Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Madness of Faith

Definitions are important.  Without formal rules and meanings our language is meaningless.  That is not to say there is no flexibility in meaning and use, but the original meaning must be understood in order to have any use.  I bring this up in order to point out some flaws in the theistic and religious arguments of belief vs. non-belief.  First, a couple of definitions:  1) a theist is “a person who believes in the existence of God or gods”; 2) religion is “belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or having control of human destiny.”   In order to avoid pedantic language these two groups, while technically separate but related, (how many theists believe, but do not worship?) will be referred to as “believers” for the reminder of the discussion.  People and groups that do not believe in a God or gods and do not worship any God or gods will be referred to as “non-believers.”  

Believers often speak of their “Faith” in God.  Non-believers often speak of their rejection of these ideas due to “Reason.”  The differences between these two groups are apparent and mostly disharmonious.  It has become commonplace for the apologists of belief to speak of non-believers as having “faith in science” “or that “science is a religion.”  These statements are borne either from ignorance, misunderstanding, or deliberate obfuscation.  

The following definitions are meant start the conversation regarding these assertions. 

Faith - noun
1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence
2. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason

Reason - noun
1. a basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event, etc.
2. a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action.
3. the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences.
4. sound judgment; good sense.
5. normal or sound powers of mind; sanity.

Based on the definitions above my thesis of this post is as follows: faith is the belief in the absolute truth of something in spite of all rational expectations or explanations otherwise.  Or faith ≠ reason. 

It sounds crazy when you say it out loud. 

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Faith is irrational.  All available evidence suggests there is no God or gods and yet the majority of people in the world believe in some God or gods.  As the centuries have progressed; worldviews and mysteries pertaining to the natural world and universe that were previously attributed to a god have been continuously proven incorrect.  Well, at least to most people.  The Earth is flat. The Sun and stars revolve around the Earth.  Everything was created in 6 days…these are the most obvious, but we all know there are more.  As the Enlightenment spread and science and reason became more prominent in establishing how the natural world and universe work, the old explanations fell away and the gaps in our knowledge became smaller.  To most believers this is where God/gods now live.  It’s called the “God of the Gaps.”  As we learn more and more these gaps get smaller and so does God's/gods' place and role in the universe.  Now, some will say that this assumes God/gods are not actively involved in these naturalistic explanations.  The point is a God or gods does not need to be involved for these explanations to take place.  It’s Occam’s razor: “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” or “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”  All things being equal we do not need the “Prime Motivator” in the explanation.  Additionally, there is no evidence of this prime motivator.

In modern Western Civilization and, America in particular, the faithful can be broken into two groups: those that take the Bible as the inerrant Word of God and those that take the Bible as an allegory.   All I will say about the former group is that they are completely delusional.  This is really not worth debating here.  My bigger gripe is with the latter group; one that sees the Bible as allegory.  This group tends to be more moderate in their beliefs and they realize that the Bible does not and cannot answer questions about the natural world and human origins.  I am sure you have heard someone say “Yeah, I believe in God and Jesus and I read the Bible, but I don’t take it all literally.”  Now, depending on your beliefs you may either call them an infidel or snicker that they still believe even when Reason is, presumably, informing them otherwise.  They are halfway there - wherever “there” is.

The problem is that this stance is a rationalization based on cognitive dissonance.  They hold onto their “faith” even though “reason” is telling them that it is unreasonable.  They have one foot in the past and one in the present.  In order to harmonize this dissonance (the rationalization) apologists make claims that religion is outside of science's purview: a supernatural vs. natural argument.  One of the problems with this is that religion is making claims about the natural universe that are testable and, usually, dismissible. Science doesn’t make its own claims about the supernatural, but it often can find simpler, logical, rational explanations for whatever is being claimed.  This double standard would quickly disappear if and when some scientific study was to actually prove one of their claims correct. To date; this has yet to happen.

The outgrowth of these rationalizations and active denials is to attack science as false or, ironically, as if it were based on faith.  If science were a matter of faith then it could be wrong.  This is funny stuff.  Think about that logical progression:

Religion + faith = true > science + “faith” ≠ true.

Wow.  As illogical as this is they have no other choice.  Science is the engine of reason.  They have to attack it in order to rationalize all they believe or they would end up challenging their beliefs thereby “losing faith.”  Once you’re on that slippery slope there is almost no way to cease the slide other than complete denial.  This idea could potentially explain fundamentalist/extremist beliefs, but that is another discussion. 

These rationalizations and active denials consist of aggressive attacks on science and reason in the forms of Creationism and Intelligent Design and the passive anti-intellectualism that pervades politics and the media.  Creationism and Intelligent Design are nothing more than Bible stories gussied up to appear as if they were scientific, but they are not

David Marshall, in his book “The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity” makes an attempt at challenging the basis of New Atheism’s arguments against religion by attacking reason and science.  The problem lies with Mr. Marshall’s complete lack of understanding of science and the scientific method.  Marshall (2007) writes:
“…scientific evidence is based on faith – exactly the same sort of faith that informed Christians have in God. Science is always based on at least three kinds of reasonable but fallible faith: trust in the mind, in the senses, and in other people.  None of these can be proven – to use mind to prove the mind is to argue in a circle.  And the sense might be wrong.  And there is no scientific test to prove our colleagues honest, reliable and competent – only social tests. Yet without reliance on all three, good science can’t be done. (pg. 30)”  
When Marshall writes: “…trust in the mind, in the senses, and in other people” he is not describing the scientific method.  This is a description of religious faith and religious faith only. 

What Marshall is attempting to establish is that no one person can know everything and most of what we know is passed on from others we trust; thereby establishing the “faith” he wishes to bestow upon us all.  However, this is ludicrous to compare it to science which does not take anything at face value (or a “fallible faith”) since the mind and the senses fail us so often and establishing anything within the scientific community is based on hard-earned reputation.  Scientific evidence is meticulously produced and under constant scrutiny.  Religious faith is supposed to be so sacrosanct that it is unchallengeable and to even question it is derided as antitheism, bigotry and elitism.  Additionally, in America, religious faith is looked at something inspired or something to attain without evidence - sight unseen.  Blind Faith, indeed.






scientific method  - noun. 

A method of investigation in which a problem is first identified and observations, experiments, or other relevant data are then used to construct or test hypothesis that purport to solve it.  


Scientists trust scientific method, logic, and mathematics because they work. They give us answers that we can independently test against objective observations.” Victor Stenger


The underlying problem with Creationism and Intelligent Design is that they are starting off with conclusions and discarding anything that suggests otherwise. They are cherry picking the data to get the results they want.  That’s bad science.  Mainstream science (see objective science) is rewriting itself all the time.  Nothing is static.  Opponents to science have been making claims that scientific principles are nearly deified and held in such a high regard that they are unchallengeable.  Wrong.  EVERYTHING is constantly challenged.  It’s just that these continual studies confirm a lot of what we know; for now.  Even Darwin’s competition theory has been recently challenged and he seems to have been wrong on that matter.  Ok.  Cool.  Let’s move on.  Keep up the good work. 

Here’s the thing; contrary to popular belief (from both believers and non-believers) the scientific method could test for supernatural causes.  No, really.  You can set up any study or experiment in order to determine if a supernatural agent is at work.  It’s been done. Go ahead and guess what the results are… 

Because of this cognitive dissonance and the rationalizations it breeds, even in “moderate” religions, anti-intellectualism is rampant in America. Whether it is in churches, politics, school or the home it has become the second to last gasp of religion losing its argument.  I say the “second to last gasp” since the final gasp will be a total rejection of reason and science; which will lead to a complete failure of education and progress in this country and a return to medieval, theocratic ideals. Think I am being alarmist? Watch the news.

O'REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?
PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense and I have -- I believe the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spineless -- a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fat resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are -- could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.
This is just one example.  If you’re paying attention, it is everywhere.  

This concerted, passive, negative reinforcement that education and knowledge are elitist is an indirect attack on science and reason in order to minimize what science contributes to the modern world and its ability to disprove religious claims (the same attacks are also used on political claims, but that is also another discussion).  I will concede the next point: This is the only strategy they have.  It’s not the atheists writing books (and blog posts!) arguing against religion that turns the majority of people away from faith - its knowledge - knowledge that is gained by reason and science.  

Faith is glorified by believers.  They profess their faith as profound and the most important aspect of their lives yet it is antithetical to reason.  There is not one shred of evidence to support any aspect of their faith.  None.  What subject, something other than belief in God/gods, enjoys this level of acceptance while lacking all reason and proof?  Whose subjects, other than the faithful, are deemed “wonderful” in their ignorance? 

madnessnoun

  1. the state of being mad; insanity
  2. senseless folly




Bibliography

faith. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith

madness. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/madness

Marshall, David (2007).  The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers

rational. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rational

reason. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/reason

religion. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion

scientific method. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scientific method

Stenger, Victor (August 9, 2010) Science is Not Based on Faith Huffington Post. retrieved August 20, 2010 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/science-is-not-based-on-f_b_676016.html

theist. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theist




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