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The Fundamental Axioms of Religion:

Questions concerning God and the soul - whether or not God exists, whether or not we have immortal souls, where we came from, where we go when we die - are perhaps the most ``important'' of the pseudoquestions invented by mankind (measured by how much we care about the answers). They are also in some sense the most unanswerable of all of the unanswerable questions. We have axioms that work pretty well at describing the Universe in a way that leads us to believe that we understand ``something'' about how it all works, how it all is put together, but these axioms fail when applied to the concept of God.

Hume argued very convincingly that empirical proof, entering our knowledge through the narrow window of our finite senses, can never suffice to prove the infinite. Not the infinite in space, not the infinite in time, since we can sample neither one. In particular, however, Hume focussed on the infinite concept we call God. It is fairly easy to see that no observations, no experiments, suffice to empirically prove the existence of God. If a thundering voice comes out of the sky telling us to bow down and be afraid, is it God? Is it an advanced race10.1 as of Space Aliens (maybe even space aliens who are here To Serve Man10.2)? Only completely consistent empirical proof of Godlike Power throughout all space and all time and beyond would suffice, although I'm sure a really plausible alien could go a long way without being suspected just as Cortez went a long way in Mexico without being suspected.

Rational proof is even more out of the question, since any attempt at a rational proof will require axioms, and axioms are, as we've hammered home repeatedly in this book, not provable. Even given a fairly reasonable, not too controversial set of axioms, many attempts at proofs, many attempts to even discuss the concept of God involve self-referential categorical superlatives and rapidly leave you tied up in Gödelian knots.

OK, so it's difficult. OK, so it is more than difficult, it's impossible. None of this has stopped humans from trying their best to work out answers that work for them. God as a concept, as a possibly imaginary Father Figure or Mother Figure, has been very, very good for the human race, a good that outweighs even the not insubstantial amount of bad that has come along with it. God (in almost every culture on Earth) has been closely tied to the ethical and the political evolution of the human species, largely because religions have been closely tied to the evolution of social structure of humans living together, which requires both political structures for decision making and ethical systems to form the glue that keeps us all from killing each other on a whim. Sometimes, at least.

A culture that is too self-destructive of its own members does not survive and is supplanted by cultures that are more conservative and beneficial. There is therefore survival pressure on religions (as a dominant part of a culture) to be socially beneficial, at least within the context of the surrounding competing societies10.3.

Later we'll look at axioms associated with political and ethical systems that attempt to be beneficial in the same way explicitly independent of any religion. These have arisen fairly recently, although the marriage between church and state was never perfect even throughout the millenia it endured. Regardless, and politics filed for a divorce a few hundred years ago and has been bumbling along on its own ever since, and since states that are at least overtly free from any single dominant religion have thus far been more successful than those states and cultures that are dominated by religion, the idea of religious freedom has gradually spread to the point of being reluctantly embraced even by certain religions. For the moment, however, let's look at the axioms of religion as the memes of a ``living superentity'' in and of itself.

This requires that we look carefully at some fundamental concepts of religion - the notion of God, of course, but God per se is one of the least important parts of any successful religion. Religions that just talk about God and not about how its members should behave, cut their hair (or not), have their foreskins removed (or not), how and when it is OK to have sex, how much money one should plan on giving the local priesthood - they just don't make it.

This thus makes sense, but even if you doubt it it is perfectly evident empirically from examining any religious scripture and just cutting out and weighing amount of text spent discussing God in and of Himself compared to the amount of time they spend discussing what God wants us to do, that is, sin, ritual, duty, history of the past (and how Bad Things happened to them as didn't believe in the Holy Scriptures), and the history of the future (and how Bad Things gonna happen to them as don't believe in the Holy Scriptures). More than ten to one. Maybe even a hundred to one.

next up previous contents
Next: The Common Memes of Up: Philosophy Previous: Philosophy is Bullshit   Contents
Robert G. Brown 2007-12-17