Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Three Sources of Darkness

Light and darkness are themes used throughout the Bible. Light refers to truth, instruction, good, etc., whereas darkness refers to blindness, ignorance, deception, death, evil, etc. Such broad meanings are confusing, so in this article I will restrict the meaning of darkness to blindness to truth including deception and ignorance. Now Christians preach against the darkness of the world and offer a light to eliminate darkness. This is the central message of the gospels. But is it true? Is the world really dark in the sense of blindness to truth, and is the light they offer really a way to remove darkness? Here I will examine the relationship of the three central pillars of Christianity (and other religions) to truth. These pillars are: revelation, authority and faith.

Revelation: This is the claimed foundation for Christianity, and yet it suffers from three fatal flaws:

  1. We can never show that any revelation is actually from God as opposed to some other non-physical entity, see: Can we know if a message is from God?

  2. We cannot distinguish between voices and visions generated by the receiver's mind and those generated by some external entity (be it God or other). Even the hearer or seer can never be sure a claimed revelation is actually a revelation and not his imagination.

  3. Finally, there is no truth test for revelation that deals with spiritual or non-physical beings, see: What do miracles prove? This is precisely the area where revelation should be useful, and yet there is no way to distinguish its claims from empty claims. The evidences people use to demonstrate revelation are no better than those used by fortune tellers and psychics; if one statement that he/she makes turns out to be true, that validates the rest of what he/she says, and of course dubious, ambiguous and false statements are ignored.

Hence, claiming with certainty that a revelation is from God and preaching it to others as true is then either an act of self deception, or a decision to deceive others or both. The reliance on revelation is like consulting an astrologer. What could be a greater source of darkness than that?

Authority: Christians must rely on mediated revelation, that is, revelation that came through someone else usually long ago. How is one to know which of the millions of claimed revelations to trust? That is where authority comes in. Authority is ascribed to certain books and these are regarded as "true revelations". Authority allows all kinds of bold claims to be made about the revelation and how to interpret it. Authority cannot be questioned but must be obeyed. It provides a skeleton to religion on which all its practices and rituals and teachings hang. Preachers speak with authority, especially when quoting passages of the Bible. Followers seek refuge in authority as it gives them something certain to hold on to. But what is the relationship between authority and truth? None. Actually quite the opposite. Authority acts to keep truth hidden. By denying questioning, doubting and testing of alternate ways it is denying people the means for finding truth. Basing a statement of fact on authority is an empty sham; it means there is no basis for the statement. (It is very different from quoting an "authority" whereby one is really citing the evidence gathered by that person and not saying something is true simply because that person says it is true.) Where does authority come from? Its advocates claim it comes from God. But there is no evidence for this, only authoritative claims that this is so. Thus divine authority is circular. It is a means to make bold claims with no basis for them. Is it possible to find a greater source of darkness than this?

Faith: The final ingredient needed on top of revelation and authority is faith. Faith enables people to accept revelation and authority with certainty and without question. It gives people confidence and comfort in their beliefs. It works by sidestepping critical analysis of the evidence and instead directly accepts revelation and authority. But it is more than just believing something more strongly than warranted by the evidence; it is a state of mind in which one chooses to not to question or doubt the particular revelation or authority. It is the glue that holds religion together. And it is also the glue that shuts people’s eyes. It keeps people from inquiry and honestly testing the truth claims of revelation and authority. It is hard enough to critically analyze the revelation and authority one has grown up with or lived with, and it is near to impossible when one has faith in them. Faith surely equals if not surpasses revelation and authority as a source of darkness.

So Christianity is right that much of the world lies in darkness. However the sources are not what Christians claim they are. The darkness is not that people believe the wrong doctrines or worship false gods; these are outcomes of darkness. The darkness is the reliance on false means for obtaining truth, namely: Revelation, Authority and Faith. These hide rather than reveal truth. When Christianity converts followers from other religions it is replacing one form of darkness with another one.

I claim that there is much more light in the world than Christianity admits. The scientific method of inquiry is capable of lifting us out of darkness. It does this by building explanatory hypotheses, evaluating them based on the evidence, and obtaining various levels of certainty according to the available evidence. In addition philosophy can shine light onto the realm of morality, see: Is morality subjective or objective? Ethical questions can be addressed based on our knowledge of humankind, rather than on commandments given in God’s name. The tragedy is that when Christianity seeks to relegate the scientific method to the sidelines and claims that revelation, authority and faith ought to be the central focus of one’s life, it is replacing light with darkness.