Mike Ko Personal Portfolio

 

Home-School Education
2001-2012
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
2014-2017
United Kingdom

University of Sussex

Master of Arts
2017-2018
United Kingdom



Writing - Original

Religion and the Irrational Mindset

 

                                       

 

                        Religion is a long-standing tradition of human societies. On all continents, various societies have their beliefs on the nature of the world. These can be simple worshipping of ambiguous deities by single tribes. Or they can be institutionalized religions with systematic guidelines, dedicated infrastructures, and followers from various countries. Regardless of their differences, these religions represent our attempt to comprehend our surroundings and human’s place in it. Over a millennium, a few have stood out to become widely believed religions, with followers over a billion adherents.

                        Naturally, different religions have greatly influenced the values and culture of many societies. Yet their effects can be somewhat mixed. On the one hand, religion can offer a moral basis and serve as a unifying cause. Yet on the other hand, religious followers may become overzealous, affixing to their religions to the extreme. This sometimes leads followers to maintain unreasonable perspectives. Some may refuse to accept otherwise logical or even proven facts. More seriously, others have committed violent attacks on religious grounds, which we commonly call terrorism today.

                        In short, it may seem that religions can cause people to think irrationally that can lead to unreasonable or dangerous behavior. This can then lead to serious issues for society. As such, it may be important to understand whether religion actually cause irrationality. To assess this issue, we shall first examine briefly the beliefs of three common religions: Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Next we see how these and other beliefs sometimes disagree with scientific or general culture perspectives. With these in mind, we face the somewhat obvious answer to religions’ link to irrationality. Finally, we see how religion, irrationality, and science affect how societies make decisions.

Three Examples of Religion

                        Of all religions, Christianity is the most prevalent in society. As of 2009, there were nearly 2.3 billion people who held Christianity’s core beliefs worldwide {1}. In general, Christians believe that there is one single divine being simply known as God. After bodily death, God shall determine whether its human soul enters heaven or hell on the Day of Judgment. Christians also assert that a man named Jesus was the incarnation of God. They follow Jesus’ teachings as recorded in the Bible, which includes commands such as to love God. Jesus is reputed to have died but was resurrected, plus he shall grant his followers eternal life eventually {2}. Such beliefs have greatly influenced western countries of the world – and they still do.

                        While Christianity is widespread in western civilizations, another religion dominates in the Middle East and certain Asian and African countries. Known as Islam, this religion had nearly 1.5 billion followers (called Muslims) in 2009 {1}. Islam postulates the existence of a single, incomprehensible god and creator, Allah. The religion is mainly based on the Qur’an, the alleged teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Such knowledge was reputedly revealed to Muhammad by god’s servant, the angel Gabriel. Many aspects of Muslims’ lives are dictated by the divine law called Sharia, which is derived from the Qur’an. Muslims regard the Qur’an as god’s literal word, and that other versions are corrupted by humanity. Like Christians, Muslims also believe in eventual resurrection from death, as well as the Day of Judgment {2}.

                        Although Christianity and Islam both believe in a divine being, not all religions actually do so. One example is Buddhism, which originated from the individual Siddhartha Gautama, known otherwise as the Buddha. Buddhism mainly posits that our existence is one of constant suffering. This is due to one’s desires, and only through detachment from desires will the suffering cease. In addition, Buddhism holds that individuals are naturally reborn after death, turning life into a constant cycle of suffering {2}. Buddhism is relatively less common than the other mentioned religions, with around 460 million Buddhists in 2009 {1}. Despite of that, it has a wide cultural influence on many Asian countries.

                        The three religions mentioned are just examples of common religions. Certainly there are many other religions, large and minor, with their own set of beliefs. Such religions were significant methods for viewing our world for many centuries, and they still are today. As we just saw, there are at least billions of followers of such religions (regardless how devotedly). Yet few religions – if any – ever cite any reasonable evidence to support their beliefs. Human beings, apparently, are willing to believe in things wholeheartedly with questionable validity.

                        Of course, religion is not the only way humans view the world. In particular, a different method that uses observation and hypothesizing to understand nature gradually developed. Recognizing patterns of the world, people devised and tested explanations that can account for such observations. Over time, these logical methods produced the body of knowledge and methods that we now call science.

Conflicts with Religion

                        In many ways, science is regarded as religion’s opposite ideologically. To adopt a religion, all one has to do is to believe. Conversely, science relies on, observations of natural phenomena, logical deductions, experiments, and proven facts to obtain explanations. In other words, you cannot just believe in something without good reason or supporting evidence. These fundamental differences inevitably lead to conflict of various extents, and we shall now examine some examples. Note that the following examples mostly involve major religions, as more people hold those views.

                        Religion-science conflicts can involve general, core beliefs of religions. For example, Christianity and Islam hold that the world and all of its components were created by God {3, 4}. Yet from a scientific perspective, there is no substantial evidence for divine creation at the very least. The same applies to any religion involving deities with supernatural influences. Similarly, no proof supports Buddhism’s belief in rebirth of one’s identity.

                        Other cases of conflict can deal with more specific points. For instance, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei angered the Catholic Church when he supported Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. The theory, which posits the Sun at the Solar System’s center, was considered heresy by the Church. Eventually Galileo was trialed in 1633, forced to renounce his support of Copernican theories, and placed under house arrest {5}.

                        Galileo’s case was one of the more serious, if old, ideological confrontations between religion and science. Yet we need not look too far back in history to find similar examples. Currently a great dispute exists between scientists and followers of certain religions on the theory of evolution. Evolution posits that species can evolve with time, eventually into different ones. It then follows that all current life evolved from previous, ancestral species. However, Christianity and Islam posit that God created the world (if literally interpreted) within six days {3, 4}. Accordingly, all current life was created instantly in this period. This is a main reason why evolution seemingly contradicts the literal interpretations of the Bible and Qur’an.

                        Subsequently, those who believe such literal religious interpretations oppose the otherwise scientifically supported evolution theory. Christian groups like the Discovery Institute persistently attack evolution and advocate divine world creation. Certain Muslims have also joined the fray. An amusing example involves the Turkish author Adnan Oktar, head of the Foundation for Scientific Research, which advocates Islamic creationism. In 2007, various scientists in the United States and Europe received free copies of Oktar’s anti-evolution book, Atlas of Creation. Based on erroneous fossil interpretations, it claims to show how evolution is wrong {6}.

                        Regardless of religious opinion, evolution is supported by scientific evidence from observations and experiments. Species do evolve over time, be they microbes or more complicated organisms. With time, ancestral species gave rise to current ones. Yet in order to preserve their creationistic beliefs, religious groups (Christian or otherwise) attack the theory in various ways. One method is to tirelessly search for errors and evidence against evolution, either scientifically or ideologically. Yet no contradictory claim suggested so far seems reasonably or scientifically credible. Another method used is to offer alternatives, such as Intelligent Design. This idea states that living, complex structures are best explained by directed, intelligent cause {7}. This is obviously just divine creation rephrased, by stating it as a highly probable possibility. However, Intelligent Design apparently cannot be tested and proven conclusively, so it is again simply a belief.

                        Clashes between religion and science are often highlighted due to their inherent ideological differences. Yet science is certainly not the only source of conflict with religion. In some cases, cultural views can also run against religious customs. One important issue between religions and cultural perspectives is abortion. Basically, some believe that people have the right to decide whether to terminate pregnancy after conception. However, many major religions – among others – are against abortion in general. While many religions tolerate abortion in extreme cases, some – particularly the Catholic Church – are vehemently against it {8}. From the Church’s perspective, human life – beginning from conception – must be protected {9}. However, when personhood begins is far from defined by society. As such, abortion continues to be a highly debatable subject.

                        These are a few examples of religious views being challenged by scientific and cultural ones. In general you can find a recurrent theme: religious followers – steadfast in their beliefs – reject any contradicting views, however logical or supported they are. In some cases (particularly those against science) followers’ actions may even seem outright irrational. The religious opposition against evolution mentioned before is a case of point. Why do religious followers adhere to their religious beliefs, despite evidence indicating contradictory conclusions? This more or less has to do with the conditions that lead one to believe in religion.

Religion: a Cause of Irrationality?

                        Most – if not all – religions do not have any evidence that support their beliefs. In order to believe in them, one has to place trust above logical reasoning. Hence those who are fully devoted may be inclined to disregard physical evidence that challenge their beliefs. This is the obvious reason for some religious followers’ stubborn adherence to their beliefs. Yet it is inaccurate to say that religions are the actual cause of irrational thinking. Assuming the absence of divine sources, religious beliefs ultimately stem from the human mind and culture. Thus religions are actually collections of human constructs and comprehensive explanations, although without supporting evidence and thorough investigations. People follow these systems at their own discretion, based on ideological appeal rather than logic. Accurately, religion is an institutionalized manifestation of our irrational tendencies, rather than its cause.

                        Although religion is not the cause of irrationality, it can be potentially perilous nonetheless. As we saw before, there are large followings for major religions like Christianity and Islam. These form a sizable portion of our entire population. When such groups insist upon their unsupported religious beliefs, it can lead to flawed, yet influential conclusions. We saw how religious believers sought to influence social opinion on issues like evolution and abortion. Regardless of whether their stances are noble or not, the fact remains that religious beliefs are unproven. Hence they serve as bases for potentially uninformed, illogical, and detrimental decisions. It shall be dangerous if society finds itself in this scenario.

                        While religion is based on irrational belief and faith, science is based on physical evidence and rational reasoning. Any of its findings are evaluated for its accuracy. Hypothesis requires evidence to be called a theory; theories require substantial evidence to be regarded as law or fact. So science represents the closest thing that we can call the physical truth (even though that may provide only a limited picture). Yet we can see examples of religions – and sometimes even society as a whole – denying scientific findings. In some cases such opposition has grown into large organized movements. This should not be so.

                        Good decisions require the maximum amount of accurate information that reflects the situation involved. This is partly what science is about, to provide accurate findings that represent our world. We can then act on such information to develop technology, cure ailments, or assess the world, ourselves included. Hence unsupported religious beliefs should never outweigh proven, scientific facts in any decision. If accurate scientific facts contradict religious followers’ beliefs, then those beliefs must be abandoned to avoid deceit. Of course, persistent yet flawed claims of factual inaccuracies cannot be used as an indefinite excuse. Note that this does not mean we must disregard our humanity, morals and mental well-being for science. It just means that we account for all the involved factors, physical and social.

                        Science certainly does not explain everything, like why we exist. Yet the important aspect of science is that its contents must be falsifiable. In other words, it is possible for a theory’s concepts to be contradicted by nature. Such theory must then be modified or discarded. In such a process, only theories which are consistently accurate remain, becoming the facts of our universe.

                        In light of all this, it may seem a good idea to ban religion to prevent irrational thinking. I disagree with this suggestion for two reasons. First, it is an inefficient method; irrationality can surface in non-religious, less systematic channels. Second, everyone is entitled to their opinion, a basic tenet of free society. What I believe that must be controlled are religious groups’ attempts to impose their baseless religious beliefs onto the whole society. Such actions endanger the interests of everyone, especially on decisions involving significant issues. Furthermore, scientific conclusions must be given greater precedence – relative to religion or other aspects – in such decision-making process. This allows human society to make the best decisions using the relevant observed trends and proven facts. Only then can society move forward in a hopefully rational way that shall benefit all.


                                                                                                                                                                  Mike Ko
                                                                                                                                                                  ( 2,257 words )

            Sources:

 

    1. “The World Factbook”; Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved February 26, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
      https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html
    2. “Christianity”; Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs. Retrieved January 18, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/resources/traditions
    3. “Genesis 1:1-2:24 (new international version)”; Biblica. Retrieved March 14, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
      http://www.biblica.com/bible-search/
    4. “Quran 11.7”; Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, University of Southern California. Retrieved March 14, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cmje.org/religious-texts/quran/verses/011-qmt.php
    5. “Galileo Galilei” by Peter Machamer; The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2010 Edition). Retrieved March 14, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/galileo/
    6. “In Europe’s Mailbag: A Glossy Attack on Evolution” by Martin Enserink; Science 16 February 2007: Vol. 315, no. 5814 p. 925
    7. “Top Questions”; Center for Science & Culture, Discovery Institute. Retrieved March 25, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
      http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php#questionsAboutIntelligentDesign
    8. “Religious Groups’ Official Positions on Abortion”; The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, September 30, 2008. Retrieved March 22, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.pewforum.org/Abortion/Religious-Groups-Official-Positions-on-Abortion.aspx
    9. “Catechism of the Catholic Church 2270”; The Holy See. Retrieved March 25, 2012 from the World Wide Web: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P7Z.HTM#-2C

 

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