Sunday, August 19, 2012

Justifying religious faith

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a Christian.  Equally, I have friends and acquaintances at almost every point on the continuum of religious belief, from outright atheists to fundamentalist Muslims, committed Hindus, practicing Buddhists and snake-handling Pentecostals (and I mean that last one literally - he wasn't sure I was a Christian at all when I politely, but very firmly, rejected his invitation to cuddle his pet rattlesnake!).

I've tried all my life to be a 'rational Christian'.  I take St. Peter seriously when he urges us to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you".  I hope this has come across in other blog posts I've written about matters concerning faith.  On the other hand, many of those opposed to religious faith in principle argue that there isn't any valid, scientific, rigorously rational defense of faith - which is why it's fundamentally invalid.

I was reminded of this today during an e-mail discussion with a correspondent who seemed to be intimidated by the formidable intellect of some of those who oppose the validity of religious belief.  She had been subjected to a barrage of criticism by a close friend, who'd advised her to watch some of the videos of Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the subject.  She was more than a little taken aback when I told her I admire and enjoy Dr. Tyson's presentations.  She seemed to think that a Christian either couldn't or shouldn't watch such things, in case it weakened our faith.

To me, that's just weird.  If we are so weak in our beliefs that contrary ones threaten the foundation of our world view, then there's something seriously wrong with our beliefs, isn't there?  We should be ready, willing and eager to examine evidence both for and against our beliefs, and always be open to the possibility that we may be wrong.  If we aren't, isn't that intellectual dishonesty?

For those who haven't thought about the subject, I recommend this talk by Dr. Tyson about the problem of 'intelligent design'.  He, of course, is strongly against it, and has plenty of evidence from science and history to back up his arguments.  It's long (over 40 minutes), but I highly recommend it.  (If you want a short version - one-tenth as long - try his response to Bill O'Reilly and the 'God of the Gaps' problem.)

Having watched that, you may be wondering how one can possibly answer such logically consistent points.  I'm not afraid to try.  We can begin by debating the problem of scientism - the blind, unquestioning belief in science as opposed to any other form of knowledge.  I don't have time to go into much of the religious debate here, but (courtesy of links at Rev. Donald Sensing's blog, which I highly recommend) here are two starting points for Christians to think about:

There are many other resources out there - do your own Internet search to find those from your own religious tradition, and others.  I don't propose to fill this blog with religious debate, as there are many other places on the Web for such things.  However, if you have faith, no matter how shaky and in whatever form of God or supernatural being it may be (with the possible exceptions of Cthulhu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster), you should be able to defend your beliefs.  If you can't, they're not worth holding, are they?

Finally, I'd plead for greater mutual respect.  You may think my beliefs are daft, but at least do me the favor of accepting that I'm sincere about them.  I may think your beliefs are castles in the sky without foundation in reality, but I'll certainly accept that you mean what you say.  With that mutual acceptance, we can at least discuss the matter like adults.  Without it, we're no more than kids in a playground, sticking out our tongues at each other.  It's long gone time the debate over faith and life moved past that stage.



Unknown said...

Amen, Sir. Amen.

Mikael said...

And as an atheist, I recommend these sites:

Gaffer said...

Faith is the glue that holds belief systems together. Without that...what good is our belief system?

Aphael said...

Have you ever read John Walton's 'Lost World of Genesis One?'

Anonymous said...

My question is: is the individual, article, or website challenging my faith or is it insulting the fact that I have a faith, whatever that faith happens to be? The latter gets very old, very quickly.


Roger Ritter said...

I'm an agnostic. I don't believe that there is a supreme being of any sort, but I also know that we don't even come close to understanding all the details of how the universe came to be. Thus, I don't know enough to rule out the existence of a supreme being. As long as other people can accept that that's what I think without trying to forcibly convert me to their beliefs I get along with them just fine.

I'll respect the beliefs of those who respect mine.

Mikael said...

This may help with that Roger.

For myself while the science is compelling, all I really need is logic, because god(particularly the christian god) is a logical impossibility(specifically it's self-contradictory in many fundamental ways. And the second logical absolute is that nothing that contradicts itself can exist, ie: something cannot be both true and false at the same time, in the same sense).

LeviTheMedic said...

Can't have communism if there is a higher power belief. All beliefs must belong to the state.

That is why the socialists try to stave it in the beginning or the argument.

That is why Obummer disses Israel and loves the muslim brotherhood. Obummer wants the mussies to do his satanic bidding for him.

As for agnostics and atheists, who cares except you? You don't pull yours, I won't pull mine (works with weapons as well) Take yer ass on down the road if you don't like the writings of this blog.

Anonymous said...

You may think my beliefs are daft, but at least do me the favor of accepting that I'm sincere about them.

Thanks for this, I'm going to use it. Anyone who won't accept this statement isn't really interested in debate, learning or broadening horizons. I get enough useless conflict in my life already!

Anonymous said...

IMO, what is often left out in some of these debates is that even if someone doesn't believe in a Religion, many times they do come to end up believing in something. Dr. Tyson said intelligent design was based in ignorance. IMO, its value as a scientific tool was in challenging what I felt some were setting up as the Religion of Evolution. I think it is rather common for people to get too comfortable with their theories/beliefs to the point they stop asking questions and fail or refuse to recognize evidence that might challenge them. That behavior doesn't just apply to religion.