Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Philosophy of Epistemology

I've been wanting to get this post up for quite awhile now, but time hasn't permitted me to do so. Last week, I had a very interesting discussion with a good friend of mine on the train. The original topic concerned a statement made by Richard Dawkins, who famously equated the teaching of religion to children with abuse.

Dawkin's approach emphasized that religion's use of fear causes great mental abuse to children, but I took a different approach during this discussion with a friend. My argument for agreeing with Dawkins was as follows:

1. Deception is defined as misleading others to believe something to be true. As wikipedia states:
Deception is the manipulation of perception to alter thoughts and feelings through lies and cleverness. Deception involves concepts like propaganda, distraction and concealment. Fiction, while sometimes manipulative, is not a deception unless it is portrayed as the whole truth.
2. The question is, then, is deceiving children considered to be abuse? I would answer that it is. Under any definition of abuse, to be deceptive is to be emotionally and/or mentally abusive. Abuse is defined as using someone wrongly to one's own advantage. It can easily be argued that religion uses people to its own advantage through coercion. The Inquisition is a prime example.

3. Religion makes many claims about the universe, and also puts forth that these claims are truths. In other words, religion has made claims for which it also says are true.

4. In all the thousands of years that religion has been around, never once has religion provided any verifiable, empirical evidence to support these claims that it posits are true. Religions claim there is a god (or gods), yet they have never proven this claim. Under any logical framework, it is the responsibility for the one making the claim to provide the evidence to prove that the claim is true; it is not the responsibility of the person not making the claim to prove that the negative of that claim is true.

5. Since religion has not provided the necessary evidence to support its claims, yet religion still preaches these claims as truths, religion is being deceptive.

6. If religions are being deceptive, and if the teaching of deception amount to abuse, then the teaching of religion is abuse.
My friend raised some questions regarding epistemology -- namely that one cannot actually obtain an objective truth; therefore, one cannot be held accountable for claims that are believed to be true but not proven to be true. Because no one can analyze evidence through another's perception, we cannot know for certain that both are viewing the evidence in the same way; however, I would argue that with multiple, independent perceivers, we can verify that a piece of evidence is viewed virtually the same, and therefore, we can state that we are so reasonably close to the truth that we can call the evidence a truth. With each added independent perceiver, the chance of error decreases.

This is the basis of the scientific method -- which posits that we can only accept evidence for claims that are observable, repeatable, and verifiable. Science has a long track record of making claims, providing evidence to prove those claims, and altering those claims when new evidence arises that disproves the old evidence; we can say that science has a method to provide truths to a reasonable degree. Science also uses a transparent methodology, so that anyone with enough interest can repeat the experiments and observations used to prove claims. Religion has no such method in place, and is therefore unfit to make claims of truth.

Since religion has no such method to provide verifiable claims, since religion's claims in the past have been proven wrong again and again, and since religion continues to make claims that it states are true (but that religion cannot know for certain within a reasonable degree that those claims are true) then religion is being deceptive.

I only make the claim that religion cannot know that its claims are true because religion does not have a method with a proven track record for obtaining truths. To continue to make such claims is the very definition of being deceptive. I don't have to claim that religion's claims are false, because it is not my responsibility to prove the negative of their claims.

My friend would argue that I cannot prove that such deception is intentional, and therefore, I cannot call it abuse. Whether or not religion is intentionally deceptive is besides the point -- religion is still being deceptive, and religion still teaches that deception to children. Even if religion believes that such claims are true, then are then being self-deceptive and self-abusive. Religion, because it teaches claims that it cannot know to be true but still teaches those claims as truths, is both deceptive and abusive.

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