An oft repeated sentiment today is that all religions are basically the same in that they are all subjective, unscientific, and just plain false. So in today’s secular climate, how does someone go about filtering out the good from the gunk? Is there even a concept of good religion, or are they all gunk?
Secularism has firmly removed religion from the public sphere of objectivity and ‘science’, and placed it in the private corner of subjectivity and ‘faith’. This means that religion can never really be considered true in any meaningful sense. It can provide meaning for adherents in a utilitarian sense, but can’t authoritatively direct mankind due to its obsession with ancient books and garden fairies.
I don’t see the majority view changing on this anytime soon, so for the purposes of this post, I will appeal to an objective and scientific concept to bring the objective backing the world craves to the subjective sphere they despise. This concept is known as falsifiability.
What is falsifiability?
The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, suggested the criterion of falsifiability – a scientific hypothesis must be inherently disprovable before it can be accepted as a legitimate theory. While this criterion was originally only used within the physical sciences, it was eventually used across a number of social sciences, including anthropology and history.
By applying falsifiability to a small number of the world’s great religions, we begin to see weeds amidst the wheat. Take a look at these origins stories:
An Arabian merchant begins to receive visions from the Almighty God (Allah) whilst in a mountain cave. Turns out these vivid hallucinations are actually the words of Allah, the one true God. Muhammad is the True Prophet and forms a people in submission (the meaning of the word, Islam) to Allah.
The Buddha, or “the awakened one”, shares his eternal insights with man on how to transcend our earthy desires to reach the spiritual Nirvana.
Disillusioned by the various Christian denominations before him, a young boy named Joseph Smith asks God to give him wisdom for which path to choose. One day, while in a wood, Joseph receives an angelic vision of the true faith and Mormonism is born.
Can you see the similarities between these three religions? They all originated from moments of quiet contemplation. This does not necessarily mean that they aren’t true but it does create skepticism when considered in the broader context of the respective religious histories. Turns out caves and trees are perfect places to start a religion.
It isn’t that these three religions aren’t falsifiable – their claims can be investigated and doubt shed. The issue is that they automatically reject criticism based on their internal frameworks, making them inherently unfalsifiable. Muhammad and Joseph Smith can’t be wrong because they were declared as authoritative prophets of God. Rejecting Buddha’s teachings proves that you are filled with desire, and thus not worthy. What we see is the proverbial bait and switch – offering a falsifiable claim only to remove it right before your eyes using their own theology (or in Buddhism’s case, a-theology).
Take a look
Wasn’t Christianity founded by a solitary figure, you ask? Didn’t Jesus claim that he heard directly from ‘The Father’? Isn’t he also circularly impervious to the attacks of the enemy? Good questions. Let’s look at them next time.