bookmark_borderRalph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes

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NOTE: This post was contributed by Gregory S. Paul, who is an occasional contributor to Free Inquiry, and who published an important article called “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”.  Here is how Michael Shermer summarized that article:

Is religion a necessary component of social health? The data are conflicting. On the one hand, in a 2005 study published in the Journal of Religion & Society–“Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”–independent scholar Gregory S. Paul found an inverse correlation between religiosity (measured by belief in God, biblical literalism, and frequency of prayer and service attendance) and societal health (measured by rates of homicide, childhood mortality, life expectancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen abortions and pregnancies) in 18 developed democracies. “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD [sexually transmitted disease] infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” Paul found. Indeed, the U.S. scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies.

from “Bowling for God” by Michael Shermer
in Scientific American on December 1, 2006

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Ralph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes About the Popularity of Prayer and Religion in America on Bill Maher’s Real Time

I was watching Bill Maher’s Real Time on 8/27 when I realized that prominent hard right-wing evangelical political operative Ralph (Christian Coalition) Reed, who Maher seems to like, was trying to profoundly mislead viewers about the level of religious practice in this country. I am not sure how prevalent his misuse of survey data is among theoconservatives – a web search did not find anything – but he managed to slip a bogus item of information out to the few million who see Real Time every week. So I am sending this out in an effort to try to nip this theocon anti-fact in the bud. Plus this scientist is annoyed by the slick pol’s brazen yet sly misuse of statistics.
 
Reed used the classic tactic of lying by telling the truth while leaving out the pile of contrary data that shows he is lying. First, he acknowledged that rates of nonreligion are indeed rapidly expanding in these United States as church membership and attendance decline with amazing speed – after a slow decline from the 1950s Gallup has recorded a membership decline of about 70% at the turn of the century to under 50% these days (https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx), in line with other surveys as well as reports of closing churches. The seemingly reasonable Reed then offered the logical explanation that the general societal detachment of people from social groups, driven in part by digital media, has something to do with that. Reed then began his verge off into misinformation land when he said all that did not matter all that much because rates of belief in and worship of God remain persistently high because people are becoming increasingly private about it.
 
Here is where being truthful can be a lie. Reed correctly claimed that in 1990 Gallup asked respondents if they pray often, sometimes, hardly ever, or only in times of crisis, or never.
 
Before proceeding, we need a digression about the statistical and other requirements of competent polling. Particularly regarding longitudinal surveys that track levels of and changes in opinions and practices over time. First, such polls must be sufficiently quantitative to give meaningful results that can be compared over the years. In the 1990 poll Gallup blew it – the only quantitatively reasonably useful possible answers were “hardly ever” or “never.” As for “often” and “sometimes” those values are pretty much useless. How often is often? How sometimes is sometimes? Each respondent would have a different notion on that, and will inevitably respond in inconsistent ways. Gallup should have known better and never posed such an ambiguous query. And to track changes the same questions need to be asked every one or a few years to generate an opinion level timeline. It’s basic stuff.
 
In 1990 half of respondents told Gallup they pray often. Which other than telling us what we already know that lots of Americans are religious has no scientific value. What they should have asked was something along the lines of do you pray multiple times a day, once a day, a few times a week, once a week, once a month or so — you get the statistical drift. I mean really, what were they thinking over at Gallup? Demographic dolts. Fortunately, Gallup then did not repeat the query, possibly and hopefully because they did a demographic dope slap and realized their error and good statistical riddance, since asking it again would risk giving misleading longitudinal results.
 
Alas, apparently inspired by the pandemic, in 2020 a Gallup that again should have known better did ask the same dam bogus query. And lo and behold now 55% say they pray often. Reed used this one pair of statistically valueless figures to try to sell Maher and his audience a demographic bill of goods that Amerotheism is not really in decline after all. Bill, and his other guest, understandably not being up on the minutia of recent Gallup results, were not able to perceive or counter Reed’s clever deception (I had to look it up and see what was really going down myself, even though this is an area of my research – for an extensive 2019 analysis of the subject discussed here and beyond see http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf).
 
The degree to which Reed was being deliberately deceptive by selectively picking Gallup data, or did not realize or understand the critical caveats and contra stats, I do not know for certain but am very suspicious. In any case, he was grossly misinforming Real Timewatchers one way or another.
 
First, Gallup itself admits that their little trend line on prayer is not statistically meaningful (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/309638/update-virtual-worship-during-covid.aspx), which Reed did not mention — saying that would have negated his claim right there on the air. Obviously.
 
And here is what Reed did not offer up because it directly disproves his propaganda line that American God belief and worship is not in decline. In a location where Gallup offers up the useless prayer result they also present a number of more properly posed and frequently repeated polls they have been executing and posting for decades. Ones that do a much better job telling us what is really happening in this country a/theism wise (https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx). So how about let’s check those fascinating and very telling stats out —
 
Those who say that religion is very important in their life went from, well let’s see here, ~60 in the 1990s to under 50% these days in a nice, fairly steady downslope (as also is true of the rest of the results). Meanwhile, those who say theism is not very important rose greatly from 10-15% to a quarter (see below discussion on why levels of rationalism measured in polls are probably on the low side). Gosh, Ralph, you did not bring up that one on Real Time. Because you are too lazy and ill-informed to know it — which seems a stretch since it is right there on the web? Or because you knew it would blow your superficially clever lie out of the water?
 
How about this one. Back in the 1990s, almost two-thirds told the fine folks at Gallup that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems. Now it is heading toward and below half. The rationalists who think religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date? Rose like yeast dough from one-fifth to over a third of the respondents (check out season 1, episode 25 of I Love Lucy for a classic laugh on that bread baking item).
 
Here’s a good one that shows that the days in which the hardcore devout religious right that Reed is a leading fellow traveler of was doing pretty good, while it was the mealy mushy mainline faiths that were taking it on the demographic chin, are no longer operative. In the 2000s those saying they were born-again or evangelical were in the broad area of the lower 40s percentage-wise (which was a little above the values observed in the 1990s). Now is in the mid-30s, hello Ralph. Might you mention that next time you are on the telly?
 
Next up is an oldie but goodie. In the 70s one in four thought the Bible is literally true. Now it’s a quarter or so. So are those who are of the opinion that the Bible is supernaturalistic fantasy mixed with some history, which is impressive because those good people were a mere one in ten back when Jimmy and Ronnie were POTUS. And while support for the creation of humans by God has been slipping, support for evolutionary science is on the way up. Sorry Ken Ham, Philip Johnson, and Michael Behe.
Time for the BIGGIE. One Mr. Reed somehow again failed to chat about as he misled Bill on his own show. Convinced God exists? In 2005 80%. In 2017 64%. A decline of a sixth of the national population in a dozen years. How about God probably does not exist or convinced there is not one. Doubled from 7% in 2005 to 13% in 2017.  And if the fast-shifting trendlines have continued since then, probably still lower for the first and higher for the second here in 2021. But wait, there are more godly Gallup longitudinal deity queries. From 2001 to 2016 God belief sank from nine in ten to eight in ten, those who don’t opt for the supernatural rose to over one in ten. Gallup’s venerable simplistic yes or no on God belief question got virtually all to say yes in the 1950s and 60s, and after a yawning data gap has shown no results similar to the above surveys in the last decade. This is a good place to explain that it is well documented that persons are often reluctant to say they hold an unpopular opinion even when doing so privately by phone or online. A technical effort to use standard sociodemographic techniques to correct for this factor estimates that American atheists as broadly defined make up a quarter of the population (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170516143411.htm), matching or outnumbering a number of major religious sects. Likewise, other studies indicate actual church attendance is about half that claimed to Gallup (and other pollsters). It follows that all the Gallup (and other pollsters’) results for not praying, thinking religion is not societally important, attending church, are not Born-Again, thinking the Bible is not the word of God, understanding we are big-brained apes, are nonreligious, etc., are very probably markedly higher than Gallup, Pew, Harris, GSS, WVS, et al. results seem to indicate.
Gallup points out something interesting. One of their queries indicates that the number of Americans who think religion is having a major influence on America is currently on the high side. But they point out that is directly contrary to their own measures showing the opposite is true
(https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/310397/religion-paradox.aspx). So what gives? Although the query has its uses, it is not a direct measure of how much influence religion is actually having on America, which is not practical to measure, one would think, but what people think it is having. Which may well not be the same thing. That is why, unlike most longitudinal questions, over time the results for this query have fluctuated wildly. Apparently, the rise of the hard right under the aegis of secular hedonist Trump, which has had a strong evangelical component to it, has caused many to presume that religion has revived as a major influencer. Which it has not because even among Republicans theism is on the decline (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace).
 
So. Only one very unreliable Gallup result that the organization itself does not take all that seriously seems to support political operator Ralph Reed’s patently absurd pretension that polls show that Americans are remaining privately as Godly as ever over time, despite fleeing institutionalized religion. That when all of the more scientifically constructed and frequently asked Gallup queries show that while organized Christianity is declining faster than personal theism, the latter is going down fast too. One can and probably should presume that a data cherry-picking Reed knew that. Such is common among theists – it’s called lying for the church (or mosque or whatever; a young Muslim initially pretending to be uncertain about his beliefs showed up at a local atheist meetup not long ago and proceeded to try to convince the women to convert by quoting inane Quran lines ad nauseam). And if per chance he did not he has not the slightest excuse for not knowing the real and easy to find facts. Ergo, Godly, Born-Again evangelical Reed profoundly lied either deliberately or out of gross negligence and ignorance to a national audience.
 
The dire demographic reality is a big factor behind the push by many theoconservatives to rule this republic via minority votes at the presidential and Senate and state levels, and by packing the Supreme Court. What they should do is use persuasion via free speech to try to get the American majority to go along with their conservative supernaturalistic ways. But that effort has been failing big time for decades with no realistic hope for success. So they are trying to capture the government by electoral hook and crook and use sheer political power to remake America into the kind of right-wing Christian land this nation was back when the government was a bastion of traditionalist values. Remember Comstock Laws? They bemoan the onset of the unprecedented cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1900s that are helping drive the withering of theism. And that’s why the right continues to embrace a chronically dishonest and irreligious Trump who in turn depends on the religious right for the political success he has enjoyed. That makes twisted electoral sense since Trump lost the electoral college by just 45,000 votes in three states – interestingly, I have not found evidence that Reed has either supported or rejected the claim that Trump did not lose in 2020, seems he is trying to avoid entirely ruining his credibility with either side.
 
So how about it Ralph? Will you publicly and prominently retract your claims and acknowledge that Americans have become markedly less Godly over recent decades? And apologize to the host of the show you with your boyish grin tried to snooker?
 
Got to say, I am not holding my breath on that.
 
But you should.
 
Now, being a data-following scientist who really does my best to be objective — which is why I am not a theist – I note that the PRRI has released new results that while confirming the broader trends of recent decades, suggest that the deChristianization of the US may be plateauing out (https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion). That is possible, but looking at their rather internally contradictory data I am not convinced. All the more so because the PRRI results do not look to be in line with those of other organizations. So we shall have to see over the coming years what the assorted surveys turn up and go from there.
 
And Bill. When you have Reed, and others of his ilk, on your program in the future and they make one of those that sounds kinda dubious claims, do one of your classic yeah like I (don’t) believe that one looks, and warn your audience to take what they just heard with a large load of salt. Really large.
 
You have to watch out for those theocons. They can be sneaky.

bookmark_borderEvaluation of the Christian Answer to Worldview Question #1

In this post I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version of my Podcast #6 (and the PowerPoint that it is based upon).
 
THE FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS
There are four basic worldview questions, four questions that can be used to analyze the content of a worldview:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)

Q3. What is the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Cure for the Disease)

Q4. How should we implement what is (allegedly) the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Treatment Plan for the Patients)

 
CHRISTIAN ANSWERS TO THE BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS 
The following is a short version of what I take to be the Christian answers to the four basic worldview questions:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)
Alienation or separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and in the next life: divine eternal punishment.

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)
Sin (wrongdoing and disobedience to God and the human propensity towards wrongdoing) is the root cause problem of separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and ultimately results in eternal divine punishment.

Q3. What is the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Cure for the Disease)
Out of love and mercy for human beings, God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross and to rise from the dead in order provide salvation from sin, to atone for our sins, to reconcile us with God, and to provide eternal life to human beings.

Q4. How should we implement what is (allegedly) the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Treatment Plan for the Patients)
If one repents of one’s sins, and believes in Jesus as the divine savior of humankind who died for our sins and rose from the dead, then one’s sins will be forgiven by God, and the process of salvation from sin will begin, ultimately completing when Jesus raises the dead and gives eternal life in heaven to those who believed in him.

 
FURTHER ANALYSIS OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #1
The Christian answer to worldview question #1 can be analyzed into four categories: spiritual, physical, mental, and social (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
 
EVALUATION OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #1
I have no significant objection to the problems identified by the Christian worldview in the categories of PHYSICAL, MENTAL, and SOCIAL.  Those problems identified by the Christian worldview are real and serious problems, and it seems to me that it is reasonable to consider those problems to constitute many of the most important problems that humans face.  So, the Christian answer to worldview question #1 is at least PARTLY correct.
My problem is with the alleged problems that fall under the category of SPIRITUAL:

  • Alienation or separation from God in this life
  • and in the next life: divine eternal punishment

These are actual problems ONLY IF God exists.  Since I do not believe that God exists, I do not believe that these are actual problems that humans face, and thus there is no need for a SOLUTION to these non-existent problems.
Furthermore, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that God exists, these alleged problems would still NOT be among the most important problems that humans face.
Alienation or separation from God in this life might be a minor problem, but many atheists and non-religious people are happy and virtuous people, and many Christians and other religious people are unhappy and lacking in virtue.  So, Christianity and religion are NOT the keys to happiness and virtue.  At most, they provide some modest degree of help to some people to obtain happiness and virtue in this life.  Alienation from God is NOT a major problem in this life, even if God exists.
The other spiritual problem, namely the threat of divine eternal punishment in an afterlife, is clearly NOT a problem at all.  God is by definition a perfectly morally good person, but no person who is perfectly morally good would ever inflict eternal punishment on a human being.
Furthermore, a perfectly morally good person would never allow anyone else to inflict eternal punishment on a human being, if that perfectly morally good person had the power to prevent this from occurring.  God is by definition all-powerful, so if God exists, then there is no such thing as Hell, and there never will be such a thing as Hell.  The belief that God exists is logically incompatible with the belief that Someone will inflict eternal punishment and misery upon some human beings.  In other words, the belief that God exists is the strongest possible reason for rejecting the idea of there being a threat of eternal punishment in an afterlife.
Therefore, neither of the SPIRITUAL problems identified by the Christian worldview is among the most important problems that we humans face.  This part of the Christian answer to worldview question #1 is clearly WRONG.
 
CONCLUSION
The Christian answer to worldview question #1 is partly TRUE and partly FALSE.  The problems identified by Christianity that can be categorized as PHYSICAL, MENTAL, or SOCIAL are legitimate and important human problems that need to be solved.
However, the SPIRITUAL problems identified by Christianity are NOT among the most important human problems.  They are non-existent problems, because these are problems only if God exists, but God does not exist.  And even if we assume that God exists, one of the problems (alienation from God in this life) would be only a minor problem, and the other problem (eternal punishment) would NOT exist because it is logically incompatible with the claim that God exists.
Furthermore, each of the PHYSICAL, MENTAL, and SOCIAL problems identified by Christianity as being among the most important problems humans face, is an example of EVIL, and this raises the problem of evil, which represents a powerful objection to the belief that God exists.  Thus, this part of the Christian worldview, by acknowledging the existence of many serious problems/evils experienced by human beings, points to powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, and thus against the existence of the SPIRITUAL problems that Christianity identifies as being important human problems.
It should be noted that the problems that Christianity correctly identifies as being among the most important human problems (i.e. Physical problems, Mental problems, and Social problems), are obviously serious problems, so we don’t need a prophet or divine revelation (e.g. the Bible) in order to figure out that those are serious problems that need to be solved.  We don’t need Moses or Jesus to tell us that diseases and wars, for example, are bad problems that humans face.

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 6: NOT a message from God

WHERE WE ARE
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.  In this Part 3 of this series I explained my reasons for skepticism about religion.
In Part 4  and Part 5 of this series I presented my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.
Here is my second reason for doubting the idea that we should view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus:

2. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God. (Leviticus is just another book written by ignorant and imperfect human beings).

Actually, most of my dozen reasons for doubt relate back to this one.  For example, my first reason was that God does not exist (or that we have good reasons to doubt that God exists).  If there is no God, then it follows logically that Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.  If there is no God, then NOTHING is a message from God, because there is no God to send any message in the first place.
Since most of my dozen reasons provide support for this second reason,  I will not attempt to make a comprehensive case against the divine inspiration of the book of Leviticus in this current post.  My case against the inspiration of Leviticus will span several posts, as I continue to explain and defend reasons 3 through 8.  So, in this post I will briefly present a few reasons for doubting that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God.
LEVITICUS WAS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD IF MOSES WAS THE AUTHOR OF LEVITICUS
I don’t believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus, and neither do most Old Testament scholars.  However, conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals generally believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus.  So, this first argument is addressed to Christians who believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus:

1. Jehovah is NOT God.

2. Moses is a prophet of Jehovah.

3. Anyone who is a prophet of a someone other than God is a FALSE PROPHET.

THEREFORE:

4. Moses is a FALSE PROPHET.

5. Moses is the author of Leviticus.

6. No book authored by a FALSE PROPHET is the inspired Word of God.

THEREFORE:

7. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.

The only controversial premise here is premise (1), and I have already argued for this premise in Part 2 of this series:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2020/08/18/leviticus-and-homosexuality-part-2-no-messages-from-god/
In short: Jehovah commanded the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, teenager, child, and baby of the people who were already settled in the “promised land” (i.e. Palestine) in order to steal that land from those people.  Only a morally flawed person would give such an evil command, so Jehovah was a morally flawed person.  But God is a perfectly good person, so Jehovah cannot be God.  Premise (1) is clearly true.  So, if Moses was in fact the author of Leviticus, as stated in premise (5), then we must conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
 
LEVITICUS WAS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD BASED ON THE CONTENT OF LEVITICUS
Here is a high-level outline of the book of Leviticus:

I. Laws on sacrifice (1:1–7:38)
II. Institution of the priesthood (8:1–10:20)
III. Uncleanliness and its treatment (11:1–15:33)
IV. Day of Atonement: purification of the tabernacle from the effects of uncleanliness and sin (ch. 16)
V. Prescriptions for practical holiness (the Holiness Code, chs. 17–26)
VI. Redemption of votive gifts (ch. 27)

(from the article “Book of Leviticus” in Wikipedia)
So, clearly four big ideas in Leviticus are:

  • Sacrifices
  • Priesthood
  • Uncleanliness
  • Holiness

SACRIFICES AND PRIESTHOOD (Leviticus Chapters 1-10)
If there is no good reason for animal sacrifices, then there is also no good reason for the priesthood that is established in the book of Leviticus, because the primary job of the priests was to sacrifice animals.  So, my main focus here will be to argue that there was no good reason for the practice of animal sacrifices.
However, I will say a couple of things about the idea of a priesthood.  I was a conservative Evangelical Christian in my younger years, and I was a big fan of the Protestant Reformation, particularly the key theological principles of sola gratia (salvation is by God’s grace alone), sola fide (justification/forgiveness is by faith alone), and sola scriptura (the only authority in matters of faith and religion is the Bible).  I was also a fan of the protestant belief in “the priesthood of all believers”.  So, the idea of priests and bishops is one that STINKS for me, or at least it did when I was an Evangelical Christian.

Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio, c. 1603

Animal sacrifices are part of nearly every ancient religion.  Abraham practiced animal sacrifice long before Moses was born.  Lots of people from various tribes and cultures practiced animal sacrifice long before Moses was born.  Abraham didn’t need any priests to perform his animal sacrifices.  So, there is no reason why the ancient Israelites needed priests to perform animal sacrifices for them.  They could have done this for themselves, if there was some good reason for making animal sacrifices.
Having a priesthood basically removes thousands of able-bodied men from doing practical work that would benefit their people, like growing and harvesting crops, or raising and butchering animals, or baking bread, or making beer, or making useful items, like metal implements or clay pots.  A priesthood is a waste of potential workers who could perform useful practical tasks and help to complete important practical projects for their people.
The practice of having a priesthood teaches BAD THEOLOGY, because this practice implies that humans need to have an intermediary between themselves and God.  But according to Jesus and Christian theology, God is a loving “Father” to all human beings, and thus we ought to pray “Our Father who is in heaven…”.  Having a priesthood teaches people that God is a distant and frightening being whom ordinary humans ought not try to approach.  This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what Jesus taught.  So, the idea of a priesthood is BAD THEOLOGY from a Christian point of view.
The French atheist Denis Diderot (1713–1784) is often mistakenly* quoted as saying this about priesthood: 

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

The basic idea is probably that religious institutions tend to provide support to powerful rulers and governments, whether those rulers or governments are good and just or are evil and unjust.
But there is also the suspicion that religions, especially religious institutions that include positions of religious authority, often abuse that authority, as for example, the world-wide sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests for the past century (and probably for most of the previous centuries) which was preserved by Catholic bishops who did everything they could to hide this fact from the public and to protect pedophile priests from being brought to justice, but who almost never lifted a finger to protect the children of Catholic believers from these pedophile priests.
Power corrupts, and hierarchies of power (like priests and bishops and popes) are clearly susceptible to unbelievable levels of corruption.  So, this is another reason for NOT establishing and maintaining a priesthood.  Give these men honest work on farms, and in manufacturing, and in business, and have them make actual practical contributions to their societies, instead of sucking off of hard-working fellow believers, or worse, assisting in the abuse and oppression of their fellow believers, as happened so often in the history of the Catholic Church, for example.
The priesthood established in Leviticus primarily performed tasks related to the practice of animal sacrifices.  So, if the practice of animal sacrifices was unnecessary or harmful, then there would be no good reason to establish a priesthood of the sort that Leviticus describes.
 
THE MORAL IMPERATIVE AGAINST ANIMAL SACRIFICES
The practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus involves the deaths and killings of thousands of animals, and over many centuries, millions of animals.  Even if the lives of animals are not given the same value as the lives of humans, it is clearly wrong to kill an animal without having a good reason to do so, especially higher animals like birds and mammals.  The killing of thousands of animals every year is most definitely morally wrong if those animals are birds and mammals, and if there is no good reason for doing this killing.  This might not be equivalent to killing thousands of human beings, but the killing of such animals is still of moral significance and would be wrong apart from having a good reason for doing that much killing.
So, it is morally wrong to institute the practice of animal sacrifices if this will involve the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year, UNLESS there is a good reason for having and maintaining the practice of animal sacrifices. If there is no good reason for the practice of animal sacrifices, then a perfectly good being would NOT issue commands to institute the practice of animal sacrifices when this would involve the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year.  I will argue that there is no such good reason, and thus that a perfectly good being would NOT issue commands to institute the practice of animal sacrifice as described in Leviticus, and thus that the book of Leviticus is NOT a message from God.
 
ANIMAL SACRIFICES NOT NECESSARY FOR MAINTENANCE OF A RELIGION
1. The sacrifice of animals is NOT necessary for the maintenance of a religion.  Judaism began after animal sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem ended, and Judaism has persisted for 2,000 years without the need of animal sacrifices, and Christianity has also persisted for 2,000 years without the need of animal sacrifices.
 
THE PRACTICE OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES TEACHES BAD THEOLOGY
2. If Jesus died for the sins of all humankind, including the sins of the ancient Israelites, then the practice of sacrificing of animals teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that the deaths of animals were required in order for God to forgive the sins of the ancient Israelites, which is FALSE.  Only the death of Jesus was required for the forgiveness of sins, according to Christian theology. Also, since the sacrifice of animals was NOT necessary in order for God to forgive the sins of ancient Israelites, the forgiveness of sins is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
3. If salvation is by the GRACE of God ALONE, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that humans can by meritorious actions obtain God’s favor and forgiveness.  Giving a cherished or valuable animal to God and/or to God’s priests is clearly analogous to giving a present to a king or ruler to curry favor with that king or ruler.  But according to Christian theology, human beings are not capable of meriting God’s forgiveness and salvation.  So,  giving people a way to obtain God’s favor or forgiveness is another INVALID reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
4. If God is IMPASSIBLE, as Thomists insist, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that humans can by their actions influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions.  But if human actions can influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions, then God is subject to the same sort of weaknesses and influences as humans who have feelings and desires. (I disagree with Thomists on this point, but the person who replied to my objections against Leviticus concerning homosexuality appears to be a Thomist).
5. If God is OMNIPOTENT, as nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that humans can by their actions influence Jehovah, which implies that humans have power over Jehovah.  If humans can influence Jehovah’s feelings, attitude, or decisions by performing ritual actions, such as the sacrifice of an animal, then Jehovah is subject to human power and influence and cannot be omnipotent, and thus Jehovah would NOT be God, and thus Leviticus would NOT be inspired by God.  Since the actions of humans cannot influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions, the desire to please and influence God is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
6. If God is SELF-SUFFICIENT, as nearly all Christians believe, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that humans can by their actions cause Jehovah to be happy or pleased, or deprive Jehovah of something that would cause Jehovah to be happy or pleased.   If we humans can make Jehovah happy or pleased by performing animal sacrifices, then this implies that Jehovah wants and desires that humans perform such actions, and that by failing to perform such actions we can deprive Jehovah of some potential satisfaction and happiness.  But in that case Jehovah would NOT be self-sufficient, and thus would NOT be God.  Thus, Leviticus would NOT be inspired by God.  Also, since animal sacrifices are not capable of causing God to be happy or pleased, this is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
7. If God is PERFECTLY JUST, as nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that Jehovah is willing to inflict the punishment for human sins on an innocent animal who did not chose to sin or to disobey Jehovah.  It is manifestly unjust to kill an animal in order to prevent and eliminate the punishment that a human deserved for some sin or crime.  Thus, if Jehovah inspired the commands concerning the practice of animal sacrifice found in Leviticus, then Jehovah is clearly unjust and thus Jehovah is NOT God, and thus Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.  Since animal sacrifices do not constitute a fair and just way for the ancient Israelites to obtain forgiveness for their sins or crimes, this is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
The term “scapegoat” originates from the book of Leviticus  (click on image below for a clearer view of the definitions):

(These definitions of “scapegoat” are from Dictionary.com.)
Making a person or group bear the blame for others or suffer in their place is clearly UNFAIR and UNJUST.  Doing the same thing to an animal is also clearly morally wrong.  This is NOT something that a perfectly good deity would promote or encourage.
 
CONCLUSION
If, as many conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals believe, Moses was the author of Leviticus, then we must conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God, because Moses was a prophet of Jehovah, and Jehovah is clearly NOT God.
However, setting aside the question of the authorship of Leviticus, the CONTENT of Leviticus also gives us a good reason to believe that this book was NOT inspired by God.
I am not aware of any good reason for establishing the practice of animal sacrifices, especially if the practice clearly involved the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year, potentially for many centuries.
However, there are plenty of good reasons AGAINST the practice of animal sacrifice, at least from a Christian point of view, and there are some good reasons AGAINST the practice of animal sacrifice from a Jewish and Muslim point of view as well.  The practice of animal sacrifices teaches many FALSE ideas about God, from a Christian point of view, and teaches some FALSE ideas about God from a Jewish or Muslim point of view.
Given the moral imperative that the practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus are morally wrong UNLESS there is a good reason for establishing the practice of such animal sacrifices, and given that there appears to be no good reason for establishing this practice, and we have a number of good reason AGAINST the establishment of the practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus, making it even more unlikely that there is good reason for establishing this practice,  it was morally wrong to issue the commands found in Leviticus concerning the practice of animal sacrifices, and thus Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
Given that there is no good reason to establish the practice of animal sacrifices, there was also no good reason to establish the priesthood as described in Leviticus.  Furthermore, there also appear to be some good reasons AGAINST the establishment of the sort of priesthood described in Leviticus, making it even more unlikely that there is sufficient reason for establishing the sort of priesthood that is described in Leviticus.  Thus, we have another good reason to believe that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
============================
*Meslier [the atheist‐​priest Jean Meslier] repudiated the doctrine of passive obedience unequivocally. Throughout the Testament he endorsed violent resistance against tyrannical rulers and their unjust actions. Indeed, in Chapter 2 we find the first formulation of a saying that has commonly been attributed to the French atheist Denis Diderot (1713–1784): “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” This is not how Meslier worded the sentiment, nor did he take credit for the idea. Rather, Meslier attributed the sentiment to a common Frenchman “who had no culture or education.”  (from: “Smith explains Meslier’s three major objections to Christian morality, as taught by Jesus.” by George H. Smith)
============================

UPDATE ON 9/9/2020

CLARIFICATION OF THE PHRASE “BAD THEOLOGY”:
One sort of BAD THEOLOGY is logically self-contradictory claims about God.
“God, if God exists, does not know how many hairs there are on my head.” This is BAD THEOLOGY, in that in the ordinary sense of the word “God”, someone is “God” only if that person is omniscient. So, there is a logical self-contradiction in that sentence. Similarly, the sentence “God, if God exists, has a master plan in which billions of human beings will end up being tormented in hell for all eternity” is BAD THEOLOGY, because in the ordinary sense of the word “God”, someone is “God” only if that person is perfectly morally good, but a person who plans for billions of human beings to be tormented in hell for all eternity is clearly NOT a perfectly morally good person.
Another sort of BAD THEOLOGY is claims about God that contradict one’s own basic theological beliefs. Here the “badness” is relative to a point of view (unlike the badness of a logical self-contradiction which is objectively and universally bad). Jesus clearly taught (according to the Gospels) that we should view God as our “heavenly Father”, as a person who loves and cares about the welfare of each and every human being. So to claim that “God is a terrible and wrathful person whom you must only approach through an intermediary, like a priest” is to contradict a basic teaching of Jesus. From a Christian point of view, claims about God that contradict a basic teaching of Jesus constitute BAD THEOLOGY and thus should be rejected.
Of course, what counts as BAD THEOLOGY from a Christian point of view does not necessarily count as BAD THEOLOGY from the point of view of another religion, like Islam or Buddhism. But the argument against homosexual sex based on the book of Leviticus is primarily a Christian argument (although it could also be a Jewish argument). So, when I argue that Leviticus teaches BAD THEOLOGY in relation to a Christian point of view, I am using the beliefs and assumptions of the people who are presenting the argument against homosexual sex based on Leviticus.
Some of my objections in this post present a DILEMMA to Christian believers. For example:
1. Either you accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels) or not.
2. If you accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels), then you must reject the practice of animal sacrifices as teaching BAD THEOLOGY.
3. If you reject the practice of animal sacrifices as teaching BAD THEOLOGY, then you must also (to be logically consistent) reject the view that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God.
4. If you do NOT accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels), then you must also (to be logically consistent) reject the basic Christian beliefs that Jesus was a true prophet and that Jesus was the divine Son of God and savior of mankind.
In short, the DILEMMA is this:
5. You can either remain a Christian believer and reject the inspiration of Leviticus OR you can reject the Christian religion as FALSE.

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 4: Skepticism about God

WHERE WE ARE
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

My doubts about the existence of God are related to skepticism in general, and to three specific areas of skepticism:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Claims
  • Skepticism about Religion
  • Skepticism about the Existence of God

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.
In this Part 3 of this series I explained my reasons for skepticism about religion.
In this post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God, the first two being based directly on my skepticism about supernatural claims and skepticism about religion.
SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
A. Skepticism about supernatural powers and supernatural beings supports skepticism about the existence of God.
Over many centuries billions of people have mistakenly believed that there are ghosts and demons, invisible bodiless supernatural beings.  Over many centuries billions of people have mistakenly believed that there are people with amazing supernatural powers, what we now call psychics.   But there are no people who can actually move or bend physical objects with just their minds.  There are no people who can actually “see” future events.  There are no people who can actually “read” the thoughts of other people.  There are no people who can actually instantly heal physical injuries or organic diseases with just their minds.  There are no actual psychics.
Suppose someone claims that there is a person who has ALL of these supernatural psychic abilities.  Such a claim would be ridiculous on its face.  I remember as a young boy listening to Pastor Jim Jones of the “People’s Temple” on the radio in San Francisco, claiming that he had ALL of “the gifts of the spirit”, which include speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing,  miracles, and supernatural knowledge.  He, of course, turned out to be a mentally ill drug addict, who was followed by many naive, clueless, gullible, superstitious fools, many of whom followed him to Jonestown, a commune built in the jungle in Guyana, and then later ended their own lives by drinking poisoned cool-aid at the direction of Pastor Jim Jones.

Mass suicide at Jonestown (History.com article)

Now suppose that the “person” who allegedly has ALL of these amazing supernatural powers is not an ordinary person with a physical body, but is (allegedly) a ghost or spirit who is invisible and has no physical body.  Now we are getting into crazyville territory.  But belief in the existence of God is very similar to belief in the existence of a ghost who has many amazing psychic powers.
God, if God exists, is an invisible and immaterial supernatural being who has no physical body, like ghosts and demons.  God also has many supernatural powers.  God, if God exists, can “see” the future, just like a psychic.  God can make physical objects move (or bend) just by willing them to move (or bend), just like a psychic.  God can “read” minds, just like a psychic.  God can instantly heal people of injuries or diseases, just like a psychic.  So, belief in the existence of God is a lot like believing in the existence of a ghost who has many different psychic powers.
Although billions of people have for many centuries believed in supernatural beings (like ghosts or demons) and in supernatural powers (like those allegedly possessed by psychics), there is no good reason to believe that ghosts actually exist, or that psychics actually exist.  In fact, we have good reason to disbelieve in supernatural beings (like ghosts and demons) and to disbelieve in supernatural powers (like those allegedly possessed by psychics), because such alleged phenomena have been carefully and scientifically investigated for about 150 years, but no solid empirical evidence has ever been discovered that shows any such supernatural beliefs to be true.
So, we have good reason to be skeptical about God, and good reason to doubt that God exists, unless and until powerful empirical evidence confirming the existence of God becomes available.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for that evidence!
B. Skepticism about religions supports skepticism about the existence of God.
In Part 3 of this series  I presented a number of reasons for being skeptical about religions. Given those reasons for skepticism about religions, it might well be the case that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all FALSE.
That is, the worldviews promoted by these religions might well be FALSE, meaning that a large portion of the beliefs and assumptions that constitute each of these worldviews are FALSE.  Since a worldview contains several beliefs and assumptions, it is not necessary that EVERY belief and assumption in a worldview be FALSE in order for the worldview as a whole to be FALSE.  So long as a large portion of the beliefs and assumptions of a worldview are FALSE, that would provide sufficient grounds for evaluating the worldview as being FALSE.
But if all three major Western religions are FALSE, then that means that a large portion of the beliefs and assumptions that constitute the worldviews associated with these religions are FALSE.  One of the beliefs that is part of the worldviews of all three of these religions is the belief that God exists.  But if a large portion of the beliefs and assumptions that constitute these worldviews are FALSE, then it might well be the case that belief in the existence of God was one of those FALSE worldview beliefs.
In any case, if the worldviews of all three major Western religions were FALSE, then these three religions would have no significant credibility.  We could not, in that case, reasonably view any of these religions as a reliable source of knowledge or information about theology, metaphysics, or ethics.   Thus, doubt about the existence of God would be justified, unless there were good reasons independent of these religions to believe in the existence of God.
Reasons for skepticism about religion don’t prove that all religions are FALSE, but they do make it somewhat likely that all three major Western theistic religions are FALSE, and if all three major Western theistic religions were in fact FALSE, then we would have good reason to doubt that God exists.
C. The silence of God supports skepticism about the existence of God.
In Part 2 of this series, I presented this argument for disbelief in the existence of God:

21. IF God exists, THEN it is very likely that God communicated truth or wisdom to human beings through prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years.

22. There have been no prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years that have provided truth or wisdom from God.

THEREFORE:

23. It is probably NOT the case that God exists.

It is clear and certain that the “holy books” of the main three western theistic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) were NOT inspired by God; they do not constitute messages from God.
Jehovah, the god of the Old Testament is clearly a morally flawed person, so that means that Jehovah was NOT God.  But if Jehovah was NOT God, then Moses was a false prophet, and the Torah was NOT inspired by God.  If Jehovah was a false god and Moses was a false prophet, then the other holy books of Judaism (which constitute the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) were also NOT inspired by God, since they assume Jehovah to be God and Moses to be a true prophet.
Jesus believed and taught that Moses was a true prophet, and Jesus practiced and promoted worship and obedience to Jehovah.  Since Moses was in fact a false prophet, and since Jehovah is in fact a false god, it follows logically that Jesus was also NOT a true prophet and NOT the divine Son of God.  If Jesus was NOT a true prophet and NOT the divine Son of God, then the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament were also NOT inspired by God. Thus both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Christian Bible were NOT inspired by God.
According to the Quran, both Moses and Jesus were true prophets of God, so since Moses was in fact a false prophet, and Jesus also was in fact a false prophet, we can logically conclude that the Quran was NOT inspired by God, and that Muhammad himself was a false prophet, just like Moses and Jesus.  Therefore: NONE of the holy books of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam were inspired by God.
Furthermore, other supposedly “holy books” teach or assume that Jesus was a true prophet, or that Moses was a true prophet, or that Muhammad was a true prophet, so those “holy books” are also clearly NOT inspired by God, because Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were in fact false prophets.  For example, The Book of Mormon, and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures both teach or assume that the Bible was inspired by God and that Jesus was a true prophet.  So, it is clear and certain that those two “holy books” are NOT inspired by God.
This means that either there have been NO prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years that have provided messages of truth and wisdom from God, or else that God attempted to communicate with mankind through a prophet and/or holy book in the past four thousand years, but God’s attempt was a failure, because that prophet and/or holy book are now unknown or known only to a small number of human beings.
But God, if God exists, is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good.  How could such a being fail so miserably at an attempt to communicate truth and wisdom to the human race?  The hypothesis that God made such an attempt but failed miserably is very improbable.  So, the most likely scenario is that it is NOT the case that there have been any prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years that provide messages of truth and wisdom from God.
Premise (22) is very likely true, and premise (21) is believed by most Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and it seems very plausible to me too.  Therefore, the silence of God gives us a good reason to believe that there is no God.
D. The utter failure of Peter Kreeft’s case for God supports skepticism about the existence of God.
[Excerpts from some of my posts on Kreeft’s case for God:]
Given that 100% of the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s case FAIL to provide any good reason to believe that God exists, it might seem unlikely that there will be any strong and solid arguments for God among the remaining ten arguments.  However, it seems to me that Kreeft was trying to put his best foot forward by presenting his strongest and best arguments up front, at the beginning of his case, and thus saved the weakest and worst arguments for the second half of his case.
Argument #3 and Argument #5 FAIL for the same reasons that Argument #1 and Argument #2 FAILED:  Kreeft does not bother to SUPPORT the most important premise in each of these arguments, namely the premise that links his stated conclusion to the conclusion that actually matters: “God exists.”
The middle inference or sub-argument [in Argument #4] FAILS to provide a good reason for its conclusion, just like the initial inference or sub-argument FAILS to provide a good reason for its conclusion.  Thus, we may reasonably conclude that Argument #4 is a complete FAILURE.  This argument has multiple serious problems, and so it provides us no good reason to believe that God exists.
Argument #4 fails, and thus ALL FIVE of the arguments that Kreeft apparently believes to be the best and strongest arguments for the existence of God FAIL, just like ALL TEN of the last arguments of his case FAIL.  At this point, we have determined that at least 75% of the arguments (15 out of 20) in Kreeft’s case for God FAIL.  Given the perfect consistency of FAILURE in Kreeft’s case so far, it is unlikely that any of the remaining five arguments will turn out to be a strong and solid argument for the existence of God.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2020/04/26/peter-kreefts-case-for-god-2/
E. The utter failure of Norman Geisler’s case for God supports skepticism about the existence of God.
[Excerpts from one of my posts on Geisler’s case for God:]
PHASE 1: GEISLER’s FIVE WAYS
PROBLEM 1:  Geisler FAILS to provide a clear definition of the word “God”, thus making his whole argument unclear and confusing.
PROBLEM 2:  Geisler has only ONE argument for the existence of God, but he mistakenly believes he has FIVE different and independent arguments for the existence of God.
PROBLEM 3: Geisler makes a confused and mistaken distinction between proving the existence of God and proving the existence of a being with various divine attributes.
PROBLEM 4: The conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments are UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS, leading to multiple fallacies of EQUIVOCATION by Geisler.
PROBLEM 5:  Because Geisler consistently FAILS to show that there is EXACTLY ONE being of such-and-such kind, he cannot prove that  “the cause of the beginning of the universe” is the same being as “the cause of the current existence of the universe” or as “the designer of the universe” or as “the moral lawgiver”.  
PHASE 2: THE CREATOR’S PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
PROBLEM 6:  Geisler simply ASSUMES without providing any reason or argument that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that designed the universe, and that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that produced moral laws.
PHASE 3: THE EXISTENCE OF A NECESSARY BEING
PROBLEM 7:  Geisler illogically shifts from the claim that a perfect being must be a necessary being to the assumption that a being that caused the universe to begin to exist must be a necessary being.  This is an INVALID inference.
PHASE 4: THE IMPLICATIONS OF “A NECESSARY BEING”
PROBLEM 8: In his reasoning about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”, Geisler confuses different senses of the verb “to be” leading to INVALID inferences about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”.
PHASE 5: ONLY ONE INFINITE BEING
PROBLEM 9: Geisler’s assumption that two unlimited beings would be indistinguishable from each other is FALSE and it also contradicts a basic Christian dogma.
PHASE 6: GOD EXISTS
PROBLEM 10: Geisler has adopted a Thomistic concept of God, but this Thomistic concept of God is INCOHERENT, making it a necessary truth that “It is NOT the case that God exists.”
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2020/04/26/geislers-case-for-the-existence-of-god/
F. The fact that arguments for God often provide reasons against the existence of God supports skepticism about the existence of God. 
There is a theme in Jeff Lowder’s case for Naturalism:  the thinking of religious believers is often distorted by confirmation bias.  They look for evidence that supports their belief in God, but ignore, or forget, or fail to notice, evidence that goes against their belief in God.
When believers offer some reason or evidence for the existence of God, it is often the case that if you look a little closer at that evidence, or take a step back and look at the general sort of evidence or phenomena that an argument for God relies upon, you find powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, evidence that was missed or ignored by religious believers.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2020/03/03/arguments-for-god-that-are-arguments-against-god/
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 3: No Messages from God (continued)

WHERE WE ARE
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

My doubts about the existence of God are related to skepticism in general, and to three specific areas of skepticism:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Claims
  • Skepticism about Religion
  • Skepticism about the Existence of God

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.
My skepticism about supernatural claims also reinforces my skepticism in general, because billions of people over many centuries have believed many false supernatural claims about various alleged supernatural powers and forces, and about various alleged supernatural beings, confirming my CYNICISM, the view that human beings are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
In this post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about religion, and in a future post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.
 
SKEPTICISM ABOUT RELIGION
A. Almost all religions are false or contain significant errors.
The major world religions contradict each other, and not just on minor points.  They disagree about some of the most basic and important issues that religions address.  At best only ONE of the major world religions can be true, only ONE can be consistently correct about it’s basic teachings, and the rest are false or are fundamentally mistaken about some of their most basic teachings:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/11/14/skepticism-about-religion-part-5-disagreement-between-religions/
B. Christianity and most other religions involve a conjunction of several questionable beliefs. 
Because there is a significant number of independent beliefs and a significant degree of independence even with those Christian beliefs that have some logical or causal relationship,  probabilities must generally be multiplied here.  Although Christians often assert these beliefs dogmatically and with great confidence, it seems clear to me that an objective evaluation of these beliefs can at most arrive at the conclusion that the belief is probable or in a few cases, very probable.  But with a dozen beliefs at issue, it is highly probable that at least one of the dozen or so of these beliefs is false.  The same objection applies to all major world religions (and to at least some secular worldviews):
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/09/21/skepticism-and-conjunctions/
C. Religious belief is distributed geographically, and is based primarily on socialization and indoctrination.
Why is the religion of a person so closely related to the location where he or she was born and raised?  The answer is obvious: religious beliefs are typically based on cultural bias and social conditioning.  People who are born and raised in Turkey or Saudi Arabia are raised to be Muslims.  People who are born and raised in Venezuela or Bolivia are raised to be Christians.  People who are born and raised in Cambodia or Thailand are raised to be Buddhists.  The society or culture of the country where one is born and raised has a great deal of influence over which religion one will believe and practice:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/11/15/skepticism-about-religion-part-6-cultural-bias-and-social-conditioning/
John Loftus rightly emphasizes this point:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/12/27/unapologetic-review-part-8-religion-irrationality/
https://religions.wiki/index.php/Outsider_test
D. The natural biases of egocentrism and sociocentrism motivate uncritical religious belief.
It is very obvious to most Christians that the Quran was NOT inspired by God. But the very same reasons why Christians reject the inspiration of the Quran apply to the Bible, especially to the Old Testament. This belief in the inspiration of the Bible is partly based on socialization and indoctination, but it is also based on egocentrism and sociocentrism. Christians firmly believe that their ingroup is right about the Bible being inspired and the Quran NOT being inspired, not based on an objective analysis of the relevant facts, but because they identify with Christians: “WE believe what is true and wise, but THEY (Muslims) believe what is false and foolish.” People in every century and every country commonly believe that their people are the best and wisest people in the world and that people of other cultures are bad and foolish, or at least not as good and wise as the people of their own culture.
Dr. Richard Paul, a leading theorist and advocate of Critical Thinking, emphasized the problem of motivated bias in thinking, especially the biases of egocentrism and sociocentrism:

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.   [emphasis added]
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/our-conception-of-critical-thinking/411

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.   People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically.    They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked.   They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies.   They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking.   They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. [emphasis added]
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

E. Historical examples of wishful thinking (such as belief in panaceas) support skepticism about most religions and worldviews.
For historical examples see the section called “HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF WISHFUL THINKING” in  Part 2 of this series.
The Christian worldview is dubious because it presents a panacea (Slides 22 and 23 from the PowerPoint that I created for a podcast: Thinking Critically about Christianity – Podcast 5).  For a clearer view, click on the images below:

The same objection can be raised against MOST religions (as well as at least some secular worldviews), so MOST religions should be viewed with significant skepticism.
F. Happiness and virtue do NOT correlate with religion. 
…if religion is not the key to happiness, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to happiness.  Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to happiness, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to happiness.  So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to happiness, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true.  If religion in general is disconnected from happiness, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/09/11/a-case-for-atheism-skepticism-about-religion-part-1/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/09/15/skepticism-about-religion-part-2-caveats-and-qualifications/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/09/20/skepticism-about-religion-part-3-more-caveats-and-qualifications/
…if religion is not the key to virtue, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to virtue.  Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to virtue, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to virtue.  So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to virtue, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true.  If religion in general is disconnected from virtue, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion.
If religion was the key to virtue, then we would expect that the most religious states in the USA would have the least amount of crime, the lowest crime rates.  But in fact, the most religious states tend to have the highest crime rates. … If religion was the key to virtue, then we would expect that the least religious states in the USA to have the most crime, the highest crime rates.  But in fact, the least religious states tend to have the lowest crime rates:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/10/24/skepticism-about-religion-part-4-religion-and-virtue/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/05/27/god-guns-and-school-shootings/
G. As science explains more and more of reality, religion explains less and less.
The Bible used to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of species, the origin of human beings, and the origin of languages.  But in the 21st century, science explains the origin and development of the universe, science explains the origin of species, and science explains the origin of human beings, and science and history explain the origin of languages.
Earthquakes, floods, lightning, pandemics, and famines used to be explained as acts of God by Christians and by other religious people.  But now science explains how and why these kinds of events happen.  Diseases and mental illnesses used to be explained in terms of the actions of God or the activity of demons.  But science now provides us with explanations of diseases and mental illnesses, as well as providing us with cures and therapies for treating diseases and mental illnesses.  So, with the continuing advance of science, there is less and less for religion to explain by appeals to supernatural causes (like the actions of God, or demons, or angels).
It now appears that about the only thing left for religion to explain is human nature, especially human minds, thinking, and consciousness.  But science is beginning to make significant advances in helping us to understand human minds, thinking, and consciousness, so it is reasonable to think that religion will soon lose this final bit of territory to further advances of science.  Given that there is very little left for religions to explain, and given that the explanations that religion provided in the past have nearly always turned out to be false and unsupported by facts and data, we now have very good reason to be skeptical about religion as a source of truth and wisdom.
H. Skepticism about Miracles and Revelation casts doubt on Western theistic religions (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
First, there are no modern-day miracles.  This is just as clear as that there are no modern-day psychics (who actually move objects with their minds or who actually “see” events in the future), no modern-day wizards or witches (who actually perform feats of magic), no modern-day mediums (who actually communicate with dead people), no modern-day philosopher’s stone, no modern-day elixir of life, no modern-day panacea.  Many people still believe in such bullshit, but there is no significant scientific evidence for such alleged supernatural phenomena.
Thus, it is reasonable to be suspicious of miracle stories from ancient times, especially in view of the fact that modern science has only been around since Galileo (around 1600), and the masses have never been particularly fond of science (e.g. the current president is proud of his anti-scientific beliefs, and he has millions of idiotic fans who adore him precisely because of his antagonism to science and scholarship).
Why would God perform miracles in the ancient past, when people were hopelessly ignorant, superstitious, and credulous, but then stop performing miracles when science, careful empirical observation, and education became common?  The most obvious explanation is NOT that God changed policies on interfering in human lives, but that miracle claims were always FALSE, and that it has simply become more difficult to get people to believe FALSE miracle claims in the age of science, careful empirical observation, and widespread public education.
Miracles play an important role in Western theistic religious traditions.  They provide “evidence” for divine revelation.  Jesus, for example, allegedly performed nature miracles (walking on water, turning water into wine,  stopping a storm with a single command, and bringing a dead person back to life).  These miracles are supposed to provide “evidence” that Jesus was a true prophet, and that his claims to be the Messiah and the divine Son of God were true, and thus miracles provide “evidence” to show that the teachings of Jesus are teachings from God, revelations from God.  Moses allegedly performed many amazing miracles, which is supposed to provide “evidence” that Moses was a true prophet, and thus that the laws of Moses were, as Moses claimed, from God himself, revelations from God.
Miracles, in short, are the main “evidence” that certain teachings or messages or sacred writings were inspired by God, messages from God.  But there is a fundamental problem with this way of supporting claims of divine revelation:  In order to be able to identify an event as being a MIRACLE, we must first figure out the plans and purposes of God.   Apart from such knowledge, we cannot identify a particular event as being something that God intentionally brought about.
We cannot see God.  We cannot observe God by means of any of our senses.  God has no body, according to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  So, we cannot physically observe God doing something, in the way that we can observe people and animals (who have physical bodies) do something.  Because God has no physical body,  God does not leave any physical traces.  No finger prints, no foot prints,  no hairs, no saliva, no sperm, no blood, no urine, no skin cells.
The only way to try to identify God as the being who intentionally brought about event X, is to know what the plans and purposes of God are, and to determine whether bringing about event X fits well with God’s plans and purposes.  The problem is that we don’t know anything specific about God’s plans and purposes.
We can infer from the definition of God that God will only do things that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person would do.  But that doesn’t really tell us much.  Afterall, God, if God exists, appears to have created a world with a great deal of evil and suffering in it, which doesn’t seem like what we would expect an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person to do.  God, if God exists, created a world where everything dies, and where billions of sentient creatures suffer from physical injuries, mutations, poisons, diseases, parasites, cancer, predators, fires, floods, earthquakes, famines, etc.
If there is a God, God does not behave in the way that we would expect a perfect being to behave.  So, either there is no God, or we are not very good at figuring out the plans and purposes God.  Of course religious people often claim to know God’s plans and purposes, but their claims are based either on scriptural revelation (e.g. the Bible, the Quran, Book of Mormon) or on alleged personal communication with God.  But if the Bible and Jesus require miracles to support their claims to divine inspiration, then so do individuals who claim to talk with God today.  There is no reason to accept such claims about personal communication with God apart from strong evidence, namely the occurrence of a miracle associated directly with that person.
But now we are reasoning in a BIG CIRCLE.  In order to show that Jesus or the Bible (or the Quran or the Book of Mormon) are truly communicating messages from God, we must first determine whether some alleged events actually occurred and were actually miracles (e.g. Jesus really did walk on water AND this happened because God intentionally caused it to happen, and Jesus really did turn water into wine AND this happened because God intentionally caused it to happen).  But in order to determine whether some alleged event really was a miracle, we must first know details about the plans and purposes of God, which we can only know on the basis of revelation (i.e. messages from God).
So, it appears to me that it is NOT possible to identify an event as being a miracle, because we don’t know any details about God’s plans and purposes (if God exists), and because we need to first identify a miracle before we can get specific information about God’s plans and purposes:
The above is slide 13 from my PowerPoint called “Belief in Miracles“.
In the next post in this series, I will give my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 2: No Messages from God

REASON FOR DOUBT #1
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

The question “Does God exist?” is not a simple and easy question to answer.  However, in my view there are no good reasons to believe God exists, but there are good reasons to doubt and to disbelieve that God exists.  I cannot establish these conclusions with just a single blog post, but I have written many posts that are concerned with arguments about the existence of God, so I can summarize my conclusions and point to various posts that I have previously published.
If it is unlikely that God exists, then it is also unlikely that there are prophets who communicate truth or wisdom that they received in communications from God, and it is unlikely that there are books that contain truth or wisdom from God.
 
THE SILENCE OF GOD
Furthermore, we can turn this reasoning around, and argue that there probably is no God, because there are no true prophets and no books that were truly inspired by God.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims argue that there are prophets and writings that provide us with messages from God.  Part of their argument is based on the following assumption:

21. IF God exists, THEN it is very likely that God communicated truth or wisdom to human beings through prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years.

This seems like a reasonable assumption to me, but this assumption can also be used to argue for the conclusion that there is no God:

21. IF God exists, THEN it is very likely that God communicated truth or wisdom to human beings through prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years.

22. There have been no prophets or holy books in the past four thousand years that have provided truth or wisdom from God.

THEREFORE:

23. It is probably NOT the case that God exists.

Premise (22) appears to beg the question against the belief that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God, but we can set Leviticus aside for the moment, and think about other allegedly inspired writings:

  • The Quran
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
  • Deuteronomy and Joshua (other OT books)

If one was not raised a Muslim, then it is very obvious that the Quran was NOT inspired by God.  If one was not raised as a Mormon, then it is very obvious that The Book of Mormon was NOT inspired by God.  If one was not raised as a Christian Scientist, then it is very obvious that Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures was NOT inspired by God.  When Christian believers who accept the traditional Christian faith examine allegedly inspired writings of other religions or non-traditional Christian sects, they very quickly (and correctly) determine that those other writings were NOT inspired by God.
However, the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, has most of the same defects as the Quran.  In fact, the OT is often worse than the Quran in terms of the cruelty and injustice and bloodthirsty character of Jehovah, the god of the Israelites.  So, the very same reasons that Christians give for rejecting the Quran as NOT being inspired by God apply to the Bible, especially to the OT.  It is clear that the OT is no more inspired than the Quran.  Christians are just biased and hypocritical in how they evaluate the Quran vs. how they evaluate the Bible.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/08/09/ive-got-one-less-prophet-without-you/
The OT is filled with false claims and assumptions, both false claims and assumptions about nature, and false claims and assumptions about historical events.  The OT is also filled with cruel, unjust, and immoral actions and commandments by and from Jehovah, the god of the Israelites.  So, either the OT is filled with SLANDER and FALSEHOODS about what God said and did, or else it accurately portrays the words and actions of Jehovah, but Jehovah is NOT GOD, and therefore the being who communicated with Moses was NOT GOD, and thus the OT was NOT inspired by God.  Either way, the OT is, in general, NOT inspired by God.
It would be rather unlikely that Leviticus was inspired by God while the rest of the OT was inspired by a cruel, unjust, and morally flawed being named “Jehovah”.  We will see later that Leviticus has the same problems as the rest of the OT.
Deuteronomy and Joshua clearly describe Jehovah as commanding that the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, teenager, child, and baby who lived in the geographical area called “the promised Land” (basically Palestine), in order to steal the land from the peoples who had already settled in that area.  This massive slaughter of innocent civilians and children and babies is cruel, unjust, and immoral, so it is clear that Jehovah, as described by Deuteronomy and Joshua is a morally flawed person, and thus is NOT GOD.  Therefore, either Deuteronomy and Joshua contain SLANDER and FALSEHOODS about God, or else Jehovah said and did what these books claim, and Jehovah is NOT God.  Either way, it follows logically that Deuteronomy and Joshua are NOT books that were inspired by God.
For further details see my recent series of posts on this subject:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2020/07/06/index-was-joshuas-slaughter-of-the-canaanites-morally-justified/
 
GENERAL SKEPTICISM PLUS THREE SPECIFIC AREAS OF SKEPTICISM
My doubts about the existence of God are related to skepticism in general, and to three specific areas of skepticism:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Claims
  • Skepticism about Religion
  • Skepticism about the Existence of God

I am a SKEPTIC because I am a CYNIC.  It is not the case that all skeptics are cynics.  However, it is probably true that many skeptics are cynics (like me).
Furthermore, my cynicism is not merely a pessimistic prejudice about humans, but is supported by historical and scientific data, and investigations into human behavior.  Science and history support cynicism.
By CYNICISM I mean: the view that human beings are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
My SKEPTICISM can be summed up this way: QUESTION AUTHORITY!  People very often boldly and confidently assert (or believe) things that are FALSE or UNREASONABLE.  Donald Trump, for example, does this several times a day. This is because people are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
See the second half of the following post, the section called “REASONS FOR SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL”:  Why I Reject the Resurrection – Part 4: Skepticism about the Supernatural.
 
HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF WISHFUL THINKING
[The above are slides from a PowerPoint that I created for a podcast: Thinking Critically about Christianity – Podcast 5.  Slides 17 through 21 provide the above historical examples of wishful thinking.]
 
SKEPTICISM ABOUT SUPERNATURAL CLAIMS
There are at least three areas of skepticism about supernatural claims that provide examples and evidence supporting doubt about the supernatural:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Powers: ESP, Psychics, Prophets, Astrology, Telekinesis, Levitation.
  • Skepticism about Supernatural Beings: angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, fairies.
  • Skepticism about faith healers, psychic healers, shaman, and/or new age medicine (Homeopathy, Crystals, Chakras, etc.)

There has been about 150 years of investigation into ESP, telekinesis, and psychics, and no significant evidence has been found that confirms popular belief in these alleged supernatural powers.  Belief in such supernatural powers is due to wishful thinking, gullibility, superstition, bias, deception, and other forms of ignorance and irrationality.
There is no significant evidence for the existence of angels, demons, spirits, or ghosts.  Mediums who claim to communicate with the dead have been studied for over 150 years, and no significant evidence has been found that confirms the popular belief that mediums are able to communicate with the spirits of dead people.  The fact that billions of people have believed in angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, and mediums for many centuries just shows that people are in general, naive, gullible, superstitious, ignorant, and uncritical thinkers.
Faith healers, psychic healers, and New Age medicine (homeopathy, crystals, chakras) are generally practiced by con artists, quacks, and charlatans, and by some superstitious true believers.  There is no significant scientific evidence that confirms the ability of faith healers, psychic healers, shaman, or New Age medicine to heal people of any actual organic diseases (as opposed to making people feel less anxious or fearful or to feel better in some psychological way).  Billions of naive, ignorant, uncritical, superstitious people have for many centuries believed in faith healing, psychic healing, shamanic healing, and/or in New Age medicine, but they are simply more examples supporting general cynicism about human beings.
Billions of human beings over many centuries have uncritically and unreasonably accepted various supernatural beliefs like those listed above.  But whenever such alleged supernatural powers or supernatural beings or supernatural forces are carefully and scientifically investigated, we either find natural explanations for the phenomena, or we find that there is no significant empirical evidence that such supernatural phenomena exist.
That does not mean that there is no possibility that one day someone will discover a supernatural phenomenon that can be confirmed by careful scientific investigation, but the repeated FAILURE of ANY alleged supernatural powers or supernatural beings or supernatural forces to be confirmed when carefully investigated makes is VERY UNLIKELY that any such supernatural phenomena actually exists.
=================
Articles on General Skepticism about the Paranormal
creators-of-the-paranormal
eyewitness-testimony-and-the-paranormal
psychic-experiences-psychic-illusions
cold-reading-how-to-convince-strangers-that-you-know-all-about-them
confirmbias
coincidences
coincidences-remarkable-or-random
Articles on Skepticism about Astrology
Astrology_and_science
astrology
astrology-more-like-religion-than-science
does-astrology-need-to-be-true-a-thirty-year-update
astrology-strikes-back-but-to-what-effect
belief-in-astrology-a-test-of-the-barnum-effect
tests-of-astrology-do-not-support-its-claims
Articles on Skepticism about ESP, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, and Psychokinesis
psychic
esp
clairvoyance
psychokinesis
mind-over-metal
fakers-and-innocents
the-case-of-the-psychic-detectives
psychic-pets-and-pet-psychics
failed-psychic-predictions-for-1998
psychics-strike-out-again-in-1995
psychics-fail-once-again
a-controlled-test-of-dowsing-abilities
Articles on Skepticism about Parapsychology
psihistory
heads-i-win-tails-you-lose-how-parapsychologists-nullify-null-results
the-evidence-for-psychic-functioning-claims-vs-reality
the-elusive-open-mind-ten-years-of-negative-research-in-parapsychology
a-critique-of-schwartz-et-als-after-death-communication-studies
Articles on Skepticism about Specific Psychics and Mediums
geller
dixon
cayce
ramtha
psychic-defective-sylvia-brownes-history-of-failure
years-later-sylvia-brownes-accuracy-remains-dismal
Geraldine Smith – Toronto Psychic
investigation-of-psychics  (James Hydrick and Alan Vaughan)
nostradamus-a-new-look-at-an-old-seer
john-edward-spirit-huckster
testing-natasha
nostradamus-the-prophet-for-all-seasons
edgar-cayce-the-slipping-prophet
the-geller-papers
Articles on Skepticism about Supernatural Beings
ghosts
haunted
poltergeist
fairies
exorcism
satan
so-you-have-a-ghost-in-your-photo
firebug-poltergeists
dispelling-demons-detective-work-at-the-conjuring-house
the-200-demons-house-a-skeptical-demonologists-report
the-conjuring-ghosts-poltergeist-demons
the-bell-witch-poltergeist
enfield-poltergeist
john-edward-spirit-huckster
demons-in-connecticut
a-skeletons-tale-the-origins-of-modern-spiritualism
ghosts-caught-on-film
ghost-hunters-2
amityville-the-horror-of-it-all
john-edward-hustling-the-bereaved
exorcism-driving-out-the-nonsense
Articles on Skepticism about Faith Healing, Faith Healers, and New Age Medicine
faithhealing
Faith_healing  (Kathryn Kuhlman and Peter Popoff)
psychic surgery
homeopathy
crystals
crystal-healing
Crystal_healing
johnofgod
john-of-god-healings-by-entities
benny-hinn-healer-or-hypnotist
peter-popoff-reaches-heaven-via-39-17-megahertz
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 1: Outline of My Reasons for Doubt

Recently, I posted a meme on my personal Facebook page that challenged the Christian argument that sex between two men is morally wrong because this is allegedly prohibited in the Old Testament book called Leviticus.
The basic objection in the meme is that there are several things that Leviticus prohibits that Christians seem to have no moral objections against.

  • Eating ham or bacon or pork ribs or pork chops or pork roast or pork sausage:

The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you. (Leviticus 11:7-8)

  • Eating shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels:

10 But anything in the seas or the streams that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and among all the other living creatures that are in the waters—they are detestable to you 11 and detestable they shall remain. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall regard as detestable. 12 Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. (Leviticus 11:10-12)

  • Planting a mixture of two different kinds of seeds or wearing clothes made from two different kinds of material or fabric:

19 You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.  (Leviticus 19:19)

  • Trimming your sideburns or beard:

27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. (Leviticus 19:27)

  • Getting a tattoo:

28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:28)

  • Having sex with a woman when she is on her period:

19 “‘Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period. (Leviticus 18:19)

Christians have no interest in passing laws against any of these other things prohibited by Leviticus.  Christians don’t condemn or criticize people who do these other things prohibited by Leviticus.  Christians themselves often openly practice these other things prohibited by Leviticus, and feel no shame in doing so.
One of my Facebook friends is a Catholic, a philosophy student, and an admirer of Aquinas.  He made this comment in response to my posting of the meme:

I asked Christopher how reason alone could show that sex between men was evil, and he responded by pointing me to an article that presented a Thomist argument against homosexual sex.
I plan to analyze and evaluate that argument here on The Secular Outpost later this year, but first I want to deal with the argument against homosexual sex based on quotations from the Old Testament book Leviticus.
Off the top of my head, I came up with a dozen reasons to doubt this argument that is based on the book of Leviticus.  Some of the reasons are indented (namely reasons 3 through 8) because they not only provide some independent reason for doubt, but also provide support for the second reason (i.e. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.).  So, the list below will provide me with a plan for future posts in this new series of posts.
======================
A DOZEN REASONS WHY I DOUBT THAT LEVITICUS PROVIDES US WITH A LEGITIMATE MORAL PROHIBITION AGAINST SEX BETWEEN TWO MEN
1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 
2. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God. (Leviticus is just another book written by ignorant and imperfect human beings).

3. Leviticus was NOT written or authored by Moses.
4. Leviticus is NOT an historically reliable account of actual events.
5. Leviticus contains bad moral guidelines.
6. Leviticus contains bad laws and bad social guidelines.
7. Leviticus contains false information.
8. Leviticus contains logical contradictions.

9. It is unclear and uncertain whether the relevant passages in existing copies of Leviticus are accurate representations of the original text of Leviticus.
10. It is unclear and uncertain whether the relevant passages in existing copies of Leviticus prohibit sex between two men. 
11. Even if the relevant passages in existing copies of Leviticus prohibit sex between two men, it is unclear and uncertain WHY Leviticus prohibits sex between two men.
12. Even if the relevant passages in existing copies of Leviticus prohibit sex between two men, it is unclear and uncertain whether this prohibition applies to Christians, or even to modern Jews.

bookmark_borderWas Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 5: Pro-Life Hypocrisy

Before Moses and the nation of Israel reached the Jordan river, Jehovah was busy revealing himself to be a SELFISH JERK and a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant.  The attempt to justify and excuse Jehovah’s command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER thousands of Canaanites, including civilians, including elderly men and women, mothers and fathers, teenage boys and girls, young children, and babies, on the grounds that Jehovah’s command was merely “locker room” talk, not meant to be interpreted literally, and that the Old Testament stories about Moses and Joshua and the army of Israel following this horrible command were also nothing but “locker room” talk, is BULLSHIT.
We know that this is a pathetic attempt to rationalize the cruelty and injustice of Jehovah,  because it was ALREADY clear, before Moses and Israel arrived at the Jordan river, that Jehovah was a SELFISH JERK, and that Jehovah was a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant.  It was ALREADY clear that Jehovah was precisely the sort of person who would command the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of thousands of human beings, including civilians, including elderly men and women, mothers and fathers, teenage boys and girls, young children, and babies.  We can know this on the basis of understanding the Ten Commandments given by Jehovah to Moses.
I part 4 of this series I argued that two general points about the Ten Commandments support the view that Jehovah was a SELFISH JERK.  I also argued that Jehovah’s demand that the first four commandments, which are RELIGIOUS LAWS (or alleged duties of humans towards God), be enforced by the most extreme penalty, i.e. the death penalty (and in some cases, the indiscriminate slaughter of entire towns), shows that Jehovah was a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant.  

It is now time to consider the FIVE remaining commandments, which are about human duties towards other humans (the 10th “commandment” is psychological advice, and thus not a requirement about actions, like the other nine):

5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not murder.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

For the complete and precise wording(s), see Exodus 20:1–17 and  Deuteronomy 5:4–21.
The above summary is from the Wikipedia article “Ten Commandments“.
 
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT AND JEHOVAH
Here is the fifth commandment as stated in the book of Exodus:
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.    Exodus 20:12  (New Revised Standard Version)
I have no problem with the idea that children ought to respect and obey their parents, at least if their parents aren’t criminals or drug addicts, and if their parents don’t physically or sexually or psychologically abuse them.  Parent’s generally know better than their children, especially young children, what is good and healthy and safe, and what is bad and unhealthy and unsafe.  So, it is (usually) better for children to respect and obey their parents, better for their own health, safety, and well-being.
However, it was extremely cruel and unjust for Jehovah to enforce this as a LAW using the most extreme form of punishment: the death penalty.  In the very next chapter, we see that Jehovah, once again, loves cruelty and bloodshed:
15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
17 Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.   Exodus 21:15 & 17  (New Revised Standard Version)
It shouldn’t be necessary (at this point) to argue against the pathetic rationalization of Jehovah’s cruelty that consists of the implausible claim that this is just “locker room” talk by Jehovah, and that the death penalty was not really intended to be used against those who violate the fifth commandment.
However, there is some further evidence that shows this lame excuse will not work here.  First, the initial four commandments concerning human duties towards God were ALL enforced by the threat of DEATH.  So, it is only reasonable to expect that the very first commandment concerning human duties towards other humans would be one of the most important of such duties, and thus would also, like all four previous commandments, be enforced by the threat of DEATH.
Second, the book of Leviticus re-iterates Jehovah’s call for the death penalty:
9 All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them.   Leviticus 20:9 (New Revised Standard Version)
Third, the book of Deuteronomy provides a specific procedure for implementing the death penalty in such cases:
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him,
19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place.
20 They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.”
21 Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.  So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.  Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (New Revised Standard Version)
So, YES, Jehovah really did mean what he said.  Jehovah commanded that disobedient and disrespectful children be PUT TO DEATH.  The fifth commandment thus shows us that Jehovah was a cruel  and bloodthirsty tyrant.
 
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT AND JEHOVAH

Here is how the sixth commandment is stated in the book of Exodus:
13 You shall not murder.  Exodus 20:13 (New Revised Standard Version)
It should be no surprise that Jehovah demanded that this sixth commandment, like all five previous commandments, was to be enforced by the threat of DEATH:
12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death.
13 If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee.
14 But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.   Exodus 21:12-17 (New Revised Standard Version)
That the law against murder was to be enforced by the death penalty is re-iterated in the book of Leviticus and in Numbers:
17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death.     Leviticus 24:17 (New Revised Standard Version)
30 If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness.  Numbers 35:30  (New Revised Standard Version)
The idea that Jehovah’s demand for the death penalty in cases of murder was mere hyperbole  (“locker room” talk) is so ridiculous that I won’t bother to respond to that objection.  So, we now see that of the first six commandments, Jehovah required that each one of them was to be enforced by the threat of DEATH.
Now, from my point of view there is nothing unjust about the punishment for murder being the death penalty, EXCEPT for this one little problem:  ALL HAVE SINNED.  In other words, human beings, all human beings, are morally imperfect.  Some human beings are downright evil (e.g. people like Adolf Hitler who like to go around MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERING elderly men and women, mothers and fathers, teenage boys and girls, young children, and babies).  Because people are morally imperfect, and also imperfect in their knowledge and beliefs, I don’t trust governments and legal systems to fairly and justly employ the penalty of death for any crime whatsoever.
Even with our modern system of justice, where accused persons have a right to remain silent, and have a right to have an attorney defend them (even if they cannot afford one), and have the right to a trial by jury, and have the right to cross examine those who testify in their trial, and who are supposed to be convicted ONLY IF the evidence leaves no room for reasonable doubt about their guilt, and who have many opportunities to appeal their conviction in higher courts, many innocent people are still convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  So, we ought not to entrust governments and legal systems with the tremendous power to use the death penalty, even though it is, in theory, fair and just to take the life of a murderer as punishment for their crime.
God is, by definition, all-knowing.  So, God, if God exists, knows that ALL HAVE SINNED.  God knows that all human beings are morally flawed, and that all human beings have flawed knowledge and beliefs, so God knows that it is likely that human governments and legal systems will often fail to do justice when a person is accused of murder.  So, God, if God exists, knows better than to DEMAND the death penalty even for the crime of murder, because that will clearly lead to the unjust killing of many innocent people by flawed human governments and legal systems.
But Jehovah, on the other hand, LOVES BLOODSHED.  So, of course Jehovah demanded that the sixth commandment, like the previous five commandments, be enforced by the threat of DEATH.  Jehovah is a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant, so he could care less if some innocent people are killed by flawed governments and legal systems.  Jehovah is just a SELFISH JERK.
There is another aspect of the sixth commandment that reveals the dark side of Jehovah’s character.  It is OK to kill your wife or son or daughter if you find out they have worshiped some god other than Jehovah.  In fact, it is YOUR DUTY to do so.  It is OK to kill an old man who was just picking up some sticks on a Saturday afternoon, to be able to cook up some soup for his wife. In fact, it is YOUR DUTY to do so.  It is OK to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER the elderly men and women, and mothers and fathers, and teenage boys and girls, and young children, and babies in a town, if some of the adults in that town have been worshiping some god other than Jehovah.  In fact, it is YOUR DUTY to do so.  It is OK to kill your own child, if that child has disobeyed or disrespected you and you report this bad behavior to the authorities.
So, Jehovah winks at a lot of killing, killing that any reasonable person would view as being homicide or murder.  So, the commandment against “murder” is not actually opposed to murder,  it only opposes those particular murders that Jehovah hasn’t already blessed.  Jehovah declares many forms of murder to be OK, and that is supposed to magically make it good.  But a rose by any other name, is still a rose.  So, the sixth commandment positively REEKS OF HYPOCRISY and DOUBLETHINK.
Jehovah is nothing but a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant; he could care less about the value of human lives or “the right to life” that so many Catholics and Evangelicals pretend to embrace.
Here is yet another example of Jehovah’s cruelty and injustice concerning murder:
20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 
21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.   Exodus 21:20-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Notice that the punishment of the slave owner is NOT specified.  There is no DEMAND from Jehovah that the slave owner be KILLED or STONED TO DEATH as a punishment.
I’m sure that racist southern slave owners LOVED this bit of “wisdom” from Jehovah.  Some of them probably tattooed it onto the backs of their African slaves, or had this passage carved into a plaque to hang over their fireplaces.   According to Jehovah, they could beat a slave nearly to death, and refuse to have the wounds of the slave be properly attended to, and then when the slave died a day or two later, the slave owner would be completely innocent, and face no punishment whatsoever for having murdered another human being.
“You are MY PROPERTY, so it is OK for me to kill you – like Jehovah said.”  Once again, Jehovah wasn’t opposed to murder itself; he was only opposed to murder in some cases, when it suited him to oppose it.   Otherwise, Jehovah LOVES BLOODSHED and killing people.

 To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 3: Believe Whatever Makes You Happy

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here are a couple of alternative ways of answering this question:

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

If the point or purpose of a religion or ideology is to make one’s life better, then why not take the very practical approach of trying out different religions and worldviews, to determine which one does a better job of improving one’s life?
People often assume that happiness or contentment is what makes a life good.  The more happiness and contentment a person has, the better the quality of his or her life.  On this assumption one could experiment with different religions and worldviews, and determine which one resulted in the most happiness and contentment in one’s life.  The principle this thinking supports is approach #2:

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.


But happiness and contentment are not the only goals for life.  These are not necessarily what everyone is seeking in life.  Some people want fame and honor, and some people seek acheivment of difficult goals in sports, science, engineering, music, literature, or other areas.
People who seek acheivement of difficult goals are often willing to sacrifice happiness and contentment for the sake of acheiving their chosen goals.  For such people a life that involves sacrifice of their chosen goals in order to obtain happiness and contentment would NOT be a good life, at least NOT a better life than one where there was less happiness and contentment but where their chosen goals were acheived.   So, a slight modification of approach #2 would be to focus on what “works for” the person who is trying out various religions and worldviews:

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

A life with lots of success at acheiving difficult chosen goals would be one that “works for” some people, even if that life does not maximize their happiness and contentment.
 
APPARENT ADVANTAGES OF THESE PRACTICAL APPROACHES
One advantage of approaches #2 and #3 is that one might be able to find an acceptable religion or worldview after exploring only a few alternatives.  This appears to be a practical approach, one that does not demand perfection of a religion or worldview, but only that a religion or worldview helps one to be happy or that it works for a person, given his/her primary goals in life.
A more philosophical approach appears to be seeking “the TRUE religion” or “the TRUE worldview”,  and to do so in a careful and objective manner.  That would seem to require examination of all religions and worldviews, or at least a large sample of religions and worldviews, in order to avoid bias and to increase the likelihood of discovering the one TRUE point of view.
The more practical approaches referenced above don’t assume that there is only ONE religion or worldview that will “work for” a person, nor that there is one religion or worldview that will work for EVERY person.  Different strokes for different folks.  We have different needs and desires, so why not have different religions and worldviews for different people?  A religion that makes one person happy and content might not make some other person, who has different needs and desires, happy and conent.
A worldview that works for one person might not work for another person.  John Stuart Mill praised LIBERTY for individuals because each of us is, in general, the best judge of what makes us happy.  I know best what makes me happy, so I am the best judge of which religion or worldview makes me happiest, or which religion or worldview works best for me.  A more philosophical approach seems to be in search of the ONE TRUE worldview, a worldview which it would thus be tempting to force everyone to accept.  A philosophical approach appears to seek a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.
Another advantage of these practical approaches to religion/ideology is that it does not require that one be intellectually sophisticated.  To base the choice of a religion or worldview on analysis and evaluation of philosophical arguments, requires that one be somewhat intellectually sophisticated, requires one to have some knowledge and skill in logic and critical thinking, and some knowledge of philosophy and conceptual analysis.
But to determine whether a religion or worldview makes one feel happy or content seems like a simpler and less demanding task.  Aren’t we all naturally good and figuring out whether we are happy and content?  We don’t need any special knowledge or skills in order to figure out whether a religion works for us, or helps us to acheive our main goals.  The practical approaches seem to be easier and less demanding that a philosophical approach to religion and ideology.
 
SOME DISADVANTAGES OF THESE PRACTICAL APPROACHES
We can already see disadvantages just by the previous comparison of approach #2 with approach #3.  Using happiness and contentment as the standard will incline people towards the path of least resistance.  For example, who would want to be a supporter of liberal democracy if born into a nation filled with Nazis or fascists?  Your fellow citizens would beat you silly, throw bricks through the windows of your house, and kill your cat or dog, so there would be very little happiness or contentment for supporters of liberal democracy in such circustances.
There is more happiness and contentment to be had in just going along with the crowd, at least in that sort of situation.  So, if you happen to be born in a fascist country, or a country filled with mindless and spineless followers of “dear leader”, then if happiness and contentment is your goal, you will probably just follow the herd and learn to praise and obey “dear leader” (and watch only Fox News).   This is, at the least, a moral problem with approach #2.
Conversely, although approach #3 does not incline a person so strongly to conformity with the masses, it does have the disadvantage that one might well end up miserable following this approach.  The best chance of success at most difficult to acheive goals is to focus almost exclusively on the goal(s), and sacrifice all other aspects of one’s life, including happiness and contentment.  Most high-acheivers are never satisfied with any particular success or acheivement.  They are driven for perfection and excellence, and set their sights higher than what they can realistically acheive.
Really big goals and projects require multiple generations of effort, so when one kicks off such a grand project, there is little hope of actually seeing the project completed in one’s lifetime.  Personal relationships are often sacrificed by people who are focused on obtaining a difficult-to-acheive goal.  Health and safety are often sacrificed by people who strive to acheive a lofty goal.  Comfort and pleasure are often sacrificed by high achievers.  So, it is not unusual for a person who is focused on acheiving a difficult goal to be a sad, lonely, and generally miserable person.
Although it seems like we are naturally good at figuring out what makes us happy and content, and naturally good at figuring out what “works best” for ourselves,  these practical approaches are not as easy to carry out as it might intially seem.  First of all, you can try out a dozen different flavors of ice cream in one day, but you cannot try out a dozen different religions or worldviews in one day, nor in one week.  You have to learn about the religion/worldview.  You have to learn about its various concepts, beliefs, and practices.  You need to get to know some people who live their lives in accordance with that religion/worldview.  You have to experience a wide variety of events and circumstances over a significant amount of time, to be able to make a reasonable assessment of how living and thinking in accordance with that religion/worldview makes you feel and helps or hinders your plans and goals.
I don’t see how being a Christian or a Buddhist for a week or a month would give one enough information and experience to make any sort of reasonable assessment of how those religions impact one’s life.  But if you have to spend a year or two trying out a religion or worldview in order to have “walked a mile” in someone else’s shoes, then these “practical approaches” are actually very demanding on a person.
Even if one were to spend just one year as a Christian, one year as a Muslim, one year as a Jew, one year as a Buddhist, and one year as a Hindu, that would just scratch the surface of the world of religions.  There are also secular worldviews to try out, like Secular Humanism, and Marxism.   One could easily devote one’s entire adult life to exploring different religions and worldviews, so that even if one was able to determine that religion X or worldview Y “works best for me” or “makes me happiest and most content”, there might be only a few years left of one’s life to fully embrace and enjoy that religion or worldview.
Another difficulty with these practical approaches is that the central aspect of a religion or worldview is what one believes, but beliefs are not easily changed or altered, especially not the basic sorts of beliefs involved in religions and worldviews.   An atheist cannot simply decide to believe in God for a week or a month or a year, nor can a Christian simply decide to stop believing in God and in Jesus for a week or a month or a year.  We don’t have that kind of control over our most basic beliefs and values.  We can try chocolate ice cream and then try vanilla ice cream without any effort or hesitation, but we cannot try out atheism and then immediately switch to trying out faith in God and Jesus.
Furthermore, to the extent that a person does manage to switch temporarily from one religion to another religion, or from one religion to a secular worldview, or from a secular worldview to a religion, the seriousness and legitimacy of that person’s beliefs are cast into doubt.  If you can change your basic beliefs and values on a whim, then presumably you never really had much commitment or involvement with those beliefs and values.
Religious and worldview beliefs are supposed to be part of a person’s character and self-identity.  A person who can simply decide to stop believing in God and stop following Jesus is not much of a Christian believer.  So, someone who “tries out” Christianity for a year, and then on the very last day of the year, immediately stops believing in God and stops praying to Jesus, and stops following Jesus, is NOT someone who has sincerely and seriously been a Christian believer for a year.  It is not clear that it is really possible to “try out” a religion or worldview, at least not as an intentional experiment.
Another difficulty with making “happiness and contentment” the standard by which to judge a religion or worldview, is that it is far from clear what “happiness and contentment” means.  The question “What is happiness?” is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, and it is NOT a particularly easy question to answer.  So, although it seemed initially that no particular knowledge or skill or intellectual sophistication was required to follow approach #2, this may not actually be the case.  It makes no sense to spend years of one’s life trying out different religions and worldviews in order to determine which one does the best job of producing “happiness and contentment” if one is UNCLEAR about what “happiness and contentment” mean.  So, a degree of philosophical and intellectual sophistication may be needed just to get this project started, to get it headed in the right direction.
Similarly,  approach #3 assumes some goals or purposes that are cherished by the individual who is setting out to investigate various religions and worldviews.  But what if a peson’s goals or purposes are bad or foolish?   Suppose a scientist wants to make a bomb so powerful that it could destroy our galaxy? or destroy the entire known universe?  Do we really want to encourage that scientist to find a religion or worldview that HELPS him or her to acheive this horrible goal?  So, it seems like there is an additional first step needed with this approach as well: determining whether the goals or purposes that a person seeks to acheive are truly good and valuable and reasonable goals or purposes.  But this is, once again, a deeply PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, one that requires some intellectual sophistication to have any chance of arriving at a solid and thoughtful conclusion.
Approach #2 is of little use if one is UNCLEAR about what “happiness and contentment” mean, but that is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION requiring some intellectual sophistication.  Approach #3 is of little use if one is UNCERTAIN about the wisdom or value of the basic goals that one seeks to acheive in life, but evaluation of basic goals in life is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION requiring some intellectual sophistication.  So, the initial appearance that these practical approaches do not require any intellectual sophistication, in contrast with my favored philosophical approach, was misleading, and now it appears that the practical approaches also require a degree of intellectual sophistication in order to have some reasonable chance of success.
 
ONE BIG DISADVANTAGE
Perhaps the most important problem with these two practical approaches is that they are UNCONCERNED with truth.  False ideas can be comforting and make one feel good.  The truth is often painful and unpleasant.  So, if we judge religions and worldviews in terms of what makes us feel happy or content, then we are very likely to FAIL to discover what is TRUE or FALSE in terms of religious beliefs and worldview beliefs.
Similarly, ideas and beliefs that help one to acheive a particular goal might well be FALSE.  There is not a direct and constant connection between true beliefs and beliefs that help one to achieve a particular goal.  In any case, even when people focus their best and most intelligent efforts at figuring out what is TRUE and what is FALSE, they still often fail, so if we focus on some other goal besides figuring out the truth, then we are almost guaranteed to FAIL to arrive at the TRUTH.  So, the main problem with these two practical approaches to evaluating religions and worldviews, is that they give up on the search for objective truth.
If there is no such thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH in matters of religion and ideology, then I suppose a practical approach is as good as any other approach.  But before one gives up on OBJECTIVE TRUTH in religion and ideology, one should first put some serious thought into the question “Is there such a thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH in matters of religion and ideology?”  This, of course, is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, and if you want to have any chance of arriving at a solid and well-considered conclusion on this issue, you will need a degree of intellectual sophistication, a degree of skill and knowledge in logic, critical thinking, and philosophy.
So, it makes no sense to jump on board the “happiness and contentment” bus, nor the “it works for me” bus, at least not in order to avoid getting onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, because you are going to have to take a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS before you can reasonably decide whether to get onto one of those practical-approach busses.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 2: Believe What You Were Raised to Believe

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here is an alternative way of answering this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

Although this may seem like an obviously UNREASONABLE way of answering this question, this is the way that almost everyone (or at least most people) initially forms political, religious, and ideological beliefs.
Usually, the parents of a child, if they raise the child together, share similar political and religious beliefs or share a similar worldview.  In that case, the child grows up and is socialized with those political and religious or worldview beliefs constantly operating in the background, and sometimes those beliefs are directly asserted or referenced by the parents.
In recent years marriage between two people who identify with a different religious group has become more common in the USA; nevertheless, about 60% of marriages in recent years are between people of the same religious group, and an even larger portion of marriages from previous decades were between people of the same religious group:

…almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.

(“Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” by Caryle Murphy, JUNE 2, 2015)
In the USA people who identify as Democrats and marry or live with a partner are usually married to or live with a Democrat, and people who identify as a Republicans and marry or live with a partner are usually married or live with a Republican:

While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.

(Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016, June 22, 2016, p. 26)

By Capt. John Severns, U.S. Air Force - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8822138
Schoolgirls sit in the girls’ section of a school in Bamozai, near Gardez, Paktya Province, Afghanistan. The school has no building; classes are held outdoors in the shade of an orchard.

So, in the USA, children are usually raised by parents who share the same religion, and children are usually raised by parents who belong to the same political party.  (However, there is probably a large portion of children in the USA whose parents were EITHER of different religions OR of different political parties).
In the case that the parents of the child do NOT share similar political or religious beliefs, or do NOT share a similar worldview, then the child will have early exposure to opposing or alternative political or religious views, or to alternative worldviews.  In that circumstance, the child cannot simply accept what they “were raised to believe” because their parents influence them in different ideological directions.  The child could take sides, and adopt either one parent’s view or the other parent’s view (or adopt one parent’s religion and the other parent’s political party), and that would partially but not completely follow this approach.
If one’s parents do share a similar ideology or worldview, then there are some advantages to following this way of answering the question “Does God exist?”, especially while the child remains under the care and supervision of his/her parents.   Adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents makes it easier to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with, one’s parents.  It is generally a good thing to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with one’s parents, so adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents, can make one’s family life smoother and more enjoyable.
Furthermore, in some cultures and countries, it can be dangerous and even deadly to reject the ideology or worldview of one’s parents.  In a totalitarian country, for example, if one’s parents have drank the cool-aid and adore the dictator or the “dear leader” of their country, there might be risk of physical punishment or even death to openly oppose the beliefs and practices promoted by “dear leader”.  Sometimes, sacrificing one’s intellectual integrity and accepting the dominant ideology is necessary to avoid homelessness, starvation, prison or even death.
Also, not only do most of us initially form our political and religious or ideological beliefs based on what we were raised to believe, but there isn’t really much of an alternative to this, especially for young children.
Although I share Richard Dawkin’s concern about children being indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam or other religions, the ideal of individual freedom of thought and of freedom to explore a wide range of alternative ideologies and worldviews is NOT directly applicable to young children.
In order to be ABLE to rationally and intellectually analyze and evaluate an ideology or worldview, one needs to (a) learn how to read, (b) learn how to write, (c) learn how to reason, (d) learn some history, (e) learn some math, (f) learn some science, and (g) learn about different cultures, religions, worldviews.  This takes time.  This takes years of education.  A three or four-year-old child does not have the intellectual ability and the knowledge necessary to make reasonable judgments about alternative ideologies and worldviews.
I’m not opposed to young children learning about how to think rationally about political issues, religious issues, about ideological issues or worldview issues, but they need knowledge and skills to do this well, and the knowledge and skills they need take years for them to learn.  We cannot simply present a wide variety of worldviews to three or four-year-old children, and just let them loose to choose their favorite ideology or worldview.
Furthermore, the minds of young children would be too easily influenced and manipulated by teachers and other authorities, even if those teachers and authorities appear to be or try to be “objective” and “fair” in presenting the various alternative viewpoints.
However, we should do a better job of preparing children to take on this project of choosing an ideology or worldview or of creating their own ideology/worldview, so that when they are in high school and college, they can do a good job of rationally evaluating alternative ideologies and worldviews, and make good choices on these matters.
Setting the issue of young children to one side, is there any reason why teenagers or college-age young adults should take the approach of simply believing what they were raised to believe?  One problem here is that, assuming a teenager already has more or less adopted the religious and political views of one or both of their parents (or guardians), it does not seem possible for that teenager to simply let that point of view go and start all over with a blank slate.
We might want teenagers to have the freedom to explore alternative points of view, and we might want them to have good guidance as to how to do this kind of investigation in an honest, rational, logical, fair-minded, and well-informed way, but it seems psychologically and logically impossible to toss out all of one’s previous ideological beliefs and start from scratch.  Realistically, we can only question and challenge one or two aspects of one’s current point of view, because if we set aside our entire point of view, then we have no adequate basis for forming rational conclusions about any given religion or ideology.
But there are obvious problems with simply sticking with what we learned from mom and dad (or from mom and mom, or dad and dad).  First, many parents do NOT have well-thought-out and well-informed views on religion or politics.  If one’s parents both have PhDs in philosophy or comparative religion or political science, then maybe sticking with what mom and dad believed would not be a bad option, because their opinions (in the areas they have studied) are likely to be well-thought-out and well-informed.
But most of us are not born to such parents.  Some people have parents who have college degrees in literature or history or drama or engineering or biology, and those parents, though well-educated, might not have well-thought-out or well-informed views on religion or politics.  Some people are born to parents who did not graduate from college with any degree.  Some people are born to parents who only graduated from high school.  Some people are born to parents who never graduated from high school.  So, in simply adopting the views of one’s parent or parents, many people will be adopting views that were not well-thought-out or well-informed, at least not by their parents.
Another obvious problem with the believe whatever your parents raised you to believe approach is that alternative religious and political viewpoints contradict each other on many important points, so they cannot all be correct.  In other words, we can see from the start that MOST religions are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  We can see from the start that MOST political viewpoints are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  If there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, then if we all just follow in the footsteps of our parents, MOST of us will be adopting a FALSE religion, or a FALSE worldview, or a religion or worldview that contains a number of significant false beliefs.
On the other hand if there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, or a worldview that does not contain a number of significant false beliefs, then careful consideration of arguments and evidence will presumably help people to find or discover that religion or worldview.   So, at least potentially, people who are raised with very different religious or ideological or political points of view, could come to agreement about which religion or ideology or worldview is TRUE, because they could be pointed the same direction by examination of relevant evidence and reasoning.  If we all stick stubbornly to the beliefs of our parents, then human beings will remain divided and in disagreement on a number of our most basic beliefs and values.
The main objection against the use of arguments and evidence in the evaluation of religions, ideologies, and worldviews is that some believe that these are purely subjective ideas and values and thus that there can be no objective and rational way of determining that one religion or ideology or worldview is any better or “more true” than another.  If there is no such thing as objective truth in these matters, then I suppose that dogmatically sticking with the beliefs of your parents is no worse than some other arbitrary way of selecting a religion, worldview, or ideology.