The Benefits of Atheism

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“Imagine that the brain is a computer and that religion is a virus. Atheism is the wiping of that virus.” – Nick Harding[1]

 

What does atheism offer?”, “What good is it?”,  “What benefit can be gained from not believing in God?

Well that depends on how much you value intellectual honesty? How valuable is reason? And I say this without a hint of hubris or intellectual snobbery, although it is often taken to be the very height of just that by theists. But I mean this with the utmost sincerity born out of a genuine caring for people and concern for the future of my children and humanity as a species. For me, intellectual honesty and reason are incredibly important. I’d argue that progress as a person, a society, and as a species is contingent upon it. So when it comes to beliefs that shape our very lives, that provide the foundation from which we conduct ourselves and how we see the world, then nothing could be more important. Now before we delve deeper, let’s be clear, atheism is not a worldview, ideology, or philosophy[2]. Atheism doesn’t provide a foundation of it’s own. But it provides firm ground free of the debris of theism and clears out the religious weeds before they can crack through the foundation of rationality. Allowing instead for solid foundations to be laid. Well grounded foundations such as naturalism and secular humanism, for example. So then what good is it? Well provided that one accepts how rationality, knowledge, and human flourishing are of the utmost importance to the continuing development and progress towards the betterment of humanity as a whole, then one must also give consideration to how these are able to be derailed by bad reasoning, dogmatic ideologies, and faith-based beliefs[3], then the benefit of atheism becomes clearer. To make an important distinction, I’m not arguing that atheism is more rational than theism, I’m arguing that theism is irrational and must be rejected and/or removed from the methods of reasoning altogether. We even see this in the cases of credible scientists who are in fact religious. Those scientists who hold such a belief only hold to it when the white coat is off. They reason like atheists in the lab. Atheism in the context of this discussion is that acknowledgement. The crux of my argument is simply this… atheism clears the way for reason to properly operate.

 

There is a clarity in thinking that comes with having a foundation unfettered with underlying supernatural assumptions. Assumptions like a supernatural deity created the whole of reality and is pulling the strings. And that this deity has an ultimate plan and is watching everything with divine judgment. This foundational clarity allows for the methods of sound reasoning to build. We must be diligent in our efforts to be clear in our thinking and to be objective and honest in our analyses. It’s crucial to build our knowledge on a solid foundation. Even if it means arriving at conclusions that force us to abandon our most cherished beliefs. And the problems that are brought on board when one adopts a god belief chokes reason off at the root. These problems are found in the methods a believer must adopt of defending that belief at all costs. It’s in the fideistic attitude that reason is inadequate and ill-equipped or even an outright misology. It’s also found in the demonization of reason whenever reason challenges the belief in a god and the methods of attaining it. According to theism, faith trumps reason. The best reason can accomplish is to compliment faith. Reason serves to merely placate faith. Reason alone is the trickery of Satan or the product of a prideful fallen creation. Atheism, at this fundamental level, doesn’t allow for such manipulation to take hold. And thus allows for honest, critical analysis. That is all atheism needs to do. But let’s not think this as some trivial thing. Far from it.

 

“It is the absolutism of theism, its pernicious influence upon humanity, its paralyzing effect upon thought and action, which Atheism is fighting with all its power.” – Emma Goldman[4]

 

But there’s another, more personal reason how atheism can be a benefit. It must be acknowledged that many atheists were religious at some point in there lives. And given that religion is deeply ingrained in practically every society around the world. There’s no escaping it’s influence in some capacity. For those that escaped the grip of religion, or are constantly having religion shoved down their throats, atheism can be liberating. Many have witnessed first hand the harm these beliefs have on relationships and we are bombarded daily with news displaying the immense tension caused by religion in societies around the world. Many have been shunned by their community and ostracized by their own family. But consider those who live in regions of the world where harsh religious oppression is everyday life. Where religion isn’t a free choice and apostasy is punished. Where religious totalitarianism suffocates every independent thought of the people around you. Just uttering the words “I’m an atheist” is like a breath of fresh air. Even if it must done clandestinely behind closed doors out of fear of punishment, including death. It is a push-back against the unrelenting inculcation of dogma and religious extremism. Taking into account these two points discussed here, the necessity of atheism couldn’t be more apparent and its benefits are far-reaching. The fewer false, irrational, faith-based things we believe, the better we will be able to grasp reality and thus flourish. And atheism eliminates the biggest offender.

 

-Rich

 

Notes:

[1] Nick Harding, News Talk, January 25, 2016

[2] This isn’t to say that one’s atheology doesn’t contain philosophy, or the reason for one’s rejection of theism. But that’s irrelevant to the topic as atheism doesn’t require any. One can be perfectly justified in simply saying they have no place for a belief in a god belief in their lives.

[3] see my blog where I argue against faith and it’s incompatibility with reason… https://coupleofatheists.com/2013/11/05/unreasonable-faith/  

[4] Emma Goldman, Mother Earth, Feb. 1916

A Uterus from Nothing (part 6)

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Here is the latest picture of my little thinker, Arabella… you just can’t beat the hand on the chin, am I right? This was taken on April 1, 2014 when they performed a biophysical profile. Baby passed with flying colors receiving an 8 out of 8. She was moving around like crazy, practicing breathing and her heart rate was strong, just like it always is. The doctors were incredibly impressed considering that I was only 24 weeks at the time and wasn’t even feeling her  movements yet. The first kick I did feel came just a few days later and now the amazing feeling happens like clockwork.

Going along with her incredible development was another milestone, Arabella has reached the “viable fetus” stage, which means that if I was to go into labor and have to deliver her, most likely she would survive. When I told my father about this important stage of pregnancy he said “I don’t think that they had a viable fetus stage when your mother was pregnant”. In fact he is correct about this, it was not so long ago that a baby born earlier than 37 weeks (the earliest “full term”) was put into an ICU, given oxygen and fingers were crossed in hopes baby would survive. Thanks to scientific research and advancements we now have much more time than we did before…and even a baby earlier than 27 weeks has a fighting chance. Treatment is now so specific that premies are put into one of 3 categories: Late preterm (34-37 weeks), Very preterm (less than 32 weeks) or Extremely preterm (less than 25 weeks). The slew of tests that can be run on a premature baby to determine exactly what it is experiencing is overwhelming. From ultrasounds of the brain to pediatric respirators we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were before.

Another big moment we experienced was not quite so positive, but I can still thank science for helping put my mind at ease. I had to go to labor and delivery because I was experiencing incredibly painful contractions. It took about seven hours of being closely monitored and pumped with fluids before they went away, apparently Braxton Hicks contractions can be brought on by dehydration…and silly me, I didn’t even know I was dehydrated. The part of the experience that amazed me the most was the fetal fibronectin test which allowed them to determine if it was labor or not through a swab of my cervix. Even though I was petrified by the contractions this tiny test gave us a 99.9% negative on if it was true labor or not. Once I knew I was in the clear the relief was overwhelming. Sure I was still in pain, but I knew baby was not leaving the womb and that was all that mattered.

So now as I finish writing this baby girl is kicking away and it feels amazing. Thank you science for keeping me and baby safe.

stop shoving my Atheism down your throat!

I know there is a stigma towards Atheism… at times just speaking the word will get you a dirty look. That is why I tend to not discuss it in groups I know won’t appreciate my point of view. This is something I do out of respect for my friends, family or acquaintances (especially if i am not sure where they stand) but I have noticed more and more that this same courtesy is not given to me. In all areas of my life I come across people who want to tell me all about God, who want to pray for me, who think I need to be saved- despite knowing where I stand they are dumbfounded by my resistance. They are bothered by the fact that I am an Atheist and despite me not flaunting it, somehow they continuously manage to shove my Atheism down their own throat.

I am a member of a facebook support group for the female condition Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. In general it is a respectful group but occasionally religion shows up and tempers flare. Secularists typically ignore the “I’m praying for you” or “God bless you” comments… but sometimes it becomes too much even for the most patient of us. About a month ago I just happened to catch a post that really hit home. One of my “cysters” asked “Please not trying to start religious debate, but does anyone know if there is a PCOS group for non-believers?”. She was immediately hit with inquires of “why would you want that?”, “why are you trying to segregate our group?”… many of the girls were nice, implying that despite our differences in belief our common bond is PCOS and the women of faith are simply sending support the best way that they know how… through Christ. I backed my secular friend up stating that sometimes when we post a question, we just want a legitimate answer  about treatment, rather than a foggy believer remedy such as the recommendation of prayer and putting it into God’s hands. I got this rant in reply…

“Please stop looking to science for ALL YOUR ANSWERS. Science told my cousin that her son would die as a result of being shot 5 times, once in the head. Science told her to get donation proceedings underway bc there was no way he would survive his injuries. 5 weeks later, he is out of ICU, no ventilator, no spinal cord injuries despite being shot 3 times in the back, no brain stem injuries, AND ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY! Prayer changes things. Im sorry the name of God causes you to be upset but US BELIEVERS WILL NEVER STOP PRAISING HIM so the best thing is to join a nonbelieving group. We have too much joy in the name Jesus to keep silent. We are not trying to be offensive.”

When she was told that her rant was EXACTLY why we want a secular group she replied “Please do not try to attack me for what I believe.”. I can’t say I was shocked by this response, but I found the ignorance astounding. First of all, the story of her cousin simply verifies that science can do amazing things, they initially thought that he wouldn’t make it but by KEEPING HIM IN THE HOSPITAL AND CONTINUING TREATMENT doctors were able to save his life. Now, had she said that once the doctor said it was hopeless, they removed him from the hospital, took him to a church and left it up to prayer… well maybe I would be a bit more impressed. Secondly, instead of supporting the earlier statements that we shouldn’t segregate and should simply support no matter what, she flat out says it is best that we join a different group. So in the end, simply mentioning secularism warranted getting read the riot act, but stating matter-of-fact that the believers “WILL NEVER STOP PRAISING HIM” was a perfectly acceptable response. None of those girls who posted that the secularist shouldn’t try to segregate went on to tell the believer that she was out of line. In fact, the conversation continued with many more replies on how Jesus is important and that prayer does work… and if you don’t agree, well then just use the “hide post” option. Luckily, I did know of the secular group for this condition and was able to pass on a link to the girls who wanted it. I was swamped with private messages from ladies who just want straight talk and thanked for not making the link public.

I notice that this happens frequently in my personal life as well. For some reason the believers feel an entitlement to discuss religion without receiving a counterpoint. During a casual visit with friends, one person started discussing “the flood” stating that it is clearly true and citing evidence such as a seahorse in fresh water on a mountaintop. Now he isn’t alone in this belief, many have sipped the Kool-aid despite the obvious flaws. So fine, whatever, he’s still my friend. The time it becomes an issue is when he becomes offended that our Friday night is being spent with our skeptic group…suddenly we receive an eye-roll that just screams “you know I am not interested in that stuff!” . This behavior is not restricted to stating biblical beliefs… it can show up in smaller things such as people discussing the existence of ghosts and spirits. I have a friend who adores the “Ghost Hunter” type shows. He will talk for hours about the evidence they produce and which places in Pennsylvania are the most haunted. Mentioning that now that he knows the techniques he is more in touch with the spirit world and have started having experiences of his own. There really is no reply necessary to any of it, as I am supposed to just accept this as fact. If I choose to question it I become the stereotypical “arrogant Atheist”  always dismissing the unknown and pushing their (non)belief on others. However, if I dare mention that me and Rich will be speaking at the PA Atheists/Humanist conference… I get crickets. Maybe, just maybe I will get an “oh” of acknowledgment- but that is it, because after all it is inappropriate for me to mention Atheism in a believer environment.

Just last week there was a statement made by the boys mother that really shocked me. She stated that me and Rich have no right to tell his 14 year old son that there is no God. Implying that it is ok for her, as a believer, to tell him that there is a God. First of all, we rarely discuss Atheism with him unless he brings it up. He knows that we are Atheists but honestly, at this stage he has bigger things to worry about, like school and Xbox. Second, her family are the ones who attempt to force religion on the boys. They criticize them for identifying as Atheist, they dismiss the idea of actual discussion of the topic and they take no interest in the secular activities which they enjoy. I find the ignorance to be pathetic, she finds it to be completely justifiable. Somehow people cannot seem to see that pushing the belief of God on someone comes with the risk that they may not agree… you cannot say they are flaunting their views if you are the one insisting on beating the subject to death.

Listen, I have no problem just agreeing to disagree. If nothing is going to change your mind, and you don’t want to hear my side…fine. However, you need to remember that making this agreement means that you need to control the preaching and stop harping on our differences. If you can’t accept that and you insist on shoving my Atheism down your throat, there is nothing more I can do for you.

A Uterus from Nothing (part 3)

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We had our first sonogram last week. Witnessing the heartbeat and seeing the little fetus brought to life exactly how amazing of a gift science gave to us. That’s right, I said science. Ever since I started this process people have had plenty to say about the lack of credit I give to God.  In support groups, acquaintances will tell me that I have been blessed by God with a miracle baby… this doesn’t bother me… I know that they are just excited and expressing it the best way they know how. On the flip side- it was brought to my attention that though some of the believers in my life are excited for the baby, and happy for us, they don’t want to read negativity here. This does bother me.

When I discuss this pregnancy and give credit to scientific advancements and my body’s reaction to them- I am doing so in a positive way. During this exchange it was explained to them that I am sorry they don’t enjoy reading but if the content makes them uncomfortable, it is probably best they don’t read it. Apparently this is not the right answer and instead, since they don’t like it, I shouldn’t write it. This is not going to happen- I am excited to document my pregnancy and express my gratitude to the scientific community for making it possible.

I have loved observing each change in my body during the past few weeks of pregnancy. I knew I would change physically and heard that mannerisms and moods will change as well- but experiencing is believing! It blows my mind that a simple burst of hormones could make someone who ordered extra bacon on everything suddenly not desire any meat at all. And no, I have not been craving loaves and fishies… so I think we can take God out of the equation.

So far I was able to go from tests revealing that I was having anovulatory menstrual cycles… to taking a medication watching follicles grow and an egg releasing…to seeing a fetus growing inside of me… this is not a miracle, it is my body and science working hand-in-hand to make the impossible, possible… and this just the beginning. I still have to see a specialist to find out how my Epilepsy medications will effect me and the baby in later stages of pregnancy. That happens in a month or so and I am pretty sure that I will not need an exorcism. I will be receiving genetic testing to make sure the baby is developing properly and to see if we have risk factors that will need special observation and care. I put my trust in the doctors and plan to do everything that is medically necessary to keep my baby safe.

Unlike believers, when I work for something and accomplish a goal I give credit where credit is due. I don’t believe in the typical copout that we are powerless against God and he makes all the decisions and is responsible for all accomplishments and failures.   I am proud to say that it was me, Rich and a slew of doctors who made it possible for this fetus to grow. Up to this point it has been an amazing ride and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

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