It seems to me that most if not all religious claims can fall into one of five groups:1. Practices prescribed for the faithful.
Go to church on Sunday; don't eat meat on Fridays; don't mix meat and dairy.
It's hard to get worked up over these, I think; they might be silly, but most organizations have mandated behavior for their members, so why should religion be any different?2. Ethical precepts.
Do not commit murder; love thy neighbor as thyself; clothe the naked.
For most religions, the vast majority of claims of this sort overlap with the similar claims one gets through the application of secular reason. When this doesn't
happen (homosexuality is an abomination; women should be subservient to their husbands; suicide bombing is a moral obligation) we begin to have problems, especially since these are considered to be universally normative.3. Claims about transcendence.
God is three persons in one being. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Pretty much any sentence of the form "God is ____." plus a bunch of other metaphysical claims, like about transubstatiation. Claims about the afterlife fall here too, I think. (Afterlife claims are weird because we tend to frame them in quasi-empirical terms.)
Myself, being of a mystical Wittgensteinian bent, I don't think these statements are, strictly speaking, truly propositions as such, but rather gesture towards ineffable truths.
Atheists seem to tend to find religionists believing these things to be silly and wrong, but I don't think that much vitriol can be really served up by a metaphysical disagreement alone. I don't think either side is on particularly firm ground here; the religionist's beliefs are
silly and weird, but often the atheistic objection is overly broad and leads to a self-refuting positivism as its endpoint.
Extreme skeptical responses, like "Last Thursdayism," would also move a claim into this category. The problem comes when religionists don't want to admit the move, and treat the statement as if were still saying something about empirical reality, e.g. wanting to get creationism taught in science classrooms. It's a sort of category error.4. Claims that, while technically about the empirical world, are in practice unfalsifiable.
Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.
Based on how much people fight over what "really" happened based on the available evidence, one can question whether this category truly exists at all. What else goes here? Is the claim that the moon landings were faked falsifiable in practice?
But while recognizing that it's not a hard-and-fast distinction, I think this is a useful category for instances where non-radical forms of skepticism might be called for.
The religionist has to remember, however, that to people who lack her faith commitments, "is not practically falsifiable" is a reason not
to believe something, not a reason to
believe, especially if it concerns something which as a general rule doesn't happen, like dead people getting up and walking. These, like category 3 claims, are things the religionist believes despite
(or, in many ways, because
) they are weird and silly.5. Claims about the emprical world which are in practice falsifiable.
Dianetics. Creationist claims which don't resort to Last Thursdayism. Bleeding statues.
Liberal theologies tend to eschew these types of claims altogether; conservative theologies (including but not limited to scriptural literalism) tend to multiply them incessantly. Of course, as long as the falsifiable claims are true
then there's not really a problem. Both the biblical literalist Christian and the atheist might agree that Pontius Pilate was prefect of the Judaea province from 26 to 36 C.E. But even here, there's a difference, because the secularist's belief is tentative, subject to revision given new evidence, while the literalist's belief is held as firm knowledge based on faith.
I'm going to take a stand here and say if a religionist believes a falsifiable claim which has been falsified without resorting to a radical skeptical response--which is to say, if she claims to be working within
the generally accepted epistemologies of history or science--then the religionist is just plain wrong
Fixed the double-posting.Crossposted from this LibraryThing thread.