Could Religion Really Not Exist?

I was discussing with an atheist friend on his blog the idea of supernaturalism vs. naturalism, and one of the arguments he brought up was surprising to me. His claim was that if you were to erase all memory of anything having to do with science, we would still get science roughly as we see it today. However, if you were to erase all memory of anything religious, it would be reasonable to expect that religion would be very different than we see it today, and quite possibly not even exist. Is this reasonable?

I would disagree for two reasons:

1) As an atheist, my friend would have to assume that there was initially a time period where neither science nor religion existed, because under atheism man was not present at the beginning, but later evolved over time. And yet under these conditions, both science and religion still arose in their current formats. So based on the evidence we have of a time where there was no presence of science or religion, we can safely assume that a similar state would produce both, since it has been done before.

2) General revelation seems to point men to an outside source for the creation of our world. As Aristotle said in his work “On Philosophy”:

When thus they would suddenly gain sight of the earth, seas, and the sky; when they should come to know the grandeur of the clouds and the might of the winds; when they should behold the sun and should learn its grandeur and beauty as well as its power to cause the day by shedding light over the sky; and again, when the night had darkened the lands and they should behold the whole of the sky spangled and adorned with stars; and when they should see the changing lights of the moon as it waxes and wanes, and the risings and settings of all these celestial bodies, their courses fixed and changeless throughout all eternity–when they should behold all these things, most certainly they would have judged both that there exist gods and that all these marvelous works are the handiwork of the gods.

This is a man who shaped much of medieval scholarship in areas like physics, logic, poetry, rhetoric, linguistics and biology. He also predated the coming of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. And yet Aristotle did not see it possible to explain science without the supernatural. The things he could see in creation pointed him to the gods.

Is it any wonder that Paul would testify to this revelation in Romans? “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

I think these are two powerful pieces of evidence that would lead us reasonably to assume that if memories of both science and religion were erased, science and religion would both be born anew.

It’s just one minor but still relevant argument pointing in the favor of God’s existence as more probable than improbable.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Very interesting post. Now, as you know I’m a Christian theist, but I would like to point out what I think may be a small flaw in the argument here:

    “So based on the evidence we have of a time where there was no presence of science or religion, we can safely assume that a similar state would produce both, since it has been done before.”

    This is only true based upon certain forms of speculation about the origin of life and the sociology of religion. Some, like Iris Fry in her book “Emergence of Life on Earth” hold that life is necessary and so that life would spring from anywhere conditions are favorable. On such an account, it seems plausible to agree that perhaps similar states would produce both science and religion similar to what we have now.

    But other proposals about evolution hold that it isn’t so necessary and that, given the same conditions, any number of outcomes could have come about. I think Dawkins could be in that camp, among others.

    If that’s the case, then it’s possible that given the same conditions any combination of science and religion could have arisen.

    Here’s one thing I would point out to the friend: the argument they have made seems to beg the question against the theist. If theism is false, then it seems plausible to accept that perhaps religion would have developed differently. But theism, if true, seems to present a world in which God would bring people to him, so religion would have developed along similar–if not identical–lines.

    And of course one could argue about what your friend means by this argument anyway. Is it supposed to discredit religion? How? I’m not sure what the point is of the argument.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on February 23, 2012 at 2:45 AM

    I don’t think you get the gist of what I was trying to say when I made that argument. I wasn’t saying that religion would not arise again, my point was that it is unlikely to arise in the same fashion; you’re not likely to get Catholicism to arise twice independently for example.

    The point is that because of the way the universe is, science would come to the same conclusions about reality eventually, if it started again from scratch. This is because it is based upon empirical observations of a universe which is the way it is whether we believe in it and know about it or not. Religion is different. Now I’m not saying that it would never arise again, I think that our psychology is too predisposed towards supernatural beliefs for that, my point is that; start science again and you’ll eventually arrive back at E=MC2, start religion again and you’re unlikely to arrive at Catholicism independently. This is because science is based upon discovering truth, and religion is based upon belief in invisible forces that make us feel good – there is no empirical truth to it, therefore it is unlikely to arrive at the same ideas after having started again.

    Reply

    • Two issues with this line of thought:

      1) It is based on the assumption that religion is not true. However, if both are starting from the same point, and both are true, then in a quest for truth both would end up in roughly the same place.

      2) It assumes science is always true. We know from experience that is not the case.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on February 23, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    1. No, it’s based upon the fact that religions are not grounded on empirical evidence and observable reality. You can’t do an experiment in a lab that would tell you that Jesus is the Son of God even if he was, so this knowledge would be lost if the slate was wiped clean of religion. The existence of atoms is grounded in empirical evidence and observable reality, so even if we forget that they are there we will be able to find them again. This is the difference. I didn’t assume religion was not true, nor did I assume it wasn’t, my scenario is to do with the nature of science and the nature of religion.

    2. Reality is always true, science is the best means we have for discerning reality from non-reality. Sure we’ve made mistakes in the past but they have always been corrected when new observations arise. Religion has no such self correcting process, and it couldn’t have one if it tried because it does not deal in what we can observe and measure. That which is beyond what we can observe and measure is as far as science is concerned basically the same as non-existent.

    Reply

    • 1) So it’s based on science being the only possible way to know if something is true. Sounds like special pleading.

      2) The mistakes science has made gives rise to the claim that an accepted scientific principle or theory is not always truth.

      Reply

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