Appeal to Imagination

[read the disclaimer before proceeding]

One religious argument that’s been getting on my nerves lately is the old Appeal to Imagination. It goes something like this: “Your mind is too scientific to understand this,” or “You have to extend you imagination,” or the ever-popular “Open your heart to Jesus.”

Many religious people attack atheists by saying that they have a “weak imagination,” and therefore cannot possibly comprehend all the wonders of God and the joy of blind faith. I’ll set aside the fact that this kind of statement is a crude ad hominem attack and can be considered quite offensive, and instead simply address the falsehood of the claim itself.

I have imagined heaven, and hell, and God, and worlds with angels, devils, witches, and all kinds of other things — when I was six years old. This was the same period in my life when I imagined Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Children in general have an extraordinarily active imagination.

But then I grew up, and my imagination collided with something known as reality. And my imagination did not become “limited” by reality, but instead was enhanced and matured by it.

This is why religious leaders insist that it is children, with their undeveloped imaginations, that must be quickly indoctrinated with religious beliefs, so that they will forever be afraid to question them in their own mind.

So, while religious fundamentalists are still in the childish stage of imagining fantasy worlds of angels, devils, and gods, atheists have the capacity to imagine a future when people are no longer bound by the mental shackles of religion, and are free to expand their minds (their imagination) farther than ever before.

It takes a tremendous amount of imagination to find ways to prove difficult theorems in mathematics, or to design experiments to test a scientific conjecture. It does not, however, take imagination to blindly believe what someone else has told you or forced upon you since childhood. In fact, it takes a profound lack of imagination (nevermind a lack of reason) to be utterly fooled by 3000-year-old mythology.

On the Bible Being Divinely Inspired

[read the disclaimer before proceeding]

The following are several points I’ve thought about recently that seem to contradict the idea of a divinely-inspired Bible.

If God chose to reveal his “word” to mankind, why did he do it at a point in history when human spirituality was in its infancy, when people were still struggling with their own primitive mythology and completely unprepared for such a revelation? For that matter, why did God make his “word” so similar to other competing mythologies, almost as if it had been derived from earlier forms of the same beliefs?

Why did God reveal his “word” to such a local group of people, instead of revealing it to every person in the world simultaneously, thus preventing the possibility of competing religious beliefs? Why did he leave it up to the people to “spread” the message to others, who may or may not believe, thereby causing bitter worldwide conflicts that threaten the very survival of our civilization?

Wouldn’t it be better if God made his revelation right now, in our time? Think about all the problems this would solve:

  • All events would be well-documented by eyewitnesses and the media.
  • We wouldn’t have to rely on a translation of 2000-year-old fragments of text written by second-hand sources. This would be a brand-new and complete message directly from God.
  • Since the revelation would now be in plain modern English, all debates over translation inaccuracies would end. As far as contradictions and inconsistencies, I’m certain we can persuade God to clarify certain points if needed, now that God is taking a more active participation in his creation.
  • Once and for all, we would be certain which religion and which denomination is the correct one!

Why is the “scientific” content of the Bible so suspiciously similar to the sum of human scientific knowledge at the time? (the firmament, flat earth, etc.)

Why did all direct communication with God cease since pretty much the beginning of the modern age? Why are there no modern-day prophets or Saints that perform actual miracles? Why did all the “magical” events in the Bible only occur in a time when people were gullible enough to believe they can happen?

Perhaps the strongest point against the divinity of the Bible is the fact that it can be interpreted in a million different ways, most of which are completely incompatible. This caused the fragmentation of the original Church into hundreds of denominations, with many displaying fierce hostility toward others.

Why a divine being could not write a better book is beyond me.

A Disclaimer

This is a general disclaimer — a grain of salt, if you will — that should be taken before reading my posts on matters of philosophy and religion.

My degree is in computer science, and I am employed full-time. No matter how much spare time I devote to reading philosophical works, I remain, at best, a dilettante of philosophy in an academic sense.

For those readers who have advanced degrees in philosophy, I can only apologize in advance for any choice of words you may find sophomoric, or for any blatant errors you may discover in my posts. In either case, you’re always welcome to leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

That being said, I do strongly believe that I am well-qualified to comment on philosophical matters, if only in a recreational capacity. My qualifications for indulging in these philosophical musings are very simple: I am a living human being, capable of independent logical reasoning. I believe that it’s every person’s right, if not responsibility, to evaluate his or her beliefs as objectively as possible.

Being a computer scientist gives me an additional affinity towards logical thought, which is why most of my posts are written from a perspective of pure logic.

I realize that a lot of my arguments may not be new, and are probably thoroughly covered elsewhere. It is simply my desire to be heard, to encourage conversation, and to ensure that my words will contribute to an ever-growing body of rational thought on the web.