Sunday, January 6, 2008

RELIGION- Does Atheism Require Faith?

Chuck Colson, the Watergate conspirator who found God in prison, writes a five part series on atheism vs. Christianity and fills it with the kind of obfuscation and poor logic that has been characteristic of the current state of religious defense against the onslaught of the "new atheism". In the final article of the series his thesis is the currently popular “atheism is no different from any other faith”, a new paint job on the old ‘secular humanism is a religion’ bromide. This argument is so disingenuous that it seems tailor made for preaching to the choir, designed only as an attempt to bolster the faithful in their beliefs but not an actual attempt to address the issue in any kind of honest debate. It pains me that the best religious leaders can do is stage vain attempts to control the discussion with rhetorical tricks. Just as if secular humanism, the belief that people can make good decisions for themselves without resorting to any supernatural power, is a religion then it’s a religion without services, clergy, dogma, a deity, or a collection plate. (I could believe in a church without any or all of these but the last.) Likewise, the idea that a lack of belief is a kind of belief is just another attempt to set the agenda for the discussion. Thinking that observations about the universe are no different than beliefs without any such empirical evidence reduces the debate to the level of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. If the whole thing just boils down to belief then anyone’s beliefs are as valid as anyone else’s. Of course the idea is absurd. While the universe may be an artifact, made by a creator, the idea that observational evidence about that universe is no different than faith is one I’d like to try the next time I’m in court.

Colson writes:
All of this begs the question: “Is faith, in particular, Christianity, irrational?”
Neither Dawkins nor Krauss comes close to proving this. Instead, Dawkins and Krauss simply assume that materialism—the idea that there is nothing besides matter—is true. Thus, what makes a faith “rational” is whether it can be proven empirically.

Colson seems to be taking issue with the idea that beliefs not based on rationality (reason) are, by definition, irrational. This is a ridiculous argument that the definition of words are not what they mean. I would expect this kind of stuff from some blogger, but Chuck Colson? While using the word irrational isn’t very kind, it is correct. Religious belief is based on faith. Faith is “things hoped for and not seen” by the bible’s own definition (Hebrews 11:1). Things believed without empirical evidence are not rational. QED.

Of course the irony that at the same time the religious are trying to say that science is a belief system, they are trying to have their creation dogma labeled as science. It's beginning to look like many believers will believe anything but reality.

Colson then trots out another old saw that “many of the greatest scientific discoveries were made by people of faith—not scientists who happened to be Christians, but people whose faith inspired and informed their scientific endeavors.” This is a guilt by association argument and the only reasonable response would be “So?” It’s a nonsense non-point. Newton (for instance) spent the last years of his life pursuing his own spiritual quest, and alchemy. I don't know how the spiritual thing went but I'm pretty sure that he never was able to turn base metals into gold. It might be that he was one of the greatest thinkers of all time, but that didn’t make him right about everything. Likewise, saying that there are religious scientists means nothing except that there are scientists who believe. It isn’t proof of anything.

So in the final article of his series on atheism Colson settles for denying the definition of the word rational, challenges empiricism as a way to understand the universe, and asserts that not all scientists are atheists. If this is the best the believers can do then I’m not surprised at their terror of the atheists. He then ends with this clincher. “If you meet someone who says your Christian faith is irrational, ask him to explain the basis of his faith.” If the answer you get isn’t “Observable reality, which requires no faith to work” then I’ll be surprised.

I blanch at blanket declaration that there is no God. There are many things about the balance of the universe that might indicate it is more than a product of chance. But I have to respect the viewpoint that where there is a lack of evidence, skepticism should be in order. What I have no respect for is anyone who’s only defense of their position is the kind of bad debating tricks that don’t hold up to even the most cursory examination. Many Christians have a chip on their shoulder, saying that atheists are arrogant or think that believers are “ignorant, stupid, or insane” as Dawkins is quoted in the article as saying. But if Colson’s rebuttal is the best that believers can do it’s going to be hard to shake that characterization.

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