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Introduction: How to reason
Section 2: What do we know?
At this early stage of our investigation, all we can say is that we live in a universe bounded by natural laws. We do not yet know if there is a God.
When we want to analyze a situation or resolve a problem, our first step must be to distinguish between what we know and what we think we know. That is not always easy. Many of us have strong convictions - we know that God exists, drugs are harmful, Republicans are evil, dogs are unclean, China is one nation and so on. In order to verify whether these or any other ideas we have are true, we have to stand back and examine them dispassionately - and that's something that many of us find difficult to do.
We are going to think very carefully about the possible existence of God. So where do we start? Do we start with the knowledge that that each of us has - or think we have? Or do we start with the idea
that we know nothing at all?
We can quickly rule out the idea that we start with the knowledge that each of us has. Firstly, because much of what we know as individuals isn't true - there are many things we don't know and we sometimes change our minds about things that we thought were true (we may only have just learnt that Brasilia, not Rio de
Janeiro, is the capital of Brazil). Secondly, because pieces of my knowledge contradict pieces of yours (we disagree over who won the 1975 World Series). Lastly, even if we agree with each other and we assume that everything we both know is true, we could still be wrong and we don't have much incentive to analyze that knowledge.
So let's look at the second option - we should start with the idea that all knowledge is an illusion and nobody knows anything. We could go as far as arguing, as some philosophers do, that we do not even know whether we exist. Or we can say that "I know that
I exist but
you might just be a figment of my imagination".
Those are interesting
ideas and at one level of analysis it may be true that we know nothing more than cogito ergo sum - I think,
therefore I am. In reality, however, such a viewpoint is meaningless.
Anyone who comes to the conclusion that the rest of the world is an illusion
will very soon end up either starving to death in a lonely room or
How good is your reasoning?
Can you distinguish lies from truth? Or a good
argument from a false one? Can you when tell someone is trying to pull
the wool over your eyes?
We keep physically fit by exercising regularly and eating healthy
food. The same is true of our minds - we need regular mental exercise and a good diet of
solid facts and logic.
This chapter offers basic reasoning skills to help you understand the contradictions
that lie at the heart of all religion.
Does God exist? Before we try to answer that question we
need to have a clear idea of who or what God is. How do we
describe God? What versions of God are on offer?
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locked up with a dozen - theoretically illusionary - prisoners in some town jail.
There is, however, a middle stance between knowing nothing and knowing everything.
Almost everyone on the planet, whether atheist, agnostic or believer, would accept the following premises as true:
• we are human beings who can reason (we can identify facts and
deduce information from those facts);
• as human beings we are born, live and die;
• as human beings we can and do communicate with each other, although not
• we human beings live in a universe that is totally subject to natural laws.
Let us agree that these four points are true and the foundations of
our knowledge. That allows us to move on to consider our
two key questions:
• can we prove whether God / gods exist(s)?
• if a God or gods exist(s), can we describe his / their nature?
These questions are interdependent and it is more logical to take the second one first (God's nature) before deciding whether he (or many gods) exists. It will take some time to look at all the options before we come to a conclusion. But while we are doing so, we can also investigate a related question:
• is there such a thing as a soul - a part of ourselves that
We have made a start. At this early stage, all we can say with certainty is that we live in a universe bounded by natural laws. We do not yet know if there is a God.
Now let's look at the reasoning tools which will help us find answers to these important questions.
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If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
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