Philosopher Michael J. Murray wrote an interesting research paper that I think is relevant to the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center by Islamic terrorists. The title of the paper is “Who’s Afraid of Religion?”, and he begins by discussing why it is that people are so hesitant to talk about religion.
…we would be perfectly happy to have a discussion of claims like…”Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century BCE with the appearance of the Mahayana sutras.” … It is OK to speak of religion… as a historical phenomenon or a socio-cultural influence. It is something altogether different to discuss religious commitments that one owns. That is the sort of religion that troubles us.
…think about the last time you heard a devoutly religious person argue, on explicitly religious grounds, that gay marriage should be banned, or that intelligent design should be taught in the public school biology curriculum, or that abortion is murder and thus should be outlawed.
Why are religious commitments difficult to discuss? Well, I think most people think that religious convictions, no matter what the religion, are not rooted in logic or evidence. That’s the perception of religion that many people have. Even religious people have this idea that religion, no matter which religion it is, is not really something that people have arrived at by a careful process of investigation and study. Many people believe that religions are just stories that religious people grow up with and they “believe” those stories in order to get along with the families or their cultures.
The problem is that people often act in public on the basis of these religious convictions. Sometimes, they just vote in laws and policies that we all have to live by. But other times, they take over airplanes loaded with innocent people and fly them into buildings. What are we supposed to do when people act on convictions that are not rooted in logic or evidence? How should we respond to that?
So what’s the answer?
In his paper, Murray argues that the evil actions of people acting on religion can be opposed by falsifying the underlying religion using reason and evidence. He points out that refuting of a religion is possible because religions all make testable claims. So, if we are afraid of the excesses of a dangerous religion, they we should argue that its testable claims are false.There is no reason to be afraid of expressions of religious belief when you are free to argue against the testable truth claims of that religion.
Here are just a couple different claims made by different religions that can be opposed using widely-accepted facts:
- Hinduism is committed to an eternally oscillating model of the universe, but this model has been falsified by the measurements from 1998 that showed that the mass-density of the universe was not sufficient to halt the expansion of the universe. That means the universe will expand forever, and there are no cycles of creation and destruction, as required by Hinduism.
- According to the Secular Humanist Manifesto, atheism is committed to an eternally existing universe, (See the first item: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”). If something non-material brought all existing matter into being, that would be a supernatural cause, and atheists deny that anything supernatural exists. However, eternal models of the universe have been falsified by the Big Bang cosmology, which requires that all the matter in the universe come into being out of nothing. The Big Bang has been confirmed by experimental evidence such as redshift measurements, light element abundances and the cosmic microwave background radiation.
So it’s quite easy to argue against an entire world religions like Hinduism and Atheism simply by using universally accepted facts.
How is it relevant to the 9/11 tragedy?
On the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, it might be a good idea for us to consider whether there is any similar evidence, accepted by virtually everyone, that falsifies Islam – the religion that motivated the 9/11 terrorists.
And it turns out that there is. The Islamic Scriptures contain the following verse that Muslims must accept in order to be Muslims.
And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.
They think that Jesus didn’t actually die – that he was never crucified by the Romans.
Now the interesting thing about this is that there is no non-Muslim historian who believes that Surah 4:157 is true. The crucifixion of Jesus is a fact that is acknowledged by atheist historians, Jewish historians, Christian historians, Buddhist historians, Hindu historians, and every other non-Muslim historian who has ever existed. There is not one shred of evidence that the Quran’s view, which is recorded hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, should supercede the attestation of Jesus’ death found in earlier Christian and non-Christian sources.
Eminent secular scholar E.P. Sanders of Duke University lists the facts about Jesus that the broad consensus of historians consider to be almost indisputable.
In his book, “Jesus and Judaism” (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985)., he lists the following almost indisputable facts about Jesus on p. 11:
1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.
3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve.
4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel.
5. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.
6. Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.
7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement.
8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement . . . .
That book won the annual Grawemeyer Award in 1990 – a prize given to the best book in religion published that year.
The death of Jesus is corroborated in every source inside the Bible and outside the Bible, up until the Quran is written about 600 years after the death/non-death is supposed to have taken place.
Watch it disputed in debates
The best way to assess this testable claim made by Islam is by seeing how well Muslim scholars can defend this claim in formal, academic debates with non-Muslim scholars.
Here is a debate on the question “Was Jesus crucified?”:
And here’s a debate on the resurrection of Jesus featuring a Muslim scholar, which has a substantial discussion of the crucifixion:
So it turns out that there is a way for us to make sure that another terrorist attack like 9/11 never happens, quite apart from national security or foreign policy concerns. And the way that we do that is by arguing against religions and ideologies like Islam that can cause harm, using logic and evidence. There is no reason to treat religious ideologies- and non-religious ideologies – as being somehow above inquiry and investigation.