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Tuesday, December 13, 2005
On Faith, Logic, and Other Issues

I don't usually blog on religion or religious topics, but I couldn't resist taking a poke at this argument:

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.

Now, I am not a terribly religious person myself, but that strikes me as a bunch of self-congratulatory nonsense.

Why? Because it seems obvious to me that there is less evidence for the absence of God than there is for his existence. Let's leave aside the question of whether individual religions are actually attuned to His thinking. What is the evidence for the non-existence of some creator?

Ask an atheist and they will bring up the existence of evil.

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe—at this very moment—that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

Of course there are multiple arguments against this. The mostly commonly used one is that evil exists because God created us with the free will to choose good or evil. One could also argue, as did The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, that Earth was created by a couple of white mice to be a giant computer, and that effectively we are referring to the white mice when we say God, and that the mice included evil because it was necessary for the program to work.

Okay, say the doubters, what about evolution! Hah! It exists, and therefore your God never made man in his image. But of course this doesn't rule out the white mice version of God; it was just a lot more sophisticated computer that slowly built itself from the building blocks of life. And many believers in religion have been able to accept evolution as fact without becoming atheists. One can believe in Genesis as being an allegory. Or one can throw out the entire Old Testament and just go from the teachings of Christ.

Indeed, if you look hard at the arguments against God, they mostly amount to arguments against particular religions. Hindus won't eat beef, while Jews won't eat pork; hence religion must be bunkum. But of course proving contradictions between individual religions doesn't disprove God. We could easily argue that they both have it wrong, as a Christian could do when ordering a bacon cheeseburger, or that one has it right and the other wrong, or even that God makes different rules for different people.

Arguments in favor of God, however, are not so easily dismissed. There is the first cause argument. Suppose we accept evolution and thus trace our ancestry back to single-celled amoebas swimming in the primordial soup, and that the Earth along with the rest of the universe, was created as a result of the Big Bang. Who or what caused the Big Bang? What existed before that? What caused that to exist? Keep tracking it back and eventually the atheist will say, "Nothing!" or "We can't fathom it."

But that's not terribly logical. You don't get something (and the universe is a rather large something) out of nothing. And if you believe in a purely mechanistic universe where everything has a logical cause, you can't suddenly abandon that logic at a certain point and say "We can't fathom it".

As pointed out by several of the commenters here, Atheism amounts to a faith itself--a faith in the non-existence of God. As such it has similar aspects to organized religions. First, it attempts to recruit new converts to the faith. That the referenced article is called "The Atheist Manifesto", should be clear evidence that recruitment is going on.

There was a funny tune back in the 1960s by Tom Lehrer called National Brotherhood Week:

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.

To which I would add, "And the Atheists hate them all!" We can all agree that in the past there has been too much intolerance between religions. But, like those religions, Atheists express their intolerance at any mention of other religions. We see it all the time in current public life, but the Atheist Manifesto conveniently spells it out:

It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality.

Hat Tip to News Bump, which is a UK-based news service that bumps good stories and posts by blogs up to the top. It's an interesting concept; time will tell how it works out in practice.
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