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Randi on Religion
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James Randi devotes his weekly column entirely to his thoughts on religion this week, and I agree with most of what he says.

I like, for example, his summation of science:

Science is a search for basic truths about the Universe, a search which develops statements that appear to describe how the Universe works, but which are subject to correction, revision, adjustment, or even outright rejection, upon the presentation of better or conflicting evidence.

Science is a discipline that yields frequently while attempting to closely approach that elusive goal called "truth," but knowing that any conclusion it can arrive at is merely the best one of the moment.

He constrasts this approach with religions, which laud eternal, unchanging truths. One could argue that religions do revise their particulars, thus making them dynamical in the same sense as science, but this is a hollow argument. Religions change as either results from outside pressure or from internal pressure that comes from reinterpretation of doctrine. Not from reexamination of facts based on evidence and testing.

On the Bible:

But it was the incredible stories I was told, that really made me rear back in disbelief. For examples, they told me, some 2,000 years ago a mid-East virgin was impregnated by a ghost of some sort, and as a result produced a son who could walk on water, raise the dead, turn water into wine, and multiply loaves of bread and fishes. All that was in addition to tossing out demons. He expected and accepted a brutal, sadistic, death — and then he rose from the dead.

There was much, much, more. Adam and Eve, they said, were the original humans, plunked down in a garden to start our species going. But I didn't understand, and still don't, that they had only two children, both sons — and one of them killed the other — yet somehow they produced enough people to populate the Earth, without incest, which was a big no-no! Then some prophet or other made the Earth stop turning, an army blew horns until a wall fell down, a guy named Moses made the Red Sea divide in two, and made frogs fall out of the sky….

I needn't go on. And that's only a small start on one religion! The Wizard of Oz is more believable. And more fun.

Later he quotes Richard Dawkins:

I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. And who, looking at Northern Ireland or the Middle East, can be confident that the brain virus of faith is not exceedingly dangerous?

And then differentiates between blind faith and what he calls "evidence-based faith". This, it seems to me, is the crucial factor. Faith in itself is not a bad thing. What separates reasonable and unreasonable faith is the basis for that faith. I have faith, for example, that when I take a step on the sidewalk, that my foot will not plunge through solid matter. This is based on a lifetime of practical empiricism, of walking lots of different places. I don't have much faith in the existence of Bigfoot, since its existence isn't logically consistent, with no reliable empirical evidence.

Anyway, he's acerbic at times, and he does refer to himself as "a bright", but the essay's definitely worth a read.

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