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On the Nature of Religion

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Submitted By computerex
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Mohd Ali
Professor Asbille
On the Nature of Religion
Throughout history it can clearly be seen that religion has played an important role in people’s lives. It is the one thing that is consistent across every culture. From Scandinavia to
Japan, and from Ireland to Argentina, religion has played a role in the development of these societies. It does not matter what language the people speak or what they wear. Religion seems to bridge the gap without problem, rapidly spreading from one place to another in a matter of centuries, despite there being a cultural and language barrier.
What makes religion so incredibly effective? Why is it that the concept has existed for literally as long as humanity has existed? What is the relationship between religion and culture?
Are they two distinct entities, or are they two different manifestations of the same phenomenon?
In order to answer these questions, first, a mutual platform must be developed and agreed upon, which will serve as the basis for development and proposal of arguments. First and foremost, this paper is a rational inquiry about the nature of religion, and as such this paper will establish arguments and analyze religion through the lens of rationality and science. This is not a paper about causality. The arguments developed here are built on the foundations of
Objectivism, scientific realism, empirical analysis and strict adherence to logic. Furthermore, religion has to be rigorously defined. Such a definition, however, is difficult to establish.
Religion, as stated above, is a global phenomenon that is as old, even older still, than written history. And so establishing a general definition for a phenomenon that has such a wide range of variety is challenging. Nonetheless, henceforth, religion shall be defined as any ideology that proposes supernatural causes as an explanation for the natural world. Furthermore, religion is a purely psychological phenomenon that is developed through culture and can be studied and described in psychological terms.
Reality is defined in many ways. Some people claim that reality is relative and that different realities can exist independent of one another (Kashaba). They claim that reality is not a static entity, and that it is fluid, dynamic, it changes over time, for each individual. Objectivism defines reality as one (rand 1016). Reality exists, independent of our thoughts and feelings, and independent of other external factors. We can interact with reality and perceive it through our senses, but it is static, the same for everyone. It is absolute. From this proposition it follows that there are absolute truths and absolute falsehoods and that rational, objective thought could be used to distinguish between the two. Truths are part of reality if our inquiries consistently and independent of other inquiries suggest that those truths or facts are true and part of reality. A fundamental property of reality is that it has a degree of uncertainty when measured. Reality can be probed by inquiry, but aspects of it remain hidden to the observers until additional information is obtained. This can be demonstrated by the “Blind Men and an Elephant Story”.
The elephant is the absolute reality. The blind men proposed their interpretations of reality based on their personal inquiries, however due to the uncertainty inherently present in the measurement of reality, their conclusions were wrong. Only when the elephant was examined in its entirety and when their individual inquiries were shared and aggregated, did a coherent and complete description of the elephant arise. And so any description of reality must be consistent with the conclusions of inquiry. What follows is profound.
Every description of reality is subject to future revision and rigorous objective and rational analysis; there is uncertainty in measuring reality and there is interdependence in descriptions of reality. Furthermore, descriptions of reality must

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follow a strict logical progression
. No claim can be made about reality if no antecedent basis for the claim has been established. That is to say, no claim can be made simply on the premise of uncertainty of measurement. That, the assertion that what is being claimed is true but cannot be verified due to the lack of current knowledge, is false; there is no logical basis for the claim. Every religion can be defined in terms of its tenets and tradition. Tenets are the core beliefs of either a specific religion, or a general religious belief that is uniform in most religions
(such as the idea of burial). Tradition can come in oral or written form. It is simply the medium through which the tenets are propagated. Prominent examples of religious tradition are the Bible,
Quran, Torah, and Rigvedas. Religions hold the tenets to be their foundation, and so they must be consistent with the framework of reality described above in order to be credible. Secondly, since the tradition is responsible for the safe propagation of the tenets, it too must be proven sound. If either is proven false, every other argument put forward by religion (either a specific religion or the general idea) will also be invalidated.
To test the validity of religion, we will first examine the tenet of prayer, which is a core tenet of every religion. It may be accompanied by other religious rituals, and the precise practices and methods may be different, but the idea of prayer is universal. There are two types of prayers. The first type is the direct prayer and it is the simpler of the two. This is the traditional idea of prayer. Its purpose is to establish rapport with a deity. It is supplication, a request for help, forgiveness, and blessing. This type of prayer has been around since man. There is archeological evidence of the paleolithic man in prayer (Zaleski 21). Evidence of direct prayer can also be found in Egyptian mythology (Costa). Prayer was practiced in pre Christian
Etruscans, paganistic Germanic tribes, and the Indus valley civilization (Bonfantes, 58; Bellows;
Basham 11). This type of prayer has been studied in controlled settings. Usually the statistical analysis is done on recovering patients. Intercessory prayer, that is, prayer conducted on behalf of the patient is given and the effects are measured in terms of significant events such as complications, mortality and recovery times. A meta­analytic review of 14 studies that looked at the efficacy of intercessory prayer concluded that there is no statistical evidence for any measurable effects of intercessory prayer (Masters, Glen, Jason). The largest study on intercessory prayer was led by the Harvard professor Herbert Benson. 1,802 coronary artery disease patients participated in the study in six different hospitals. Double blind protocol was used. The patients were divided in 3 groups. Group 1, consisting of 604 patients, received intercessory prayer after being told that they may or may not receive it. Group 2, consisting of
597 patients, did not receive intercessory prayer after being told that they may or may not receive it. Finally, Group 3, consisting of 601 patients, received intercessory prayer after being told that they would receive it. Complications occurred in 52% and 51% of patients who received intercessory prayer and did not receive it after being told that they may or may not receive prayer, respectively (Benson et al). The study concluded that no statistically significant difference was shown between the outcomes of patients who received prayer and the patients who did not receive prayer. The most intriguing part of the results was the fact that the patients who received prayer after being told that they would receive prayer suffered a 59% chance of complication, which was statistically significant. Benson attributed this disparity to psychological effects. The patients felt as if they had to perform and suffered anxiety as a result.
The second type of prayer is meditative prayer. The distinguishing characteristic of this type of prayer is that it is accompanied by some form of ritual. When studying the efficacy of prayer, this distinction is vital because the very act of performing the prayer (these prayers

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involve a physical ritual) produces effects that have to be accounted for and controlled. One example of such a prayer is the Namaskar. There is evidence that performing these prayers may have health benefits, but these benefits are attributed to the actual physical act of doing the prayer rather than to anything supernatural (Bhavanani et al).
The idea that there is at least one supernatural being that is responsible for the creation and the subsequent rule of the universe is also universal to all religions. And so a great deal of effort has been invested in proving or disproving the existence of a supernatural being, which will be referred to as God henceforth. Perhaps the best argument in favor for the existence of
God, in terms of rigor, formality, and acceptance, is Intelligent Design. Proponents of Intelligent
Design claim that Intelligent Design is not a Creationism Myth, and that Intelligent Design is a valid scientific inquiry. The movement claims to apply empirical analysis, and other scientific techniques to detect the existence of God. They argue that natural science fails to answer some important questions for which the best possible explanation is God (“Intelligent Design”).
Intelligent Design is overwhelmingly regarded as a pseudoscience by the scientific community, and their main arguments are recognized as arguments from ignorance. The movement has thus far not produced a single peer reviewed journal article (“whether ID is science” 87).
Nonetheless, the ideas proposed by Intelligent Design proponents are by far the best in accordance with the model of rational inquiry described in this paper, and so they are worthy of closer analysis.
The central argument for Intelligent Design is the idea of irreducible complexity. The proposal is that the systematic reduction of a given functional entity will eventually come to a point at which the unit will have no function, making stepwise evolution impossible. This is because in order for something to be selected, it has to have a clear beneficial function according to Darwinian evolution. Thus, the conclusion is that there are functional units that are irreducibly complex, and therefore must have come from a Creator. The interesting thing here is that irreducible complexity is not necessarily an argument against evolution as a whole, but rather it asserts that the theory of evolution is incomplete, particularly natural selection. This idea of
Intelligent Design has been rejected by the scientific community at large (79). One argument against irreducible complexity is that while the complexity needed to create a unit for a specific purpose can be irreducible, the unit in its incomplete form can still serve a useful purpose.
Irreducible complexity implies that the incomplete unit has no purpose whatsoever, and therefore would not be selected. The prime analogy put forth by the group is that of a mouse trap. Without each component of the trap, the unit is dysfunctional. Michael Behe, the rhetor of irreducible complexity, asserts that the dysfunctional, incomplete mousetrap has no purpose. So similarly, incomplete molecular units too would be subject to this irreducible complexity making incremental evolution impossible. The counter for this argument is that while it is true that the incomplete unit does not accomplish the “intended” task, its components can still be useful
(Miller 54). For instance, Miller says that the base, spring and hammer of the trap is a “helluva spitball launcher.” And so if the components are selected, they can be combined at a later time to serve some other function.
The second argument presented by Intelligent Design proponents is the idea of specified complexity information. Proposed by William Dembski, the argument claims that some complexity has a very specific task, and it is probabilistically unlikely, which he says suggests the existence of a designer. He says, “A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A

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Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified (Dembski 47).” This proposition is rejected by the scientific community. In a very rigorous and brutal analysis of Dembski’s work, Elsberry has stated, “Dembski's work is riddled with inconsistencies, equivocation, flawed use of mathematics, poor scholarship, and misrepresentation of others' results (Elsberry 2).” The criteria of what should be the lower bound of what is to be considered an unfeasible event is very arbitrarily defined. Notable scientists such as Martin Nowak have criticized Dembski’s work for not being mathematically sound and for not having proper scientific rigour (Wallis). It has been shown that probabilistic genetic algorithms reproduce the behavior of natural selection and in fact produce specified complexity information (“Roger Alsing Weblog”).
In short, the ideas presented by the Intelligent Design proponents are arguments of ignorance. In the framework of thought defined in this paper it is stated that no claim can be made about reality if no antecedent basis for the claim exists. There are no leaps of faith in objective analysis. Intelligent Design supporters advance alternative explanations for phenomena that is, arguably, still being studied and largely unexplained. However their explanations aren’t logically consistent, or have firm logical basis. Lack of knowledge about reality does not automatically warrant the existence of a supernatural entity.
It has been shown that two of the core religious tenets that are universal to all religions are not consistent with the framework of thought laid out, and in order to establish validity for religions as a possible explanation of reality, both the tenets and the tradition have to hold true.
As a result, the only other explanation for the origin of religion has to be a natural one, and given that religion is a phenomenon specific to humans, any explanation will ultimately degenerate to psychology and cultural development.
The world population is heavily partitioned based on religion and culture. 76% of
Americans identify themselves as Christians (Kosmin, Ariela). That means that the probability of picking an American at random from the country who is the Christian faith is 76%. The chances of randomly selecting a Muslim from Pakistan is 98% (Watkins). Why is there such a strong correlation between religious and cultural distribution? If religion was some global, supernatural truth, would it not transcend geographic and cultural bounds? Geography is linked with culture.
So the only logical explanation for this very obvious correlation is that religion and culture have very close ties, perhaps the same origin. This is interesting, because culture is a sociological, human phenomenon and religion is allegedly a fundamental truth. Clearly this isn’t the case.
What most likely occurred is that religion was offered as an explanation for reality during the early days of human evolution. Humanity at that time was very much governed by the elements, so the idea of natural forces such as the sun or the ocean most likely seemed very powerful and awe inspiring to our ancestors. This is why we see the personification of such forces in many world religions today. These natural motifs were important in Greek and Roman mythology, which in turn affected and directly contributed to the development of Christianity and Islam. It appears that the natural human tendency to hold on to old beliefs and resist change has perpetuated religion for hundreds of thousands of years. Our ancestors started burying their dead 130,000 years ago (Pettitt). This practice is common throughout the world 130,000 years later. Not only this, but burials and burial like behavior is even exhibited by some animals, most prominently in elephants (Page 175). So this particular ritual was not innovated by any common religion today, as some would have you believe. Indeed this is a very old ritual that was presumably created far before any divine revelations.
Finally, it has to be said that the model of rational inquiry presented here is the only valid

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model for inquiry. To test this assertion, the model should be put through the same rational and objective analysis that it itself seeks for everything else. Something has to be said for empirical reproduction. When one talks about religion and science, immediately there is a negative connotation towards science. In a debate with Richard Dawkins, Cardinal Pell stated that religious thinking and scientific thinking are two different things when asked why he does not expect the same standard of evidence for his religious beliefs as he requires for climate change.
This is absurd. This answer, which is sadly very prominent, sidesteps the entire problem of having logical integrity in arguments. And logic is not some abstract concept that is specific to science and has nothing to do with religion. Logic is a natural construct, much like mathematics or language. It simply exists as a property of the natural world. Arguments that are not logically correct are simply wrong. Science is not some voodoo art that should be discouraged. It is simply a method of problem solving, based on logic, that works best to understand and solve natural world problems. At least at the level of empirical observation, this is undisputedly true. The axiom that laws of nature are consistent has been challenged since the existence of science, and it has not been defeated yet. That is why it is important to understand the origin and fundamentals of religion. The dichotomy of religion and science simply should not exist. Whereas science is a self correcting technique for analysis of reality, religion is an archaic, cultural idea that only exists because of human psychological tendencies.
This is an important point because often religion plays a big part in making decisions. For instance, the debate about rights for homosexuals has a very strong religious opposition. The opposition for abortion and the use of birth control too is chiefly the religious right. Therefore it is important to understand that religion should not get any unfair credibility due to what is commonly assumed to be its origin (Supernatural). Religion is a very real phenomenon, but it is of natural and scientifically explainable causes. It can be explained in terms of psychology and culture. And so it should be treated as such. Just like one would not elect a schizophrenic patient to the office, one has to be through in what should and should not be allowed to influence public decisions and religion has not proven itself to be a good candidate for doing so.

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Khashaba. "PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS Issue 37."
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N.p.,n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Zaleski, Philip, and Carol Zaleski.
Prayer: A History
. Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.
Rand, Ayn (1992) [1957]. Atlas Shrugged (35th anniversary ed.). New York: Dutton.
Costa, Michael J. "Selections of Ancient Egyptian Prayer."
House of Anubis
. N.p., n.d.
Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

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Bonfante, Giuliano, and Larissa Bonfante.
The Etruscan Language: An Introduction
. New York: New York UP, 1983. Print.
Bellows, Henry. "The Poetic Edda."
Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Basham, A. L.
The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the History and Culture of the Indian Sub­continent before the Coming of the Muslims
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Masters, Kevin S., Glen I. Spielmans, and Jason T. Goodson. "Are There Demonstrable Effects of Distant Intercessory Prayer? A Meta­analytic Review."
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Clemjr, and M. Jain. "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients: A Multicenter Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer."
American Heart Journal 151.4 (2006): 934­42. Print.
Bhavanani, Ananda Balayogi, Kaviraja Udupa, Madanmohan, and PN Ravindra. "Effect of Suryanamaskar Practice on Cardiorespiratory Fitness Parameters: A Pilot Study.
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