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We should judge religions by empyrical evidence in lieu of religious texts.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/20/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 2 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 158 times Debate No: 94854
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
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Intro, I have had several frustrating debates on how to judge a religion. Is this religion warlike or peace like? Is it cruel to animals or not? Is it overall good or evil? Here is the latest debate. [0] These debates are annoying because it feels like we are completely missing each other. My opponent calls all my empirical evidence red herrings.

I contend that empirical evidence of the followers of the religion is the only way to decipher the attitudes and values of a religion. That religious texts are too contradictory and canonize themselves too often and therefore are a poor source to understand a religion.

Thanks for the debate.



The short answer, as I said in the comments, is that we should judge a religion based on a combination of understanding the tenets of the faith and analyzing the actions of its followers, with the actual tenets of the faith being more significant in my opinion.

You write that empirical evidence of followers' behavior is the only way to 'decipher the attitudes and values of a religion', with the contradictions present in religious doctrine given as a reason that using the texts is not the appropriate approach. This varies by religion of course, but I'll use Islam as my example here as I read the Quran more recently than any other scripture.

The Quran, as with the books of other faiths, does indeed contain contradictions and other kinds of internal problems, but not to the point that there is no coherent narrative. Certain themes pervade throughout the book and certain commandments are given - underneath the surface of your point is the idea that the books are SO contradictory that we can't even know what they're saying for certain. As I said, I least for the major religions, there is enough internal coherence for a basic guide to emerge on how to live one's life, what to believe, etc.

Given that we can learn many things, or at least not nothing, from scripture about how the followers of that religion should live and act, i.e. what their attitudes and values should be if they followed the religion's teachings appropriately, it seems clear to me that we can't judge a religion based solely on the behavior of its followers. If a group violated every tenet of the faith and acted in a way for which no justification at all could be found in the texts, and at the same time claimed to follow a religion that had codified texts, said group would be inappropriate to consider if trying to judge the actual attitudes and values of that faith.

It's also important to recognize that no religious community is a all communities, they basically form a bell curve. Given the significant differences in how varying groups, sects, and individuals practice the same religions, I don't see how we could exclude the scriptures from an analysis of what any faith tradition actually teaches.

I'll leave it there for now until you've had a chance to reply. Thanks for the debate.
Debate Round No. 1


I will argue that we should completely ignore what's written in religious texts when judging a religion.


As for one group dramatically deviating from the religious texts, that's why we use the mean in math. For example, let say morality was judged on a scale from 0 to 100. Let's say a small group has 0 morality. While the rest of the religion has an average of 40 for morality. We would take the numbers of the group and multiply by zero. Then, take the rest of the religion which has an average of 40 and multiply by the number of that religion, lets say one billion. Finally we would divide by the total number of members in that religion.

In that case the small group would have a negligible affect on morality, the morality would still be 40 or 39 of the religion depending upon the size of the group.

New arguments

Part of the problem with religious texts is which are emphasized. An angry person might only see anger in the religious texts. A pious person might only see piety. A selfless person would focus on the selfless parts and so on. Yet, there is so much more to a religion than just the texts. There is songs, community, street preachers, slogans, billboards, etc. There is no way to sort through that tangled web.

Then, there is the question of how much weight do we put on a religious text? With religious texts having so many characters within, contradictory passages, and multiple ways of interpretation, there is no way to know. Perhaps more importantly is that religious are very much text based as opposed to image based.

Simply reading a book, any book will make you patriarchal. Viewing television will make you more matriarchal. Therefore, a society reads will be more patriarchal and a society that watches T.V. will be more matriarchal. Simply put the act of reading holy texts is more important than what the texts actually says. Literally your brain is wired differently if your a reader versus a viewer.

I propose that the reason the three Abraham religions are so violent is the act of reading causes humans to become overly patriarchal. Think about, if you read, you are putting the letters into a hierarchy, that's masculine. Images, you take in all at once and there is no hierarchy, that's is equality and feminine.

The alphabet is patriarchal. [1] The point is we focus so much on what is written in various religious texts and sometimes we miss the obvious. That the act of reading changes our society into a more patriarchal society with more hierarchy. Written religion has had a huge affect on society, not because of the words, but because of the alphabet.

Religion's main impact on society is encouraging people to read as opposed to the arts like painting, sculpturing, etc. Imagine what society would have been like if the religious texts were instead religious drawings. I think we would have had greater equality.

Secondly, scientists are always trying to control variables. By examining both the texts and empirical evidence we are adding more variables. Which complicates matters and leads to greater chance of error. Thanks for the debate.



As a quick rebuttal to your first rebuttal...what if a large group rather than a small group has 0 morality? There's no way to know if a group's actions are representative of their religion without checking the sources (religious texts).

I think part of the reason you've felt as if you and previous debaters you've encountered were talking past each other is because of the way you're defining your terms. Your description of religion, which includes songs, community, street preachers, slogans, billboards, sounds a lot more like culture than religion. A slogan created by a Christian is not necessarily a Christian slogan. A Christian street preacher who says that divorce and abortion are the most effective forms of worship is not in fact preaching Christianity. Religion purports to be revealed truth - revelation from God. At times it can indeed be a tangled web, but not so tangled as to be totally incomprehensible as I've said, and not as tangled as you describe. I think if you could define very specifically what you mean by religion it would be helpful.

Next, the argument you lay out re: patriarchy seems to have moved away from your central point quite a bit. If you could explain the relevance of those points to the specific question of how we judge a religion that would be helpful. For now though I'll address a few of the claims.

1. Reading a book will make you patriarchal, viewing television will make you more matriarchal.

In America, which anyone who talks about patriarchy considers to be a patriarchy, people watch television at far higher rates than they read, people watch television 6x as much as they read books during the week, and 7.15x as much on weekends (source below). Why isn't America a matriarchal society? Do you think the content of the writing or the video plays no role? Will a video about how men are better than women make you more matriarchal? Will a book about how women are better than men make you more patriarchal? You're making claims about causation, but early on in the source material you provide it's shown that the author clearly acknowledges correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation. You're misapplying the information from that source in being so specific with your claims.

2. Religion's main impact on society is encouraging people to read as opposed to the arts

So to give one example where this is manifestly false, look at Catholicism. For hundreds of years this religion ruled the roost in Europe, creating a clearly patriarchal society. But...illiteracy was enormously widespread. As for encouraging people to read, in fact they were discouraged - the Bible wasn't translated from Latin so as to prevent people from being able to read it - instead they had to simply take what their priests told them on faith. Martin Luther's act of translating the Bible into common languages was a grave sin in the eyes of the church. People certainly were not being encouraged to read. To bring the example into modern times, the first results of a google search indicate that 60% of the Muslim world is illiterate, as of 2015. These people certainly are not being encouraged to read by religion. (Source below).

3. Scientists are always trying to control variables, by examining the texts along with empirical evidence we're adding variables, complicating the issue and increasing the chance of error.

Yes, scientists do want to control variables, which is why irrelevant variables don't merit consideration. Irrelevant variables in the examination of a religion include things like..slogans, billboards, songs, etc. As I said before, religions, especially the three major ones, claim to be based on revealed truth from God. In seeking to understand a religion, the most relevant variable is the supposedly revealed truth from God, i.e. the religious texts. Here again I would say I think you're mixing up religion and culture, and would ask that you more clearly define what you mean by 'religion'.
Debate Round No. 2


"As a quick rebuttal to your first rebuttal...what if a large group rather than a small group has 0 morality? There's no way to know if a group's actions are representative of their religion without checking the sources (religious texts)."

That's why we use the mean of mathematics. A larger group would affect the average morality of the religion. Let's say that now the large group is 50% at morality 0 and the other is 50% at morality 40. With a total size of one billion. 500 million * 0 + 500 million * 40 / one billion would give the morality. Which would end up being 20.

As for the Catholic church and reading. Remember they didn't have T.V.s back then. If the Bible had not come along, the priests would have read a lot less.

Religion has a huge impact on culture. Think of the religious songs, Christian businesses, movies, and so on. Ben-Hur just for starters. There is a good chance this movie has a bigger impact on culture than the Bible in modern culture. How many movies have you seen where a vampire or werewolf is repelled by a Christian cross? This definitely has at least as much impact as a church leader preaching inside a church.

That's why I see reading the religious texts as silly. We should instead being watching werewolf and vampire movies and seeing how often holy symbols are used to repel them. This is what I view what religion is truly about. Think of the movie the Exorcist. [2] This movie is incredibly popular. Thus having a huge impact.

That's how I learned religion. From watching werewolf, vampire movies, and the Exorcist. This is what religion is about. Any video games with angels or demons is taking from religion. I mean why go to church and read the Bible when you can play a video game and learn about what religion is about? Here's an example of what angels are about. Picture should be below from league of angels 2.




Again, this comes down to definition of terms. You're trying to have an argument about how we should judge religious people, or culture, but the debate you put forth was one about how to judge religion. What you're describing isn't religion, it's the impact of religion on life...which is different than religion. Religion is a system of belief based around revealed truths from God.

People did plenty of reading (those who could read) without the Bible. But if you want to have an argument about whether or not reading is a good thing, and you appear to think it's a bad thing, I'll leave that for another time.

The last part of your argument...I'm not really sure what you're getting at. "Why go to church and read the Bible when you can play a video game and learn about what religion is about?" As I've said, you're not really talking about religion anymore, if you even were at the start. You're talking about culture and the influence of religion on culture. Think I'm content to leave my side of this where it is, I said plenty in the first two rounds.
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by 2 months ago
So if a text says to do X and nobody listens, the words are irrelevant you said...what if the text says not to do X, and everybody does it? Do you think we can say that doing X is part of the religion?
Posted by Stupidape 2 months ago
"how to judge religion. What you're describing isn't religion, it's the impact of religion on life...which is different than religion."

How else would you judge a religion? What your stating isn't making any sense. That's exactly what this debate is about, religion's impact on life.

We can stare all day long at words written in religious texts, but ultimately it comes down to how these words impact upon life. If the religious texts say A and nobody listens, those words are irrelevant. How else are we going to tell the impact of religious texts, unless we look at the empirical evidence?

The religious stories of angels have inspired artists to draw many pictures of angels and tell many tales. Same for other biblical themes like werewolves, vampires, and ghosts.

Werewolves is probably the most subtle in the bible, but a false prophet is referred to as a sheep in wolves clothing. I see this as evidence of a man/wolf, thus werewolf. That being said a false prophet is a werewolf.

That passage has inspired great movies like the Twilight series.
Posted by Stupidape 2 months ago
Sure, you can argue that point.
Posted by 2 months ago
I'd take this debate, but my argument would be that you judge it based on a mixture of scripture and behavior, the scripture being the crucial piece. Not sure if you're looking for a challenger who will take the 'scripture only' position - if not, I'm in.
Posted by JiffyCones 2 months ago
I look forward to the debate proceedings, should a challenger appear.
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