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.

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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