Believing in the Face of Contradiction

This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association. He usually blogs at Rant & Reason.

Jesse will now be a regular contributor to this site, so please welcome him to the group!

PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne each have posts mocking BioLogos, the Templeton Foundation-funded website by Francis Collins. Myers describes it as “fluffy bunnies and pious weasels to reconcile science and faith. It’s a rich vein of the worst of pseudo-scientific apologetics, and I am stunned by it — not because I am impressed by the substance, but because it is such a target-rich environment.”

Indeed, I’m almost paralyzed by the choices. Let’s start with their answer to the Problem of Evil/Suffering. They actually have a section titled “A God Who is Great but Mysterious“:

One response to the problem of evil that is necessary but ambivalent is to acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. God is greater than we are, with purposes that may differ greatly from ours. Even though we may not be able to see any reasons for our suffering, it is always possible that a God of such wisdom and creative power might have reasons for the existence of evil that are simply beyond human understanding.

This tactic has always impressed me for its sheer audacity. They admit that their observations don’t fit with their beliefs, and yet they consider it MORE evidence that God is greater and higher than we can imagine.

A friend of mine told me that faith is so simple a child can understand it but so complex the smartest scholar cannot. She was not amused by my earnest follow-up question on why faith only makes sense to those without critical thinking skills.

This is one of my biggest objections to the notion of faith. When a theory makes no sense or is contradicted by evidence, we should discard it. But with faith, you’re considered even more virtuous for believing in the face of contradiction!

Our lives are improved when we observe reality and adapt to it.  We observe that medicine is the best way to cure disease, and we’re able to keep our children alive.  We observe that species change over time, and we gain new understanding of our world and its workings.  We observe that people of other faiths (or none) can be good people, and we have a more harmonious society.

I once had a debate over whether we can blame religion for the actions of religious adherents – or is it just being abused by dangerous individuals who deserve the real blame.  While those people are at fault as well, I say that any belief system which actively encourages people to ignore opposing views and evidence can be held responsible for the negative consequences.

I think the line most offensive to me is from John 20:29 — “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

How much more blatant can you get?

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Eliza

    Jesse, welcome! Nice post, though reading BioLogos this early in the morning did kinda make breakfast come back up a bit.

    I feel some affinity with Thomas, the closest thing to a skeptic in the NT. And it amuses me to think of Thomas sticking his fingers in zombie-Jesus’ various ‘holes’. What an image, eh?

  • Jason R

    She was not amused by my earnest follow-up question on why faith only makes sense to those without critical thinking skills.

    Interesting, but I think part of it is inadequate critical thinking skills, or maybe just not looking in depth enough in the subject matter. I wince at the ‘almost’ truth of their arguments. It seems to me that if they just dug a bit deeper into their arguments that they would see how hollow they are. I wish I could put my finger on exactly how they are misinterpreting scientific findings, but I’m just eloquent enough to do it.

    Take a look at these articles below. I apologize to the author of the blog I’m referencing below, but its a veritable cornucopia of information from the deistic, pantheistic point of view. The articles provide deep in site to the more “well” thought out deistic arguments.

    Particle physicist answers speculations about creation and fine tuning

    How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig

    How to defend the fine-tuning argument just like William Lane Craig

  • Steve

    A good article by Jesse Galef.
    Haven’t we had enough of this religion/faith problem?
    Isn’t it about time we all acknowledged that they have a mental problem and should be put through remedial treatment?
    It is astonishing and ludicrous that in this day and age, we acknowledge a serious mental problem with the majority of our community and the best we can do is just try to dissuade them. They need treatment; for their own good and, more especially, for the good of the Country, if not for the world as a whole.
    If we, as a species, are to get past this serious impediment, we need to take more positive, permanent action. Acknowledging faith as a mental disorder which requires affirmative treatment should be the first step.
    Outlawing the mistreatment of children would be another step. I am suggesting here that depriving a child of it’s innate ability for critical thinking is cruelty to that child by forcing them into a life full of deception, worthlessness and (insert your own words here).
    The law forces society to take special care of children in their exposure to sex, gambling, alcohol and many other areas which, rightly, concern us all. Religious education is another area where an age limit should be set by law before one can legally allow a child to be exposed to its vices.
    A gambler, smoker, drinker would not normally, purposefully expose their children to such vices, why should we allow the religious indoctrination of children to take place?
    The legal age limits are as much for the protection of society as for the child, religion should be counted as one such restriction, for the protection of children and everyone’s future society.
    I liken this situation to that of the ‘Save the Children Fund’. The children are not causing the problem, its the breeding adults who are the source; the poor children are the hapless inheritors.
    Isn’t this what we are doing right now; not addressing the source of the problem?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    The “mysterious ways” thing is always messed- up – but IMO, it’s triple messed- up when it comes to ethics. To say that God is always perfectly good, even when his actions appear to be evil, and to explain that by saying that we don’t understand what good and evil mean to God and the concepts must mean something different to God than they do to us… it’s basically rendering the concepts of good and evil meaningless. It’s basically saying that what we puny humans understand as good and evil isn’t really good and evil — only God knows what’s really good and evil, and he’s not saying.

    And atheists get accused of having no moral compass…

  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    As soon as I can get an answer to the question of why god requires my blind faith rather than just showing up at my house*, I’ll believe.

    “Ineffable”, “mysterious” and “great” are not answers, they’re excuses.

    *And if god does intend upon showing up at my house, could he please do something about the pink on pink on pink bathroom?

  • Richard Wade

    Excellent post, Jesse.
    Can anyone tell me the difference between faith and gullibility? I have tried for years to find something different about them, but other than one is sold as a virtue and the other is condemned as a flaw, they look completely identical to me.

  • CatBallou

    If “God” has reasons for the existence of evil (and pain and fear and suffering!), and he’s not telling us, then he’s certainly not looking out for our welfare.
    A friend of mine blogs about her life in the country, and last winter she posted a photo of rabbit tracks in the snow. Then she marveled that they could find sustenance in difficult weather, therefore “if God takes care of the rabbits, why should I worry about myself? He’ll take care of me too!”
    I refrained from pointing out to her that a high percentage of those rabbits will die from cold, starvation, or predation.
    Even if there is a god, there’s absolutely no evidence that he cares about us.

  • Hal in Howell MI

    When a theory makes no sense or is contradicted by evidence, we should discard it. But with faith, you’re considered even more virtuous for believing in the face of contradiction!

    Seems like this would make a good graph for GraphJam.

  • DeafAtheist

    Faith is just intellectually lazy. Theists find comfort in easy answers. God is the “solver of all puzzles”. The simple fact that science doesn’t have all the answers makes the god hypothesis more credible to theists because instead of there not being an answer, they have an answer.

    The sheer brilliance of the god hypothesis is the simple fact that it doesn’t require any evidence simply by invoking the “Mysterious Ways”. So their god isn’t simply the solver of all puzzles… he also has all the friggin’ pieces to the puzzles and he’s not sharing.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    God is indeed the ultimate get out of jail free card, but he gets you out of any argument too, and if you say God told you so, you can morally justify any act what-so-ever! The God concept is so powerful that even God can do horrible things and say it’s ok just on his own say-so. Wow. WIsh I’d thought of it…

  • christi

    How many insane mothers have used the “god made me do it” line of defense after drowning their children?

    And that we even give these people consideration boggles my mind. What if they had said, “the tooth fairy made me do it?”

    sorry, off topic a bit…

  • http://theipu.com Ron Gold

    You said: “faith only makes sense to those without critical thinking skills.” Amen to that.

    And welcome aboard Jesse, I’ve been enjoying your posts for the last couple of weeks. Looks like we have similar histories: recent political science grads who were raised in secular Jewish/Christian households.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    The problem of evil is a purely religious one. The “g0d is mysterious” defence is a kludge to avoid the question/ Yeah, OK, granted for the sake of argument, g0d is mysterious but is he ignorant, evil or weak mysterious? The defence simply begs the question. Actually the other defence of “g0d allows evil for free will sake” also begs the question.

    Come on, it’s not exactly a new idea, isn’t there a decent response to it anywhere?

  • Tim Stroud

    Hope I’m not too far out in left field here…

    Ask “What does faith give to the believers that it would so encourage them to discard reason when it conflicts with faith?”

    I don’t know the answer. Maybe here are some of them…

    Continued fellowship and sense of community? Larger sense of purpose or shared purpose? A sense of tradition and continuity? A sense of knowledge of the underlying mysteries of the universe (is that a stretch?).

    Maybe you can think of more answers.

    But do you think it makes sense to say that if those are underlying reasons, then they should be addressed by atheists?

    (Just wondering.)

    Or maybe it’s a failing of reason, or what believers percieve as reason, alone, to provide anything of more value than faith provides.

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    “One response to the problem of evil that is necessary but ambivalent is to acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways.”

    It seems to me that when they say things like this about the problem of evil, what they are really doing is denying that evil things happen. See, what we think is ‘evil’ is really good. It’s just that we haven’t seen it the way God does. Or something like that. It’s just a simple denial of reality, when you think of it.

  • Eliza

    Tim Stroud wrote:

    Hope I’m not too far out in left field here…

    Ask “What does faith give to the believers that it would so encourage them to discard reason when it conflicts with faith?”

    Tim, you’re not out in left field. These are good questions. I’d recommend reading The Mind of the Bible-Believer by Edmund Cohen. While his thesis is more nuanced than this, what he argues it comes down to is fear of losing out eternally, & the repeated, firm message within Christianity that questioning Christianity is a major sin.

  • Eliza

    Here’s a summary of Cohen’s book. (For some reason, I wasn’t able to include 2 links in the post above.)

  • Tim Stroud

    Thank you Eliza. I’ll go check those links out now.

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    I think the line most offensive to me is from John 20:29 — “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    I remember hearing this story as a kid and thinking, “That can’t be right….”

    (And the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son. Those two bits of holy scripture niggled for years and probably nurtured my nascent atheism.)

  • Lauren D

    Welcome Jesse!

    “I think the line most offensive to me is from John 20:29 — “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””

    The kind of things they will say to justify an increasingly ridiculous faith are ridiculous. *shakes head*

  • Joseph R.

    Welcome Jesse. I have been reading your posts over at “Rant & Reason” for a while now. I look forward to your contributions here at FA.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X