But suppose you have a religion with an useful belief. Does it make it any good?
It may not be true, God may not exist, but it's useful to help people psychologically and socially.
I think the claim that ‘usefulness’ can have value independent of ‘truthfulness’ is a good one. Just to give a couple of historical examples:1) Miasma Theory:
This was the ancient belief that disease was caused by ‘foul air’; this theory lead the Romans and Late Medieval Europeans to develop sewage management systems. The theory was completely wrong but the resulting sewage systems were hugely beneficial to public health. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miasma_theory
)2) Yin Yang Cosmology:
During the Chinese Han Dynasty (206BCE – c.220CE) many intellectual threads were pulled together in what is known as the ‘Han synthesis’. Central to this world-view is a cosmology which argues that the universe is best explained as chi
(energy/matter) whose motions and changes are governed by the interrelation of yin
(the dark/soft/female – bright/hard/male respectively). This is a false description of the universe; however it was incredibly useful in the development of technology (Ref: Needham – Science and Civilisation in China
). Moreover the whole notion of ‘mutual balance’ inherent in yin yang cosmology
became the model for the development of the Chinese civil service aspects of which have survived the last two thousand years (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_service#China
These examples show (and there are many others for which similar claims can be made: Aristotelian Physics; Newtonian Mechanics etc…) that an untrue idea can nonetheless be useful. There is no reason that this is not the case for religions. In fact all mainstream religions could successfully argue that they have proven ‘useful’ by one or other measure.
I am unclear as to what you are really asking. If only: “Can things be useful even if false?” then, as the examples above show, the answer is yes
. If, however, you are asking “Should we believe in things we know to be false
just because they are useful?” then that’s a whole different ball of wax; and I would be inclined to say that we simply cannot believe in that we know to be false – no matter how useful that fiction would be.