Further Up The Mountain: A Response to Robert Jastrow’s Infamous Quote

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“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[1]

For those who haven’t encountered this quote before, it’s from American astronomer, physicist and cosmologist, Robert Jastrow. This statement has been championed by theists and has even found its way into high profile debates against atheists[2]. I probably wouldn’t have given much consideration to it had it not been thrown at me on more than one occasion. I assume it’s touted by theists so ardently because they think it carries significant weight simply because of his scientific credentials (and not on the scientific merit of the statement itself, proving once again that in apologetics, it’s not what is said but who is saying it). It would seem that Jastrow’s renown is all that is needed to confer the stamp of legitimacy, even if the statement itself doesn’t pass muster.

So what are we to make of this? Many of us will no doubt balk at such an irresponsible utterance, having heard such rhetoric before, but it deserves a retort if for nothing else than the widespread patronization of it by crass apologists.

In taking a closer look, right away we see there are problems. Not just with the statement itself, but also with the way theists present it. For example, it is often used as a point of argument by theists that Jastrow was a self-professed agnostic, but given the many interviews he’s given in various Christian forums, and by the tone of his books, like as evident by the statement on offer here, he’s pretty clearly of a theistic (or at least deistic) slant[3]. Funny how these same theists that prop up this tripe as an honest concession of a skeptic fail to take into consideration that an agnostic can in principle be a theist and continue on portraying him as if he were of the more common atheistic type.

Also, I could spend quite some time addressing other obvious issues that jump out to me. Like in the use of the word “faith” here or the way theology is expressed to take precedent over science (It is a bit surprising to hear such a dismissal if science coming from a scientist). These two issues alone could fill an entire book. But I’d rather focus on analyzing the symbolism of the analogy itself because there’s several problems contained within that I don’t think Jastrow anticipated. In my analysis, I noticed how this analogy could easily be used against theology instead of in support of it. And the finale is that it actually exposes what has been argued by my fraternity to be true of theology in the modern scientific climate all along, and that is that science has passed this antiquated ideology by and left it far behind. Allow me to illustrate what I mean, then offer a response to Jastrow’s analogy in kind.

First, it could be asked if they’re even on the same mountain as theology never answered any such questions about reality. But for the sake of argument, we’ll assume they are. If they did happen to reach any point of the mountain before the scientist, it wasn’t because they knew where they were going nor did they even know where they were. They were essentially wandering in the dark and lost[4]. But it’s even worse for the theologians because in their faith induced self assuredness, they stopped climbing the mountain (the scientist is greeted by the theologians who are just sitting there). Their religious faith gave them the illusion that they have reached the top. We see that the theologians here assume they have met the scientist at a pinnacle that, as science has shown us, hasn’t been reached. Their faith essentially serves as clouds obscuring their view to what lies beyond. And this is the obstacle religious faith creates.

So now that I laid a bit of foundation, allow me to offer (oh so humbly) my response to Jastrow’s careless analogy. This is what the logical conclusion to the story would be…

“As the scientist sat amongst the theologians, he found that he was not content with just faithfully sitting on the rocks. His commitment to reason and scientific inquiry compelled him to explore further and he discovered that the mountain continued past the clouds that had kept the theologians from seeing any higher. So he began climbing further up and out of the clouds to find the vast universe beginning to open up to him as he left the theologians below to gloat by their dwindling fire beneath the cover of the clouds. Left clouded by their faith, they arrogantly thought they had reached the highest peak and so they just sat… as they have for centuries.”[5]

– Rich Hess


Notes:
[1] From God and the Astronomers, Robert Jastrow (1978). Jastrow’s allegory was about the Big Bang Theory (which many fundamentalist Christians still deny). This isn’t relevant to this particular discussion however and I only mention it here for accuracy. But for further research, I recommend looking up works from philosophers of science, such as Quintin Smith, and any number of contemporary physicists and cosmologists (Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, Victor Stenger, just to name a few) who explain the Big Bang and why the theologians are wrong.

[2] The example I had in mind was the debate between Frank Turek and Christopher Hitchens (23:44 mark) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVZnwZdh-iM

[3] Now I’m not going to go out on a limb and speculate that he was a believer in God, but it’s enough to point out that there is a distinction in how we are to understand “agnosticism” here. It’s certainly safe to say that he was sympathetic to theology.

[4] After all, it’s theologians that teach as fact Noah’s Flood, the Genesis creation myth, talking animals, etc. Even if they were to stumble onto some observation that turned out to be factual (or even partially factual), we can hardly credit their “methods” of getting there.

[5] The “clouds” here represent the theologians faith. In thinking they had all the answers they were looking for as prescribed by their religious dictates, they were ignorant of the possibility of there being anything beyond. And thus they have stopped searching. Unlike religion, in science, the climb is never ended. 

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Beliefs and Their Effects on our Children: An Elaboration of My Talk at PASTAH Con.

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I would first like to say what a privilege it was for Allison and I to be speaking at the Third Annual PA Atheist/Humanist Conference alongside so many great speakers and entertainers, as well as being a part of the organizing committee. We met many amazing people and made some new friends. It was a wonderful experience for a cause we are passionate about. The show of support was very encouraging. This was our first speaking event together (and my first ever in my life). My part was on belief, and with limited time, I couldn’t really get into much detail. It’s a topic I feel strongly about and want to expand on it a bit in this blog. The main point I want to stress is that what we teach our children will affect the way they will interact with the rest of the world, and this is paramount for a promising future. This starts with what we believe as well.

 

There is this notion that beliefs are not to be criticized. In fact, it is even considered an insult. I want to argue here that beliefs are not sacrosanct and it is a mistake to treat them as such. Beliefs are not benign and they need to be questioned or we commit ourselves to willful ignorance and to suffering the resulting consequences without hope of bettering ourselves or our situation. We must acknowledge that what we believe can have a profound effect on others and on society as a whole in a variety of ways. They influence our behavior and our actions such as in the way we vote, what medical treatments and procedures we seek for our families, what careers we pursue, and how we view the world and treat others around us. Beliefs can have many positive effects, while others have very disastrous effects. Just look at how profoundly damaging racism, misogyny, and homophobia have been. It is for reasons like these that questioning and challenging the beliefs that shape our world is essential for us to flourish. I think that nothing is more important to continue this progress than what and how we teach our children.

 

As W. K. Clifford argues in the Ethics Of Belief, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”[1] Now even if you don’t fully agree with this hard rationalistic approach, we can clearly see how believing in things without evidence would make us more and more credulous, and that we would ultimately pass this tradition of credulity on to our children. We can appreciate the importance of adopting the sentiment of David Hume that “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence”[2] as a way to avoid believing in the wrong things and falsehoods. But it is not enough to say we shouldn’t believe irrational things. Nobody thinks that they do. We don’t make a habit of believing things we don’t think are true. Therefore we must peel back the surface of our beliefs, even if they appear to be good, and take a look at what is at the core and why we hold them. Because we don’t live in a vacuum and ultimately they will have varying degrees of influence on the next generation.

 

This is where I find most religions to be among the most potentially harmful, and even dangerous, kinds of belief anyone can hold. The majority of them are generally dogmatic and inherently divisive in nature. The first thing we need to recognize is that religious beliefs go quite a bit deeper than just believing in something like ghosts. Even at their best, these religions make some pretty lofty (and dubious) claims that are absolute, are purported to be beyond our understanding, and are to be accepted on faith. This is why they deserve extra consideration in our critical analyses of beliefs. They create a worldview that dominates practically every aspect of the believers life. It’s more than simply holding a belief that a God exists, it’s about what we’re told, and what we tell others, about this God. There are a lot of other ideological commitments and dogmas that accompany whichever one of these religions we choose, or as most often the case, have foisted onto us at a young age.

 

First, to get a better perspective of how these beliefs take hold, we need to take a critical look into how religion is taught to children. In the case of Christianity, we needn’t look much further than the children’s bible and those specifically selected stories made into appealing coloring books that conveniently gloss over the horrible parts. Here we find that Moses always looks happy, they picture Lazarus springing from his grave with a smile on his face. All the animals fit on the arc comfortably and are also smiling. All the while omitting the passages that we would, by todays standards, consider shockingly immoral or nonsensical myth. This is done intentionally. After all, how could stories like Moses ordering the slaughter of thousands of people by God’s command be spun into the teachings that God is all good and merciful without a heavy dose of indoctrination? Or to ignore the fact that the historical credibility often ascribed to the story of Noah’s arc is simply absurd? It’s easier to disguise the immorality,  contradictions, and inaccuracies we find when carefully selected passages are redacted in such an ingratiating fashion before being introduced to children. By the time they are confronted with these issues, they’re already groomed to accept that nothing is impossible for God, and his will is just and such a sinful world is deserving of punishment. Naturally, children seek their parents approval and respond positively to the praise they receive from reciting these passages and singing the hymns. All containing the message that God is good and is to be worshiped. They are literally taught to be sheep. This belief demands worship and obedience. They are told they must be humbly acquiescent to this God as his word is absolute, and above reproach. God is good simply by virtue of being God. The problems associated with this kind of thinking goes largely unchallenged due to this taboo we have circulated about questioning beliefs. Before long, children are making their own excuses for their religion much in the same way as the adults that nurtured this belief have. It’s a cycle of indoctrination that is designed to keep going generation after generation.

 

But what is it about these religious beliefs that carries such a potentiality for harm? As pernicious and undermining as these religions foundational totalitarianism is, what’s even more damaging is the way humanity is portrayed and how they ultimately foster a negative and despondent view of ourselves. I think it is in this that allows for these totalitarian doctrinal beliefs to go unchallenged to begin with. The stories like that of the fall have been a great burden on our understanding of the human condition and an insult to our most basic human dignities. But for as troubling as most of us should find the doctrine of Original sin, imagine what it does to the mind of a child. Then there’s the detrimental effects caused by the churches unhealthy views on sex and sexual identity that leads to many misconceptions and anxiety, and even self loathing. What about the damage done to their self esteem by being told that their only redeeming value, and their very self worth, is found in God? A God without which there is no redemption. They are doomed to hell unless they accept the “salvation” offered to them. To gain the favor of this God, they are told to overcome their unclean, sinful human nature by living every day according to a biblically virtuous standard that can never be achieved. A standard that itself is repressive and impractical. Their only validation of goodness as a person is in how closely they live in accordance to God’s word. Then there’s the grotesque way guilt is used to shame our children into submission. Nothing quite accomplishes this like the doctrine that we are all so fallen that Jesus had to die a horrible death because of a sin in which they are indirectly culpable of. Can we think of anything more detrimental and destructive to our children’s development?

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How is it that devout believers can claim that promulgating the belief that there is no meaning to this life without God is anything but abhorrent? It is an inherent feature of the belief that is part and parcel to how it comes to dominate the believers life. We often find the life degrading belief in a greater afterlife in paradise for those who worship and an eternal torment for disobedience, along with the belief that God’s will must be obeyed above all else, behind the most extreme behaviors. This is the undeniable result of fervent religious piety clashing with reality. Early signs of the psychological consequences caused by these faith-based beliefs can be seen in the disturbing images of children in tearful prayer for forgiveness of sins they aren’t even aware they are guilty of. Pictures of a child holding a Qur’an in one hand and an AK-47 in the other. Of children in Israel cheering the bombing of Palestinian citizens. These teachings are the very foundations of fundamentalism and these images serve as proof of just how this indoctrinated irrationality manifests itself in the most disturbing ways. Yet time and time again religion is exonerated of any blame. Terms like “extremism” and “fundamentalism” are used in an attempt to distance these acts from their religious roots. But it simply can’t be ignored any longer that the same faith that served as the foundation for these atrocities, and the violence we see today, is from the same holy books used to inculcate our children.

 

Moderates of course, charge that this is just picking the most extreme examples, and that this is from a literal interpretation of the bible, and they’re right. But why not pick these examples? Why not look at the bible literally? But it can’t be denied that this is the brutal history these beliefs left behind, by people who professed devotion to the same God. Again, these traditions came from the same books. We will find that any “moderation” that leads us away from these manifestly exclusionary, and often brutal, traditions are ultimately rooted in the core values we find in our own inherent humanism, not in a better understanding of the holy texts. My point is, we must shed light on the possible dangers of these beliefs and ask why would anyone take the risk of exposing their children to this? But we must be honest here, many supposed moderates claim to more moderation than they actually are. We see examples of this everyday. One prime example is in the way supposed “moderates” attempt to disguise religion as science in an attempt to proselytize to our children. Over 40% of Americans deny that evolution is scientific fact and want creationism taught in schools. It is such an issue that it is affecting the way schools teach science in some states. Children are taught to disregard actual science that is contradictory to their holy book and adopt faith driven pseudoscience just to appease a religious belief. I can hardly call this moderation. And when we consider the overwhelming number of Christians that oppose same sex marriage, we can safely assume the same immoral and vile message of “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is being taught to their children. These beliefs are based solely on what the bible tells them about the nature of reality. This IS fundamentalism! It is not moderation and it is irresponsible and immoral. There is real political pressure over these biblical issues. To deny this is to ignore the problem. An exemplary case in point is the much publicized case involving Hobby Lobby. Their fight for “religious freedoms” has become their fight to oppress other people’s basic human rights and liberties. The whole religious political endeavor breaks down to an attempt to establish a Christian hegemony[3]. The bigotry, willful ignorance, and subordination that accompany it are the very things we need to protect our children from, not embrace.

 

This is why our beliefs must be critically analyzed and be open for reform should new information come to light. Something religion seems very reluctant to do. If we truly value human flourishing and improving the human condition for generations to come, we don’t want our children to carry on these dogmatic beliefs. We’ll never achieve the kind of society that strives for these goals if we inculcate our children with guilt and fear, or by destroying their dignity or moral identity. To strengthen our moral character and we must first rid ourselves of the absolutism promulgated by religion. We should not be telling our children what to believe, we need to teach them critical thinking skills and how to reason. We teach them to understand the views of others and how to have open, honest dialogue. And if sincere moderates, who are motivated by the same goal of human flourishing, wish to be part of the conversation and effect real change, then they ought to be welcome. The door should always remain open to allow for a comprehensive arena of ideas. However, the dogmatic beliefs in a supernatural authority must be left out and with it, the demeaning demand of servitude and worship that only promotes the denigration of humanity. As must the idea that the bible is the authoritative final word on all ethical matters. This belief in a totalitarian divine authority is in stark contrast to the robust plurality and diversity needed for moral growth and is counter-intuitive to any ethical system where the focus is on human values. Ideologies of this kind only shut the door to conversation. History shows that when our values come strictly from a holy book, we see just how true Voltaire’s famous quote “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”[4] can be. So the underpinning questions that need to be addressed are, what tangible benefit could possibly be had by imposing these religious beliefs onto our children that could not be far better served through secular means? How would our children be better prepared to answer the difficult moral challenges that lie ahead than to have values grounded in human dignity, respect, and reason? My answer is that there isn’t and they wouldn’t. So, given the potential for such great harm, just what reason is there to hold such irrational beliefs in today’s era? I think we’ll find that most attempts at answering this will point to childhood indoctrination. Our children deserve better because they are better than what the bible tells them, and they are capable of wonderful things due to the goodness within them. It’s our duty to help them unlock it. That’s what I believe.

 – Rich

 

Notes:

[1] William Kingdon Clifford, The Ethics Of Belief, 1877

[2] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748

[3] Paul Kivel, What is Christian Hegemony?, http://christianhegemony.org/what-is-christian-hegemony

[4] Voltaire, Questions sur les Miracles à M. Claparede, Professeur de Théologie à Genève, par un Proposant: Ou Extrait de Diverses Lettres de M. de Voltaire

Out of Context

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“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”- Mark Twain

 

It can often seem like a mugs game to bring the bible into question during discussions with Christians. It never fails that when I post a verse from scripture that I think supports my argument, I’m immediately charged with taking that verse out of context. The arguments that ensue tend to deteriorate quickly and often frustratingly run in circles. When giving a critical analysis of Christianity in general, the religious faithful are quick to accuse me (and all atheists) of not doing my homework. But this is especially the case when I dare to tread on holy ground, which is the bible itself. It’s as if they assume I was never a Christian (which I was), never read the bible (which I have), and am just being exposed to it for the first time (which I haven’t). The general consensus among Christians seems to be that merely being a non-Christian automatically disqualifies one out of hand from accurately citing the holy book. This careless, outright dismissal proves to be little more than a dodge and it doesn’t excuse the believer from demonstrating this supposed misrepresentation.  

 

It’s confusing at times to know exactly what is meant by “taking it out of context”. Take the story of Elisha’s journey from 2 Kings[1] for example. It’s hard to imagine how a passage stating that God sent two bears to massacre forty two children in gruesome fashion for mocking Elisha’s baldness could be taken out of context. Not to mention how nonchalantly this terrible event is treated and how casually the story moves on. It was as if the children getting torn apart was a mere bump in the road. As if it was hardly worth mentioning. What else are we to interpret from this? In what other context could this be taken? It can hardly be disputed what those words say here. According to the story, either God sent bears to maul forty two children or not. Any extraneous interpretation the Christian wishes to read into this doesn’t do much to make the story less vile and horrific. When Christians offer a different “interpretation” to this story, what they are doing is offering more than the words say. Whatever addendum is made, however many excuses are made, the context is pretty clear. When confronted with the merciless brutality of a passage like this, they often instead focus their attention on finding a way to establish some moral meaning behind it, which ultimately proves to be too big a boulder to push in this case, or they argue that it was badly mistranslated.  

 

Translation is a tricky bit of maneuvering that seems to be the preferred tactic for the more indefensible passages found within the bible, as it is for the passage referenced above.[2] While I don’t doubt that there are occasional mistranslations interspersed throughout the bible, scholars and historians still debate over this very topic, we can hardly say that this alters the context as currently presented in such a significant way as to warrant disregarding entire passages on a whim simply for the purpose of recreating them to appear more acceptable or reasonable. Nor does it account for all the versions of the bible circulating today that translate these passages in a very similar way. Lest the Christian wishes the conversation to regress to the very origins of the bible. At which point it may be the case that we ought to disregard the entire bible altogether. This, of course, would leave the Christian at quite the disadvantage and hardly seems to be their intention. So instead of conceding the bible, many shamelessly commit themselves to an act of intellectual dishonesty and create their own “translation”. And in doing so, they in effect become the ones taking verses out of context, and in the most disingenuous manner, I might add. Tailoring the bible this way is not only indecorous of the Christian, but also immoral. The attempt to hide the horrific nature of this passage, and many others like it, by assuming translational errors ultimately can’t salvage the bible from failing to uphold what we would consider to be the most basic of humanities and common sense. Furthermore, what the Christian fails to realize is that this “lost in translation” argument creates far more problems for the believer than for the skeptic. The biggest one being that they have effectively stripped their bible of any practical reliability, and along with it, any argument for biblical inerrancy.

 

As I stated earlier, being a non-Christian seemingly disqualifies one from accurately referencing the bible. Maybe the problem is in how “accurately” or “correctly” is applied here. Historical implications aside for a moment, the meaning here appears to be supernatural. The Christian often claims that the only way to truly understand the bible is to believe in God, because they believe the bible is the word of God. So, according to the Christian, it stands to reason that if one doesn’t believe in God, then one won’t be able to interpret the bible correctly. Along with the obvious objection of circular reasoning, as well as being a thinly disguised attempt at unfalsifiability, it fails for another very big reason. One that I see as being the most difficult problem for the Christian to overcome. This is the problem of the many various denominations of Christianity. They all believe and interpret the bible differently in some key areas. All claiming the same justification from God. To put this into perspective, just think about how many millions and millions of people claim, and have claimed, that the bible is the word of God. And how millions and millions of these same professed believers disagree with other believers, who are just as sincere, on some significant points. The thing they all have in common is they all claim God assures them they are right. They also have the same explanation as to why the others are wrong. To try to account for every interpretation that is accepted as truth by the vast number of denominations would be far too exhaustive and it isn’t the non-Christians responsibility to do so. My business isn’t to sort out all these doctrinal disputes. It’s as if skeptics (atheists especially) are being saddled with the burden of needing to know every interpretation of every denomination just to even mention the bible in any critical manner. And when we fail to satisfy this imposed burden, the charge of misinterpretation and atheistic bias is assumed justified. But then this would mean the individual believer must also know all the varying interpretations as well. For the believer to be excused this, then they must concede that their own claim to “biblical truth” could not have been from the the same exhaustive search that they hold the non-christian to and either accept that it isn’t necessary or admit they could be wrong. All these problems the believer is now faced with not only render their original objection moot, it sheds light on the shear volume of inconsistencies contained within the bible, and as we see, thus further expounding the Christians own problems…

~ Rich

 

[1] 2 Kings 2:23-24 (NIV) 23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

 

[2] Apologists frequently attempt to re-invent this passage as if Elisha was being attacked by a mob of young men. In it’s original Hebrew, while the word na’ar (boy or youth) could mean “young man”, it is paired with the qualifier katan which means “little” or “small”. Translating literally as “small boys”. And they are telling him to “go on up, baldhead” or “get out of here, baldy” and Elisha turned around to curse them. This indicates that they were behind him and taunting him, not blocking his path or threatening him.

 

 

The Arrogance of Theism

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“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” – Thomas Paine [1]
“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.” – Christopher Hitchens [2]

As atheists, we have all at some point been charged with arrogance. While it is sometimes aimed at a generalization regarding attitude or conduct, it is more often than not about the simple fact that we don’t hold a belief that a god(s) exists. But let’s explore why this charge is grossly misplaced and why the theist should take a long, hard look in the mirror before accusing anyone else of such a disposition. Especially when we consider that those casting this accusation are the same people who claim the entire universe was created as part of a plan for them; all the while claiming to be so humble. It’s difficult to imagine the “humility” it must take to accept that humanity’s actions and beliefs are so relevant to the functioning of the universe that the very laws of nature are altered by them and their God will destroy everything completely when not satisfied. When it comes to arrogance, theists have it in spades. We see it in the way they tout their faith around with such pageantry and in the expectation that their faith be given special privilege. We see it even more in the way not having a belief in their particular God is to be treated. To simply not believe in God (which is seen as the rejection of God by many theists) is itself a sin, in fact, it is said to be the ultimate sin. Many consider non-belief to the work of Satan, or of other demons, leading us astray. Non-belief is the surest way to earn a one way ticket to hell for eternity and apparently justifiably so. According to theists, the rejection of a God that is so self-evident, so axiomatic, is not as simple as just rejecting the validity of this claim, it requires that we must “disprove” their God’s existence altogether. Often times God is regarded as knowledge that every human possesses and to not believe is simply to suppress this knowledge in rebellion. It is as if we willfully reject our very existence. We can begin to understand why any dissension from their ideology is considered a direct affront to their God when we see how the theistic worldview functions in the adherents life. God is everything good, without God there is no morality, without God there is no meaning, there is nothing without God, and so on.

As I mentioned, there is a profound arrogance in the way opposing views are regarded. I admit that I have taken no small insult from the likes of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and many of their contemporaries that continually misrepresent atheists and atheism in the most grotesque manner. While these supposedly scholarly theologians seem to let the basic definition of atheism somehow escape their grasp, they apparently have no problem attributing their contrived definition of atheism to the most heinous crimes in human history. The popular apologetic assumption is that simply discrediting any opposing views leaves theirs as the correct one by default. In defense of the theistic argument, the focus seems to be an attempt to portray atheism as an “irrational” position, but the very formation of this argument is itself irrational. Not holding a belief in a baseless, undefined concept that not only lacks scientific credibility, but that it’s very existence would seem to violate the natural laws as we know them, seems to me the rational position to hold. When we hear things like “the absurdity of atheism” or “atheism is unreasonable”, what is really being said is “the absurdity of not believing in my conceptualization of God” and “not believing in MY God as I envision Him is unreasonable”. They are devoid of any practical meaning when taken in the proper context. Intellectual honesty doesn’t allow for such fallacious argumentation and atheism essentially strips these arguments of their privilege and holds theistic claims accountable for justification under scrutiny, Atheism points out that in religion[3], facts and truth are often operating in two separate spheres and reason is replaced by faith to connect the dots. While it could be said that these are problems within particular religious ideologies, theism in general is at the heart of it.

Now to address one of the prime examples of the arrogance of theism, we’ll take a look at the false dichotomy that’s being circulated ad nauseam by theists that one either believes in something (God) or in nothing (atheism). This clever bit of sophistry is merely a convenient attempt to put atheists in a situation of defending a position of “nothing” while theists get to enjoy the lofty position of “something else out there”. But let’s put this in its proper context. Theists are not simply arguing for a “something”, they are claiming to know what this something is and claim to even know it’s will. They make such unsubstantiated assumptions that this something possesses intelligence and other anthropomorphic qualities such as emotions that conveniently fits their particular religions concept of what God is. While there are variations in these concepts, theists seem to all be in agreement that this something is an intelligent, loving, authoritarian deity that created everything and is itself beyond natural laws and is transcendent of space and time while also simultaneously able to interact with the natural universe. We must then assume that this “something” exists in some unfounded, unknowable supernatural reality and can interact with the natural world unabated by natural laws, and this is to be believed on anecdotal evidence, speculation, and faith. By what right is their position so privileged as to encompass all of what this something might be and claim that their something is the only possible something and that their something is excused the same standard of justification and to subject their belief to the same investigations that all other scientific proposition are subject to? Theists are claiming to know more than the most brilliant minds that exist, or have ever existed.

I want to make one very important point here, it is ultimately the atheist that is free to inquire what else might be out there, and not the theist, as they are bound to their presupposition with no escape or be guilty of apostasy. Nothing about atheism suggests there is “nothing” else, nor does atheism rely on such dubious conjecture to fill the gaps in our knowledge. The theistic position ultimately ends the search for whatever something else might be out there. It is an end to investigations and to thinking critically as it purports to already have the answer. Also, the arguments in favor of theism are less than convincing. Atheists are constantly confronted with Intelligent Design as if this is some profound, enlightened argument that is irrefutable proof for an intelligent creator of the universe. For the sake of argument, even if the “design” argument is to be accepted, this still only leaves us with evidence for a designed universe. It speaks nothing of what the “designer” may actually be. Positing God is not only presumptuous on the theists part, it doesn’t have any explanatory power. Nevertheless, the best a theist can hope for with this argument is to infer a deistic conceptualization of God, the God being invoked by theism is a far cry from say, the kind of “god” Spinoza proposed. This problematic argument proves to be a very weak platform for theists to launch a defense from and we see that it fails for several reasons. By following the evidence, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that things can simply appear designed. The human mind looks for patterns and we see examples of this in all sorts of other apophenia. Here is no different. But theists insist on committing to fallacious argumentation and intellectual dishonesty to tailor scientific evidence to fit an otherwise unsubstantiated conclusion. Theists operate from extreme presumption and hubris, using scientific terminology to expound supernatural concepts to appease a deeply held religious belief. Ignoring that it ultimately collapses under scientific scrutiny, they opt for equivocal word games or a complete dismissal of contrary evidence. We would be hard pressed to find a better example of this than with the war between creationism and evolution.

Another display of extreme arrogance by theists, and in my opinion one of the most insulting, is the assumption that we can’t have meaning and purpose without a belief in their particular god. I personally see this as a hindrance to any practical application of these terms. According to theism, what purpose does THIS life ultimately serve? I matter to my loved ones around me and they matter to me regardless of any deity. Furthermore on a larger scale, we all matter as part of a functioning society in whatever capacity we can, which ultimately reverberates through the entire world. Such as a doctor matters to his or her patients, using treatments developed over time and perfected by others. The people who maintain bridges matter for safe travel everyday using tools and technology developed and made by others. Everyone involved with getting food to our table to feed our families. Our purpose is in doing our part to take care of one another as well as ourselves and ensuring we do everything we can to make the world a better, safer, healthier place to pass on to the next generation. While the universe will continue functioning without us, we as a species cannot function without our contributions and the responsibility falls on us and us alone. To posit that there is some alternate purpose that is beyond this reality is to undermine this very important point. The level of arrogance displayed to assume these things are not meaningful enough on their own and there has to be something more beyond this is quite disheartening. It reduces these meaningful things to merely serve as a pathway to salvation for the believer, to gain favor from their inculcated concept of god when facing “him” to be judged (even though this deity supposedly has no spacial or temporal properties). The afterlife becomes their sole purpose to either spend eternity in paradise or, in many beliefs, in eternal torment (which none actually think they are personally going there). The doctrine of salvation only extends to the individual, ultimately making it a self-serving proposition with no thought for the future. The believer is then  exonerated of any moral responsibilities that promote growth, human dignity, and the deep respect for human life that ensures the greatest amount of human well-being for the future while also alleviating the suffering of the next generations. Atheism has no such restrictions and in fact provides the open-mindedness that is needed to promote such values that is essential for a society to flourish. The fact that theists attempt to portray atheism as nihilism is to say these everyday meanings and purposes are illusory and is an insult to those of us who live meaningful and purpose-filled lives. The theist cannot account for how an absence of their belief diminishes these values. True meaning and purpose is not predicated on an afterlife and is found here in reality. If the theist wants to argue this, then lets see if they would actually follow the disgusting example of Abraham with his son Isaac. While this usually gets a rehearsed apologetic response as to why they are excused of this, it is still sad to see how someone can put God before their loved ones and defend such an ugly doctrine.

We should also take notice of the arrogant attempts by religions to monopolize terms like “God”, “morality”, “faith”, “love”, “belief”, and the list goes on. Basically everything good and worth valuing is considered to be their God. We won’t even get into the absurdity of how a “creator” that’s purportedly responsible for all of creation is somehow not responsible for all the evil, chaos, and suffering also. The idea that we can only be good with God is of the highest arrogance and nothing is more demeaning to our basic human dignity that this. But I will address the issue of morality and religion later as I can’t give it the treatment is deserves here. But back to the topic at hand, there is a sense from believers that their god is the ONLY possible one while looking at other religions as silly, contradictory, or self-defeating. Dismissing the dogmas of other religions out of hand, but expecting preferential treatment of their own. The point they seem to miss is that many of the same flaws they find in other religions are also found in their religion, and why theism is an untenable position. Theism’s inherent absolutism renders its outrageous claims immutable and is precisely why theism is unscientific. We don’t need “absolute” certainty to reasonably reject the claim that God exists, or any supernatural deity. We get along in life just fine without such presumptions. The pretentiousness of the theist is really displayed in the way they adhere to this antiquated, speculative belief with such pomposity, despite all of theism’s glaring flaws and lack of evidence. When we inquire openly and honestly about not only the veracity of the claims, but also what purpose does it really serve, we see the true nature of arrogance and why it is that atheism is on the other side of the spectrum. Theism ultimately leads to stagnation with potential for very real consequences, and the level of arrogance it takes to ignore that is disconcerting, to say the least. I think that it is clearly the case that theism takes far more arrogance than atheism is even capable of.

– Rich  

[1] Thomas Paine, Common Sense 1776

[2] Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22 2010

[3] “Theism” is not necessarily “religion”. They can, however, be used interchangeably here.

There has been much philosophical discussion regarding knowledge and how we attain it. In these discussions and debates, reason and faith have both been mentioned and often pitted against one another. So my interest in this discussion is with the efficaciousness of both and their compatibility with one another. Few philosophically minded people are inclined to say reason is not a pathway to knowledge, but many on the theological spectrum hold that faith is equally (or more so) valid. There are clear and distinct differences that we must be critical of when faith is juxtaposed with reason in this manner. I will argue here that not only are they incompatible, but that faith is not a claim to knowledge at all and can even have very real consequences. Considering that it is commonly argued, by the garden variety theist and scholarly theologian alike, that faith provides us with knowledge and understanding that reason cannot, it is an issue that must be carefully examined (especially with whats at stake, which I think is quite a lot). It is a difficult task primarily because it’s never quite clear as to how they take this to be the case exactly. I have yet to encounter clear examples as to when reason is not sufficient, nor how can faith fill this supposed deficiency, and I strongly suspect that there aren’t any.

First we must examine each and determine just how they function in relation to knowledge and the compatibility they have with each other. Then I will address the problems and harms that faith present when it is relied upon to (supposedly) replace reason. Now reason has been widely understood as the key to our expanding understanding of the world around us and how we apply the knowledge we gain[1]. It is the faculty by which we arrive at truth through logical inquiry and validated through scientific evidence and how to practically apply that knowledge. Reasonable, relevant beliefs inherently necessitate the presence of empirical evidence as well as being logically consistent. Reason and logic are synchronous in this regard. While reason is the process of thought, logic, essentially, explains the rules from which reason operates. Arguably, if a relevant belief cannot meet the criteria of logic and supporting evidence, then can it really be considered rational? I say not. If this is not the criteria, then we would need to re-evaluate all that we have come to know about the reality we live in. Faith on the other hand, is purported to be the evidence of things not seen[2], or in other words, let’s just cut to the chase, the supernatural. The supernatural is, by definition, unexplainable by natural  law. Supernatural, as is typically used in relation to the theists position, means beyond or transcendent of natural laws (time, space,etc.) and is a crucial characteristic of God which allows for the “omni”[3] attributes ascribed to him. It is in this lack of supporting empirical evidence that faith does most of its work. It is how appeals to strong emotional “revelations” and anecdotal accounts become all the support needed for faith based beliefs to be vindicated to the believer. It is in defense of these kind of religious beliefs that we see haphazard attempts at reasoning, faulty logic, and misrepresentations of science. It is when pressed to defend these beliefs that the semantical games begin.

In the absence of verifiable empirical evidence for the existence of God, it is postulated that one is still justified in holding this faith-belief as being reasonable because, by their own definition, “God” is rendered unfalsifiable and therefore, cannot be disproven. This claim of unfalsifiability often takes on the vacuous assumption that God is self-evident and necessarily true (and thus escaping the burden of needing to be proven).While this seems to fly in the face of reason, it is nonetheless passed off as such. This is the beating heart of faith and as we will see, without it, religion ultimately fails. Therein lays the irreconcilable schism between reason and faith. In determining whether any proposition is true, we subject it to investigation and it must be considered with the relevant evidence available. Through recourse to our ability to reason, we accept truth and falsity. Religious claims ought to be no exception. But yet, religious claims are giving exemption through the benefits bestowed by centuries of respect and privilege freely given to faith. But this is getting more and more difficult for religion to maintain with the progress of modernity. In the light of modern science, the apologist and theologian must resort to great lengths to keep their beliefs (and the beliefs of the religions faithful adherents) from being falsified in the face of contrary evidence, even resorting to declaring it heresy. It is an act of intellectual dishonesty indeed to suppress relevant evidence that opposes a favored proposition and more-so to disregard altogether evidence that may provide the proverbial nail in the coffin for that favored proposition. But this is not above the devout believer who has committed theirself to a dogmatic and exclusionary belief system. Most won’t even venture to subject their beliefs to this process at all; let alone to do so objectively. Why not hold these supernatural claims to the same standard of truth that we hold all other claims to? Why should we allow for separate criteria exclusively for religion? This seems odd considering the theist holds all other beliefs to the same standards he now rejects as being valid for his religious beliefs. The answer is simple, it’s because a belief based on faith cannot stand under the weight of reason. The two cannot coexist. Otherwise it ceases to be an article of faith. I’ll elaborate a little more on this later. But first, let’s look at how many theologians and apologists attempt to reconcile the contradiction by simply interpreting any conflict out of the argument altogether. As we will see, this is usually done at the expense of reason. Francis Parker, Professor of Philosophy emeritus at Purdue University and a Thomist, admits as much in his book, Reason and Faith Revisited. He states:

“It is clear by very nature of the case that there cannot be any reason for accepting faith in the standard of reason which we have been talking about. This is so simply because, as we have seen, articles of faith are not principles, they are not first-order beliefs; there are not second-order beliefs which follow from first order beliefs. Or, to put the matter more obviously tautologically, there cannot be any reasons in our rationalist’s sense of reason for accepting an article of faith because if there were it would then be a rational belief, albeit a religious one and not an article of faith at all. Hence if there is to be any reason for accepting something on faith, it must be a reason in a broader and looser sense than any given to that term by our rationalist. A broader sense perhaps better expressed by the word justification than by the word reason.”[4]

Parker then attempts to reconcile faith with reason by proposing that the “justification for accepting an article of faith must somehow lie within the context of faith itself.“[5] In this attempt to justify faith through reason (or giving the appearance of such) he is claiming here that we must essentially widen our meaning of reason to provide room to accommodate faith. But if we are to grant that this treatment of reason ought to be the case when faith is introduced, that reason should allow for such accommodation and flexibility, it surely would carry with it some disastrous consequences. For one, wouldn’t truth merely reflect an arbitrary conclusion with no tangible means of verification? We could then afford any and every belief the same luxury, thus rendering truth meaningless in any practical sense, since reason would now shift its purpose to slavishly work to support faith itself instead of the proposition at hand. This would quickly fall into special pleading to gain acceptance for a predetermined conclusion. No matter how much the apologist tries to dress up their particular case, there simply wouldn’t be a reliable criteria from which to judge one truth value of any claim from another. No, this is NOT the way reason works! If the theist is unable to provide a convincing argument that can stand up under critical scrutiny without completely eviscerating reason in this manner, then they can’t reasonably bestow the value of truth to their claim. They can’t reasonably expect others to accept it either. Why should faith-based beliefs be treated as sacrosanct? Well, as Parker alluded to, the answer lies in religion itself. Faith is a construct of religion and is inherently shielded from any criticism outside of that particular religion. And it appears to be so even from within. Bible studies are not designed to question, they are designed to bypass any objections and to instill a “stay the course” mentality through exegetical (or eisegetical) study. This is portrayed as the way to truly understand ones faith, but in actuality, reason is shut out as the whole exercise is ultimately one of confirmation bias. The sole purpose of bible studies, apologetics, and the like is to safeguard faith from any contradictions. In fact, contradictions are treated as a way to strengthen one’s faith, a test of one’s commitment to God. The more a religious belief is challenged, the stronger the faith must be to retain them. To deviate from one’s belief is a sign of weakness and evidence of a sinful nature. It is to fall to trickery and temptation and thus making one deserving of God’s scorn. To the believer, finding the conclusion false carries a sentence of eternal damnation. This is reiterated over and over like a mantra throughout the holy books and implicit in the sermons and practices of worship. The best reason can accomplish here is to be an unwilling servant of sorts, exponential, a way to confirm ones faith, but never to supersede it.

As I alluded to earlier, faith-based beliefs cannot be reasonable beliefs. Once there is reason to believe in a proposition, it is no longer an article of faith. In this context, it becomes a contradiction. In other words, once there is evidence, there is reason. George H. Smith puts it eloquently:

“With the preceding groundwork, we now arrive at what may be termed the central dilemma of faith: insofar as faith is possible, it is irrational; insofar as faith is rational, it is impossible. This dilemma is a consequence of the fact that reason and faith cannot simultaneously be offered as grounds for belief. A belief can be based on reason or faith, but not both. This makes it impossible for the Christian to maintain the rationality of faith, because as soon as a belief is rationally demonstrated, it ceases to be an article of faith.”[6]

While this distinction may not deter the believer from conflating faith and reason, it does force the believer to choose a side, even if they refuse to acknowledge that this is essentially what they are doing. It serves as a demarcation between moderates and fundamentalists. As with moderates, this means an attenuation of their religion as opposed to fundamentalists which is the abandonment of reason altogether. With either though, on some level, they both rely on the common excuse that reason cannot be applied to matters of faith, matters they deem to be beyond reason. This is problematic for several reasons. One major problem is that this ultimately creates an “anything goes” mentality. It puts us at the mercy of having to accept any proposition anyone comes up with. One must ask how one can possibly discern which is to be believed when two contradictory propositions are offered at the same time if both can be said to be articles of faith? This is the insoluble problem we face when we commit the egregious offence of rejecting the efficacy of reason. This undermining of our own cognitive abilities just to allow the believer an excuse from the obligation to carry out investigations, which are likely to discredit their presupposed conclusion, is inexcusable, but necessary for faith to survive. The theist must grievously convince theirself that reason has some deficiency with regards to religious propositions. Reason must be found to be deficient, or otherwise faith doesn’t have a purpose. The celebrated assertion by Thomas Aquinas, that faith puts man on a path that he will come to know through reason later, often serves as justification. But what this is essentially saying is that the road of reason is abruptly cut off and we’re detoured down the path of faith. But the problem is that the traveler on the path of faith presupposes a common destination that either road will arrive at. While both roads claim to lead to understanding, to the one that takes the road of faith, that understanding will, and must, arrive at God. Ultimately, once the detour is taken from the road of reason, we are traveling without a map. It is the reliability of faith as a road to truth that is inadequate, and not reason. Smith echoes this sentiment, “Faith cannot rescue us from the inadequacies of reason simply because reason is not inadequate.”[7] How could it be if we are to claim to really know anything at all? To say reason is inadequate is to cast into serious doubt, and even dismiss, all we have accomplished. These glaring problems simply cannot be brushed aside as the faithful hope to do. Not to mention, it still takes a certain amount of reason to even allow for faith to operate at all in the first place.

In the case of fundamentalists and moderates alike, both claim it necessary, whether blatantly or tacitly, to transcend reason to gain knowledge that is supposedly inaccessible by our own cognitive capacity and only by virtue of faith is this esoteric knowledge of God revealed. This spiritual revelation is revealed in various ways, such as a “swelling feeling in their heart”. These kinds of anecdotal accounts serve as vindication to their belief. But this has little semblance to the scrutiny of reason the theist expects other beliefs to be held to. So I reiterate, if this is unacceptable in other areas of discourse, why not here? Well, this leads to another common tactic, and that is to give an appearance of an appeal to reason in an attempt to muddy the waters and to take advantage of our own ignorance with statements like “there are things we don’t know about” and with terminology like “our finite minds”. This seems to be all the reason needed to grant faith the validity it so desperately wants. But in reality, all this does is confirm that we must investigate further, and is, in no way, a means to verify the truth value of a claim. Obviously it is true that we don’t know the answers for everything, nor doesn’t it require any level of “faith” to say that science may one day know. In fact, it is reasonable to admit as much. But we must be clear; the faith theists are referring to is not just the “unknown” mysteries of the universe, or having “faith” the sun will rise tomorrow. Faith is religion, and a faith in God is specific, no matter how cleverly faith is hidden behind the veneer of reason. It is a claim from a position of knowledge. Gods nature and will are assumed as part of having faith. Nevertheless, these attempts to equivocate the matter are ultimately beside the point. We have since unlocked many mysteries that were once taken on faith centuries ago without the need for such conjecture. This is a product of our reasoning capabilities to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion, not steer it to the conclusion we hope for. Any “faith” (if we wish to construe it as such) in a hypothesis that may have been present at the beginning is soon diminished into nothingness through scientific inquiry and intellectual honesty. While some aspects of theistic beliefs may claim to have grounds in reason, they all eventually fall victim to the pitfalls of faith the closer they get to their conclusion. The closer the examination and the sharper the scrutiny, the less coherent faith-based beliefs become and the greater the divide from reason is apparent. So to make such an assumption that reason is insufficient, or unreliable, is to undermine our intellect at it’s very core. And it ultimately undermines the veracity of all that we have come to understand.

While some theists claim that faith can be reconciled with reason, or both are equally valid pathways to knowledge, others are openly hostile to it. These theists, following in the tradition of who is referred to as the founder of Western theology, Tertullian, declare that reason is the enemy of faith. “The devil’s bride” is what reason is according to another prominent religious figure, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. Which he goes on to further drive a wedge between faith and reason with declarations like “faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees it must put out of sight, and wish to know nothing but the word of God.“[8] Firmly establishing human reason as an enemy of God. I posit that even those that attempt to reconcile faith and reason still hold to this view in some degree. Meaning faith must supersede reason, and ultimately usurp reason as the authority. There is a deep correlation with the fideism of Luther and Tertullian that is present in the faith of today, and one primary example is the traditional thinking that “reason is of man and faith is of God”. The  problem with creates is it forces the theist to divorce theirself from any scientific cogitation and honest rational inquiry and turns our reason against himself. Deeming our ability to reason useless and untrustworthy, thus eliminating the need for it when legitimizing doctrinal propositions. This segregates religious beliefs from other beliefs and delegates reason to a subservient role. Religion is unique in this way. Faith-beliefs thus purportedly do not need to be substantiated by the requisite evidence that reason demands. Even though they are beliefs that one would fashion a life around and pass on to their children. This ultimately creates a self-serving standard of how one attempts to acquire knowledge while simultaneously shielding this perceptual illusion of knowledge from our ever-expanding understanding. Whereas reason has led us to a greater understanding of the world around us, faith attempts to stifle such progress and keep us in the dark ages. Protecting a belief from falsity becomes more important than progress.

This brings us to my last point, faith can be dangerous. The propitiations that must be made to honor a particular faith is where the consequences really start to surface. Once reason as been deemed unreliable, one diverges from the core principles of reason altogether. This leads to fundamentalism, and ultimately extremism. Once this happens, faith becomes the only operating principle for acquiring knowledge and becomes absolute truth for the believer, consequently removing reason from any justification for action. Faith essentially becomes reason. The belief inevitably becomes more important than the people holding them; and far more so than those people that don’t. When these faith based beliefs are guarded as sacrosanct, any alternate belief is viewed as a direct affront. This paves the way for intolerance and essentially shuts out any new knowledge, and with it, the processes for acquiring it. The war of ideas that follows has the potential for very real consequences. The further from reason, the deeper into madness, which often metastasizes into the atrocities we have seen historically ans to this very day. As Sam Harris quite accurately puts it, “You can almost never quite anticipate the danger of un-reason. When you affirm truths that you are in no position to affirm, the liabilities of that are potentially infinite.“[9]

The dangers become evident in faiths intrusion on science, public policy, and education and the way faith impedes progress in these areas. The faithful opt instead for the preservation of the sanctity of their holy scriptures and see progress as anything but. The disastrous results of this kind of religious thinking can be seen in the resulting oppressive conditions in the most religious societies and communities, where the overall quality of life is diminished. Where bomb blasts ring as loud as church bells and where thousands suffer and die from aids because of the anxiety the church has about contraception. Where women are brutally gunned down for attending school or dancing. When a child is denied life-saving medical treatment because of how much faith the parents have in the healing power of prayer. Where potentially life altering stem cell research is banned and a persons basic human rights are infringed upon, such as a couples right to marry. Or where one is ostracized by their own family for reasons stemming from the families religious beliefs. All of these are actualized by faith overshadowing reason to the point where our very humanity is lost. Reason gives us the means of escape from the abysmal shroud faith would keep us under. Now this may sound extreme to some, but the simple fact cannot be ignored that this is the reality for countless people around the world and just around the corner. But let’s not only address the violence and bigotry promulgated by faith, what about the mental and emotional damage caused by this dogma? Take the concept of hell for example, eternal damnation is an entirely faith-based concept that has struck terror into the hearts of children for generations. Fear of not only the possibility of them spending eternity there for not loving God enough, or not being thankful enough, or not serving God properly, but also the fear of their loved ones being tortured for eternity for similar things, or simply having a different belief.  How much insecurity and anxiety has the notion of an ever watching eye, and the punishment of thought crimes, caused? Or the anxiety about sex and sexuality, as well as the fear of being ostracized by loved ones and by a community as a whole for not living according to a particular religious doctrine?

Alternatively, the moderate believer will often argue that “this is why faith must work with reason” or “that is a misguided faith”. This appeal to reason doesn’t help to defend faith at all and is actually an argument against faith. It must be acknowledged that if reason is used as justification of faith and to keep faith in check (considering the possible danger), then why rely on faith in the first place? This would necessitate that reason take precedent over faith because faith needs “guidance”. This proposed compromise further reveals that, as Smith says, “even the Christian is forced to acknowledge the supremacy of reason if he is to avoid pushing his beliefs beyond the limits of absurdity.”[10] I propose that given this realization, faith ultimately has no purpose as an epistemology and actually has an adverse effect on our understanding. Moderation is a result of science and reason continuously winning out over faith. We now hear many Christians exclaim how God’s magnificence and brilliance is further revealed in our awe-inspiring scientific discoveries. Some believers even go on to say God works within evolution, which is at least a concession to reason of sorts. But let’s not forget that it was the church that condemned the heliocentric theory as heresy and imprisoned Galileo; forcing him to renounce his theory under the threat of torture. This was a common threat (and worse) for many scientists and philosophers for centuries under the rule of the church. This was due to a lack of understanding combined with an over abundance of pious faith. One must ask how much faith played a role in the 911 attacks as opposed to reason? Which has more influence regarding the subjugation of women? There is no denying the intolerance resulting from faith in the veracity of the holy books. No amount of exegesis can change what those words clearly say in a literal sense, and how exactly they should be interpreted. Faith doesn’t allow for that… only reason does.

Having “faith” is simply not the way we arrive at truth and understanding. Reason cannot be elbowed out this way. Insofar as it is a path to knowledge, we have seen that faith fails miserably. Insofar as it is useful, it is an impediment and potentially harmful. And as for being compatible, it is the very antithesis of reason. Faith is ultimately an excuse for holding the unsubstantiated belief in God. Simply a way for the believer to accept an unreasonable presupposition and still feel justified in doing so. It’s contemptuous attitude towards reason is reason enough to see that the two are not compatible. We ought to suspend judgement on any proposition that is said to be taken on faith and investigate it further if the proposition warrants it. However, not all do. Furthermore, we must acknowledge the potential dangers of the irrationality faith can lead to. The best faith can hope for is to be a starting point, or to pique an interest into further inquiry. Faith must give way to reason before any proposition can be justifiably held as a logically coherent, supported belief.  I reject faith out of hand as a cognitive process for acquiring knowledge, not simply because I do not want to accept God so I can live my own sinful life, as many theists charge those who do not share their belief. But for the reasons I’ve outlined here. Nor is it simply having “faith” in science, which is merely a tu quoque apologists recklessly throw about. It is my commitment to reason that I say I will not accept anything on faith. So in light of the severe inadequacies of faith to provide us with even a hint of knowledge, it can be asserted with all confidence that reason is not only superior, but they don’t belong in the same conversation. I think I have conclusively shown that while science gave us the technology to build a car and reason gave us understanding of how to operate it safely, the surest way to drive off of a cliff is to let Jesus take the wheel.

– Rich

Sources and notes:
 [1]See http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Epistemology_Reason.html
While this is largely my position, it isn’t without controversy within philosophy. But it doesn’t affect all that much the argument being presented as I am merely comparing reason and faith as claims to knowledge and their compatibility with one another.
[2] Hebrews 11:1 (ESV): “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I will be referring to the religious usage of the term “faith”throughout.
[3] Referring of course to the Omni-God (omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omnipresent, etc.) of classical theism
[4] Francis H. Parker, Reason and Faith Revisited: The Aquinas Lecture p.32-33
[5] Francis H. Parker, Reason and Faith Revisited: The Aquinas Lecture p.33
[6] George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God p.123
[7]George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God p.126
[8] Martin Luther quoted in Walter Kaufmann’s, Critique of Religion and Philosophy pp.305-307
[9] Taken from an interview with Sam Harris
[10] George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God p.113

Unreasonable Faith

Apologists Aren’t Doing Christians Any Favors

With the explosion of religious debate in social media and in the mainstream, even the average christian gets involved. When confronted with difficult questions and opposing positions, apologists aren’t doing Christians any favors by spreading false information and even outright lies. Since venturing from the safe haven of philosophy, where religion has survived for over 2000 years, and now spilling over into the realm of science, most Christians make the mistake of referencing mostly from christian apologetic sources. This is the causal chain of the circulation of misinformation, bad science, fallacious argumentation, and blatant deception. People like William Lane Craig, Duane Gish, Dinesh D’souza, and even Kent Hovind become the religious authorities which ultimately leads so many self-proclaimed laymen theologians and creationists into falling victim to this trend. This is why these debates seem repetitive. We, as atheists, agnostics, etc. are constantly confronted with the same ignorance and misconceptions about evolution, physics and cosmology. There are many Christians that I encounter that still think we came from monkeys, evolution is “chance” or “accidents”, and the big bang was a giant explosion. How many times must these misunderstandings be corrected? I had one girl tell me she thought atheists worshiped the devil. It makes one wonder where these misconceptions came from and why we keep hearing them over and over again. Most average Christians need only to hear that the conclusion is God to believe the rest at face value. This would make their position easy to disregard if it didn’t have such damaging effects. With the assault on education and public policies, this has serious sociological consequences. We simply cannot allow science to be distorted this way.

Just looking at the scientific side for a moment, we have to be honest that the antiquated beliefs from the iron age just can’t be reconciled with the advancements and discoveries of modern science. Yet, old religious views are being brought back to the front lines once again. Only this time those beliefs are challenged by an even greater authority, evidence! Science finally has the answers to questions religion has hid behind for thousands of years. This has apologists scrambling in hopes to merely level the playing field. Relying on the equivocation of terms like “belief”, “theory”, “evidence”, and “faith”. Fallacious argumentation such as God of the gaps, arguments form ignorance and ad populum somehow become “proofs” for Christianity. Relying on ad hoc hypothesizing and special pleading to dress up their argument and give it the appearance of being scientific. And how do they attack the opposing arguments? By preaching misconceptions like “atheism and Darwinism are religions” (in the I know you are but what am I tradition), the “teach the controversy” conspiracy theory (that oddly seems to only include the christian worldview), and the shifting of the burden of proof. The idea is to render the opposing position just as faith based and unsupported as the one posited by the believer. This, of course, is false. Religious propositions are wildly un-scientific and the conclusions are vacuously absurd. As Victor Stenger says, “When the evidence disagrees with a scientific proposition, the proposition is discarded. When the evidence disagrees with a religious proposition, the evidence is discarded.” They further their rhetorical attack with ad hominem and strawman fallacies (Hitler was an atheist, evolution leads to social Darwinism, etc.). Once the apologist can make both appear as “faith”, or two sides of the same coin, then it is essentially a coin flip. That’s when religious preaching takes over and the apologist makes an appeal to God. The Bible shows just how conflicting “religions” are to be dealt with. Divisive tactics such as this have always been a staple of religion and long served as a justification for whatever means found necessary to maintain it’s control. Thus insuring it’s survival through spreading the word. Only now it’s not at the end of a sword, or at the mercy of plague and suffering, but by invading the lands of biology, cosmology, and neuroscience and replacing fact with superstition, reason with faith, evidence with apophenia. In the apologists wake, the average follower is left close-minded from already having the answer to everything, leaving them locked in their little box with their favorite toy. – Rich