Religulous Review: IV of V

October 9, 2008 at 12:30 am (New Atheism, Religion)

Of Talking Snakes and Virgin Births and Men in Whales

In his large, almost-the-entire-movie segment on Christianity, Maher focuses on certain Biblical events which he claims to be representative of Christian gullibility. Three such events are: the belief in a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and Jonah living in a whale. He also rails on creationism.

Maher completely misunderstands the value and purpose of these stories. Even if they are true, they are not used to create doctrine or effect people’s lives. They may be illustrative, allegorical, or explanatory – but they do not occupy a central place in the lives of believers. If the entire religion were based on and around such fanciful tales, then Maher would have a point. But as it is, in a regular sermon, one talks about sin, repentance, redemption, belief, trust, obedience, love, charity, hope, faith, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Maybe it’s because of the church I am in, but I have never heard an entire sermon or talk that revolves around any of these fanciful tales. They exist to teach a lesson, and what’s important is what we learn from them, not whether they are true.

Maher made a big point that the virgin birth is not in every Gospel. Obviously! Each author focused on different elements. Each Gospel was not an exhaustive history of the life and doings of Jesus. We expect that in books today, but that is not how things were done back then. It is ridiculous for Maher to insist on modern conventions and standards for ancient texts.

To insist that every single element of belief be rational is impossible. Not even rationalists’ beliefs are all rational. Many rationalists believe in reincarnation, auras, karma, and other things that cannot be proven.

Maher, like many anti-religious rationalists, attack the fanciful beliefs and claims of religions without understand what role they actually play. Such fanciful items are not the religion itself but rather keys to unlock teachings.

Creationism is a big thing, indeed. Many people believe in it. Many scientists don’t. But I find it interesting how each side believes its view is immutable Gospel Truth. The rationalists are as inflexible and intolerant as the religionists. And while this is a significant issue, to some degree, it is not as important an issue as Maher makes it out to be. And not all religionists are anti-science. Many scientists and researchers and academics are devout religionists. For centuries, it was Church-funded figures who blazed the trail to modern science. What we know about astrology is thanks to Jewish and Muslim astronomers, for example.

While it may be difficult for Maher to understand things which seemingly are incomprehensible, it’s somewhat arrogant to assume no one else can understand or believe it without jepoardizing

After all, science is a way to find things out and not a religion in itself. Maher forgets an intrinsic part about science: discovery and refutation. Experiments are erected to refute theories as much as to prove them. One man I admire is part of the Presidency of the nearby Temple. He said that in his career in science, he has seen many cherished hypotheses fall overnight because of one experiment. “All it takes is one good experiment to disprove a hypothesis,” he said. Maher’s confidence in science is misplaced: good scientists known that science is evolving (no pun intended) and to assert today’s hypotheses and theories as Gospel truth, which Maher seems to want to do, is wrong, for who knows what new discoveries tomorrow’s science will bring. Maher tries to push today’s science down religionists’ throats as Gospel truth. This is wrong.



  1. Jason said,

    I have to disagree with your logic. The idea of how truthful the bible is a whole depends on the reality of its statements. Either it’s all true or its not. Clearly, it’s not. As for your statement that “Many rationalists believe in reincarnation, auras, karma, and other things that cannot be prove.” That is also totally false. Either you believe it what is real or you don’t. Yes, many people who are not religious or scientists believe in these things. But if you are a true scientist, you don’t believe in what you cannot prove or verify in some objective manner. I include those scientists who claim to be religious. They cease to practice science when they claim to believe in the supernatural.
    When you say. “Experiments are erected to refute theories as much as to prove them.” That is incorrect as well. No theory can be proven, it can only be proven false. We can rely on certain theories because they have been validated so many times that we have no practical use for considering them false. However, they may at any time be changed based on new information. For example, we believed Newton’s laws of physics were ‘true’. Using his formulas gave us the ability to create mechanical tools such as cars, planes, trains, etc. They were eventually shown to be merely an approximation for a deeper theory that Einstein developed. This happens. Were we all wrong? Yes, but science pushed us into a newer level of understanding despite it’s limitations.
    As far the acts of God merely being incomprehensible. My answer is that its as incomprehensible as the belief in aliens taking over our bodies or any other theory you can’t prove. From the outside looking in, it’s just an excuse for not being true. Once you’re talking about nonsense, you have nowhere else to go but more nonsense. Saying, “you just don’t understand” doesn’t give anyone any more knowledge about a subject.
    Science is a methodology and we know it can change overnight. That is why it is to be revered and followed. But along the way it has shown results. Unfortunately , religion won’t change. And that is the point of the movie.

  2. Karlton said,

    While Jonah or a “talking snake” may not play a central role per se in Christianity, I would assert that the virgin birth is THE core element of Christianity, there is an entire area of study “Christology” which revolves around that central core issue of Christ’s humanity and divinity, it is this topic almost alone which was responsible for the counil of Nicea and many divisions within the curch. It is as central a tenant of Christianity as is the resurection itself.

    Socondly, most major branches of Chirstianity hold to the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, that is, that each and every work in the Bible is inspired of God, so it IS valid to say if you do not believe one part then you have no basis for believing the others as well, it rises or falls on the whole, not the parts.

    Besides, if I asserted in my workplace that I truely, honestly and with all the conviction I could muster, believed and lived my life around the assumption that Elvis was still alive and would one day return, I would be a serious candidate for psychiatric help. Substituting the word Jesus for Zeus, Elvis, Jupiter, Gaia or Ra doesn’t make you any more sane.


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