I have long wished to have a neat summary of my theological stance so when asked, I could direct people to it. I have divided the post in 3 sections separated by 3 asterisks. Section 1 is a summary of my reasons for my theological stance. Section 2 is a summary of my reasons for my ethical-theological stance. Section 3 is a summary of my reasons against my choosing a religion if I was theist.
Philosophically speaking, I am agnostic. By this I mean that I think arguments for and against the existence of a divine entity are equally incapable of giving a conclusive proof regarding the existence of a divine entity. However, just like I am agnostic regarding claims for and against the existence of a divine entity, so I am equally agnostic about claims for and against regarding the existence of fictional characters.
That is why, pragmatically speaking, I call myself atheist. Because I while I can’t disprove the existence of fictional characters, I have no reason to believe they do, and as a rule of thumb, I only hold beliefs if I have a reason to do so. And this is the label that I use when someone just wants a simple answer.
However, I think atheism and theism entail more than just a belief in the existence/non-existence of an entity. It entails ethics. On one hand, theism and the ethics of obedience and on the other hand, atheism and the ethics of disobedience. The existence or non-existence of God does not affect the ethics of my theological stance.
The ethics of disobedience
So even if I was given scientific evidence that a powerful divinity exists, I would refuse to comply with his commands (assuming he had some) or worshiping him. Anyone that wants me to comply needs to give reasons first. Also, I know of no one who worships their mother/father, why would it be different with a powerful entity?
Especially, when I do have plenty of things to dislike of this hypothetical divinity.
If I can prevent something undesirable and unnecessary without sacrificing anything of similar ‘moral value’, then preventing something undesirable and unnecessary is the desirable and necessary thing to do.
The above argument is a useful ethical framework against which to compare things I dislike of hypothetical divinities. A divinity wanting to earn the label of “benevolent” must comply with the above. Is someone preventing undesirable and unnecessary pain in life forms? It does not seem to be the case. There is plenty of suffering in the planet Earth. It is hard to argue against it. And it could even be argued that suffering is an inevitable consequence of the existence of modern life forms. Seeing this, I conclude that our hypothetical divinity is not preventing pain (which is undesirable and unnecessary). Thus, he cannot earn the label of “benevolent”. Assuming the hypothetical divinity is omnipotent and omniscient, there are no excuses for not preventing pain in any of the forms it happens. Just like I wouldn’t call “benevolent” a person that does not save a drowning child when he has both the ability to do it and the knowledge that a drowning child needs to be saved by him and that he can do it.
Theism and Religion
This section only concerns those who are theists and follow a particular religion.
We will temporarily assume that God exists (section 1) and that he is benevolent (section 2). So the issue now is choosing the right religion.
I wrote a post on this last year (you can read it if you click the above title) so I will try to summarise it here.
The argument lies on a single premise.
Premise 1. The only way to God is through a particular religion
This single premise makes most religious claims for being the true religion incompatible. The problem only accentuates when you take into account different branches of religion which mostly disagree with each other.
Our task is choosing the right religion from the set R of all religions. Surely, if you just had 1 member inside set R, the task would be as simple as choosing the religion inside set R. But it is not.
How many religions are inside set R?
The question asks how many religions are there?
Present: Nowadays, there are about 20 major religions (and at least 34,000 independent branches).
Past: But is the question properly formulated? No, it is not. The question does not take into account, dead religions as a result of conquering or systematic cultural destruction. It is very likely that since the moment humans appeared till now there have been more religions than the current number. What does this mean for us? It means that if the right religion was one of these dead religions, you could not possibly choose the right religion no matter how hard you tried.
Future: And similarly, let us look forward. It is very likely that the number of new religions from the moment we die till the demise/speciation of humans will not be zero. That means that if one of these new religions is the right one, you could not possibly choose the right religion no matter how hard you tried.
The members of set R are all the past, present and future religions with all their independent branches. The size of set R is probably a pretty big number.
But we are not done yet with our estimation of the size of set R. We have already looked at religions that existed, religions that currently exist, and religions that will exist. Now we open Pandora’s Box. Now we look at the number of possible religions. There are not many restrictions when it comes to the definition of religion. But all you need is a “description of an omnipotent entity”, a “book or set of books about your God and how you should live” and you just have a religion. So imagine the huge number of possible religions that fit the above definition yet might never be preached or thought about by humans. The size of all possible religions is likely to be infinite.
So set R = Past + Present + Future + Possible. With the addition of an infinite amount to the set R we gave set R an infinite amount of members. For us, it means an infinite amount of possibilities. Now one might think that some of the religions inside set R might be “silly” or “ridiculous” or “obviously wrong”, but that is nonsense. Religions are by their very nature not subjected to reason and thus arbitrary like the arts are. The notions of “silly”, “ridiculous” or “obviously wrong” are literally meaningless when it comes to religion. Thus, all members within set R are equally valid candidates to be the right religion. So you have to choose among an infinite number of mutually exclusive religions.
What is the probability that you could choose the right religion?
We assume that “r” is “one portion of a cake” and ”n” is “the total number of portions” and we assume that “n” is an infinite number (i.e. a growing number). There is a cake and at least a portion (r) of it is yours. So we have a special machine that divides the cake. But this machine is making an infinite number of portions (n). This means that each portion (including yours) becomes increasingly small. In mathematics they express it as a “limit”. If we take the cake and divide by increasingly smaller portions, your portion of cake will get closer and closer to 0. The “r” represents the probability that the religion you chose is the right one and “n” is the number of all members in set R (i.e. the number of past, present, future and possible religions). As you can see, your chances of choosing the right religion are literally infinitely low.