Dialogue: Faith vs Reason 1


Science vs Faith explanationAs a blogger it is perhaps inevitable that I get drawn into discussions on an almost daily basis, and often I learn new things by doing so.

One recent example of this concerns an interaction that illustrates the prevailing conflict between reason and faith that can at times manifest. The background context is an article on WND, a site that is described within it’s Wikipedia article as follows …

politically conservative American web site.[2] It was founded in May 1997 by Joseph Farah with the stated intent of “exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power”.[3] WND has been active in promoting a number of conspiracy theories, including Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories

… so knowing what specific agenda is in play, you can perhaps guess that the tone within the comments section is more than a tad challenging (Yes, I’m being excessively polite, I believe a less cryptic and wholly factual description is best encapsulated by the word “idiots”).

So the article in question that caught my eye was entitled, “Does Science disprove God?“, and I blogged my thoughts on that a few days ago, but also (perhaps foolishly) permitted myself to get drawn into the comments section. I noted that many of the comments claimed that “science proves god” and so I posted a comment that asked …

Several comments appears to claim that “Science proves God”, I’d personally be quite fascinated to understand what exactly this scientific proof is.

In reply, one chap called Robert popped up and proceeded to enter into a dialog. It was the usual stuff, for example …

The “Word of God” is problematic to some, and a stumbling block to unbelievers, but not to me. There is a thing called faith; which is a gift of the Spirit. Explaining it is futile; and to all those with faith, no explanation is necessary. Before faith was given to me, I had not a clue about it. It’s part of what we know as “Amazing Grace”; which is also impossible to explain. I’m certainly not anti-science. I love science. However,
science has failed to answer the most basic of questions.
WHAT IS LIFE? It’s not that science refuses to answer. It fact, so far, seventeen conflicting answers have been published. Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The only way that one can ever understand this statement is by the Spirit. The un believer may not like this formula; but it’s a formula nonetheless.

The essence of his stance that then emerged, spread over various comments, was that you need to just believe on the basis of no evidence at all, and  abandon all reason.

My final comment to him was this …

I started by pointing out that there was a claim by many commenters that science proves god, and if correct then that sounds fascinating, but I’ve not yet seen any. If I understand you correctly Robert, what you are advising me is that they were wrong to assert that claim because that’s not how it works … is that correct?

You are suggesting that I should just believe on the basis of no evidence at all … which you quite rightly suggest is problematic because if you exercise this in the context of any other human endeavour then it would indeed lead to disaster. I do of course recognise that this is a common mechanism within a religious context and if you debated such things with (for example) a Mormon or a Muslim, then they would take the exact same stance and suggest that you need to just believe. The issue I then face is that in the absence of any evidence at all for believing, the only remaining means for selecting the things to believe (on the basis of no evidence) is geography, and so if I happened to reside in Salt lake city or Saudi Arabia, then the social pressure to “just believe” would offer a rather different set of ideas, ones that you would reject … just as they would reject yours. So basically I’m left with no viable way of working out what is actually true at all … any suggestions?

… and his response to that was to delete all his comments, and cease all communication.

I guess I knew it would perhaps play out like that. When you have completely abandoned reason and instead fall back upon fantasy and wishful thinking as your formula for engaging with truth, then you are (if I may borrow the religious term) quite lost.

How do you work out what is actually true?

The essence of it all is not simply, “what is true?”, but rather, how do you work out what is really true? Often within such conversations diversions are offered, evolution for example, but addressing such side topics is pointless.

Why?

It is a symptom of the problem, and is not the actual problem itself. It is far better to address the core issue with questions such as …

  • How do you actually know this?
  • What is your evidence for that?
  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • If we compare that with A, B or C, then how can we work out which is really true?

The starting point is to address the issue of how people determine what is and is not true for the things that they believe. Resolve that for the various religious claims on offer, and everything else will quite naturally work itself out in due course, but if fail to address that, then nothing will change.

Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. What if someone says, “Well, that’s not how I choose to think about water.”? All we can do is appeal to scientific values. And if he doesn’t share those values, the conversation is over. If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic? – Sam Harris

Clarification

Am I saying that all religious people are utterly irrational?

No, that would be an absurd claim, but a small subset have indeed utterly abandoned all reason for all of their religious claims.

The reality is that humans, all humans, generally do use reason for many things, but also fall back upon emotions for other things.

Do some humans really deny that water is just two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen? Well to a degree yes, there is a prevailing belief in homeopathy. Some might embrace the idea and consider it to be herbal in some way and leave it at that, and others who look into it go with the utterly irrational rationalisation for it that water also has memory and is not simply H2O, but the truth is that clinical trials demonstrate that it does not actually work at all. Religion can also be a bit like that.


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