Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pointless Essay: Reasonable Faith

P.Z. Myers over at Pahryngula has an interesting post on faith, arguing that it is worthless in modern society. He has this to say:

“Faith is a hole in your brain. Faith stops critical thinking. Faith is a failure point inculcated into people's minds, an unguarded weak point that allows all kinds of nasty, maggoty, wretched ideas to crawl into their heads and take up occupancy. Supporting faith is like supporting people who refuse to be vaccinated: they're harmless in and of themselves, they may be perfectly healthy right now, but they represent fertile ground for disease, and they represent potential severe damage to the social compact. When you're in a culture that worships Abraham's insanity, you're fostering the nonsense that enables the Son of Sam.”

In response to somebody else’s post about the idiotic pseudo-requirement that politicians must be people of faith in order to advance, PZ continues further with this:

“When the core of the institution is an acceptance of irrational, the ones who will climb to the top are those most able to exploit the delusions of the masses, or who are most earnest and unhesitating in their endorsement of foolishness.”
PZ is showing his hand. He launches into a derisive rant about faith without ever having defined it for us. To him, apparently, faith is an acceptance of the irrational, not an acceptance of something that, while rationality may exist to varying degrees, is not or cannot be proven beyond a certain extent. According to PZ, believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster requires faith, but adhering to a scientific description, which is merely an inexact human approximation of reality, as truth and not an approximation of such requires absolutely no leap in logic. Science requires faith as well, and if you disagree, please explain whether you believe the Big Bang or String Theory of cosmogony (or something else) and share with us the perfect line of logic that has lead you to this conclusion.

Then give me a reason to believe that naturalism is the only valid system for determining existence and reality. I’m all ears.

P.Z. states that all religious belief is irrational and that we should conclude that statements of faith are merely the actions of small minds that do not wish to do the kind of work necessary to succeed. P.Z. makes the classic atheistic mistake when discussing issues of faith and spirituality. When confronted with an idea he either cannot handle or disagrees with, he merely changes the rules so that he does not have to. He argues from preclusion. He says that the supernatural cannot exist because its very existence does not fit into his limited, naturalistic worldview. The supernatural isn’t natural therefore it doesn’t exist. The astute observer will realize, of course, that it is quite irrational to assume that all of existence can be defined by our understanding of science, especially given the fact that scientists themselves claim there is a whole lot out there we just don’t understand. This kind of thinking requires a great deal of – oh, the irony – faith.

It’s easy to call yourself the tallest man in the world if you limit your definition of humanity to those people who are your height and shorter.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually agree with some of what Dr. Myers has to say. I don’t like the idea that politicians must pander to certain sections of religious society in order to get elected. I also believe that people quite often rely on faith as a crutch and refuse to think about things deeply. There’s a quote in the Bible somewhere that says as much, too, I think. It says (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Why are you still messing with this easy stuff. You should have moved onto meatier things a long time ago. Get moving!” I don’t like the big Bang argument that goes like this: “God said it and BANG, it happened.” This type of thinking severely limits human understanding and it cheapens everyone as a whole.

This does not mean that we should discount all faith in every situation, only those which are clearly irrational. This, of course, begs the question. What is rational? This is the position he should have argued. P.Z. obviously has some issues with people who believe in God. He thinks it’s irrational, but rather than explain the distinction between the kind of faith required to accept something that is irrational and the kind of faith it takes to believe something that is completely rational and yet not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, he assumes all faith is obviously counter to standard logic, refuses to address those things he finds irrational about Christianity or any kind of religion for that matter, calls those who are open about their faith some nasty names, and moves on. In short, he sidesteps the argument because he lacks the mental cajones to engage in the debate.

He says that faith is a “hole in the brain,” but I wonder if he believes the same of his own.

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