Person B: "Who are you to say anything about Scientology? You believe in God!"
Chances are you have seen examples of this all over the place. People writing off all religions, or better yet, anyone who believes in any religion based on the faulty premise that all religions are created equal.
It's true, all religions require a certain leap of faith. It's perfectly reasonable to consider all religious people duped. It's just not reasonable to pretend that any religious person, of any creed, is taking an equal leap of faith as someone else of a different faith. At their core most religions are a hypothesis of the origin of our existence, and what happens after we die. Like any hypothesis, they aren't necessarily all of equal merit. Some are better, some are worse, and generally speaking there is only one right answer.
Which beliefs do we have scientific evidence directly in contradiction to? More importantly, since we're talking about religion (so science be damned), which one is just flat out more plausible? Which has the most red flags? I'll break down three religions I know a little about: Christianity, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Scientology.
The Religions in a Nutshell
Christianity - God (The same one Jews and Muslim's believe in, F.Y.I.) created the heavens and the Earth. A few plagues, sacrifices, and a flood later, he sent his only son, Jesus, to Earth so he could die for the sins of the world. During his adult life on Earth Jesus spent much of his time teaching lessons of peace. Do onto others as you would want them to do onto you, turn the other cheek, love your neighbor, and other such niceties. After being betrayed by a disciple Jesus was crucified, he then went to heaven, at which point he began helping out with the family business.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) - The LDS started with Christianity, and turned it up a notch. All the major players are there, though they don't believe Jesus died for all our sins. Murderers can't be forgiven and adulterers only get one freebie. Most other differences are somewhat minor things like the Mormon belief that good works get you into heaven and that God is a being with "flesh and bone." One of the bigger differences is that Mormons, apparently, believe in multiple "worlds", which each have their own God. Anyone could become a God if they wanted, and even "our" God wasn't always all-powerful.
Scientology - Scientology was founded by Sci-Fi author L. Ron Hubbard. In 1950 he wrote a book called Dianetics. It was basically his theory on psychiatry and how it worked. According to Hubbard, mental and psychosomatic physical problems are caused by traumatic recordings called engrams. Eventually Scientology lobbied to be officially designated a religion so they could help more people learn the truth. Just kidding, it was because they didn't feel the millions of dollars they profit on personality/stress tests should be subject to taxes. As for the beliefs themselves, there's really nothing I can do to explain what Scientoligists believe about our origins that can't be exquisitely summed up by this South Park clip.
The Xenu story, however, is only told to people who are invested (a word I use literally) in the church enough that they big wigs determine you're ready. In fact, I hope you're all still with me, since it's commonly believed in the “Church” that hearing the story is fatal if you aren't ready. Thus all Scientologists do not yet know about Xenu and the Volcanoes, most only believe in the engrams and the process of “clearing” yourself of them.
Plausibility Score – 10 (baseline*)
What makes it ImplausibleThere are a few things science can point to that would make one cast a skeptical eye at the Bible. Some people believe by reading in between the lines they can use the Bible to date the Earth, and I assume the rest of the universe as well, to roughly 6000 years old. This is shown to be an irrational claim by multiple areas of science.
Taking the Bible at its literal word could also throw out the overwhelming preponderance of evidence mounted over the years by geology, paleontology, biogeography, zoology, botany, comparative anatomy, molecular biology, genetics and embryology regarding the theory of evolution in regards to the origin of life in general and humans in particular.
Literal readers of the Bible also get burned by a common problem to all books of prophecy when it comes to the story about Noah's Ark, localized shortsightedness. In one small corner of the world, taking only the animals you knew of, it might have been feasible for the ship Noah was told to build could take them all. To date we know of 1.8 million species of animal, not counting microscopic life. Even assuming we factor out marine life, which the Bible doesn't explicitly do, things get dicey for Noah pretty quickly.
It seems odd to me that one of the few things in the Bible painstakingly described was the construction of the Ark. It pretty much stops just shy of attaching a blueprint. As such we know exactly what a logistical nightmare this would have been. The boat was too small for the cargo, but big enough that it would crumble under its own weight.
Compound to this problem the lack of “believing” in the theory of evolution would mean that Noah would have to bring aboard 2 (or 7) of every animal that EVER existed and things get out of hand quickly. Likewise these same evolution deniers, with no sense of irony, will try and rationalize that Noah only had to take “kinds” of animals (a fairly meaningless statement in-and-of itself.) For example, Noah didn't need to take every kind of wolf, fox, dog, etc. He needed only to grab any male and female canine and the animals would “diversify” again after the flood on their own.
None of this is, of course, factoring the problem of gathering/storing/distributing food and water for all these animals and the obvious problem that most of these animals is food to something else on the boat. Or where he got wood in the desert. Or how he built something in the early bronze age, with no crew or experience, that people couldn't years later. What about all the plant life? Where did the different races of people come from afterwards?
What makes it PlausibleChristianity has a couple saving graces when it comes to its plausibility factor. The biggest one is that it isn't a universal belief that the Bible, at least the Old Testament, is to be read literally. The story of Noah is believed by many to be allegorical. (Perhaps a stark reminder that what can be given can be taken away, or some other meaning.)
The story of man's creation in the Bible is full of gray area, even if you're interpreting the Bible literally, let alone if you aren't. The Bible is sketchy on the details, other than at some time God decided it was time to create man. It doesn't say how he did it or if we were in our current form. Even the last couple Popes have made note of the fact that evolution is undeniable at this point and also doesn't conflict with the teachings of the Bible. Pope Benedict has even gone so far as calling denying evolution an "absurdity."
There are also many beliefs that really don't stem from any literal statements, such as the final un-addressed issue from above. The Bible never states the Earth is 6000 years old, it's just a date figured by people reading it. At some point they have to be making many assumptions. Even if you arrive back at the point of creation using lineage, who says those days equal Earth days. Why would God be bound by an arbitrary time period determined by the spinning of one of a gazillion planets he hadn't even created yet?
You'll often hear people say “Well, just because Christianity is older doesn't make it more likely.” I think in general they would be right. Older doesn't mean better. In this case however it does. I'll get to why in a moment.
Taken at its most abstract Christianity is nothing more than a set of rules on how to behave one's self in society. Don't murder each other, don't steal, don't do anything to someone you wouldn't want them to do to you, but be quick to forgive someone else when they do it anyway. There are worse messages out there than this.
LDS Church (Mormon)
Plausibility Score – 6
What makes it ImplausibleAs I mentioned before this is just Christianity plus (Christianity - Now with a hint of racism!) so it has all the implausibilities of Christianity plus a few doozies.
The origin of the book of Mormon is insulting to the intelligence of anyone with a pulse. An angel named Moroni led Joseph Smith, a previously arrested con man who charged people to lead them to non existent treasures using a seer stone, to some gold plates and a special pair reading glasses to decode it. Since Smith was, for all intents and purposes, illiterate (he could read a bit, but not write) he needed someone to write down what he read off the plates. No one else ever saw the plates. As a test of the plates' existence part of the previously transcribed pages were hidden to see if Smith could recreate them. Smith told the man who was transcribing the story that God was angry about them losing the pages and that they would have to use a different set of plates. Even though God should have known the other two just hid the pages, and the gist of the story was the same.
Other inconsistencies or flat out errors:
Not being able to comprehend such a thing as DNA the book of Mormon states Native Americans are solely descended from Hebrews in Jerusalem. This is simply false.
The book contains words like “Sam,” “Christ,” and “synagogue” which were not around at the time the plates were supposedly “forged”. The book also contains sections plagiarized from books, including the King James version of the Bible, which were not published “pre-plate”
The book discussed advancements that the people native to America simply didn't have. These things include: Literacy of Hebrew and Egyptian, knowledge of metal smelting, domesticated horses/cattle, and chariots.
What makes it PlausibleI don't think you can give them the same “It doesn't have to be read literally” exception. If you don't literally believe what the Book of Mormon said then what makes you Mormon? There's no allegories there, if you didn't believe the events as described you'd just be a Christian.
I guess the only thing that I could see that would come closest to making the LDS Church more plausible is that after denying the DNA evidence at first, calling it a smear campaign, they have now accepted it, and have begun altering their literature accordingly. However, I'm really not sure how I feel about that either. If something is supposed to be literal and infallible than how can you alter one part and then say, “Oops, well this was one, very fundamental, tenet to what we believe is wrong, but we swear everything else is totally the truth?” I don't think you should be able to just change your sacred text like that. To me, either you believe, in spite of the evidence (reasoning that the evidence is just there to challenge your faith), or you stop believing. I mean really, doesn't it almost have to be an all or nothing thing?
Plausibility Score – (Low level) 4 (Xenu story) 2
What makes it ImplausibleA science fiction author, who once commented on religion as a sure fire money making scheme, started a religion based on aliens. I shouldn't have to go farther than this. Remember earlier when I said being older doesn't necessarily make a religion more plausible, but in this case it does? This is why. We don't have as much of an account of how Christianity got started as we do these other two, and what we do know about the origin of the Mormon church and Scientology should be enough to convince any reasonable person it's humbug right then and there.
As for the beliefs: “Low Level” Members - Engrams are a recording of a traumatic event by your unconscious mind. You get rid of them through auditing sessions with a “trained professional” and an “E-Meter,” which measures electrical resistance in the body. These, increasingly expensive, sessions are the only true way to mental health. It is believed all modern psychiatry is bunk, a ruse being pulled on the public to sell unnecessary medication. Our brains are always perfect. Diet, exercise, and audits are the only thing that stand between any of us and clean mental health.
This is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. Our brains are just organs and can have physical problems just like any other organ. On top of that there is no association what-so-ever between mental tension and electrical resistance in the body. Scientologists don't even seem to have much of a hypothesis on how the E-Meter works to measure what they are trying to measure. The only attempt to explain it I found was Hubbard saying that the mass of your hurt feelings leaving your body has an effect on the electrical current passing through you. I guess just in case his counseling scam didn't work out he was laying the ground work for a diet company. All that extra junk in your trunk is just unwanted memories!
Now, to the lay person, it does seem like we have become an over-medicated nation, but who's to say what percentage of it is unnecessary? Even if the amount of medication prescribed is sky rocketing, is that a bad thing? Perhaps all that means is we have a method of treating something now that we didn't a few years ago. As for their diet and exercise angle, there are indeed certain mental conditions, like depression, that can be exacerbated by a poor lifestyle and “cured” by a healthy one. However, almost any ethical doctor would be the first to point this out to you. I'm sure you can find a few bad eggs out there, but I'd be willing to bet most doctors would be very hesitant to prescribe a powerful medication to you, if your condition was such that 40 minutes of walking a week could alleviate it.
As for the “High Level/Xenu Story” Scientologists, I don't really know what there is to say. It would be like Steven King starting a religion as a thinly veiled tax dodge. Then, shortly there after, millions of people started believing possessed cars were responsible for our life here on Earth and horrible prom experiences from past lives caused all the woes of the world.
Ad hominem attacks aside, Hubbard claims in the Xenu story the universe is 80 trillion years old, which is off by a mere 79,986,300,000,000 years, a margin of error of roughly 99.98%. [In my best Uecker voice] Juuuust a bit outside.
It's also the only “religion” I can think of that charges you ahead of time for their services and materials. Some people give every penny they have to the church, and regardless of how much you've given you're out the day your bank account dries up. When you look into it and find out about Seaorg, the bizarre deaths, their litigious hush-hush nature regarding their true beliefs, the Tom Cruse interview, and the growing belief Suri Cruise is the reincarnation of L. Ron himself, the freakier it is, and the more it starts cementing its position on the Cult end of the spectrum. No matter how plausible their beliefs are, red flags are going up all over the place in regards to their intentions in the first place.
What makes it PlausibleWith all the planets out there life on other planets is certainly a possibility. As such you would have to say that being bought to earth by another life form in the galaxy is more scientifically plausible than being created by a benevolent life force, if for no other reason than that a supernatural being would be outside the realm of science altogether. However, one could argue that this is equally unlikely since we have had no evidence of their being here, nor any return visits from anything in a universe supposedly so teeming with life that Xenu had to make some room.
In ConclusionWhat's really left to say at this point? I think I've rambled on long enough. The moral of the story: Almost anyone has the right to call a Scientologist an idiot, even if they have religious beliefs of their own. Scientology is pretty high up there on my list of ridiculous things many people believe. It's not number one or number two though, and maybe I'll let you in on those in another rambling diatribe.
*As the most plausible of the three religions I'm going to use Christianity as the baseline (a perfect 10/10) for plausibility. Rating the “overall” plausibility of a religion would end up being completely meaningless, it only makes sense to rate them relative to one another. Obviously none of these is very plausible, but, at least in terms of Christianity, plausibility isn't really the point. It doesn't take much faith in something if it was actually likely to have happened.