Verifiability and Repeatability : The Two Dead Ends for Religion
My good friend Sravan once again left a long and passionate comment to my previous post questioning the authenticity of religion (though he may not agree on the passionate part!). He raises a lot of important issues but unfortunately for him, he does not contest my primary assertion that there is no independent validation of the scriptures. He makes a good genuine effort to circumvent the issue by working within the scriptures and the nature of it while continuing to give analogies. Some of the points he raised got me thinking more and realized that there are a couple of ideas that religion simply cannot circumvent. Those are the ideas of verifiability and repeatability.
One of the important points my friend raises is regarding “assumptions-based-theory”. He has got it spot on when he says that all of the current theories that are in place in science and engineering are all based on some or the other assumptions. And that we build our theory based on these assumptions as we are very keen on learning the bigger implications of these assumptions. I totally agree with him upto this point. But what he says further is totally flawed and acts as a starting point for the two ideas I mentioned above.
Religious scriptures are built on certain assumptions that are present in the scriptures themselves. A bigger ‘theory’, so to speak, is built based on these assumptions. This theory is extremely elaborate and highly meticulous in detail and covers practically all aspects of life and the universe. My previous post questioned the very authenticity and validity of of these assumptions. My friend contests that all modern theories are also based on a similar structure wherein the larger theory emanates from a set of assumptions. True. But where he has got it completely wrong is when he says “Why haven’t you questioned these assumptions?”.
This line of counter argument is totally wrong for many reasons. Firstly and most importantly, modern theories DO question these assumptions before building their theories on it. And there are very stringent criteria that have to be met before it can be branded as an assumption. The two necessary, and most of the times, sufficient criteria are those of Verifiability and Repeatability.
Each assumption must first be verified to be true for all conditions it is being considered. For example, the whole of Electronics is based on the assumption that Ohm’s Law is valid. If someone asks a question WHY Ohm’s Law is valid, we can very readily DEMONSTRATE that V is indeed equal to IR through simple experiments (which I am sure my friend remember from LP’s lab classes!). Similarly, the entire realm of geometry is based on a few axioms/postulates. If one wants to question the veracity of these assumptions, they can always verify it themselves. For example, when a line passes through two parallel lines, the corresponding angles are equal. That is an assumption. This assumption can be readily and easily proved by drawing two parallel lines and an intersecting line and MEASURING the corresponding angles. You will find them to be equal, no matter who you are or under what circumstances you do so.
Each assumption must also satisfy the criterion of Repeatability. This means that whatever assumptions a theory is based on can be verified repeatedly, at any time and anywhere. You can verify Ohm’s law long after Ohm died. You can verify the corresponding angles assumption anywhere in this world and even hundreds of years after Euclid’s death. And you can see that they are valid because you can actually MEASURE the parameters.
Thus, it can be established, without a doubt that all modern theories are based on assumptions that can be verified and verified repeatedly. And this is where religion and religious scriptures fail.
The scriptures, as my friend pointed out, contain the theories and the case studies which show how to apply those theories. And all these theories are based on certain assumptions. But the only difference between scriptures and modern theories is that the assumptions in the scriptures offer neither verifiability nor repeatability.
There is no known method or test to verify the claim that God does exist. And even if it does exist, it has surely failed in the repeatability criteria. I am sure there are a lot of tests that can establish the existence of God, but all of these tests are part of the scriptures themselves and are based on the assumption that God indeed exists. There are also many instances of repeatability , but all are inevitably part of the scriptures, which are built on the very assumptions that they claim to prove. So it is a scenario wherein the existence of something is proved by assuming the existence in the first place. Which really should not make sense to anyone.
Every claim that is made by the religious scriptures is thus based on assumptions that are neither verifiable nor repeatable independently. Of course, there is a very predictable line of counter argument that is often used.
It is said that, as you cannot measure the stiffness or strength of a material using a Voltmeter, similarly you cannot verify God’s existence using instruments or gadgets available in this world. It also says that the only way to realize the truth is by following the instructions of a well qualified Guru as he has the necessary expertise to guide one through the whole process. Fair enough.
Say a non-believer goes to the guru and does exactly what he tells him to do and he does it for a long time. What happens then? Do you suddenly SEE God? Perhaps the entire universe will make more sense if you begin to read and believe the scriptures for what they are. But what we are enquiring here is what will happen to the follower with respect to being able to PROVE or Verify that God does indeed exist? He will essentially have to take the Guru’s word on everything and trust him to have read all the scriptures and that he is well versed in them. Even if the Guru is indeed qualified, the question remains- exactly what is it that you will experience that will prove the existence and influence of God? What is that result that you will see from a scripture- prescribed test that will prove that God does exist?
Perhaps it is in being able to attain salvation from this materialistic world and return to the God’s abode that is the result of practicing the Guru’s instructions. Perhaps it is a better life that you will get in your next birth if you have not fully followed the instructions. Or in the other cases, maybe a life of tremendous pain and suffering in your next birth if you lead a sinful life now. These are some of the guaranteed ‘results’ or consequences one can expect as a result of leading our life now. But don’t you see it?
All the results/consequences can be realized in what the scriptures term as your “next life”. And that we are reaping the rewards and punishments of our “previous life”. The scriptures no doubt detail many instances of these results demonstrating the existence of God and more. But is there one single person who has actually “experienced it” (and lived to tell it???!!!!?) ? Is there a first hand account of rebirth and a correlation to the deeds he or she may have committed in his/her previous birth?
Or talking of the bigger picture, is there one single way to verify the assumptions of the scriptures wherein the results and the consequences of the test can be seen in THIS very lifetime?
I am also not going to buy the argument that once you start practicing what the scriptures say from a qualified Guru, you are going to experience a bliss and happiness that you have not experienced before. The fact that people do experience happiness and bliss after beginning to take instructions is completely true. But it should not be attributed to, or serve as a means of verification of, the existence of God. This feeling is no different than any of the experiences of the followers of hundreds of religious cults around the world. This is the same feeling that one can find people experiencing and talking about during evangelistic gatherings.
This happiness arises primarily out of reinforcing a pre-existing belief.
You already believe the scriptures based on some level of faith. Then you are repeatedly told that if you perform a certain activity, happiness is guaranteed to you because that is what the scriptures say and that the scriptures are the ultimate truth. And you hear this from someone whom you believe to have studied and mastered the scriptures and learnt it from his Master who is also properly qualified. You choose to look at all the impressive level of the authenticity of the whole process and begin to perform the activities. Lo and behold! You suddenly feel all happy and joyful about everything! And you attribute it to the existence and mercy of God.
If this is your experience, you just fell prey to a combination of The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, Confirmation Bias and Subjective Validation. I will not elaborate here as the 3 articles are really worth a read. Just suffice it to say that the happiness that one gets out of following these scriptures arise simply because you are already told to expect (true) happiness as a result of these activities because you are going to feel the presence of God etc. And you are told this repeatedly by someone you believe knows the answers, and also while being surrounded by people who hold similar beliefs. You meet more regularly among these very people and it further reinforces your belief that what you are doing is the right and the only way to go ahead.
(The same idea is used by athletes all around the world (believers and non-believers) to improve themselves. They repeatedly tell themselves that they are capable of achieving better, which eventually convinces them that they are indeed capable, thus helping them get a better mental state in which to compete. This is called positive feedback. It is just a means of believing in something by reinforcing repeatedly what you want to believe. )
But in reality, the only thing that is happening is you are getting more and more sucked into the illusion that you perceive as happiness. Of course the big irony here is that the exact reverse is what is taught in the scriptures. That the material world can only give rise to illusory happiness and that following spiritual activities under proper guidance is the only way you can achieve proper happiness.
If you want to believe in these consequences and results as a way to verify the existence and influence of God, then you are in no position to be reasoned with. And even if you can be reasoned, the entire reasoning process will lie in the domain of the scriptures, for believing the authenticity and validity of the scriptures requires blind faith. And this is where reason stops. Thus, it can be rightly said that unlike modern theories which are accepted because they can be proven, the scriptures are to be ultimately accepted not based on any verifiable independent proof, but solely on blind faith.
To wind up my post, I will continue on the counter argument of my friend to the Doctor-Civil Engineer analogy in the previous post.
But first let me clarify myself fully that I do not believe that the purpose of religion is to create a more civilized society and generate more discipline among people. This, as I have mentioned previously, is a by product of the whole process. (Well that is if you discount all the violence that is happening in the name of religion). As the scriptures say, the purpose of all these activities is to get liberated from this material world, end the cycle of birth and death and go back to God. I get that yes. But I just dont believe it thats all.
Returning to the analogy, my friend contends that if the book claimed that a bridge could be built of straw and that it could withstand an aircraft, the Civil Engineer would have developed apprehensions and doubts himself. And that he would have gone on to verify the authenticity of the book from someone who is well versed with that book. And that similarly, any claims from a religious scripture should be verified with a person well versed in the religious scriptures.
Again, there is a fundamental flaw in this argument.
You see, if a book says that such a bridge is possible and even a person who is well versed with that book says that it is possible, it is possible to actually TRY BUILDING that bridge to VERIFY if it is the truth or not. However, with religious scriptures, there is no verification. You can have a Guru who can tell you that there are a lot of things that are true and that it has to be taken on faith. But there is no way you can prove (or even disprove- which makes it more invalid) the claims of religious scriptures. If the argument here is that the verification has to be done as it is said in the scriptures, then you should read what I have written before this in the previous paragraphs.
Posted on September 25, 2010, in Religion, Serious Writing, The things that happen only to ME... and tagged argument, authenticity, god does not exist, religion, repeatability, scriptures, verifiability. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.