Let us start from the two most basic questions in religion:
- Can we prove there is a God? No.
- Can we prove there is no God? No.
Therefore, it seems evident that the only religious position that is truly evidence-based is Agnosticism.
However, therein lies the problem — a religious position that posits a complete lack of a religious position is not very satisfying. It offers no morality; no purpose; no meaning. And it appears, from everything we can observe about humans so far, that humans have a strong yearning for these.
As much as we’d like to build an evidence-based religious system, it appears that if we want to have some basis for things like morality or meaning, we’re forced to allow some assumptions in.
Let us consider then — which assumptions can we make, that are:
- Sufficient to create a morality, a purpose and a meaning.
- As small and as trivial as possible.
If we were to enumerate all the options, we’d likely arrive at something like the following list:
- Options 1–8000 — various revealed religions with holy books, doctrines, rules, rituals, priests, and sacraments.
- Option 8001 — the assumption that there is no God.
- Option 8002 — the assumption that there is a God, but all the revelations about him are unsubstantiated.
Now, I have a confession to make — for the first 35 years of my life I accepted option 8001, in the sincere belief that it requires the fewest assumptions; all you have to assume is that there is no creator outside our universe and that anything we have observed (and will observe) is caused by something else we can observe, right? It seemed simple enough.
- Is it trivial to assume that the big bang occurred without any cause or trigger?
- Is it trivial to assume that the inflation of the universe occurred naturally, without any physical laws explaining its occurrence?
- Is it trivial to assume that the four basic forces and the cosmological constants just happened to be set, shortly after the big bang, to the only values we know of that can allow for a complex universe with stars, planets, chemical elements, and life?
- Is it trivial to assume that life randomly appeared under conditions that we can’t quite define, and which seem quite unlikely to have occurred on earth at the time we think they should have occurred for life to begin?
- Is it trivial to assume that this life has then evolved to the current level of complexity, even though the mutation mechanisms we know of do not lead to such increases in complexity in any documented instance?
- Is it trivial to assume that some life forms have developed consciousness, even though we haven’t the faintest idea what consciousness is and how it arises out of matter?
- Is it trivial to assume that this consciousness has then developed free will, even though there is nothing in matter that can conceivably give rise to such a thing?
- Is it trivial to assume that there exists a universal (or at least, an evolved) morality that determines which freely-willed actions are better and which are worse, even though the concepts of good and bad are essentially undefined within this set of assumptions?
Note that I am not saying that these assumptions are necessarily wrong or impossible. What I am saying is that they aren’t quite as trivial as I used to believe when I was younger. There’s a giant leap of faith required to accept the currently-accepted answer to each of these questions.
And the more I learn about actual state of the science in each of these fields (physics, biology, anthropology, neurology, etc), the more I realize that the leading scientists in these fields are acting in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of medieval priests. There is no scientific method that leads to multiverses or primordial soups or monkeys with typewriters coding up the human genome. These “scientific” claims are not derived from the scientific method — they are a counter-argument to an argument that is simply repugnant to most scientists.
Worst of all, this set of non-trivial assumptions provides little to no benefit compared to the Agnostic starting point. We still have no morality; no purpose; and no meaning. We’re still just meatballs flying through space, in a deterministic world where an illusion of consciousness birthed an illusion of free will that leads us to evaluate meaningless actions as virtuous or sinful.
It’s hardly a recipe for a good and purposeful life filled with moral courage and personal fulfillment, is it?