Friday, September 11, 2009

Why are there so darn many religions?

(Originally posted on 2007.10.25)

There sure are a lot of them ...

A simple categorization can be done by separating them according to the number of dieties in which they profess to believe. In my "regular" profession as an IT professional, the important "count" mechanism is zero, one, or many. Most computer systems that deal with data relationships have to deal with these three different cardinalities. Oddly enough, that seems to me like a good categorization element for religions.

In the "none" category, we have religions such as Buddhism (Buddha is an "enlightened" being, but is not the progenitor of the universe), Taoism, etc. Some people argue that these are not religions, but philosphies. But there are Buddhist and Taoist temples, and, more importantly, they are granted the tax-free status here in the US with which other religions are favored. I'll accept them as religions for the sake of this entry.

In the "one" category, we have religions such as Christianity (in many different flavors), Judaism, Islam, etc.

In the "many" category, we have the ancient Greek and Roman religions, Voodoo, Santaria, many of the American Indian religions, Wiccan, etc.

So, back to the essence of the question: Why are there so many?
The answer to this is deceptively simple. But it can only be recognized by answering another question: "Which one is right?"

That is the subject of another post...

Evolution vs. Creationism

(Originally posted on 2007.09.24)

It seems to me that "Creationists" are missing an intellectual opportunity.
First, let me state that I don't believe in what is currently cast as "Creationism". Having been raised with zero religious training, no organized/formal religion appeals to me, nor does any of them make much sense to me. And since many religions don't believe in any diety, and some believe in multiple dieties, "Creationism" as it is cast these days, appears to be confined to primarily Judeo/Christian religions.

Nevertheless, let's posit for the moment that there is one omnipotent, all-knowing God. God didn't need to "create" everything just as we see it around us today (or as we saw it 6,000 years ago, or whatever). Perhaps evolution is actually how God intended to create what is around us now. That is, if God knows all, then he could predict that if he created a Universe with certain physical laws, then planets and stars would "evolve". And by providing the appropriate elements (most notably carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen) that life would eventually arise and evolve according to the nature of the elements that were provided.

This seems to me like a reasonable "blend" of the two sides of the argument.

What is God?

(Originally posted 2007.09.24)

The answer to this question is deceptively simple -- God is what you believe God is.
What? What could that possibly mean?

Simple -- we can divide our "knowldege" into two broad categories; things we "know" from personal experience or education, and those we "believe".

By the time we are 2-3 years old, we all pretty much "know" about gravity. Not the laws of gravity, or the name "gravity"; but we know that if we step off something too high, we will fall. Humans seem to need to "learn" this, whereas other animals, such as cats, appear to have an instinctual knowledge of this.

Similarly, after being burned by hot items several times, we "know" what the effects of hot items are. In a more abstract fashion, we "know" that electricity can kill. Very few of us have actually experienced this capability of electricity. But through schooling, demonstrations of other powers of electricity, etc. we come to "know" what electricity can do. In most cases, we can predict certain things by calculation with mathematics, run experiments to determine whether our predictions are correct, and conduct experiments repeatedly to demonstrate our "knowledge". We can also describe the experiements and expected results in such a fashion that other can run the same experiments and obtain the same results. Once something has been repeated many times reliably, we add it to our body of things that are "known".

However, the things we "believe" are unprovable, untestable, and therefore unknowable. I have yet to hear of a reliable, repeatable experiment that predicts the weight of someone's soul. No one has been able to "prove" the existence of God through experiment. Nevertheless, we use our beliefs as well as our knowledge to help guide our behavior. So our beliefs seem to be as important to us as our knowledge.

Our beliefs and knowledge determine how we deal with other people in society and our families, what we judge to be good or evil (if we "believe" in good and evil), and our relationship with the (dare I say it?) the Universe in which we live.

For me, the Universe is "known". I exist. The people I know and love exist. The planet on which I live exists. All these things exist in something tangible, and for me that is the Universe. God, for me and everyone else, in unknowable. I KNOW of no one who has died and been reborn in any form. I KNOW of no one who has gone to Heaven or Hell. I KNOW of no one who can predict the weight of my or anyone's soul -- or at what time it "ascends" from my body at my death.

Simply put, there is no demonstrable experiment or provable calculation to demonstrate the existence of God. The question of whether God exists or not is UNKNOWABLE. All anyone can do is BELIEVE. And that is the cause of many problems. Many people cannot distinguish between knowledge that is in the belief category from the knowable category. And the subject for another post.