The Harry Potter Defense

Religious people have a hard time understanding the shaky ground on which their beliefs are based. This is not because they lack critical faculties. Those work just fine when finding fault with religions other than their own. It is just that they are blind to the fact that the very same criticisms can be applied to their own religion!

But to give credit to religious believers, their critical faculties aren’t that well-developed. The standards they use for determining why something is true and what is true still fall plenty short of being called reasonable. You can’t tell them that evidence doesn’t agree with their beliefs because they don’t understand what kind of evidence is good evidence. To show them that the fault is in their reasoning you have to use their standards for determining what is true and make some claims which are obviously false.

My obviously false claim is that Harry Potter and his magic world exist in the real world. And below I will use very similar arguments used by religious believers to prove that my claim is true.

The Argument From Ignorance

Watch this video to see what kind of arguments are made to “scientifically” assert religious truths:

Some of the claims made in that video are valid. There is archaeological evidence for Dwaraka and Saraswati river. But using this evidence to say that the entire corpus of Hindu scriptures is essentially true is making a leap in logic. For the sake of this article I’ll call that kind of reasoning Religious Logic.

Now, consider the archaeological and other forms of evidence for a real world city called London. Also take a work of fiction, the Harry Potter series, which refers to a fictional London. For anyone familiar with the real London and the Harry Potter books, it is obvious that the fictional London is based on the real London. Since there is evidence for the real London, and since the Harry Potter books often mention this London, by using Religious Logic it follows that Harry Potter is indeed real. (This idea is not my own. I first came across it on the Nirmukta forums.)

Followers of Religious Logic will immediately object to such claims. They will say that god is real, and a lot of people have realized god, and over the centuries many wise people have attested to the truthiness of the scriptures, and that they are just trying to show those of us who are scientific-minded that there is scientific evidence for the claims made in the scriptures. They might even get offended at comparing god with Harry Potter.

But sadly, they do not understand the nature of evidence demanded by science. Scientific evidence is objective. It needs to be verifiable so that anyone can follow the methods of science and confirm that the evidence is indeed valid. And all claims should be supported by such evidence. If there are a set of ten claims and one is considered true based on available evidence, the other nine don’t magically become true. Evidence should be presented for each claim.

Science doesn’t give a quark about how authoritative the person who is making the claim is or about how many people believe in something. Evidence for each and every claim is what is demanded by science. In fact, in science, a person who proves that a theory made by a famous person is false, instantly becomes famous without being accused of disrespecting respectable people or of indulging in adhika prasangam or vitanda vadham. Science disdains authority. It is also immune to the bandwagon fallacy.

But a religious person might then claim, “Well I don’t have any evidence for these claims, but you don’t have any evidence against them, so they might turn out to be true after all”. Just because something hasn’t been proven false, it can’t be said that it is true. Such arguments are arguments from ignorance and that is not how science works.

Given all that, the evidence garnered using Religious Logic is unscientific despite the claims of it being scientific. It can be called something else, say Religious Evidence. Based on Religious Evidence, Harry Potter has to exist.

That is one aspect of Religious Logic. There is another line of reasoning that I would like to include in Religious Logic, that is reasoning from personal experience.

The Argument From Personal Experience

There are certain states of the mind during which brain deviates from its normal functioning. In these states of mind one may lose the idea of self and see everything as one. Those kinds of mind states are behind the Upanishadic concept of Brahman. Those states can also be awe-inducing or create the idea that everything is extremely beautiful. But there is nothing unique about these states; such emotional states are not the monopoly of religion. There is nothing supernatural about them either.

But religious people insist that such states should be the goal of life. They make it a universal claim, something that applies to all human beings. And the evidence that they have for that claim? “I have experienced it, so it must be true and hence everybody else should also be able to experience it”.

Once again Harry Potter comes to the rescue in showing how flawed such evidence is. Harry Potter can be real in somebody’s experience. As real as anything else for that person. So again using Religious Logic, it can confidently be said that Harry Potter should be real for everybody.

Now the religious person may say that the Vedas have set forth a path that one should follow in order to achieve exalted states of mind and one can verify for themselves that the path always leads to enlightenment. But there just is no objective way to validate such a path. If somebody follows it and does alter their state of mind, for the religious person, it becomes proof of the validity of the path. If somebody follows it, but fails to alter their mind state, for the religious person, it does not invalidate the path; it just means the path wasn’t followed correctly. But the religious person has no foolproof way of guaranteeing that the path was not followed correctly. They just assume it. This makes religion unfalsifiable, violating a necessary criteria for any proper scientific theory.

Psychedelic FlowerNow, the religious person might also say “Well, forget the objectivity of the Vedas. At least some people were able to achieve enlightenment by following the path”. Again, there is no objective means of defining enlightenment. They have to take the other person’s word that they have attained enlightenment and that the experience will be the same for all. This is not much different from someone who is hallucinating (say due to sensory deprivation or by using psychedelic drugs) claiming that their way of hallucinating is the only way to hallucinate.

Let us apply this updated standard of Religious Logic and Religious Evidence to construct a new path of enlightenment that I call The Way Of The Potter. This involves believing that magic exists, making the goal of one’s life the renunciation of muggle ways and becoming a wizard or a witch and hence attaining a desirable state of mind. The ones who attain that state are Persons of Magic and they are to be prostrated before and constantly worshipped as that shortens the path to enlightenment. The ones who fail to attain that state are not true followers of The Way Of The Potter, as, if they had truly followed the path, they would have become Persons of Magic. Since they did not become Persons of Magic, they have failed to correctly follow the path. If you are familiar with logic you will recognize this as circular reasoning. But Religious Logic is different. Normal standards of logic don’t apply there.

In conclusion

By using the standards of evidence used by people who want to prove that the Vedas (or the Quran, or the Bible, or Sacred Text XYZ for that matter) are “scientific”, i.e. since Dwaraka exists, Krishna is real, I have also “scientifically” proven that Harry Potter is real, since London exists.

And by giving personal (subjective) experience the utmost importance in determining what is true and what is not, it can be proven that Harry Potter is real, as, if somebody claims that Potter is real because of their personal experience, that statement is necessarily true for all humans.

So Hare Krishna is out. Hare Potter is in.