Faith and Reason
Religion: Divorced from the Hallmarks of Rationality
Millions of Americans are leaving their respective faiths and making it clear that they don't count on a god intervening in their lives by identifying with atheist, humanist, and agnostic labels. Some of this departure from traditional religion can be linked to the fallout from various scandals within religious institutions, such as the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church or the widespread fraud and embezzlement seen across much of the religious spectrum. For others, traditional religions have simply become outdated institutions, promoting irrationality in a modern age that's increasingly reliant on rational means of gathering information.
But is religion truly divorced from the hallmarks of rationality: reason, good judgment, and clear thinking? In most cases, yes. As I explain in Creating Change Through Humanism, a fundamental aspect of most religions is the concept of faith, which most often refers to either belief with no evidence or belief even despite contradictory evidence. Take, for example, the creation stories so central to monotheistic religions. When reviewed by cosmologists and biologists, it's clear that many religious tales and timelines are contradicted by scientific evidence. People who try to adhere to a religious creation story that conflicts with science can experience cognitive dissonance as they try to reconcile their faith with a learned scientific understanding of the universe, the dawn of our planet, and the life it sustains.
Faith's common sources of knowledge are ancient books and divine revelations, which are frequently contradictory, disproven, and simply far-fetched. One doesn't have to look far to find disagreements in the Bible about whether God promotes peace or war, wisdom or ignorance. Disproven scriptural concepts abound, like the geocentric universe, that animals that were created rather than evolved, and that there was ever an exodus of Israelites. Stories about rising from the dead, talking donkeys, and harboring all the world's animals on a wooden boat are just too much for modern people to accept. Fortunately, we've developed a much better source for determining knowledge rather than "for the Bible tells me so."
Roy Speckhardt is the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. He is also a board member of the organization providing Humanists leadership training, the Humanist Institute, and an advisory board member of Secular Student Alliance. Follow him at http://twitter.com/americnhumanist.