that one should refrain from publicly criticising religion because some such people may be listening. In that case, undermining the person's belief is not the sole aim of engaging in public debate, in fact it is not even an aim at all but just an unfortunate side-effect.

To my knowledge, Richard Dawkins doesn't go visiting dying religious people in hospital to tell them that their hopes of heaven are vain. He engages in public debate and advocacy against healthy, vigorous, mostly highly successful representatives of powerful religious institutions. From what I have seen of such discussions and debates, his aim seems to be to reduce the power of religions to do harm, and to undermine some of the key arguments by which they do harm. He is human, so he sometimes misjudges and upsets people needlessly, but it seems to me that he does far more good than harm. A committed Christian or Muslim might take the opposite view.

Unfortunately your search for a 'rock' that cannot be doubted, upon which to rest your worldview, cannot be successful unless you intend to be a solipsist, as any other worldview, religious or not, involves adopting axioms that are open to doubt.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#8  Postby Fenrir » Feb 12, 2012 9:58 am

Two reasons.

Bad ideas exist to be destroyed. By questioning things which appear counter-intuitive or wrong to me and weighing the evidence for and against I inform myself and by informing myself I grow as a person. Other people are welcome to believe as they wish, but they should not expect or demand silence in return for irrational rubbish.

Public policy is still built on the edicts of bronze age herders. This seems downright dangerous to me and by adding my voice to those pointing out that irrational rubbish is just that and has no place in public policy I hope to influence governance towards rationality and towards supplying public services according to the needs of society and not according to the dictates of an imaginary and immoral dictator.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#9  Postby rainbow » Feb 12, 2012 10:44 am

chairman bill wrote:I'm with Skolomowski -
The cosmos or the universe is a primordial ontological datum, while the 'world' is an epistemological construct, a form of our understanding.


There are absolute truths, we just don't necessarily know what they are


How do you know this?
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#10  Postby John P. M. » Feb 12, 2012 11:07 am

stalidon wrote:
Does it come from concern for others? Do I think they'd be happier if I debunked their myths? How do I know they aren't happy just as they are?
Or, does it come from concern for myself? Do I feel threatened by, for example, fundamentalism, in my lifetime?
Or, do I just think this is just a useful social function in the process of achieving some social consensus about reality?


All of the above for me. But it personally started as a process where I gradually understood that what I had been told my entire life were exactly the kind of 'rock' Truths you speak of, were in fact lies and distortions and withholding vital information to the contrary view.

I thought I had a religiously based Truth that - although challenged by science and logic on some fronts - was ultimately true even in the face of contrary evidence, because my Truth was based in an entity that had always existed, had created everything, couldn't lie, and should know what 'he' was talking about.

"Thankfully", my view was rather fundamentalist, so I trusted the authors of the literature I was subjected to 100% and didn't think they would ever lie or distort (God was after all overseeing the process). So when I found out that that was exactly what they'd done, things started to unravel.

So this process has been for me. My 'quest'. But I left family members behind that still put their lives on hold because they believe God will come back 'any minute now' so they don't make any long term plans, they spend an inordinate amount of time of their life at meetings and preaching, they need to fully swallow the lies and distortions they are taught, and they would rather die than receive a vital blood transfusion.

Are all ideas equal? The way I see it, if someone promises you a fantastic life after death, where any doubts you may have now will be settled, and everything will be great and happy and shiny, but it demands of you that you make detrimental sacrifices in this life, which is the only one you know with 100% certainty that you'll ever have, then they better come up with 100% evidence of that fantastic afterlife.

Are all ideas equal? Is the moon truly made out of cheese? Will eating a pound of gummiworms every day prevent heart failure? Will cutting the clitoris off a child appease an invisible, silent entity? Is the universe actually ~10.000 years old, and/or mankind about 6000? Is the sun dragged around by fairies? Are we constantly pushed towards the ground by angels? Will drinking a litre of bleach clear your mind? Is a vital blood transfusion that could save your life an abomination to an invisible, silent entity? Is there truly a plague of penis-snatchers in Africa? If I jump from a tall building, is there a chance I'll be the first human to fly unaided?

Are they all true? All impossible to differentiate in any real sense from better ideas because we'd have to start off with an axiom or two about reality in order to do so?

I don't think I necessarily have a need to convince everyone of atheism. But over time, and as a society, I think we at least would be better off without unevidenced superstition. Superstitions that rob people of time, resources, trust in others, equality, rights, health, and a general quality of life, the only life they can be 100% certain of ever having.

Are they happy? Yes, possibly, because they are trained to think this is how it is, and should be. But if we wanted people to be happy for happiness' sake, we might as well drug everyone.

Reality may not be as exhilarating as fairy tales, but it is what we find ourselves in and need to cope with. And when we do, I think there is still beauty and awesomeness out there, even if there are no pots of gold at the end of rainbows, or guardian angels making sure the other car got wrecked instead of yours.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#11  Postby Clive Durdle » Feb 12, 2012 11:23 am

As Rawls put it, "...no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like."[5] The idea then, is to render moot those personal considerations that are morally irrelevant to the justice or injustice of principles meant to allocate the benefits of social cooperation.

For example, in the imaginary society, one might or might not be intelligent, rich, or born into a preferred class. Since one may occupy any position in the society once the veil is lifted, the device forces the parties to consider society from the perspective of the worst off members.


Wiki veil of ignorance

There is clear evidence that some religions do not actually encourage equal and just societies - Islam is classic with its submission and the word of a woman not equal to that of a man. Hinduism with castes is similar.

Breeds of xianity are hierarchical, with priests, others - the Quakers - are not.

Religions very often make truth claims themselves - I am the way, the truth and the life, do this or go to hell...

Should we not comment about fgm, or suti, or reactions to saying uncle mo is equal to me?
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#12  Postby stalidon » Feb 12, 2012 6:20 pm

Grimstad wrote:You lost me at "Truth is Relative".

Just to clarify a little: I'm not saying truths do not exist, nor am I saying that all propositions have an equal truth value.

Furthermore, I'm just starting to try and make sense of my 'relativism'. My starting point is that I don't need to posit the existence of absolute truths, nor search for them. At this juncture, I'm not saying much new: I don't think any scientist would claim that science has access to ultimate or absolute truth: every scientific proposition is temporary/contingent.

Either way, anyway, (even though I welcome criticism of my position on relativism) the main question I'm asking here is: given someone that assumes he doesn't possess nor have access to absolute truths, how does he rationally justify his debunking of others ideas.

I think from this position one can say 'religion is false from my reference frame' (even though 'from my reference frame' is usually left tacit for practical purposes), or 'from the reference frame of a scientific worldview', but not that 'religion is absolutely false' (as I used to say). And when confronting someone that claims to have access to absolute truths that justify the claim that his religion is 'absolutely true', one needs to be wary of making equally forcible counter-arguments.

Thanks everyone for taking the time to offer thought-provoking answers so far. I think I had a (subconscious?) false assumption: that 'relativism entails or concludes in not caring about what others say'. It does mean however taking whatever someone says with a grain of salt, especially when said someone claims to possess absolute truths: 'I don't think anyone has absolute truths, so I think what he's saying might be true from his reference frame, but not necessarily from any of the other innumerable reference frames'.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#13  Postby stalidon » Feb 12, 2012 6:36 pm

Jeffersonian-marxist wrote:Neoplatonic ruminations fused with the metaphysical tales of a first century carpenter is where we get this idea, and obsession, of a fixed and unalterable truth. A good way to view these "problems," indeed all of philosophy, is like Rorty: pontifications on the intuitions of the Greeks.

andrewk wrote:Personally, I criticise religion when I see it used as a means to oppress or otherwise harm others. I particularly dislike when it is used to justify prejudice, violence or brainwashing and terrifying children. I don't think that justifies indiscriminate criticism of religion though. If an individual gets comfort from a particular religious belief, and it harms nobody else, I think it would be mean and arrogant to do anything solely aimed at undermining that belief. That does not however mean that one should refrain from publicly criticising religion because some such people may be listening. In that case, undermining the person's belief is not the sole aim of engaging in public debate, in fact it is not even an aim at all but just an unfortunate side-effect.

andrewk wrote:Unfortunately your search for a 'rock' that cannot be doubted, upon which to rest your worldview, cannot be successful unless you intend to be a solipsist, as any other worldview, religious or not, involves adopting axioms that are open to doubt.

Fenrir wrote:Bad ideas exist to be destroyed. By questioning things which appear counter-intuitive or wrong to me and weighing the evidence for and against I inform myself and by informing myself I grow as a person. Other people are welcome to believe as they wish, but they should not expect or demand silence in return for irrational rubbish.

Public policy is still built on the edicts of bronze age herders. This seems downright dangerous to me and by adding my voice to those pointing out that irrational rubbish is just that and has no place in public policy I hope to influence governance towards rationality and towards supplying public services according to the needs of society and not according to the dictates of an imaginary and immoral dictator.

John P. M. wrote:All of the above for me. But it personally started as a process where I gradually understood that what I had been told my entire life were exactly the kind of 'rock' Truths you speak of, were in fact lies and distortions and withholding vital information to the contrary view.
[...]
Are all ideas equal? The way I see it, if someone promises you a fantastic life after death, where any doubts you may have now will be settled, and everything will be great and happy and shiny, but it demands of you that you make detrimental sacrifices in this life, which is the only one you know with 100% certainty that you'll ever have, then they better come up with 100% evidence of that fantastic afterlife.

Are they all true? All impossible to differentiate in any real sense from better ideas because we'd have to start off with an axiom or two about reality in order to do so?

I don't think I necessarily have a need to convince everyone of atheism. But over time, and as a society, I think we at least would be better off without unevidenced superstition. Superstitions that rob people of time, resources, trust in others, equality, rights, health, and a general quality of life, the only life they can be 100% certain of ever having.


:cheers:

I think I agree with all of the above.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#14  Postby Nicko » Feb 22, 2012 12:10 pm

stalidon wrote:
Jeffersonian-marxist wrote:You would never had attempted to find some "solid ground" for your beliefs if you hadn't heard of that seventeenth century snail-eater.

Who?


Rene Descartes, I would assume.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#15  Postby rainbow » Feb 22, 2012 12:19 pm

chairman bill wrote:I'm with Skolomowski -
The cosmos or the universe is a primordial ontological datum, while the 'world' is an epistemological construct, a form of our understanding.


There are absolute truths, we just don't necessarily know what they are

How do you know that to be true?
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#16  Postby chairman bill » Feb 22, 2012 12:20 pm

rainbow wrote:
chairman bill wrote:I'm with Skolomowski -
The cosmos or the universe is a primordial ontological datum, while the 'world' is an epistemological construct, a form of our understanding.


There are absolute truths, we just don't necessarily know what they are


How do you know this?


Oh dear. Is it not obvious? The cosmos is as it is. If it was different, it wouldn't be the same as it is now. If the speed of light is the fastest speed in the cosmos, it's the fastest speed. That would be an absolute truth. If the fastest speed something could move was faster than the speed of light, that would be an absolute truth. We think we know that the fastest a thing can move is at the speed of light, but we might be wrong. Our state of knowledge doesn't negate the fact of there being an absolute cosmic state regarding speed, even if the truth is that there is no upper speed at which something can move.

Now unless you're going to offer some wibble about the fastest speed being different at all points of time & space, including being different in the same point of time & space ... but even if that was true ... well hopefully you can see where that leads us.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#17  Postby rainbow » Feb 22, 2012 1:52 pm

chairman bill wrote:
rainbow wrote:
chairman bill wrote:I'm with Skolomowski -
The cosmos or the universe is a primordial ontological datum, while the 'world' is an epistemological construct, a form of our understanding.


There are absolute truths, we just don't necessarily know what they are


How do you know this?


Oh dear. Is it not obvious?

No.
If you were obvious, there'd be no need for you to state it.
The cosmos is as it is. If it was different, it wouldn't be the same as it is now.

That says nothing. You have no way of telling if it is the same from all points of reference.
If the speed of light is the fastest speed in the cosmos, it's the fastest speed. That would be an absolute truth. If the fastest speed something could move was faster than the speed of light, that would be an absolute truth. We think we know that the fastest a thing can move is at the speed of light, but we might be wrong. Our state of knowledge doesn't negate the fact of there being an absolute cosmic state regarding speed, even if the truth is that there is no upper speed at which something can move.

How can there be an absolute speed, and no upper speed?
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#18  Postby DrWho » Feb 22, 2012 10:44 pm

It's because relativists exempt themselves from relativism without quite realizing it.

You are on the right track rainbow!
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#19  Postby Nicko » Feb 22, 2012 10:49 pm

rainbow wrote:
chairman bill wrote:
Oh dear. Is it not obvious?

No.
If you were obvious, there'd be no need for you to state it.


There is no need to explain it to a person who is prepared to parse the statement themselves. Since you are apparently not, I'll have a go:

Even if there is no universal truth, that fact itself would constitute a universal truth.

The cosmos is as it is. If it was different, it wouldn't be the same as it is now.

That says nothing. You have no way of telling if it is the same from all points of reference.


If the universe were different from different points of reference, that itself would constitute a universal truth about the universe.

If the speed of light is the fastest speed in the cosmos, it's the fastest speed. That would be an absolute truth. If the fastest speed something could move was faster than the speed of light, that would be an absolute truth. We think we know that the fastest a thing can move is at the speed of light, but we might be wrong. Our state of knowledge doesn't negate the fact of there being an absolute cosmic state regarding speed, even if the truth is that there is no upper speed at which something can move.

How can there be an absolute speed, and no upper speed?


That is not what Bill is saying, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to suppose that you could be honestly confused about it.

If there is an absolute upper speed, then that fact would constitute a universal truth whether or not we knew what that speed was.

If there is no absolute upper speed then that fact would constitute a universal truth even if we were under the impression that there was an absolute upper speed.
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Re: Truth is relative: why do we criticize religion?

#20  Postby logical bob » Feb 23, 2012 12:37 am

Nicko wrote:Even if there is no universal truth, that fact itself would constitute a universal truth.

There's the root of the problem in one sentence. It's also what DrWho is getting at above when he says that relativists exempt themselves from relativism.

Think of a relative truth, one which is not universal, as a truth within a particular context, discourse, frame of reference or language game, according to your preferred terminology. Relativism is then the claim that all statements are to be understood in terms of a specified context, making it little more than common sense. It would only be self-refuting in the way you suggest if that claim itself occurred outside of any context. A statement about statements is still a statement. Relativism is a view within philosophy in the western tradition, understood within and confined to that context.

The denial of universal truth claims is not a universal truth claim any more than atheism is a religion. The strategy in making that argument is to try to make "there is no universal truth" resemble "everything I say is a lie" or "this statement is false", but a statement of relativism is not trivially self-referential in the same way as the latter two. The argument that relativism refutes itself is not unlike scholastic arguments for God in which clever word games are deployed to make it appear that maximally superlative things have to exist.
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