Faith or Reason?

A Christian and an atheist are in a supermarket checkout line.  Both are casually glancing at the headlines of one of the many sensationalist tabloids on display which proclaims “Elvis’ wife gives birth to dinosaur on Mars.”  The two begin discussing the article and agree that anyone believing such nonsense is exhibiting gullibility of a most extreme nature.  Both recognize that claims as clearly ludicrous as this violate common sense and should not be taken seriously.

In the course of the conversation, the Christian announces his faith and says that he believes the Bible to be the perfect, inerrant word of god.  The atheist, rather than leaving him to his fantasies, decides to challenge him, pointing out that any claims of the supernatural violate logic as well as plain old common sense, much in the same way as the tabloid article does.  The Christian smiles smugly and says “that’s where faith comes in.”

What is it about religion that can turn otherwise rational people into dupes of a two thousand year old cult?  The same Christian who dismisses out of hand the silly stories in the tabloids has no problem whatever in believing that the Bible’s alleged miracles are literally true, that the gospels are factual historical accounts, and that a man whose very existence is unsupported by contemporary documentation will “soon” be returning from the dead after a two millennia slumber.  Aren’t these ideas every bit as wild as those contained in supermarket tabloids?  Why do Christians laugh at one while embracing the other?

The answer lies in that most slippery of terms called faith.

Of course most Christians, like people of other faiths, like to think that their faith is supported by facts, while the others are not.   In addition to displaying supreme arrogance, this indicates that there exists in their psyche a deep need to have their emotions and wishes validated by something other than faith.  Consequently, any kind of “evidence” they can come up with, no matter how tenuous, is accepted by them as true.  As an example, when the news media uncritically relates a story of how the image of Jesus or his virgin mother has “miraculously” appeared in some unlikely location (like a tortilla strip; this was an actual story back in the 1990s!), the devout are likely to accept this as being true and thereby validating their faith.  This, coupled with the fact that skeptical examinations and rebuttals are rarely given equal time by that same media, this unbalanced story lends credence to the most primitive and backwards notions of religion; i.e. that religion is true, miracles do occur, and that magic pervades the universe, which is run by divine fiat.

One can only wonder why an all-powerful deity would resort to such cheap sensational visual trickery to demonstrate the verities of the Christian faith.

Miraculous claims are always cited as proof of god’s existence.  When a believer’s 95 year old grandfather survives an operation, it is called a “miracle of god.”  If the grandfather dies, of course this is not viewed as a miracle, but instead as a natural phenomenon.  God is never blamed when things go wrong and people suffer and die.  Instead the process of rationalization comes to the fore: god has his reasons, who are we to question god’s “wisdom”, and so on.  Why is god never blamed when things go wrong?  If he is indeed all powerful, all good, and all knowing, then whether the grandfather lives or dies simply has to be because god willed it; there is no other possibility.  Clearly, believers want to have it both ways.

Believers also never seem to notice that their imaginary god never performs objectively verifiable miracles, such as restoring an amputee’s missing limb.  Why not?  Wouldn’t this constitute proof positive of his existence and benevolence?  Believers never like to think of things like this, and will make excuses why their god can’t be bothered to do the really difficult things, but will always be around to cure colds, the flu, and other minor ailments.  Clearly, believers are grasping at straws where miracles are concerned.  The best “proof” they can offer is one of two things: one, they can point to a “miraculous” recovery such as that cited above, and two, they can point to the alleged miracles in their two thousand year old Bible, written by a group of near illiterate, scientifically ignorant, nomadic mystics.  This is the best proof they can come up with, and of course, any eyewitnesses to these alleged happenings have long since died and cannot be questioned so we must take the Bible’s word, once again, on faith, that ever-convenient dumping ground for the irrational.

One must ask at this point why we are never allowed to see a genuine miracle today.  Instead, we must accept that miracles do occur—on faith.  Shouldn’t an all-knowing god make every effort to show succeeding generations of his might and grandeur?  God must indeed have strange reasons to have performed all these wondrous things to a group of illiterates rather than, say, a more advanced culture like the Romans.

The bible contains countless examples of miracles and other objectively unverifiable factual claims.  Accepting all this nonsense as true is yet another example of faith, rather than reason.  Upon these claims as been founded a veritable industry of truth claims designed to persuade the gullible.  Christian history is replete with innumerable instances of fraud that should be obvious to any objective researcher.  From Bishop Eusebius’ forgery of a passage relating to Jesus in Josephus’ “History of the Jews” dating from c.100 CE onto the equally fraudulent Shroud of Turin forgery some twelve hundred years later on up to more recent frauds such as the discovery of a stone ossuary said to have contained the bones of “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus…”  The press predictably had a field day with this discovery, while the disproving evidence was quietly ignored.  Why?  Does this failure on the part of the media indicate an anti-religious bias (as contended by the Religious Right), or a pro-religious bias?

Despite all this, the word “faith” still has positive connotations for most people.  Nonetheless, the fact remains that faith is nothing more than a smokescreen believers employ when rational arguments fail them.  Like many words, faith has multiple meanings.  One definition is that faith only means having confidence in one’s convictions.  If that were all there were to it, this would not necessarily conflict with reason.  The problem is that religion makes it into something much more than that.  For one thing, faith is invariably presented as being superior to reason.  However, since believers cannot provide objective evidence justifying their beliefs (if they could, they would not resort to arguing from faith), we may safely conclude that when one argues for faith, they are in effect saying: “I want to believe this, and nothing you can say will make me change my mind.”  In other words, “get thee behind me, Satan” or, more bluntly, to hell with the facts.

Delving a little deeper, we find the early church father St Augustine (354-430 CE), the man most responsible for the intellectual stagnation of the Christian Dark Ages, asking: “What is faith but believing what you do not see?”  This is significant; here we have the most influential churchman of his time and for the next thousand years admitting that faith means believing in something that there is no evidence for.  Is this not tantamount to admitting that the miraculous and anti-rational claims of Christianity cannot stand up to rational inquiry, but need an artificial boost (faith) in order to be believed?  Augustine is tacitly admitting that emotional desires must take precedence over objective truth.  In other words, don’t think; just believe.

Faith is often presented as being a sort of “method,” a way of connecting oneself with the deity.  The problem with this assertion should be obvious: throughout recorded history, people in all parts of the globe have accepted contrary truth claims all based on faith.  If we elevate faith above reason, how are we to determine which, if any, of these competing faiths is true?  The Christian unhesitatingly says “mine” and then offers as proof one or more of the rationalizations listed above.  Atheists and other freethinkers, having no faith, quite logically reject them all, and thus recognize the dishonesty inherent in faith.  In other words, faith claims of different religions contradict one another.  If one has faith that Muhammad was the “seal of the prophets” then he/she cannot also have faith in Jesus Christ.  At least one of these faiths must be wrong.  So faith cannot be elevated above reason and consequently cannot give us truth, despite the often hysterical insistence of believers to the contrary.  And, since both groups reject finding the truth through reason, the only way of settling the dispute, is by force.  Hence the history of religious warfare.

To accept something as true, it must make sense and contain no contradictions.  Those of faith ignore this; evidence that contradicts what they want to believe is rationalized away if not ignored altogether.  This is neither helpful nor honest; morality begins with the truth, not with falsifiable wishes and whims, and the truth must be found exclusively by the use of our reasoning faculties.   Believing something on faith thus constitutes a most egregious intellectual and moral vice, for when one accepts something on faith, one has bypassed reason and thus lowered the standards by which he/she accepts anything else as being true.  They play it, as it were, deuces wild; they are undercutting the very purpose of thinking, putting it in an inferior, subservient position to faith, their faith being that which they want to believe is true.  History is replete with examples of the dangers of blind faith, which leads inexorably to blind obedience either to an imaginary higher power, or else to one of his alleged earthly representatives.  The Christ followers of the Inquisition are thus ideologically not far removed from the Hitler and Stalin followers of the twentieth century.

Any way you examine it, faith comes up short; there is nothing to be said in mitigation.  Faith does not give us some kind of “higher” truth than that unobtainable by “mere” reason.  It is not a pipeline connecting us to an imaginary higher power.  What it does do is illustrate the believer’s gullibility.  Worse, it divides humanity into warring religious camps, where differences cannot be settled by reason or faith but instead only by armed conflict.

Faith, despite the praises heaped upon it by the devout, is nothing more than plain old mule-headedness, a stubbornness of the worst kind.  When people say they accept something on faith, they are tacitly admitting that the objective evidence is not there to validate their conclusions.   Their claims should be summarily rejected without further consideration.

Skeptics ask a simple question: Can faith make a lie true?  This question lays bare the nonsensical argument of accepting something as true on faith.  If the believer answers no, then they are admitting that reality cannot be changed simply by belief, and if they answer yes, then there is no such thing as objective truth, and the facts have nothing to do with reality.  Either way, the question is a win/win slam dunk for the skeptic.  Believers’ answers will show the degree of their honesty and gullibility and more importantly, their morality.

So which is it?  Faith or reason?  You cannot have both.



By: Jon Nelson

Categories:   America, Atheism and Religion, Religion In America