Dan Finke provides some Philosophical Advice For A Rationalist Atheist Who Wants To Be Religious Without Betraying His Ideals, and I think he actually makes some good points.
I very much like Dan’s discussion about the possible value of religion to a participant – especially if that participant remains aware of the symbolic as opposed to literal nature of the religious stories and also of the “deeper” theological mumbo-jumbo. I too find it hard to deny the comfort to those who want it at that level but am troubled by the fact that such participation often includes suppressing explicit acknowledgement of the symbolic aspect and so leaves children and weak-minded adults subject to the mental manipulation of those who profess a literal interpretation (and who often use that to subvert the moral authority of the individual consciences of their followers). On the rare occasions when an intelligent friend or colleague chooses to retain or return to (or even adopt) a religious culture I always want to ask about this but too much politeness and the desire not to offend a friend seems to always prevent me from probing hard enough to get a satisfactory answer.
The comments include a less interesting debate about the possible “truth” of religious ideas which led me to the following response:
Scientific theories are not “true” or “correct” they are just our most objectively effective and optimally efficient tools of prediction (until they fail to predict correctly or are beaten out in the efficiency competition). I’m no medic but I suspect that the miasma theory lost out to the germ theory not by making wrong predictions but by failing to make as many predictions (at least without oodles of guessed auxiliary assumptions) and so being less efficient. (The theory of humours is another matter as it could be tested by feeding someone bile and observing its effect on their mood – no wait .. maybe I should look for another example).
Theology may make predictions about what feels right or good or whatever but their effectiveness is subjective (ie they don’t work for everyone) and all of their objective predictions either fail or can also be made without the theological hypothesis.