This post was written by Chad DeVillier. He was raised a devout Creationist and spent his mid-twenties transitioning from Biblical Studies major to skeptic to antitheist. His passion is now inspiring skepticism and critical thinking in others through rational discourse.
We are not and cannot be on the same playing field, they the religious and we the non-, because those who have come to accept deities into their lives have done so either largely or entirely for emotion-based reasons—“feeling God’s presence,” faith, subjective experiences, correlations that cannot be proven between events that cannot be verified, etc. You will never find a religious person who came to be such because they spent years researching and weighing the objective evidence for and against each major religion; that’s not how religious conversion works, no matter what C. S. Lewis and Lee Strobel tried to sell you. The religious sometimes defend their beliefs with attempts at logical arguments they’ve picked up after the fact, but I submit that the religious don’t have a seat at the logic table because logic was never the driving factor behind their conversion; one cannot throw logic to the back burner in favor of faith and then simply pick it up later to defend oneself with. Unless they cite thorough research and objective reasoning as the primary reason for their conversion, the religious are not at liberty to pretend that their intention was to side with the most well-reasoned side. (And if they do attempt to cite this, a test to verify this is below).
Once the emotion-based conversion has taken place, once a now-saved person embraces something as the cornerstone of their life, confirmation bias runs rampant and beliefs become irrevocably tied to emotion, leaving the convert unable and unwilling to be objective, impartial, or the least bit interested in deconverting. While it is true that no one can be completely free of bias because of the mind’s overwhelming tendency to employ them, I think it’s fair to say that a religious person who has based their entire life, hope, and future on an ideology is vastly less capable of being objective than someone whose entire source of purpose and hope does not depend on faith in their beliefs. You cannot talk objective reason with someone who is not willing to seeing things through a lens other than their own.
And why should they want to see things through another lens? The believer has much to gain, theoretically, from embracing an ideology that tells them that they are cherished by an all-powerful being, destined for eternal happiness, and required only to seek the will of their very own creator for all of their needs and questions; they see, on the other hand, only bleakness and death compared to the shimmering narrative they’ve come to hold fast to and will therefore find excuses to refuse anything but that. Of course, wanting something to be true does not make it true, but try telling that to the convert!
Test if beliefs are based on logic
To test whether or not this blatant disregard for logic applies to a specific religious person (we mustn’t jump to conclusions without giving them a fair chance to prove themselves, must we?), two simple questions can be asked:
One: “What was the primary factor behind your conversion?”
If the answer is anything other than rigorous, objective research into many ideologies, independent of and only later followed by subjective reasons such as “feeling God” or faith, they have failed the test of potential for objectivity. Again, one cannot simply make a life decision based on subjective reasons and then act as if objectivity is their goal. Logical reason only impacts those not already convinced of something else, and subscribers to a religion that demands faith capable of moving mountains are much too far removed from the reach of reason to plausibly claim that they are daily willing and capable of suspending that immovable faith in order to ask and answer uncomfortable questions impartially. Cognitive dissonance and unshakable belief are mutually exclusive.
Stated again for emphasis: “Would you—again, only hypothetically—be willing to let down your family and friends, leave your church community behind, and come to terms with the fact that there is no one guiding your life or watching over you, if you turn out somehow to be wrong, and what sort of thing would you accept as undeniable proof that you are wrong?”
An answer of anything other than a complete willingness to abandon that which they cling to most if the facts demand it, and a need only for objectively verifiable evidence in order to do so, is a proclamation that they cannot be reasoned with and are not capable of a discussion based on empirical reason. One cannot claim to champion reason if one will not allow oneself to be swayed by it; the objective person must be prepared, always, to be wrong.
The religious sometimes like to imagine themselves as wholly logical creatures who alone are capable of being objective, while those of us trapped in our lives of sin are doomed to be beguiled by an invisible yet mighty devil with access to all the minds of the world simultaneously. But is such a tricked and tangled mind more duped than a mind wrapped in promises of lifelong purpose, salvation from all pain, and joy unimaginable? Such a mind as the latter appears nearly unrescuable by any information to the contrary, no matter how grounded in reality and empirical evidence that information may be, since they already imagine infinite gain for themselves and infinite loss for everyone else. They are trapped by Pascal’s wager, so enticed by what they stand to gain that they can’t even imagine the very real possibility that they could lose.
Keep the separateness of the playing fields in mind when next you attempt to induce critical thought into the mind of the faithful; reason is a powerful tool, but, like the Almighty Mystery in the sky, can only influence those who accept it into their hearts in the first place.
Other related posts:
Faith, the Other F-Word
“I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You”
Word of the Day: Shermer’s Law
Christianity, the Ultimate Unfalsifiable Hypothesis
Stupid Argument #13: Pascal’s Wager
Faith is the surrender of the mind;
it’s the surrender of reason,
that makes us different from other mammals.
It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason,
our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something,
that is the sinister thing to me.
Of all the supposed virtues,
faith must be the most overrated.
— Christopher Hitchens