Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"There’s nothing reasonable about faith based beliefs," the anonymous trendy atheist said. "Faith is the antithesis to reason...."

No, it is not.  Irrationality is the antithesis to reason.  Faith is not the lack of capacity for logic or the willful rejection of rational thought and behavior.  That is not only not the whole of faith, it has nothing to with faith at all, and not even the most science-paranoid fundamentalist would insist that good Christians should always act contrary to natural thought.

Faith can be described as believing in something without having proof--and it need not be anything so thoughtless as insisting on invisible pink unicorns being the cause of rain or wind, but just something as simple as not exercising positive skepticism in the face of something that, while you may not have hard empirical data to support it, the means by which you have acquired the evidence you do have, have already demonstrated themselves to be reliable and consistent.

Unless it is logical to absolutely reject out of hand everything you personally lack compelling empirical evidence for then our friend will have to admit a closer familiarity with faith than his criticism would lead us to believe. But it's not logical to do so; we can't afford to verify everything for ourselves, and despite assertions that anyone who wanted to could teach himself quantum chromodynamics or cellular biology or Urdu or medieval law (the line implicitly being drawn at Aquinas's Summa), for some people a lot of that stuff remains every bit as impenetrable as metaphysical topics do to people who people who have no interest in studying them.

Paul said faith is proof of things unseen--the faithful act on evidence they have that is not outwardly apparent.  This is, understandably, hard to swallow for empiricists and skeptics, but what one should consider is whether this faith in the supernatural or comfortable self-delusion or psychosis, whichever it may be, what kind of effect does it have on their lives?

"Is your god supposedly omnipresent? Yes. Therefore, your god must be part of everything, else he would not be present everywhere."

Not at all.  For someone interested in logic, I'm not impressed with this one's grasp of definitions and meaning.  God being present everywhere and in all things is panentheism.  God being part of all things is pantheism.  The distinction between occupying space (all or none of it) and having mass (a little or none of it)?  Not that obscure.  It would be less inaccurate to say creation was a part of God, but it's still got a lot to be desired.

"As to choosing between animal and spiritual, there is no evidence for the spiritual. By what basis do you determine what is spiritual? Thru [sic] blind faith, beliefs without evidence. It is that kind of thinking that has led people to fly planes into buildings.
On the other hand, there have been atheists who have worked for the betterment of humanity."

Whoa, slow down.  Spirituality and faith are not the same thing, and it's a long way from "There's more to life than what I can directly sense and measure" or "I'm willing to accept some things I haven't personally verified" to "Those other guys are the enemy and we need to teach them a lesson written in their own blood."  I wouldn't even call having faith or a spiritual life to be a "kind of thinking" at all--category error.  Maybe it's too fine a point to be criticizing for sloppy thinking.

A philosopher might say that your ability to reason abstractly makes you metaphysically superior to animals, defines a chasm between you and them that they cannot cross. A Christian would say this is because you have a rational soul rather than an animal soul (which you can take for whatever natural phenomenon it is that makes something not-dead as opposed to inanimate, for the sake of the argument).  A historian would say that it wasn't theists who set off humanity's worst genocides all in the last eighty years.

But by all means, remind us that "there have been atheists who have worked for the betterment of humanity."  I don't doubt it, but that's mighty faint praise, that can be applied to unchurched charity workers and dictatorial mass murderers alike.

When you say "blind faith," you seem to mean "arbitrary and random designation."  That's not the same thing as having no interior experience to guide or motivate us to do or believe something, and it certainly isn't the same thing as having evidence that does not meet your standards for veracity.  I'm not saying you shouldn't have standards--holding evidence up to standards is part of peer review--but they help discern what data are evidence for, as well as whether data are reliable or not.  Anecdotal evidence may have vanishing utility for a physical application, but that should not lead to dismissing anecdotal evidence out of hand for all cases.

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