Home > Philosophy, Religion > When logical explanations won’t suffice

When logical explanations won’t suffice


“Truly appreciating religion requires a mind less bound by the parameters of logical congruity.”

Xenocrates

Really?

What if I said that I could offer a logical explanation for everything that religion seems to bind under a shroud of mystery? Would you believe it? I bet, that so long as one is religious, that even the most well educated person out there would not. There is a very good reason for that and I’m about to explain why.

Personal Experience

My father was once a deacon of the Church. When I exposed that particular congregation for the fraud that it was, he saw first hand the fallout that ensued when the entire organization turned against us and our entire family became ostracized as outcasts. The effects of that incident last to this day.

The events leading up to that day had been set in motion since I was 7 years old when my parents and church elders first discovered that I had a certain unusual precocious appreciation of religious philosophy. Sunday School couldn’t satisfy me. I got tired of the gaudy Bible tales watered down for children by the time I was 6 years old. I quickly got bored with its banality.

You see, I was already reading encyclopedias by the time I was 4. My father discovered my avid interest in religious philosophy and taught me how to use a Thompson Chain Reference Bible – the same kind of Bible that professional preachers use. I was only eight years old at the time, and it was awesome.

The raising of a Devil’s Advocate

This video is an eerie reminder of my childhood

When I gave my first in pulpit scriptural exhortation at age 10 (not very different from the kid in the above video), they had an altar call immediately after that, I guess, because they thought that it was good enough for that Sunday’s message. Of course, I was groomed (like that little boy) in a way to take advantage of my obvious gift of eloquence. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was mimicking my father. Looking back, I now see it for what it was:

Social engineering.

But they had started me down a path that was to become their undoing. Little did they know that my brain’s hunger for knowledge was most dangerously insatiable. By the time I was 12 years old, I was getting tired of the routine “God did it” explanations. Then I made the mistake of debunking Christmas.

The appalled look on their faces was unforgettable. When I effectively reduced Christmas to a needless corruption of Christianity, it was certainly not very well received. I think that was the first time the elders became genuinely frightened of my potential. I was Anakin Skywalker brewing to become their Darth Vader.

By the time I hit age 14, I was regularly starting debating wars in Bible Study meetings because I kept asking them questions they couldn’t answer – or I was challenging the common understanding of what the Bible said. Up to that point, I was famous for my eloquence. After that point, I became infamous;

…for being the Devil’s Advocate.

It became such a regular occurrence, that by the time I was 16 years old, I had begun to lose faith in my faith. Their answers were no longer enough because they kept relying on the same logical fallacies to explain black holes in the faith. I spent the next 7 years getting into serious hot water with the elders.

The Cause of my rebellion

Now by the time I was 23, I was in so much hot water with virtually everyone at church, that I was no longer considered a Christian. I’ve been called “blasphemous” too many times to count and literally banned from attending Bible Study. Even my dear father threatened to throw me out of the house.

You see, during my teen years, I was living in his house. He is a proud man and always went around quoting Joshua 24:15 (“…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD“). It was an implicit declaration of war upon my intellectual resistance to nonsense. That means I had two choices: Capitulate, or leave.

One of the elders at the time who was sympathetic to my curiosity, decided to have my IQ measured. He was a research scientist at a local university. When I my test score came back, he finally understood why I was particularly aggressive about my insistence on finding a logical explanation for everything.

The other elders were not so forthcoming. I was a threat and they conspired long and hard on how to get rid of me; but they didn’t have to try that hard:

As soon as my talent with numbers and problem solving was discovered, that same elder got me involved in a special research project being run by the European Union. It was like sex for my left brain. The money was quite good enough. So as soon as I could afford to, I moved out of my father’s house.

…and stopped going to church.

My Ultimate Dilemma

Of course, long after leaving home, I’ve tried, unsuccessfully to communicate my beliefs to my father without killing him. You don’t exactly say to your 60 odd year old father that you have a problem with the Bible. He was socially engineered, like I was, from a young age to believe without questioning.

The only difference between us was that my left brain was bigger than his – much bigger apparently and that got me into a lot of trouble. So while he was compelled to believe without question, I was compelled to question without belief. We had a lot of ego battles then. I guess every father and son does.

Either way, my dad is still alive and I have no plans of putting him out that way. So I chose a much more subtle route: friendly debate. However my attempts at providing a logical explanation for fantastic Biblical anecdotes proved to be futile, not because he was a better debater (he was no match for me), but rather because he simply didn’t understand. Then I had an epiphany.

I was speaking in terms that I thought were plain and logical. He was expecting communication that was more reliant on faith and religious mythology. Thus we had a mismatch in communication. I realized that this answer eluded me all this while because I needed a lesser mind than my own.

You see, it wasn’t he that didn’t understand; it was I.

Truly appreciating religion requires a mind less bound by the parameters of logical congruity. Even though this would seem plainly obvious to the average religious apologist and perhaps to the standard atheist, we on the skeptical end of the spectrum of belief often forget with whom we’re dealing at times.

Most of the times, I let him “win” the debate, because I realized that there was no hope getting my point across anyway. Even if I did, it would have probably done more harm than good. I’d lose if I won, but I win if I lose. So despite our ideological differences, I’d much rather maintain love for my dad.

Now that you understand where I’m coming from, you can see where I’m going:

The Fallacy of Faith

Many well educated Christians have dedicated a large portion of their lives to the noble effort of validating Christianity through the application of logic, reason and research. They have done extensive studies on questionable Biblical teachings and have written extensively in clear defense of the faith.

One of the most prominent of these people was St. Thomas Aquinas, through whom many in Christendom finally realized that there’s no reason to fear reason if they also have faith. Aquinas unified many significant philosophical and scientific teachings and Christianity in a number of renown publications.

It is thus fascinating to me in this day and age, that there are still Christians who fear reason. It’s as if simple logic will fatally corrupt their religious beliefs. I guess that’s why religious leaders seem to shun free thinking, fearful of being exposed for what faith really is, unless such thinking actually validates religion.

Such is the hypocrisy intrinsic to faith. For what is the necessity of faith if it can be explained? While this hallmark is central to science (we have faith in a theory until we can prove it wrong), faith curiously puts the cart before the horse (we have faith in a theory, whether or not it has been proven wrong).

Belief and Intelligence

Isn’t it curious how intelligence and faith are inversely relative to each other?

However, I realize that it is primarily lesser minds that fear reason – which is probably why the smartest people in the world tend to be secular humanists. I have found that people subscribe to religion for all the same reasons they subscribe to superstition. Simpler minds like to chalk up anything they can’t explain to mystical forces. It makes those things seem more important to them.

A logical explanation would therefore take away the importance of such things, and thus threaten the sanctity of their faith. But does it have to? I certainly don’t think so. I am of the opinion that a logical explanation would bolster one’s faith, thereby taking it out of the shroud of superstition and into reality.

However, while the elder who tested my IQ has long since left that church, he still maintains his faith at an Anglican establishment, which is considerably less demanding than many of the other denominations of Christendom. I however was repeatedly frustrated as I kept running into the same idiocy everywhere.

Why do they let plumbers become pastors? I will never understand. The most satisfying religious experiences I’ve had, were with religious advocates who maintained day jobs as lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, chemists, city planners, mathematicians, university lecturers and professors of philosophy.

The least satisfying religious experiences I’ve had were with church elders who were either fully employed as a minister (meaning that was their day job) or they had no other significant professional qualification of a similar nature. I’m not saying that plumbers can’t be good pastors – it’s just that they will run into a problem where there are some things they cannot satisfactorily explain.

To me, that was important.

While there were some really brilliant people in the faith, I didn’t really get the kind of intellectual satisfaction to my queries until I ran into some atheists. Now I never liked atheists from the get go because of the curious similarities between some of them and the obnoxious religious defenders I once knew.

I prefer intellectual discourse without the cognitive chest beating.

However, they were able to consistently provide the answers I was looking for – even though I wasn’t looking for atheism. That’s when it struck me. It was much harder to find satisfactory answers among the religious, because religion seems to attract a certain type of mind, one that is oblivious to logical fallacy.

I then realised that people who are naturally cognitively gifted will not usually be satisfied with the ultimate answers provided by religion. There will always be that one question sticking like a prick at the back of our minds, slowly driving us mad, when we’re given an illogical answer to an ultimate question.

Thus, I believe it is only fair to say that the probability of belief is inversely proportional to the intelligence of the believer. I say “probability”, since obviously, not all intellectually gifted individuals will necessarily abscond from belief in religion. Early childhood matriculation usually solves that problem.

Why Miracles Have Disappeared

A real Miracle: Bahia Bakari, a young woman who was the sole survivor of a Yemeni air plane crash.

If the Bible is to be believed, why is it that the fantastic miracles of then no longer occur today? This is a popular question that is raised at many Bible studies that I have been privy to participate in. The usual answer is that mankind has drifted away from God who then in turn withdrew his miracles.

This is what passes for reason in religion. Seriously.

What religious apologists fail to realize is that a miracle is not determined by its apparent inexplicability. Rather, a miracle is determined by its improbability. Virtually every miracle in the Bible has a logical, scientific explanation. They are only deemed miracles by ancient men who didn’t understand them back then.

On Perception

Nothing dramatic has changed in the natural universe from the days of the Bible till now. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology have all remained the same. The only difference is that the intelligence of man has increased over the last 2,000 years. We’re not as dumb now as we once were back then.

Similarly, we won’t be as dumb tomorrow as we are today.

Therefore, what appeared to be miracles then are merely today’s trivialities. Yesterday’s man would have marveled at the miraculous giant iron birds in today’s skies, the water that literally comes out of the wall in our bathrooms, and the fact that doctors can quite literally heal the sick and raise the dead.

Whereby we understand the sequence of cause and effect that created these everyday conveniences, it would seem like a miracle to yesterday’s man because he does not. This is why I believe that a logical explanation for Biblical miracles doesn’t necessarily take away from it. There’s also the improbability.

On Improbability

Whereas most of the events in the Bible were just functions of the mind’s failure to understand the event, some were genuine miracles of improbability. The curious timing of the Children of Israel’s escape from the Egyptians, right when the wind let up, thus allowing the water to consume them was unlikely.

Similarly, when a Yemeni Air Liner crashed in mid 2009 and only a young girl survived, that too was unlikely. It’s not a miracle because it’s impossible. It’s a miracle because it’s improbable. The little girl just happened to be in exactly the right place at the right time such as to maximize the probability of her survival.

However, there are a number of such miracles. Does that still make it a miracle? Certainly. The odds of surviving an air plane crash are negligible – even though the odds of dying in an auto accident are far higher. Never the less, I’ve seen people pulled from total auto wrecks without even so much as a bruise on the knee. I’ve also seen people get killed in far less wreckage.

Either way, it’s all a matter of improbability.

On Impossibility

Miracles do not involve a defying of the laws of physics (or chemistry, or biology for that matter). Where such appears to be the case only appears to be the case. But appearances can be deceiving. There are many talented magicians that have pulled off far more impressive tricks right before our eyes.

Did they break the laws of physics? Certainly not. They have just figured out a way to make it appear as though they are defying the laws of physics. There’s always a method to such trickery. It’s just that at the moment we first saw the trick, we couldn’t figure out how they made us see what we clearly just saw.

Religious advocates must therefore understand that there is no harm in understanding how a miracle took place (since all events are the result of a long chain of cause and effect – even if we are not consciously aware of the sequence); that is unless, the inexplicability of a miracle is intrinsic to its value.

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that any science sufficiently advanced would be virtually indistinguishable from magic. This is why much of the anecdotes in the Bible seem to be such fantastic events. They were written by ancient men who had virtually no scientific appreciation of the physical world like we do today.

As such, I bet that most Biblical miracles can be easily explained with just a bit of critical thinking. Take the following popular Bible anecdote for example:

The 10 Plagues of Egypt

One of the plagues of Egypt by John Martin (1789-1854)

With our understanding derived from the sciences of chemistry, biology and archaeology, the ten plagues of Egypt could all be explained by the eruption of a nearby volcano in Africa. When the Santorini volcano exploded in a caldera blast in1550 BC, it severely disrupted the nearby Nile ecosystem as follows:

Plague #1: Blood River

When the ash from the air entered the river, it changed the pH level (for you folks who didn’t do Chemistry: pH = power of Hydrogen – a measure of water’s acidity) thus causing an overproduction of a common toxic algae plume called “Red Tide” (which also grows in the Red Sea), changing the water’s taste.

Plague #2: Frog Infestation

The algae produces a high amount of carbon monoxide in the water, thus killing the fish. Now, fish eat frog’s eggs. When the fish population dwindled, they failed to keep the frog population in check. The frog population sky rockets. Then the pH level of the river caused the frogs to leave for dry land.

Plagues #3 – 5: Mosquito/Gnat/Fly Infestation

Naturally, if there are no frogs to keep these biting insect populations in check, their population will explode out of control. If you add the rancid smell of a large number of dead fish and frogs, you can understand how the common fly population would also explode and swarms become common at this point.

Plague #6: Boils

If biting insect populations are now swarming over the land of Goshen, you should expect people to be severely affected with itching bumps all over their skin. As these people are uneducated in the science of bacterial sanitization, the scratching of these bumps ultimately causes them to get badly infected.

Plague #7: Fire and Hail

If you’ve ever watched the Discovery Channel and seen a live volcanic eruption, then this should be self explanatory. A volcanic blast of the magnitude in Santorini would throw hot fiery ash high and far into the air for great distances. Hail stones are common with the highly disruptive weather patterns – especially the peculiar lightning storms that follow volcanoes.

Plague #8: Locusts

When fiery ash destroys much of the vegetation upon which locusts normally feed, it would also disrupt their usual migratory patterns, causing aggressive swarms upon whatever grain remained. Locusts which would have otherwise been evenly distributed would now heavily mass in search of scarce food.

Plague #9: Darkness

As with most major volcanic eruptions, the amount of ash displaced in the air is enough to block out the sun for hundreds of miles and voila: pure darkness.

Plague #10: Death of First Born

In these older, middle eastern patriarchal societies, the first born was given first preference for inheritance among other things – including food. If there was a food shortage, the first born would be given preference, even if it means other siblings would go without. This is common between tribes.

With the locust infestation, eggs laid among the food stock would encourage the overproduction of certain toxic fungi, for which these people would not normally have resistance to in high amounts. Therefore, if the first born are given first preference of food, they’d have been the first (and only) victims.

The Selective nature of the plagues

The Bible says that the Israelites were mostly unaffected by some of the more severe plagues. That’s largely because their culture was different from that of the Egyptians. They stored up water, oil for light, lived in mud and mortar housing and ate their food as it is prepared. Their cattle survived because the Bacillus Anthracis bacteria which killed Egyptian cattle could not survive in the Jewish cattle because they fed on poorer ground, hence their curious survival.

However, at least six of the ten plagues did affect everyone – Israelites included. Whenever they weren’t affected, it could largely be attributed to cultural differences. They, like every one else, suffered from the darkness, frogs, mites, locusts, fire and brimstone etc. They were just better prepared.

Moses’ Gambit?

However, my father refused these logical explanations because he thinks they defeat God and thus invalidate miracles. I responded with great patience, certifying that logical explanations don’t invalidate miracles. That would suggest that God isn’t worthy unless he produces some kind of magic.

In fact, consider this: What are the odds that one man could face down a Pharaoh at the exact time a volcano erupted, causing the chain of plagues visited upon Egypt? For all we know, Moses was probably aware of the eruption and took advantage of it by ascribing it to God’s wondrous works.

The people would be none the wiser. If it seems inexplicable, it’s a miracle. Remember that Christopher Columbus used similar knowledge of the coming of a solar eclipse to convince the Arawaks in the Caribbean that he was a God, thereby getting them to work for him. Can you just imagine if one of the Arawaks was smart enough to know that eclipses are recurring events?

Columbus would be in trouble.

Almost every major event in the Bible has a logical, scientific explanation – even the events documented in the book of Revelation. However, the logical explanation doesn’t make them less significant, unless the person reading about them only values the Bible for the fantastic inexplicability of the “action of God’s hand“. For many such individuals, a logical explanation will never suffice.

Black Hole Logic

One of the most important laws of science is that sequence does not automatically imply causality. In other words, if two events coincide, it doesn’t necessarily mean the first caused the second. This is why I take umbrage with religious pundits who claim Haiti’s calamity is because of their witchcraft.

However, you can’t explain to a religious person that there is a perfectly rational explanation for the event, because they need to rely on the existence of black holes in a sequence of logic. They rely heavily upon these black holes, because that’s what they use to insert the comforting “God did it” paradigm.

So whenever they are faced with a logical explanation, they pour over it for hours on end, trying to find two points in the logic that do not connect seamlessly. If they are successful, they have an “AHA!” moment where they feel they can safely insert a “God did it”, thus continuing to validate their faith.

This is why religious people often think that religion and science are at odds with each other. Theists are fearful of loosing their logical black holes while science is obsessed with closing them. Remember at one point, it was prohibited to operate on the brain and on the heart? Today it’s stem cells.

Stem Cell research is the most profound new development in science that could prove to save the lives of millions of people dying of terminal illness. However, because of the influence of religious pundits who rely on their black hole logic, they are withholding the progress of such research in the USA.

It would seem that if we were to rely on religion entirely, we would never have escaped the dark ages. We wouldn’t have the advances in medical technology that we did and we wouldn’t understand our universe as much as we do today. Religion relies too heavily upon black hole logic for self validation.

So what is going to happen when these black holes have been closed up?

Conclusively;

My father was more reliant on dogma while I relied more on reason. Such is the disparity in thinking between old and new generations.

My father is firmly of the belief that you can’t subscribe to reason and religion at the same time – even though there are many prominent scientists who do. But my father is from an old age where the trickery of voodoo magic is indistinguishable from the powerful effects of a good round of antibiotics.

In fact, upon till very recently, my father was of the opinion that pneumonia was a terminal illness. But to be fair, he did loose his father to it. I can only imagine his despair when he got word that I came down with the same illness while I was over 7,500 miles away in the freezing, polluted cities of China.

Apparently, he resigned himself to hear of my death only to hear that I had recovered from the illness with only a bit of scarring on my lungs. I’m sure he chalked it up to God saving my life – and I am equally grateful – but for the discovery of antibiotics, without which I would most certainly be dead today.

The point that I’m illustrating here is this:

Religion is dangerous because it teaches people to be lazy (and sometimes, very silly) thinkers. When it encourages the belief that people should embrace their ignorance instead of trying to quell it, it creates people like my father and Pat Robertson who firmly believe that ignorance is justifiable proof of faith.

That is why, even though Christianity’s flaws are apparent, even though the Bible has many contradictions, even though they know that Christmas, Easter and the rest of it are all a part of an inheritance from other, much older mythologies, logical explanations, no matter how precise, will never suffice.

Ever.

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  1. May 9, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I really enjoyed your “Atheism Exposed” article and this one, as well. Very well written. I agree completely that people can blind themselves. And intellectual prowess does not make one immune to such blindness, either.

    Humility is so important in any quest for the truth. A lack of it is the great downfall of the 3-digit crowd as well as their 2-digit siblings (IQ, that is).

    Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. The key point here is that a better understanding might be had with a little imagination and its resultant inspiration. Take for instance the Young Earth Creationist view that Man and the universe are both about 6,000 years old. Yet, using my creative imagination and logic, I found a code in Genesis which gives us a very simple formula and a timeline compatible with those of science.

    Miracles explainable by science? Many perhaps, but not all. Take Jesus and Peter walking on water together. Peter didn’t stay very long, because of doubt. One scientist suggested that Jesus merely surfed on block of ice. On the storm churned waters of the Sea of Galilee? And did Jesus bring along a second block for Peter? Not likely.

    I grew up asking tough questions that my Southern Baptist minister grandfather could not answer. I upset his wife (my grandmother) terribly on one occasion with my insistence that answers are knowable, and that the old line, “some things only God knows,” is a cop-out. I think I’ve gained a bit more humility in my old age.

    But I’ve created a few miracles myself. What is truly exciting about this is understanding the mechanics of creation. You’re right that not all sequence implies causality. But sometimes it does. I had an epiphany one day about traffic. Perhaps my one big miracle could have been something more important, like saving thousands of lives as Moses did, so my one incident in 1977 might sound trivial. But it’s not. Traffic on one of the busiest streets in the world, and during rush hour, opened up because I asked it to. More than two miles of center lane remained wide open and devoid of traffic while I sped up and passed the walls of snarling traffic remaining on either side. Only moments before I had asked, the center lane had been similarly choked with traffic.

    Why don’t I do this all the time? Such “magic” requires faith. This isn’t the garden variety belief that the “believers” try to pass off as “faith.” Faith, as I define it, is transcendent — 100% confidence. Even 99.99999% wouldn’t work, because it would be tainted with a touch of doubt. That’s why scientists can’t perform experiments on this. Skepticism includes the attitude of “doubt.”

    Using science, logic and mathematics on spirituality and religion is more than a little fun, once you get the knack of it.

    My IQ isn’t very high. It seems to test consistently at 139 (plus or minus a point), and is considered borderline genius, for what it’s worth. Sometimes I don’t feel so smart. All three of my younger brothers have far higher IQ’s. Each one is very spiritual, including the youngest who charted in at over 200 — in the realm of Einstein and Goethe. Yet, none of us are Bible-thumping fundamentalists. Each one of us isn’t satisfied with the dogma we learned in Bible school. Personally, though, I’m convinced that most, if not all, of the supposed contradictions in the Bible are clues to some far more interesting truths. For instance, the exegetical research I conducted on Genesis revealed the Kabbalists’ “Tree of Life” embedded in Genesis 4 and 5, right after Genesis 3 ends with the words, “Tree of Life.” Sequence isn’t always everything, but sometimes it is.

  2. Jub3r7
    April 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Personally, I think that God has the power to decrease the improbability of miracles. And, with his guiding hand, humans were just lucky enough to figure out antibiotics. I only partially agree with you, in the fact that reason does not demolish faith. However, I think that reason can always be backed by faith no matter the situation.

  3. LoneWolf
    March 22, 2010 at 12:59 am

    I usually fall back on two things.

    1) The prophecies in Daniel of the kingdoms from Babylon through to Rome being fulfilled.

    and

    2) The age old question. How the hell did we get here? Its seems so improbable for the universe to come from nothing.

  4. Jules Verne
    March 20, 2010 at 7:24 am

    So goddamn eloquent with words, makes me want to submit to blind faith 😀

    That reminds me…

    I would love to see a list of books, artworks, etc. that have influenced and inspired you. Perhaps it could be a post.

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