Theological Dodgeball: On the Posturing of Faith over Reason
“I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, It is a matter of faith, and above reason.”
More and more lately, I am hearing from theists a common objection to critiques of their religion by nonbelievers. They attempt to downplay the importance of such things as reason, logic and evidence. In their place, they insert faith or revelation, or any variation of the two. The argument goes something like this: “Logic and reason are not the only paths to knowledge and understanding; there is also faith” (or revelation, etc.).
This strikes me as an egregious cop-out. Read between the lines and what you’ll actually see is this rather telling admission: “There is no evidence in support of my belief system, and it lacks any sound or logical basis. But I believe it, anyway.” That is, after all, the definition of faith–belief in the absence of evidence. While the theist may actually think that this is a legitimate, epistemological trump card, they fail to understand that belief in the absence of evidence leads to this stunning implication:
It’s high time I came out with it: I was manufactured in a lab somewhere in the constellation of Virgo by the alien warlord, Xanthor, to infiltrate the human population here on earth so as to one day rise up and rule over you all. Yep, that’s the truth. Do I have any good evidence for this claim? No, not really. Can I demonstrate any extraordinary powers that would lead logically or reasonably to this conclusion? Not a chance. But, you see, you have to take it on faith. Really, believe me. I would not make this shit up.
The above might sound absurd. And, hence, the theist might chalk it up to some kind of strawman argument. But, it isn’t. If faith constitutes belief in the absence of evidence–if it is wielded as a cheap dodge from the ramifications of logic and reason–then my assessment is hardly a misrepresentation. It is no more absurd than talking snakes or reanimated corpses, and it is just as devoid of evidence. I am entitled to believe such nonsensical tripe on the same basis that they believe theirs–faith.
The appeal to revelation has just as little merit. The problem it presents is this: Whose revelation do we follow? Abraham’s? Muhammad’s? Zoroaster’s? Joseph Smith’s? William Miller’s? L. Ron Hubbard’s? Without appealing to evidence or reason, how do we know which one is true? Why follow Paul of Tarsus rather than David Koresh?
It would seem that apologists realize this is a problem, or they wouldn’t comprise an entire field dedicated to the defense of biblical Christianity on the basis of reason and evidence. As much as they may fudge the facts or commit logical errors, I almost have some respect for the fact that at least they’re trying to obey the rules of rational discourse. If you wish to argue for a particular faith or revelation, then you have to make your case based on the only things for which a case can actually be made: reason, logic and evidence. Obviously, this is why we invoke such standards in the court of law. Could you imagine if the prosecution attempted to sway the jury with a plea to faith? If you think poorly of the court system now, just imagine if that were the case!
Let’s face it: If it were true that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, such things as reason, logic and evidence would lead overwhelmingly to that conclusion. Since they don’t, some choose to minimize reason and logic, and elevate non-rational garbage like faith to a virtue. But, faith can be arbitrarily used to justify belief in anything for which we lack evidence, anything for which reason and logic are in short supply. Of course, this is the desperate measure that the theist must take in order to defend the indefensible. Which is fine with me, just so long as they don’t expect such pathetic posturing to convince the nonbeliever. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For the critically minded, faith alone doesn’t cut it.