The Course of Reason

Why Religion Is Fundamentally Anti-Inquiry

June 28, 2011

Michael Dippold, from the UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers, explains why religion is anti-inquiry and thus anti-science and anti-scientific progress.

This article originally appeared on the UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers blog.

If someone were to view a breakdown of my days based on hours spent on each activity, they would probably conclude that my only two hobbies are sleeping and internet. Luckily, this attachment to the online world has its perks. For instance, while perusing the internet today I stumbled across this old image depicting pages from "revised science textbooks for Christians".

While the picture is good for a few laughs, it actually makes a point that is not re-affirmed enough within the atheist community. Basically, the picture underscores one of the major dangers of religion - that it is fundamentally anti-inquiry. Many religions have individual characteristics and dogmas, but one of the common threads that runs amongst them is that purveyors of those beliefs have all of the answers, which are easily explainable and all you need to do is listen. And sometimes give money.

Intellectual inquiry is the backbone of science, and this is why religion and science are, contrary to what some on both sides want to believe, mutually exclusive. One observes the world and tries to explain it. The other explains the world, and then tries to make it fit with observations. Religion starts with its conclusions, taken as divinely inspired truth, and then either makes them fit with observation or denies those observations outright. As evidenced in this extremely clever picture, that is not always easy to do.

The danger in beliefs that are fundamentally anti-inquiry should be obvious. Scientific progress can only be made through inquiry. That starts with the humility to recognize that you can be wrong or already are wrong, and that the correct way to discover the world is not to start with conclusions, and then work backwards to try and justify them. This confirmation bias-addled approach to the world exposes both the ignorance and arrogance at the rotten core of religious belief. It's why fanatics blow themselves up, taking buildings and innocent lives with them. Remember, there's no uncertainty in their actions - they know what happens after death. We cannot forget that this arrogance drives much of religious conviction, and until the religious masses somehow find a large dose of humility, and begin to embrace scientific inquiry as the superior path to truth, we can't afford to forget what drives them.

Of course, most religious people are not incredibly arrogant or evil - in fact most seem to be good people, at least where I live. Much of the history of Christianity is a struggle to make its dogma fit with modern sensibility, and most Christians seem to be humble enough in their beliefs. Poke a little deeper though, and many will admit to knowing with complete certainty that there is a living God who watches over them, and so on. That unwarranted certainty is one of the many reasons why skeptics, rationalists, and secularists should be worried.





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