Fairy tales for adults

Steve Bougerolle steveb at creek-and-cowley.com
Thu Feb 13 03:11:09 PST 2003

On Thu, 2003-02-13 at 17:22, Richard Lightman wrote:

> Just as you find false arguments presented by some priests obnoxious,
> I am annoyed by some of the things said by people claiming to be
> scientists.

Yes, I have noticed that :).  Actually they annoy me, too, but I debated
that at length months ago and don't want to get into it again.

> I have said in previous posts that mathematicians have a different
> tests for truth than scientists, and that both tests lead to useful
> results. I have said in previous posts that there are limits to what
> you can find out with science.

I'm not so sure they are really much different.  But then I come from a
branch of science which is closely related to mathematics.

> I have said in previous posts that different religions often agree on
> certain things, so I suspect there is something in there to learn.
> I have asked, and as yet not received clear answer:
> What is the test of truth used in religion?

I don't know.  In fact I've never really thought much about it because I
don't see my own religion as making statements that need to be proven
true or false.  That would imply a degree of simplicity quite
incompatible with a system of belief that addresses major intangible

But for what it's worth, I'll speculate.  If a religion depends on
verifiable logical statements then it can be proven true or false by
logical rules.  This sort of thinking, to my mind, invalidates dualistic
arguments where people believe there is an all-powerful god and a
separate evil force like a devil.  The two ideas are incompatible and
can't both be logically true. On the other hand you couldn't invalidate
something like Zen Buddhism this way by noting that koans are
paradoxes.  They are obviously not intended to be believed directly as
stated and the validity of that religious view doesn't depend on them
being true or false.

If a religion depends on direct historical claims then its truth or
falsehood is subject to the same standards historians use to decide
about any other bit of history.  Obviously that doesn't get one very
far, though, since all history is questionable to some degree or other. 
Christianity is often stated to be a historical religion that falls
apart without the truth of the resurrection.  I don't quite agree with
that, actually, but anyway there is so little written about it outside
Christian tradition that it's pretty well impossible to prove or
disprove its claims that way.

If a religion makes definite predictions about what will happen in
future, then you can judge its truth or falsehood by the accuracy of
those.  This disproves the weird UFO cults that commit suicide the day
before they expect the world to end.  On the other hand, one cannot use
this rule to prove or disprove Christianity because of the visions in
the Revelation, because it is extremely debatable how those should be
interpreted and the essential of Christianity doesn't really depend on
them anyway.

So, much like the case with science it's relatively easy to prove a
religion false, but proving it true is quite another matter.

Steve Bougerolle
Creek & Cowley Consulting


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