What is a Religious Belief?

Neocalvinism — By on January 9, 2006 at 12:56 am

Ludwig Wittgenstein, considered by many to be the premier philosopher of the 20th century, believed that the proper task of philosophy was to make the nature of our thought and talk clear. Wittgenstein believed that the problems of philosophy were illusory and arose as a misunderstanding about language. While I think he greatly overstates the case, I agree that many problems not only in philosophy but in other areas result from the imprecise use of language.
I must confess that my own muddled use of language often contributes to this problem. When communicating with those who do not share my basic presuppositions, I often forget that we may not be using language in quite the same way. In order to help make the nature of our thought and talk clear, I want to examine a question that is essential to the analysis and comparison of worldviews: What is a religious belief?
In order to define the term in such a way that it is neither too broad nor too narrow, we must list all of the features that are true of all religious beliefs and true only of religious beliefs.* While this may appear to be an obvious point, we are often surprised to find what has been pruned when a definition is stripped to its essential components. Imagine, for instance, trying to define the concept of tree in a way that is limited to what is true for all trees but only true of trees. Paring the explanation down in such a manner would not only be difficult but leave us with a curious, and likely unsatisfying, definition.
What is true of trees will be equally so for religious beliefs. After we cut away the foliage and underbrush that are features of specific religious beliefs we are likely to be unimpressed by the bare, slender reed that remains. We should also expect to find that a minimally precise definition will have exposed the fact that some beliefs that we might have considered to be religious really are not, while finding that others are actually more religious than we might have imagined. Nevertheless, while we might be surprised, unsatisfied, or unimpressed, the important point is that we have defined the term correctly.
Let us begin by examining to features that are commonly (though mistakenly) believed to be essential to religious beliefs:


Religious beliefs require a belief in God or gods — One of the most common misconceptions about religious belief is that it requires a belief in God or a supreme being. But such a feature would be too narrow because it would exclude polytheistic religions that do not recognize a supreme being. In fact, we cannot include the concept of god or gods at all since some religions (e.g., Brahmin Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism) are literally atheistic.
Religious beliefs are beliefs that induce worship or worship-related activities — This feature is also defeated by the counterexamples of Brahmin Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism, neither of which practices worship. The same is true for the religious beliefs of some ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and later the Epicureans who thought the gods neither knew about nor cared about humans. They certainly felt no obligation to worship such apathetic beings.
Having excluded gods and worship from our definition, we are left with very few features that all religious beliefs could possibly share in common. As Roy Clouser asks, ‘



  • Jesus de Larrenzio

    The bloggist:
    [Materialism] explicitly claims that matter (or some other physical entity) is unconditionally, nondependently real and draws conclusions about nature and humanity based on that belief.
    We all do that to some degree. So materialists are, to a degree, religious. And Christians and Hindus and Buddhists are, to a degree, materialists.
    Given the amount of time we humans spend not worshipping or otherwise thinking about our relation to the divine, I propose that materialists are less religious than Christians are materialist.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Jesus de Larrenzio We all do that to some degree. So materialists are, to a degree, religious. And Christians and Hindus and Buddhists are, to a degree, materialists.
    I can

  • Gordon Mullings

    Ah, Joe:
    Quite a thought-provoking post!
    Now, plainly, you are a brave man. For, in your post you broach the vexed issues of definition by setting necessary and sufficient demarcation- lines, in the context of identifying the “ultimate reality beliefs” component of worldviews. This is compounded by the resulting psychology and sociology of personal identity. All of this is in turn multiplied by the context of an ongoing civilisational level conflict, the so-called culture war.
    A real biggie.
    ++++++++
    All:
    I would like to make a few notes, that may help in the discussions to follow:
    1] Definition by example vs by specification: Here, we are trying to identify the core characteristics of an existing reality, so Joe is testing proposed demarcation-lines against generally accepted examples of the phenomenon in view. Thus, we recognise the point that we form concepts from experiences on a case by case basis, then try to mark their borders through identifying necessary and sufficient conditions. But, in so doing, we implicitly recognise that the concept and the underlying examples come first, so even if a given definition attempt fails, the underlyuing concept is still a viable issue. And obvioiusly, the challenge here is that religions do not all fall under the ambit, theism. So, perhaps the point is that the issue is the concept of ultimate reality, our dependence on that reality as coneived, and how we should therefore live our life under the sway of that reality. Ultimate reality being God, or a God-substitute. [Cf. diccussion here.]
    2] Worldviews and world-agendas: Religions and philosphies of life, as well as the associated characteristic psychologies, are actually examples of worldviews and their associated agendas; which implies that there can be clashes of both ideas and agendas for society. To address the former, it is wise to apply the three comparative difficulties tests: factual adequacy, logical coheence, and explanatory power. The latter, should bear in mind the issues of liberty and public decision-making first worked out in modern times in the context of the protestant reformation and its aftermath of liberation struggles and underlying biblical principles.
    3] Evolutionary Materialism as a [quasi-]religion: When the core of the concept, “religion,” is provisionally identified, evolutionary materialism turns out to be, functionally equivalent to a traditional religion, thougfh of course not a theistic one. This observation will be hotly contested, but it is plainly true and goes to the heart of the contradictory decisions and arguments that come from secularists, most recently as highlighted in the Dover decision. Thus, some serious soul-searching is in order for those who, through the fact that secularism is not a theistic religion, are in fact de facto establishing their quasi-religion as the state church of the united states, complete with the atheist’s veto on public policy, censorship on education and what can be viewed in the public square, and a question-begging redefinition of science as, in effect, the best evolutionary materialist explanation of the cosmos from hydrogen to humans.
    ++++++++
    Grace, open eyes
    Gordon

  • KAM

    Joe, the use of “divine” is, to my intuitions, more closely tied to some sort of theism than “religious belief.” I don’t see why you didn’t just skip the term and use its definition for you instead. Now you have TWO terms commonly (though as you say not necessarily) associated with deities rather than one.
    Good luck keeping y/our ducks in a row!

  • http://jimgilbertatlarge.blogspot.com Jim Gilbert

    Joe, I am by no means well-versed in Post-Materialism, but I’m a little surprised you don’t bring up Derrida’s “diff

  • Ludwig

    Ok…i ve been a silent reader here for a while,going through all the various back and forth but i hadent come across a discussusion i wanted to join until now so here goes.
    Virtually everything Mr Carter said in the initial article is a con. Harsh but true. Whats more,its not even a new con but poorly recycled con. Its the same con i ve seen pop up every now and again whenever i either witness or participate to debates involding religion (mostly christian) appologists. It consists mainly of playing on words and redifining them on the fly to create a situation where the debate is moved in an arena they are well familiar with where the offending concept can be attacked with everything in their arsenal…namely,the arena of theology.
    Thats why religionists do with everything they dont like…they force fit them into the framework of their theology instead of anylising and judging those concepts according to their own merits. In this case Mr Carter is attempting to equate/substitute religious beliefs and philosophy in an attempt to indict materialism and one of its offsprings,evolutionary science…let us examine his arguments for doing so…
    “Religious beliefs require a belief in God or gods — One of the most common misconceptions about religious belief is that it requires a belief in God or a supreme being. But such a feature would be too narrow because it would exclude polytheistic religions that do not recognize a supreme being. In fact, we cannot include the concept of god or gods at all since some religions (e.g., Brahmin Hinduism, Theravada Buddhism) are literally atheistic.”
    One the first count,Mr Carter i completely wrong. Religious beliefs come from religions and religion come from “gods”…there simply is no way around that. To claim otherwise is akin to stating that one can be a gourmet chef on a planet where there is no food. religious beliefs are the component parts of religions and neither can exist without the other. and there can be no religion without some supreme entity/concept revealing that religion and its precepts to its followers. If Brahmin Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism are essentially athiestic,then that clearly places them in the realm of philosophical world views.
    “Religious beliefs are beliefs that induce worship or worship-related activities — This feature is also defeated by the counterexamples of Brahmin Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism, neither of which practices worship. The same is true for the religious beliefs of some ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and later the Epicureans who thought the gods neither knew about nor cared about humans. They certainly felt no obligation to worship such apathetic beings.”
    On that point Mr Carter is essentially correct. Religious beliefs dont necessarely require one to perform rituals of worship in order the have them. Its entirely possible for say a christian to believe in God,in Jesus in Heaven and Hell,in the ten commandements,ect without ever going to church or giving praise to God. That might make him a bad christian but that does not negate his religious beliefs. But again here the appeal to Brahmin Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism as exemples do not help Mr Carter’s case for reasons stated above. As for Aristotle and co,the fact that they chose not to worship the apathetic greek gods did not negate their beliefs in them nevertheless so again,no help to Mr Carter’s case.

  • B4

    Mr. Ludwig is a classic example of the shallow thinking and defensiveness that will result from your post today, Joe. To accept that the Materialist belief is “religious” is just totally unacceptable to those who worship at its alter. If your point is accepted Joe, then Materialists can no longer look down their noses at others and feel above everyone elses beliefs. That will never happen!
    This will be only the beginning of a near hysterical defense of this view that the cherished articles of faith of Materialists are religiously neutral.
    I’m looking forward to more comments like those of Mr. Ludwig. They are very amusing and instructive. Keep exposing their weak arguments, Joe!

  • Greg Forster

    This is why the whole linguistic method of philosophy is useless. You inevitably end up quibbling over semantics.
    It’s true that the main task of philosophy is to make our thought clear. And it’s always a good thing if we can make our language clear. But it’s a fundamental error to equate these two things. If you say they’re the same, you reduce philosophy to a language game – you’ve abandoned actual philosophy (making thought clear) in favor of arguments over what words “really” mean.

  • http://www.SmartChristian.com Andrew Jackson

    Joe, as an adjunct professor of world religions at Mesa Community College I teach that a religious belief is simply the dominant worldview of a person, unconscious or conscious. And so, I force my students to think through the components that make up their worldview. Below, is the final paper outline that they must use in my class.
    MY WORLDVIEW AND WHY
    Final Paper Outline
    A worldview is a comprehensive understanding of total reality. In your final paper you are to systematically and logically present your worldview or total belief system. You are required to provide appropriate footnote source support for your integrated belief system and statements, and also how your worldview compares or contrasts with the worldviews of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In other words, you are required to present not simply what you do or don

  • denalione

    Greg said, “This is why the whole linguistic method of philosophy is useless. You inevitably end up quibbling over semantics.”
    I don’t necessarily disagree with this but isn’t it necessary to have some concepts or ideas well defined or categorized? Should Joe not have defined religion in a way that includes materialism but instead created a new word whose definition is the idea he described in this post. What Joe outlined is logical and, I think, an accurate description. What should we call it?

  • http://www.physicsgeekjesusfreak.blogspot.com Matthew M.

    The fact that Mr. Ludwig’s arguments are less than compelling is almost as disturbing as his painful disregard for the rules (arbitrary though they may be) of English spelling and grammar, which makes his comment literally hard to read.
    Joe, you’ve certainly made me think about this. I like your boundaries on what makes a good definition. I’ve recently been thinking about that in connection with the definition of the word “parasite”; you can probably guess why.

  • Thumper

    Ludwig,
    You object to two of Joe’s points — his claim that religious belief does not entail belief in any kind of god, and his point about certain Greek thinkers believing in gods without worshiping them.
    On the first point, you say that religion is inherently theistic, and that what we think of as atheistic religions are in fact philosophies. This is mainly a terminological point and not worth arguing over, although it’s a little harsh to call Joe’s point a “con” — his extension of the term “religious” to cover certain strands of Buddhism and Hinduism is hardly out the mainstream. And for the more substantive point, I’d classify them as religions rather than philosophies because it seems clear that A Buddhist seeking enlightenment has a lot more in common with a Christian seeking salvation than he does with a philosopher seeking an account of what numbers are or what logical necessity is. (You could try to fuzz this point over by talking about “Eastern philosophy,” but it seems to me that that would only show that Eastern philosophy is at its base a more spiritual enterprise than its modern Western counterpart. Some might say this makes it religious.)
    As to your second objection, I think you misunderstood Joe’s point. He was arguing against the claim that some sort of worship is essential to religion. As an example he called up a few Greeks, who believed in gods (and thus had beliefs that even by your definition would be religious) but did not worship them. He wasn’t trying to use this case to bolster his first point, that religion is not inherently theistic. From what I can tell, that’s what you took him to be doingl

  • http://www.verumserum.com Foyle

    Ludwig,
    The dividing line between philosophy and religion is not nearly as clear as you seem to think. It’s not clear historically when you consider pre-socratics like Paremenides. It’s not clear in the case of Plato who believed in a demi-urge who created the universe from pre-existant materials. And it’s not clear today when you look at the history of cosmology or the current debates over string theory.
    As for dragging materialism into a theological framework, that’s really the pot calling the kettle black. Materialists have been doing the opposite to theists since at least 500 BC. Am I prepared to argue about God from a strictly materialist framework? Of course not. Why would I cede the very ground we’re arguing over? I see materialism as subject to a theological framework just as you see monotheism as subject to a materialist framework (evolutionary biology or whatever).
    All you’ve offered is a rant about Christians reasoning from presuppositions that are, well…Christian.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    In many ways that is true. Materialists tend to have a minimal number of definitive religious beliefs while Christians have a great number of them. But the key difference, in my opinion, is that Christians are more likely to be aware of how their religious belief colors their theories about the world while materialists often cling to the false notion that they are

  • Steven Donegal

    This definitional exercise really helps nothing. Is divinity itself nondependent? Which came first–divinity or language? In other words, do divine “things” exist or are they merely human constructs? Beats me, but isn’t that what we all really want to know?

  • Rob B

    I’m pretty comfortable viewing those who hold materialist positions, or atheistic positions as really not religious in terms of how most think of religion in a conventional (every day) sense. However, as I have tried to say in other posts, these positions still require beliefs, and these beliefs seem to me just as incredible, and/or miraculous as any that I hold. Therefore, I don’t accept any in those related camps trying to lay special claim on rational thought (which happens all to often in these threads)…

  • ex-preacher

    I see today

  • Rob Ryan

    I think it is important to understand why some materialists (myself included) are reluctant to see their worldviews characterized as a religion. When in the past a theist has attempted to portray an atheistic worldview as religious, it has always been designed to gain a rhetorical advantage (atheists beliefs are more improbable than Christian beliefs) or to muscle past church/state separation (Secular Humanism is being taught in our schools! We demand equal time!) No wonder we question Joe’s motives when he uses a definition of religion so broad it encompasses philosophy, sociology, science, et cetera, to an unnecessary extent. We wonder if he is establishing a beachhead for claiming that the “religion of Materialism” is being taught in our public school science classes. Given the insidious attempts to incrementally undermine church/state separation (not to mention abortion rights) by the religious right, I think all semantic arguments of that group must be subjected to extreme scrutiny. Remember the Patriot Act? Free Speech zones? The Clean Air Act? Homicide Bombers? The culture wars are fought primarily with words. For this reason, I favor a somewhat narrower definition of religion that at least references the supernatural.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    good points, if we are to say someone holds a religious belief shouldn’t we also be able to articulate an alternative religious belief that is contradictory to the person’s blief? For example, we can say that Joe has religious beliefs and they contradict a materialist’s beliefs.
    So far so good. Now what would be a contradictory belief of an atheist? How about simple belief that God exists beyond the ordinary universe? Not quite, a person wedded to materialism could hold this belief too. Only if they bothered to say that they believe no such thing exists beyond the world of ordinary matter could you say there’s a contradiction.
    But most people who Joe would call naturalists have never asserted that ‘leap of faith’ into ‘religious materialism’. Mostly they tend to say there is no evidence in the material world for such assertions. But logically they have to hold open the possibility that a world can exist outside of materialism unless they specifically made the leap to ‘relgious materialism’

  • KAM

    Andrew Jackson’s post points to something that is of value to this discussion. I suspect that one of Joe’s interests in this question is to find a way of preventing any class of people from claiming not to be subject to the KINDS of commitments others have. What Andrew Jackson’s post suggests is that we all have to answer some basic set of questions.
    I salute this interest, for political reasons. I don’t want anyone getting better or worse treatment under law (against my interpretation of John Rawls’ position) because they are acting according to a “religious belief.” Coherent or not, we all act in respect to some answer to those questions.

  • Rob B

    Actually, Rob, I think that it is fair to point out that the position of ‘materialist’ requires belief and faith to maintain. It certainly does not, I will grant, require formal practice or religious observance.
    It is equally frustrating to those from most traditional religions, that the academic world has no trepidation in teaching that the universe and all that exists is just matter and humans just pieces of meat evolving from accidental, non-directed, random, purposeless events. Given that we don’t know that, it seems reasonable that the debate and discussion of ideas could be widened.
    Further, I have seen nothing to prove that holding atheistic/materialist positions would be any better for society. While the perversion of the practice of religion can prove to be abhorrent, and evil; the true expression of religion holds vast potential for good.
    As for many believers upholding and defending traditional values, and opposing abortion; I would hope you would expect that. That’s nothing I’d ever be ashamed to admit..

  • ex-preacher

    As one who lives and works in the secular academic world, I am a bit taken back by Rob B.’s statement that “the academic world has no trepidation in teaching that the universe and all that exists is just matter.” Did I miss class the day that was taught? I have never heard that in class nor have I taught it.
    Rob B. also writes: “Further, I have seen nothing to prove that holding atheistic/materialist positions would be any better for society. While the perversion of the practice of religion can prove to be abhorrent, and evil; the true expression of religion holds vast potential for good.”
    No one here is making the argument that we should hold to materialist views because that would be better for society. Our goal (or mine at least) is to search for what is true, not what feels best. But if we want to make the decision to believe only that which is “best for society” (tell me how you will measure this), we might do well to adopt the religious practices and beliefs of Japan and Finland.
    The “true expression of religion”? I guess that would be your version.

  • http://www.philosophisingplasterer.blogspot.com/ Paul

    Joe: When it comes out make sure you check out *Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith*, vol 58, Number 1, March 2006, pp. 2-27. This is a dialogue on Clouser’s article *Prospects for Theistic Science* by 3 philosophers (with closing replies from Clouser), and it includes some discussion of the nature of his definition of religious belief.

  • Rob B

    ex-preacher, try and harken back to your biology class. What did you learn…what were you taught about origins? Please also try to realize that some statements are made to express the general jist of things, such as what is widely being put out by secular academy…certainly reading the quotes of the scholars Joe posted shows that this is the general direction..
    And I would argue that if there is an expression of true religion, then it expressly involves the search for truth. Not only the search, but relating to that truth.
    You played your true hand, though, when you state you just don’t want to believe “what feels best.” To place believers in that pigeon hole is insulting, dismissive, and not true. Since you are on your search for what is true, of course.. that is unless you can climb in each person’s mind and tell me what each thinks feels best to believe.
    I would think that some find the idea of no God, and no ultimate accountability very, very comforting..

  • ex-preacher

    Rob B. writes: “I would think that some find the idea of no God, and no ultimate accountability very, very comforting..”
    This isn’t the first, nor I suspect the last, time that I’ve encountered the slur that atheists become such so that they sin to their heart’s content. I’ve had my own relatives tell me that. They’re still waiting to see what great sin I was wanting to commit when I became an atheist 6 years ago. I think my Christian wife would tell you that I am no worse a person, and perhaps even a better person, than I was ten years ago.
    I don’t know many atheists who take great comfort in the belief that there is no afterlife, but almost every Christian I know takes comfort in the belief that they will be richly rewarded in the afterlife. One can argue that the Christian life is even less about ultimate accountability since one who has raped children, murdered innocent people, etc. can be forgiven and get into heaven if in the end he has faith in Christ.
    I notice that you don’t seem to want to defend your earlier implication that one shouldn’t accept materialism because it is not good for society. Are you backing off that pragmatism? If not, I wonder if you are willing to abandon your beliefs in favor of the beliefs in countries with the lowest crime rates, best educational systems, and best health outcomes.

  • Rob B

    ex-preacher,
    I guess you have firmly established the correlation between these countries’ low crime rates, etc. due to the fact that they hold to materialistic and atheistic philosophy? Give me a break.
    Secondly, you seem quite touchy. I never said the slur that you are accusing me of –in any way. It is not a stretch that some may see the abyss of nothingness and non-existence as a relief to existing at all. Please don’t put words in my mouth.
    Further, I don’t see many in the atheistic camp here saying how much they’d really love to believe in God— if they only could. No, the attitude is much more along the lines of a hatred for religious thought and its implications for society, and that if there were a God, a strong desire to tell Him where to go.
    I take comfort in my hope and belief that I will see God and Christ. One can’t deny the hugeness of Grace. But, to think that I am hoping to add to my list of embarrassing short falls simply because Grace exists is not very sound and not very sincere..

  • http://www.verumserum.com Foyle

    “Only if they bothered to say that they believe no such thing exists beyond the world of ordinary matter could you say there’s a contradiction.”
    Joe’s original post was cataloguing a group of recently published statements by some high profile scientists, most of whom seemed to have a materialist/atheistic bent. Saying the two things (materialism and atheism) aren’t necessarily the same, while true, doesn’t change the fact that people like Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Weinberg and others have already crossed this line explicitly many times. No one is saying you guys (ex-preacher, s9, Boonton) have to follow them over, but there views are on record.
    In any case, it seems to me that while not all atheists are metaphysical naturalists (strict materialists), the vast majority are epistemological naturalists, i.e. they hold to the definition of agnosticism which not only says “I don’t know” but which says “No one can know.” There is a distinction of course, since the latter could at least in theory allow for the existence of God (albeit one we can’t know) but for purposes of Joe’s original post, it’s a distinction without a difference.

  • Rob Ryan

    “Further, I don’t see many in the atheistic camp here saying how much they’d really love to believe in God— if they only could.”
    That depends on the god, I suppose. I must admit I’m not too fond of the god(s) offered by the three great monotheistic faiths, because I consider them to be morally inferior. But I would love to see my dear departed sister again. I would love to live in happiness for eternity. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not I want to believe; I simply do not.

  • http://mojowire.blogspot.com/ s9

    Joe Carter writes: Ludwig Wittgenstein, considered by many to be the premier philosopher of the 20th century…
    Already, I’m banging my head against the table. “One of the many influential” I wouldn’t quibble. “The premier?” Somebody open a window.
    I can see I’m going to have a lot to work with when I finish reading this latest entry.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    KAM Joe, the use of “divine” is, to my intuitions, more closely tied to some sort of theism than “religious belief.” I don’t see why you didn’t just skip the term and use its definition for you instead.
    That was definitely something I considered. I

  • ex-preacher

    Rob B. writes: “Further, I don’t see many in the atheistic camp here saying how much they’d really love to believe in God— if they only could.”
    I for one really wish I still believed in God. If I did, I wouldn’t have had to give up the great job I had at a Christian university. My mom wouldn’t be so sad. My wife and kids would be much happier. Many friends and former colleagues wouldn’t have turned away from me.
    For me, and I think for most atheists, our views were arrived at honestly, not because we somehow didn’t want to believe anymore. (I’m not speaking here of those who are atheists by default – apatheists.) It’s very hard to make yourself believe something that you really don’t think is true. I would love to believe in heaven, but as hard as I try I can’t make myself. In the same way, you cannot make yourself stop believing something that you think is true. I can no more turn a switch and start believing in God than you could turn a switch and stop believing. Our beliefs are a complex product of the information we have been exposed to and conclusions we have reached, as well as our environment. As you know, most people believe what they were raised to believe. And even those who question their faith usually end up deciding that their parents’ faith is the One True Faith after all.
    One reason I hang around places like EO and read Christian apologetics and listen to Christian radio is that I keep hoping I missed something. Maybe I’m wrong. I would be so happy if I could wholeheartedly believe.

  • Rob Ryan

    “…I find it refreshing that you are willing to admit that your reluctance has less to do with whether your worldview really is religious than how that would cause you to lose a rhetorical advantage.”
    Why shouldn’t I admit it? The mere fact of what I perceive as your error is less material to me than its impact on me. That seems natural enough to me. What concerns me is your motive for this fresh foray into lexicography. Given your repeated attacks on materialism, it’s hard to imagine you don’t have some ulterior motive for classifying it as a religion.
    Why do you want people to think of materialism as a religion, Joe?

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Rob Why do you want people to think of materialism as a religion, Joe?
    Why? Quite simply because I believe materialism is based on a religious belief. You’re right that I continue to “attack” materialism, but there is no ulterior motive. None is needed. I take shots at materialism because (a) it needs to be done, (b) it is a fat, easy target, and (c) because it has inexplicably risen to a place of prominence in Western thought even though it is illogical and rooted in a weird form of mysticism.
    The fact that materialism is rooted in a religious belief neither helps nor hurts it. It is merely an interesting fact. But acknowledging that fact could aid us in understanding how materialism effects the theories that are based upon it.

  • KAM

    boonton, “Mostly they tend to say there is no evidence in the material world for such assertions. But logically they have to hold open the possibility that a world can exist outside of materialism unless they specifically made the leap to ‘relgious materialism’”
    Those who haven’t made the leap to what you’re calling “religious materialism” (good term!) still operate on the basis of their belief. And when they have to act on the basis of belief, the absence of evidence in this case is usually PRACTICALLY taken as the evidence of absence, no?
    Is agnosticism practicable? We tend to act on the basis of what we (think we) KNOW, right? Somebody help me out here.

  • ex-preacher

    Perhaps I’m walking into a trap here, but pray tell, what theories are based on materialism?

  • Phil

    Having just read Clouser’s book I believe I am qualified to jump into this discussion.
    ex-preacher
    you need to read his book as he clearly explains why all theories are based on religious belief. All theories have to start with some assumption or another.
    His book is:
    The Myth of Religious Neutrality – An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories.
    University of Notre Dame Press – London
    The theory of evolution assumes materialism. If it started with the assumption of a Biblical God, you wouldn’t even go there.
    Since materialism assumes there is no supernatural it is a religious philosophy. It cannot be known or proven that there is no supernatual because you would have to be God to know that. Therefore it is a faith-based belief.

  • Phil

    Rob Ryan wrote:
    “When in the past a theist has attempted to portray an atheistic worldview as religious, it has always been designed to gain a rhetorical advantage (atheists beliefs are more improbable than Christian beliefs) or to muscle past church/state separation (Secular Humanism is being taught in our schools! We demand equal time!)
    Few things anger me more than the statements made by secular humanists such as those in the recent trial in Dover. The elephant is the room is that there is no such thing as a non-religious person. The Judge accused the school board members of having the ulterior motive of injecting religion in the class room. How arrogant. Evolution is one of the basic statements of faith of secular humanism – just read their manifesto or pick up any National Geographic.
    Since this is an Evangelical Blog I will actually use the Bible here.
    The first two Commandments assume the religious nature of every human being. They also assume that you will worship something if you don’t worship God.
    Romans 1 tells us that atheism is a learned response. The default human condition is a knowlege of God. A very simple study of anthropology and human history show humans of all civilizations and all ages to be religious. Just because some think they are not does not make it so.
    Coming back to the main point – Clouser shows how even how you view the meaning of 1 + 1 = 2 depends entirely on your religious beliefs.
    So yes, that math teacher in the school has a religious belief as does the biology teacher and the Principal. As one person put it – “All schools are parochial schools.” Why – all schools teach a value system based on a world view which is based on core religious beliefs.
    And yes I’ll throw in the obvious about evolution being based on religious assumptions.
    1. Mathematical probability of one DNA sequence occuring by chance: ZERO
    2. Number of actual fossils (that have not been proven to be hoaxes) indicating a cross between spiecies found in any of the worlds leading fossil museums: ZERO
    3. Mathematical probablility of life springing from non-life: ZERO
    4. Number of times the Second Law of Thermodynamics or any of its corralaries have failed to be true in any known scientific experiment: ZERO
    To believe in evolution you must believe that the chance of any of the above occuring is greater than zero.
    How does this fail to be a religious belief since it directly defies know scientific observation?
    The answer: Evolution is a faith system and you can’t argue matters of faith.
    P.S. I have already started on the book “The Myth of Secularism.” Clouser beat me to it but he deals mainly with theories and how they are affected by religious beliefs. However he does agree with my core theory and I will close with a quote from him:
    “The heart’s relation to God thus extends beyond created reality to the uncreated creator, and is that which most centrally characterizes humans: they are essentially religious beings.”
    The Myth of Religious Neutrality – page 241

  • windbag

    It is at about this moment where I would look forward to the hot caustic knife of Larry Lord cutting swiftly through the flab of some of the above points.
    But, alas, he’s nowhere to be found.
    Why?
    Because Joe has banned Larry, a two-year regular, and substantive contributor to this list.
    Hey-hey-heyyyyyy…. party at Eric and Lisa’s!!! Terence, you bring the three coconut half shells and a peanut, Boonton, the sodium pentathol. After Gordon orates for an hour or two, our guest of honor pgepps will deliver his triumphant victory speech.
    Man-o-man but this list just got a whole lot less interesting. Pity, that.

  • The Raven

    I’m a busy man. I don’t have time to read vapidity. Some might question my wasting precious moments reading EO, but I’ll tell you guys, it’s comment threads like this that keep me coming back.
    Excellent discussion, good thoughts here in abundance. My most sincere compliments.
    Joe caught my attention with his reference to Wittgenstein. As any of you who have read his Philisophico-Logico Tractatus already know, Ludwig was very interested in the philosophy of language, as were Sasseure and Searle among many others. You could make the point that it is linguistic philosophy that generates the modern academic “heresy” of postmodernism.
    I’d like to respond to Joe’s post, but so many good points and contentious ideas have been posted already that I simply must pause to address a few of them. Please bear with me.
    Ex-Preacher: For myself, I will accept that under today

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Raven It hurts it. Materialism – granting that you define it as non-theism – only says “prove it.” Everything that is known is provable, else it’s speculative.
    Materialism can

  • Jesus de Larrenzio

    Joe Carter
    Materialism, if true, means that nothing at all can be known; and we cannot speak of what we cannot know.
    What was it that the now-banned Larry Lord used to say in response to this sort of statement?
    Oh yes: “Baby, I don’t care.”

  • http://www.verumserum.com Foyle

    Raven says:
    “I have more hope for the future if the Enlightenment can be sustained that if it should perish and we return to the Dark Ages.”
    Given that this discussion began the other day with the idea that atheism/materialism is a religion, I find this sentence contains much that is relevant. Here, in just 25 words we have something approaching a materialist creed. It rests on a particular mythology (from religious darkness to reason’s light) which clearly identifies an enemy (religion), suppors an eschatology (hope that reason will triumph in the future), and most importantly provides the unbeliever with a certain sense of…purpose.
    Interesting.

  • Gordon Mullings

    Joe [and others]:
    Most interesting!
    You have plainly put the cat in among the pigeons, by asking for a clear definition, that:

    i: is relevant to concrete and generally accepted examples of religion.
    ii: so states necessary and sufficient conditions that it excludes all and only cases of non-religion and includes all and only cases of religion.

    Ludwig’s fulminations and the appropriately corrective responses are a telling illustration of the force of the matter. [And, please lay off us dyslexics out there . . . we right brainies gotta stand up for our rights to free access to spell and grammar checkers! Not to mention my present that Santa did not bring, alas:an after-post edit feature at EO . . .]
    I especially welcome Prof Andrew Jackson’s remarks and his essay assignment — I hope his students did it justice! [BTW, those considering worldview options -- and not having a worldview is NOT an option -- should perhaps take a read here on some ofhte comparative difficulties issues.]
    Going beyond that, Joe:

    1] I think you need to factor in Prof Dawkins’ remark that Darwin’s theory made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, and the often seen claim by atheists that they are “rationalists.”
    2] For, they are not simply asserting that they do not believe that one or more gods exists, but rather that they are able to rationalise their position on logically and factually warranted grounds. That is, as soon as atheism seeks to be more than a mere belief, it engages in a worldviews project that in our context enmeshes it with evolutionary materialism, to the point where in praxis the two are currently inextricable.
    3] But, once that is done, immediately all the issues tied to the incoherence of evolutionary materialism [cf the parallel thread here, where this is coming out strongly] and to the fact that once this worldview is assessed by reasonable criteria of religion, it is seen as being well within any credible definition of religion that takes into account the well-documented and even notorious fact that there are non-theistic religions.
    4] Thence, we see the manifestly unjust nature f judge Jones’ ruling as has been discussed since actually just before it came out, here. It is well worth excerpting pp 63 – 4 ff. of the ruling, to see how the refusal to properly define religion has led thre judge into all sorts of inconsistencies:

    After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980′s; and (3) ID

  • Rob Ryan

    “Because Joe has banned Larry, a two-year regular, and substantive contributor to this list.”
    This is a disturbing development.
    “Man-o-man but this list just got a whole lot less interesting. Pity, that.”
    I second that emotion, windbag.
    Larry, if you are reading this, I will miss your wit and irreverence. You provided me with laughs, moments of open-mouthed astonishment, and food for thought. You occasionally mildly offended me. Thank you for all that. I plan to honor your memory with an “Elegy for Larry”, which I will post at ex-christian.net in the next day or so.
    When all dissent has been silenced, the field will be clear for Christians to go back to what they do best: squabbling over the finer points of their dogma.
    + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
    Grace close mouths,
    Rob