Last time we talked about the author Shane Hayes and his new book, The End of Unbelief, which is supposed to be the new singing dancing apologetics book to persuade atheists into converting. Today, we look at just how Mr. Hayes conceptualizes belief and faith in his preface, “Darkness and Light,” and why he’s wrong.
Yay, Another Apologetics Book.
Of course, like pretty much every other apologetics book on the market, this book is actually going to be purchased by Christians eager to slurp up any excuse they can find to continue believing they’re not insane for believing in Jesus and who are eager to find surefire zingers they can sling at their non-believing soulwinning targets. The market isn’t non-Christians, whatever these books pretend. The goal isn’t really conversion at all–it’s making money off gullible people. That’s why apologetics books aimed at rank-and-file believers sell so well yet backfire so badly when it comes to actually converting anybody.
These works have an agenda, and it is not presenting information clearly and succinctly, nor in gathering actual evidence for claims. I’ve never seen an apologetics book that actually presented honest, concise information in a straightforward manner–and I’ve read a lot of these things.
Like the Christians who put so much faith in these books, apologetics authors constantly mistake fancy-sounding arguments for evidence, push long-ago-debunked talking points as gospel truth, and paint non-believers in disgustingly cartoonish and inaccurate ways. The authors write like that because they know that their audience is going to be Christians who already think much like they do and thus won’t need persuading on those points.
There’s a mighty fine reason why non-Christians, on the other hand, tend to deeply distrust apologetics as a field. As a rule of thumb, nothing actually factual needs bookstores’ worth of interpretative works to persuade people it even exists. Nobody needs reams of paper wasted on whether or not the Quadratic Equation is factual. Philosophical ideas and political positions may well need that kind of treatment, but Christians rightly recoil from comparing their god (who almost every Christian alive believes is 100% literally real) with those intellectual conceptualizations.
Christian Love (Or Not).
And, too, apologetics authors are downright nasty to non-believers. We get painted as idiots, malevolent jerks, and way worse in their books–to hear them talk about it, we all know, deep down, that this god is literally real and we’re just denying it so we can pork our brains out with whoever doesn’t move fast enough to avoid us, to party down a bit before we die and get condemned forever to Hell for being so childishly pettish and petulant as to not have the brilliant forethought and wisdom (like Christians have) to swear allegiance to Jesus before it was too late.
So does Shane Hayes fall into that apologetics trap of using arguments, demonization of non-believers, and manipulation in lieu of evidence?
Unfortunately, yes. He is not going to be the combo breaker of apologetics with this new book. I’ll spoil it right now by saying that it’s pretty awful–on a scale of 0 to Ray Comfort, he’s about an 8 on the self-serving, delusional pandering meter.
And what’s worse (to me at least) is that he’s presenting himself as someone who has actually been a member of the atheist tribe, which puts him into the position of guru to his fellow Christians–his claim makes him sound like he knows what he’s talking about when he talks about atheists and non-belief. But he totally doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He very likely will make Christians think even less of non-Christians in general and of atheists in particular–and remember, a lot of their low opinion is based on other Christians spouting off about stuff they don’t really understand.
With all that said, let’s dive in.
Darkness Is His Element, Y’all.
We’re going to talk first about his dramatic-sounding preface, “Darkness and Light.” In it, he sets the tone for the rest of the book. This part begins: “We are nocturnal creatures. Darkness is our element.” And with that, we are two sentences into his book and already I want to paste a “(citation needed)” on his butt.
Humans are not, in fact, nocturnal creatures, and darkness is not, in fact, our “element,” whatever that means. He doesn’t actually define what he means here, but by any rational evaluation of the word, humans aren’t nocturnal. We don’t operate very well in darkness.
Just as a start, here’s a study that found that working night shift may actually put humans at greater risk of cancer. Our bodies release sleep chemicals when nighttime gets dark–not during the day, and not even at night if the lights are too bright. Our eyes don’t see well in the dark. Our bodies walk upright, so it’s hard not to stumble in the dark because we just can’t see what’s at ground level at night. He’s talking like we’re panthers in the jungle or something, and that’s just not true.
An Inaccurate Definition of Atheism, Right Out of the Gate.
I realize he’s using this opening line as a way of setting up the premise to follow (and riffing on a number of Bible verses speaking metaphorically about believers walking in the “light” and non-believers walking in “darkness”), but by any demonstrable measurement he’s just flat out wrong. If he’s trying to prove that something exists, using poetic license and inaccurate science doesn’t seem like a good tactic.
Then there’s this:
The future is shrouded in deep mist and shadow. We can’t see very clearly and we can’t see very far, so we feel our way, grope, and guess at what’s ahead. Faith is our candle, flickering, dim, uncertain, but necessary. Faith in science, faith in our institutions and calculations, faith in luck, faith in God. There are many kinds of faith. We live by one or more of them. Without it we weaken, we fall, we perish.
And now we can say, definitively, that whatever this guy is calling atheism, it wasn’t anything that modern atheists understand by the term–and that he doesn’t understand what faith is either.
Modern Christians–fundagelicals especially–tend to fall into the trap of mistaking informed belief in something with faith in that thing. “Haha, look, we all believe stupid things that can’t be proven, so why not this stupid unproven thing instead of that stupid unproven thing?” you can hear them saying.
Mr. Hayes is conflating the demonstrated trustworthiness of the scientific method with blind faith in a religion that’s never once had any of its supernatural claims confirmed in a credible manner–but which has seen every one of its testable claims fail when critically examined. The other faiths he describes are just fluff–nobody seriously lives their life by a faith in “luck” and nobody sane trusts in “institutions” or uses calculations in a way that makes sense of a definition of faith; what he’s really doing is trying to draw a similarity between science and religion, which is why he put one of those terms at one end of that list and the other at the other end of it.
An Inaccurate Definition of the Scientific Method.
And he’s simply wrong here too.
I do believe the scientific method is the single best way humanity has ever devised of arriving at facts and explanations for our universe. I believe that because there hasn’t ever emerged a better way of doing it and we’ve tested it enough to know that it’s true. If another one emerges, I’ll start believing that’s the best way to find out how things work.
I know that its conclusions are wrong sometimes, and that some of the details it describes may change as we get better information, but the scientific method corrects itself by its very nature. Shams and frauds get discovered and debunked. Nobody is held in such high esteem that nothing he or she says is sacrosanct and unquestionable; no idea is so well-respected that it just isn’t questioned or criticized if evidence emerges against it.
So the author’s concept is untrustworthy. I don’t have faith in the scientific method because I don’t need to have faith to believe in its claims. There’s no need for me to have faith, which is by definition belief in something for no good reason whatsoever.
Instead, I have lots of good reasons to have trust in the scientific method.
The Throwdown: Christianity vs. Reality.
Notice, please, that not a single thing I just wrote could apply to Christianity. That Shane Hayes spent time as an atheist–a self-described militant one no less–and didn’t know what the critical distinctions were between religion and the scientific method is nothing short of stunning. Though I hesitate to assign essentialist thinking to atheists, who are a wild and woolly bunch if ever there was one, I thought that was one of the first things atheists figured out.
Hell, I’d think that this realization of the huge difference between religion and the scientific method figured prominently into most atheists’ deconversions.
But these ex-atheist Christians seem to uniformly miss that memo. It’s easy to demonize the scientific method if someone just doesn’t understand it. And Shane Hayes really needs us to demonize the scientific method for his forthcoming argument to make any sense. He needs us to distrust it the same way we distrust religion. He needs us to put science on the same shelf as religious nonsense. Because nothing he’s about to say can be demonstrated in any kind of credible way, he needs us to think that nothing at all really can be.
The False Dilemma.
And did you catch the false dilemma that he sets up that without faith in something, anything, no matter how stupid, we “weaken, fall, and perish”? Really? So it doesn’t matter if something’s right or wrong as long as it’s something, or else we’ll just wither up and die? I guess I’m doing it all wrong then.
In the next paragraph, he informs us that:
Not only Scripture but all of human experience tells us we need something strong, good, and wise to believe in. For some, it’s a statue of Zeus or Sophia; for some, kinetic theory and the empirical method; for some, the writings of a brilliant atheist; for some, Confucius, Buddha, Allah, the God of Abraham, or (for me) Christ.
If you look at his list, you’ll see that one of these things is not like the other. See what he did again there? He slyly snuck in “kinetic theory and the empirical method” along with religious ideas. I’ve got to wonder if he really thinks that way or if he’s just pandering to fundagelicals who need to believe that non-Christians do the same ridiculous things they do.
The Inaccurate Definition of Paganism.Not even pagans “believe in” statues, by the way. Statues aren’t really gods. They’re representations of gods. You’d think a fellow who was raised Catholic would understand that distinction. And yes, I noticed that he wrote a statue of instead of just saying “Zeus or Sophia.” That’s a curious show of disrespect considering he was okay with talking about the other gods. Why do Zeus and Sophia–whoever that is, because I sure don’t know of any gods named Sophia–only rate statues?
I’d also like to mention that Allah, the “God of Abraham,” and the Christian god are all the same being. It’s downright odd that he’d word it “Christ” like that but dance around the fact that Jesus Christ is considered to be a manifestation of the Christian god. It’s also odd that he’d lump Confucius and Buddha into the list of gods, when neither religion generally thinks that they were actually gods.
Of his list, then, he’s got two men who are not traditionally understood to be gods and one god who goes by three different names, and two statues–one of a god and one of something called “Sophia”–that nobody worships because nobody actually thinks statues are gods. It’s almost as if he really doesn’t understand other religions well enough to talk about them, isn’t it? (Didn’t he claim to have been Buddhist too at some point–and yet he doesn’t know that critical detail about Buddha?)
The Inaccurate Definition of Belief.
And as I’ve already mentioned, he’s really not clear on what belief even is here if he thinks that faith-driven belief in a religion equates to informed belief and trust in scientific concepts. That said, it’s interesting he chose kinetic theory rather than evolutionary theory to lump in with the unproven, non-credible claims of religion. I don’t know of any Christians who dispute kinetic theory or hold that it requires faith to form an opinion that gases behave in particular ways. That was a weird thing to include on the list, but I can easily imagine he put it in there because nobody rational disputes those ideas.
He wants us to lump these taken-for-granted scientific ideas in with the unproven-and-unprovable religious ideas and think of them as one unit. That’s strikingly intellectually dishonest. But that’s what quite a few Christians think. I certainly grew up thinking that Jesus was just as solidly proven as the science I was learning in school.
It wasn’t until college that I began to learn that no, actually, nothing about my religion was actually credibly demonstrated. Now it’s not at all uncommon to see Christians argue that non-believers just don’t want to accept all this “proof” they think they have. You don’t see atheists making that mistake very often though.
A Seriously Dishonest Handling of Belief.
Shane Hayes ends his preface by saying
To believe is to hold as true what cannot yet be verified. It’s a conviction, a sense of direction, that helps us move bravely through our darkness. And face what lies beyond it–the blackness of utter extinction or endless light.
Again, citation needed. There are so many things wrong with these few sentences that they’d want a whole post of their own to discuss it all, but in a nutshell: he’s trying to make all beliefs sound like they’re underpinned by faith. But not all beliefs are informed by faith.
For example, I have very good reasons to believe that the scientific method works and that my family loves me and that the sun will rise tomorrow. I don’t have to have faith to believe those things. Those beliefs are formed by the facts I’ve observed and learned. Faith is what you have to have to believe in stuff that can’t be verified or is debunked. Christians have to have faith in their god because every one of their religion’s claims either can’t be verified or have been debunked. But nobody has to have faith in kinetic theory to believe it happens.
Nor does one require faith in unproven claims to have a sense of direction or a conviction. Ugh, nuff said.
What They Really Think of Us.
It’s simply shocking to see what Christians think of non-Christians, isn’t it? I wonder sometimes if people like Shane Hayes look out at the mass of unwashed heathens howling and milling outside his ivory tower and sees them all as barely-sentient beasts, shitting themselves and rutting uncontrollably and murdering each other over trifles. In his world, without faith in unproven claims people can’t even “move bravely through our darkness,” much less “face what lies beyond it.”
Had he actually talked to anybody who doesn’t buy into religious claims, though, he’d learn that non-believers have lots of direction and convictions. And maybe he’d learn the critical difference between informed belief and faith-driven belief that he didn’t learn as a “militant atheist.”
Look, anybody who claims to know what lies beyond this life is lying through their teeth. He certainly doesn’t know any better than I do, or you, or anybody else. But he cares less about what actually happens after death than he does about just clinging to some hope, even if it’s false, about an imaginary afterlife.
Generally speaking, atheists and non-Christians don’t worry overmuch as a group about what happens after we die. That’s a manufactured fear for him that we just don’t share. He’s trying to manufacture a similar fear for non-believers so they’ll be more receptive to the bullshit he’ll be peddling in the next section.
And sorry, but I ain’t buying.
Pandering to Christians.
In the preface, we learn that Shane Hayes doesn’t really understand the scientific method or know much about other religions. He really doesn’t understand much about what being nocturnal is either. He dishonestly lumps actual real things in with unproven things to make people think of them together, dishonestly sticks his blind irrational faith on the same shelf as stuff we actually can determine is true or false, and dishonestly hints that anybody lacking faith is not even really human and doomed to “weakening, falling, and perishing.”
So in this preface, he plays very well to Christians’ misconceptions of atheists and non-believers and makes them feel smug about and confident in their own irrational beliefs by laying them alongside very rational ones.
A pity nothing in it is actually true.
The Truth About Beliefs.
Here is the truth about beliefs: they are informed by the information we have at hand. They change as we engage with new information and learn new facts. A Christian uses faith as a substitute for information, forming beliefs from a vast well of non-credible, unproven ideas. You can’t force belief to happen; the underlying ideas and facts are what form beliefs–and for that matter destroy them.
People don’t necessarily believe in things that are “strong, good, and wise”–some beliefs are about how we sometimes behave in terrible ways, or about natural disasters about to hit, for example. Some of these beliefs help us survive by getting us out of bad situations; I once had a belief that an elevator was faulty in a building in which I worked, and avoiding that elevator meant I wasn’t in it when it indeed broke and crashed two floors down one evening. I didn’t have faith in the elevator’s weakness; I believed it was dangerous because it creaked a lot and jiggled weirdly and felt unsafe to ride.
But I also believed at the same time that the people in my church were intrinsically better people than non-Christians were–a belief which was based on faith, not facts, and which was disproven any number of times before I finally accepted it. Like most people have, I experienced a lot of unnecessary drama and pain as a result of that belief, so it certainly wasn’t “strong, good, and wise” to believe that idea was true. When I did accept at last that Christians were no better and no worse than non-Christians, my beliefs about Christians’ morals changed without my even being aware of the shift at first.
Equivocation: It’s What’s for Dinner!
So yes: atheists have a lot of beliefs. So do other non-Christians. They just try really hard to have those beliefs be informed by actual facts rather than blind faith. Sometimes they’ll be wrong, sometimes they’ll form irrational beliefs just like anybody, but they’re at least trying (which is also something we can also say about the scientific method itself!).
And because Christianity’s claims are not informed by actual facts, non-believers who care about facts won’t be able to form a belief in Christianity. No matter how good an argument sounds, if there are no actual facts behind Shane Hayes’ ideas, then it’s all just noise to someone who has critical thinking skills and isn’t tricked by a fancy argument used in lieu of real evidence. I’m deeply suspicious at this point that an argument is all he has, and that similar argument trickery is what drew him back into Christianity after his brief flirtations with atheism and Buddhism and whatnot.
The Importance of True Beliefs.
I remember what it was like to realize that the reasons I had for converting to Pentecostalism were simply untrue.
I’d been operating under false premises and the decisions I made as a result were deeply flawed. I was downright humiliated to think I’d been taken in so thoroughly, but I did eventually figure things out.
And this memory makes me wonder if Shane Hayes will ever have the shame to realize that whatever got him into atheism and out of it again was clearly erroneous. If he’s basing his conversion to Christianity on the idea that, well, everybody believes stupid things and it might as well be this stupid thing as that other stupid thing, then wow, I hope for his sake that his god, if he does turn out to be real, is easily fooled. I could never convert to a religion on that basis.
It matters to me if what I spend my life believing is true or false. My beliefs inform my actions and worldview, and even influence how I live and spend my limited time and money and resources. He may be content with believing any old guff if it makes him feel good, but I can’t do it. If I’m wrong about a belief of mine, I need to know it so I can correct the problem, so I’m making decisions and spending my resources as wisely as possible. If this life is indeed the only one I’ll ever get, then I definitely don’t want to waste it.
So please join me next time as I examine this book’s first chapter: “An Agnostic Argues for Faith.”
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(Cassidy tidied up this post a smidge on April 20, 2019.)