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The Proper Scrutiny of Beliefs

The short story on religious faith can be summed up in two words: “epistemically invalid.”

Faith has no claim on truth, neither empirically nor spiritually. So the real problem when discussing matters of religion is not so much the “content” of the subject, but the veracity of the content offered for belief. To bridge that gap in any religious discussion, one mustn’t make the content of the subject the issue, but rather the “application of critical thought” TO the content being discussed, as the issue.

For example, one should not discuss whether Jonah (biblical story) really got swallowed and carried to a distant destination by a big fish. A believer of the story will suspend disbelief regardless what evidence contradicts the possibility (because in matters of faith, facts don’t matter). But rather, the discussion with the believer should be HOW that process happened, considering gastric acids, lack of air, suspension of digestion, etc., in order to duplicate, or make possible, the event.

It may not “feel” as satisfactory as winning an argument, but it causes – in the mind of the persons discussing it – a common area of examination where “magic” is ruled out in place of scientific (or empirical) method. Because, the moment someone mentions “magic” or something along the lines of “God can do anything, so it doesn’t have to happen scientifically,” the reply immediately questions that response along the lines of: “if magic was used, then God would not have required the fish in the first place. If God uses a tool, it’s for the utility of the tool in the place of magic.” And once again we can eliminate any necessity for magic.

Keeping critical thinking AS the subject, and not the content or the event being discussed, wins the long-run! You see, few kids figured out Santa wasn’t real, until some other person said in surprise, “You still believe in Santa Claus?” This did not come in the form of winning of an argument, but rather it CAUSED a volley of critical thought on the part of the believer to actually examine those beliefs in the light of reason! The person must do that on their own.

“A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still”
~ Dale Carnegie

This is why, at least in matters of faith, the subject of the topic should never be whether the story is true, but rather the application of critical thought applied (by both sides) on HOW (or what makes) the story true in the absence of magic. You see, even magic requires a process; otherwise there is no necessity for intervening events (like why suspend the sun so a man can win a battle, when magic necessitates no need for a battle in the first place).

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