The Reason Rally and The Faith of Atheists

THE REASON RALLY

I’ve been intentionally reading some blogs by outspoken atheists lately.  One reason is because of the “Reason Rally” (RR) which just took place this past weekend in Washington D.C.  You can read about the gathering here.

One of the catalysts for having this “secular” gathering is the growing number of Americans who do not identify themselves with any religion:

Across America, in every city, every town, and every school, secularism is on the rise. Whether people call themselves atheists, agnostics, secular Humanists, or any of the other terms used to describe their god-free lifestyle, secularism is coming out of the closet. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, the percentage of people with no religious affiliation grew in all fifty states.[1]

This is a fact that many Christians are no less aware of.  Al Mohler has commented on this and some of its implications for evangelicals today.  Newsweek too did a piece not long ago on this topic that Mohler also took time to comment on.

Of course, for Christians, these facts are alarming, especially when one considers that the most drastic shift has occurred in New England, the geographical center where Christianity in America was born and raised.  (On the whole, however, a recent Gallup poll says that America remains, in large part, a very religious nation.)

IS THIS REASONABLE?

But what do these trends have to do with “reason”?  Those who promoted and attended the RR, like the now very famous Richard Dawkins, would have you believe that such statistics somehow manifest that people are now more reasonable than they were before; that there is an immediate connection between a decline in religious affiliation and being reasonable.

I am here to say that such a notion is, in fact, quite unreasonable.

Firstly, there are other statistics that reveal this quite plainly.  These (often unmentioned) statistics show that as traditional religion declines, superstitious beliefs rise.  This trend has been well documented in Britain.  In fact, Robert L. Park (PhD in Physics) has written an entire book on this fact entitled Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science (2010).  In that book “Park sides with the forces of reason in a world of continuing, and he fears, increasing superstition.”[2]

But guys like Dawkins have traditionally lumped religious belief into the same category with superstition—they are, according to him, both contrary to reason.

Marriam-Wesbster defines superstition as follows:

(1)   “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.

(2)   a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.”[3]

Superstition is then, by definition, without link whatsoever to “reason.”  In fact, as meaning #2 suggests, it is quite un reasonable.  While the connection is not explicit, the two statistics, i.e., the increase in non-religious affiliation and the simultaneous rise in the belief in superstition, when taken together preclude “reason” as the primary explanation—for the rise in one is in opposition to the rise of the other.

Secondly, religion per se is in no way contrary to reason.  No doubt, there are many religious folk who are quite irrational on some level.  However, to systematically assert that this is true in principle is simply wrong.  This is a straw-man kind of argument that is almost incessantly put forward by the likes of those in the RR camp.  While the RR website explicitly says that the gathering is not about “trashing religion” but rather a “celebration of secular values,” blogs on the gathering are not as modest.  For example, one blogger who was a strong supporter of the RR says that allowing religious persons to have certain rights inevitably leads to all sorts of child abuse.  She writes:

This is why it’s absolutely necessary for secular people to make their voice heard, because it is not being heard by the government.  The government is so overwhelmingly controlled by the religious that they have carved out special rights that destroy people’s lives.[4]

So for this woman, going to the RR was explicitly motivated by a reaction to religious belief.  And this is not an isolated incident as this Washington Post article makes clear.  And many are aware of Richard Dawkins’ bold claims that religion and reason are incompatible.[5]  While the website denies such connections, there is a very clear implicit assumption that advocates of mainstream religion are irrational in holding their beliefs and practicing their faith.

Actually, Christians believe that the ability to reason itself is grounded in the person of God.  Our ability to reason is a manifestation of God’s own rationality—one cannot predicate anything consistently without believing in God because there is no other way to account for the existence of logic itself.  Ironically, it is the atheist who is irrational because they have no way of accounting for the very “logic” they claim to stand on: they climb up the tree by way of the God-created ladder and then kick it out and suppose that they have arrived by way of the power of science alone.

What is more, religious books like the Bible do not call their followers to believe against reason or to a “blind faith.”  Texts like 1 Peter 3:15 make clear that reason is very much a part of consistent theistic belief.  “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason (logos) for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”

Sadly, many Christians have not properly equipped themselves to do what the apostle commands here.  And, no doubt, this is likely a major reason why many atheists suppose that religion and reason are mutually exclusive.

Thirdly, one cannot absolutely separate church and state as RR supporters advocate.  Blogger “Friendly Atheist” writes in response to Glenn Beck’s comments on the rally:

We’re all about “live and let live.” What we’re not going to do is stand by while religious ideologues turn their beliefs into public law. We’re not going to let our country turn into a theocracy. We’re not going to let faulty thinking go by unchallenged. We want absolute separation between church and state. We’re ready to fight back.[6]

I have commented on this elsewhere and won’t do it again here.  But briefly, it is a wrong to suppose that somehow laws can be passed without some kind of religious (or metaphysical) assumptions.  All laws declare one behavior right and another wrong, but where do our notions of right and wrong come from?  They must be grounded in God.

Fourthly, and lastly, science too makes assumptions that are not provable by its own methods. Scientists would love to have the whole world believe that their methods are free from the entanglements of assumptions and all ideas that are un-provable (though there are some scientists out there that are aware of this).  However, that is most definitely not the case.  Science has to assume all sorts of propositions that cannot be proven by its own methods in order to even get off the ground.  

One example would be that nature acts uniformly.  Science must assume that nature is uniform in time and space if they are to accomplish anything.  Hydrogen must behave here on earth the same as it does in space, and the way it acts today is the way it acted 100 years ago and 100 years from now.  Such notions are absolutely foundational to all of science; laboratory experiments could not be done if these facts were not assumed true.  But how can the methods of science account for these facts?  It can’t.  It simply must assume these things in order to do its business.  What this means is that there are certain assumptions built into the scientific method that are not in themselves provable by those very same methods.  

To be blunt: science is not totally based upon pure “reason” like the folk at the RR assert.  Science is filled with philosophical notions and assumptions, just like the religions (especially Christianity) they are so quick to condemn.  But what most of the folk at the RR won’t admit (or aren’t consistent enough to realize), however, is that those assumptions must be embraced by faith since the methods they so passionately espouse cannot prove them.

I really am thankful these folks were able to get together and express their desire to heard as a collective body.  That I don’t object to whatsoever—that’s one thing I love about America.  What disturbs me about the gathering however, is that it purports to be something it’s not.  

Their convictions are based upon faith just like so many of those they condemn, and what is worse, many of the people they mock have more justifiable reasons to hold their beliefs…

  ________________
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17 Responses to The Reason Rally and The Faith of Atheists

  1. Peter says:

    Great post!
    I’ve always wondered how self-proclaimed ‘reasoning’ people, whether they be Atheists, Agnostics or whatever, automatically assume that those with religious convictions have completely abandoned reason.

    Most Christians are acutely aware that our beliefs run contrary to popular thought.
    Most Christians know that what we believe in seems fantastical and unbelievable.
    Yet we still believe it.

    Christians, in my opinion, show intense reason because we understand how different our world view is from the ‘norm’, yet we consciously choose to believe and continue in our faith all the same.

    I have first hand experience of my faith: I have experienced God in my life personally many times.
    How many Atheists have first hand experience of the fundamental truths which they believe in?
    How many Atheists have personally conducted experiments supporting the Theory of Relativity, the Theory of Evolution, String Theory etc.

    Not many.
    Atheists, as well as Christians have to trust the words and actions of other people in order to form their world view.
    The Atheist world view is based not just on reason, but also on trusting the reason of others.

    Have you checked that what you believe in is indeed trustworthy?

    Christians assume that there is a God.
    This is completely unscientific. It has never been scientifically proven and its proof cannot be repeated via experimentation or submitted for peer review.

    Athiests assume that there is no God.
    This is completely unscientific. It has never been scientifically proven and its proof cannot be repeated via experimentation or submitted for peer review.

    The Christian world view does not stand or fall on scientific proof.

    But the Atheistic belief system is so firmly grounded on its unscientific assumption that God does not exist, that I’m not sure it can stand without it.

  2. Allallt says:

    Okay, I have a number of issues with this. And they all stand on your bringing-up of very old arguments that I thought most people had conceded (my mistake).
    We need God for logic–the main place I have read this is the teleological argument for God (TAG) although I’ve heard it formulated other ways as well. It simply doesn’t follow that God can be logical by His own nature and that that gives us logic. The argument is a non-sequitur.
    Science is not a self-explain set–no, it’s not. I cannot think of a person that is not aware that science depends on philosophical assumptions. So what?
    Laws mean morals mean a God–how, why? I’ve read this argument many times, and it simply doesn’t make sense.

    Comments are not the place to start such wide-reaching argument, but if you visit me at allalltor.wordpress.com you can see my outspoken atheist response to most of this.

    • joshuaamoore says:

      Allallt,

      Thanks so much for your questions and comments. I appreciate the dialogue. Yes, it would take a while to address all of the issues you raised (and the ones I raiased!).

      My argument regarding logic and God is more transcendental than teleological (though it can be made into a teleological argument). What I am saying is that you must posit God in order to account for the laws of logic and human rationality. Atheism cannot account for these things. The only game in town for an atheist is naturalism. Naturalism supposes that nature is all there is. But if nature is all there is then your “reason” is a product of evolutionary forces or energy or whatever. But so is logic on naturalism’s premises. But how can we reasonably assert that logic is a natural thing? Where is logic? How can I touch it? At what point did it come into existence? When was it made or born? Denying the existence of God or any metaphysical reality assumes that our arguments are somehow just a part of nature’s natural cycles. Our whole discussion becomes null and void. What’s the point in talking? Logic (whatever that is) is just a product of nature and has not higher standard by which to be judged. Who’s right, who’s wrong? We have no way of knowing. Naturalism just tells us what “is” and not what “ought” to be. You need a higher transcendent standard for the “ought.” And we can only find that in God. This answers the morality question you mentioned too.

      I know many people who have no clue that science depends on philosophical a priori assumptions..

      Thanks for your comments. I will be sure to check out your site. Would love to continue dialogue. Hope my responses were clear (though hurried admittedly).

      • Allallt says:

        I think you’ll find my view for most of this on my blog, but the transcendental argument of logic for God is still a non-sequitur to me. All me to clarify:
        You either assume that there is such a thing as transcendental logic truths (things like A=A, A does not = not A etc) and God bestowed them on us, in which can God is a superfluous step, OR…
        You assume that God invented/holds the transcendental logical truths, necessarily as part of His nature. Now, this would be a bold assertion, but even if I accept it we simply rely that the logic God’s mind can come up with matters, where as a human mind couldn’t.
        I feel the same way about logical truth as I do moral truth: there is such a thing as actual truths, and humans get as close to it as evolution allows (i.e. we have an evolved moral intuition or logical intuition).
        The actual ontological truths are discoverable (especially when you consider that logic is built on truisms, and we then just build facts on top of each other) even if our intuitions don’t take us directly there.

        Now, I looked up the Transcendental Argument for God and I found Matt Slick’s one–I don’t know if he’s particularly famous or if he even represents what you’re getting at–but I’ve found a major equivocation fallacy in it (here’s the website: http://carm.org/transcendental-argument if this is more or less what you mean then I challenge you to also find the equivocation, failing that I challenge you to make a formal version of what you -do- mean).

      • Allallt says:

        Actually, I think it is unfair to leave you to guess where my objections are to the TAG I linked you to, so let me clarify:
        Point 6A says that because logic is conceptual, so are logical absolutes. But they are different things. It is also a type of division fallacy.
        Point 5A-C is also an equivocation fallacy because is equates the physical manifestation of a logical event (like an apple not being a banana because it’s an apple) to the actual statements like A=A.

        There is a bigger error, however, and that’s the false dichotomy is 6B. It is not true that physical or conceptual are the only options. If it were true then God would either be physical (and thus not the creator of the universe or the logical absolutes) or would be conceptual (and thus dependent on another mind ad infinitum).

        Logical absolutes are actually transcendent. This means they are not dependent on a mind, they are a discoverable truth. Logical absolutes should not be dependent on any minds, but this argument says they’re not dependent on human minds. The fact is that they’re not dependent on dogs’ minds or chinchillas’ minds; they are not dependent on any minds at all. But admitting this would remove God as the necessary feature of this argument.

        This then leads to special pleading cases: firstly that God can breach the dichotomy presented. I think this the most revealing mistake; the argument presents a dichotomy that is not complete, but assumes it is and then pleads for it’s God not to be contained by it (ironically, I do consider God conceptual; dependent on human minds).
        The second is a special pleading case where although the logical absolutes cannot be dependent on a mind, they can be dependent on God’s mind…

        If Slick’s version doesn’t represent what you think of TAG then I’ve wasted my words, but I thought it worth pointing out why I don’t accept it.

      • Allallt says:

        There is a difference between God inventing the logical absolutes and holding them to His nature in some way. The difference is thus:
        If God invented them then they are arbitrary, subject to His whim and there’s no reason He could not have made it perfectly reasonable to A=not A. If there is any reason God could not do that then God is actually not the author of these absolutes because He was constrained externally.
        If they are just part of God’s nature then we just trust that God’s mind has given us actual logical absolutes. If God’s mind could, then so could other minds.

      • joshuaamoore says:

        Allallt,

        I’m not sure I follow all your thoughts. I briefly looked at Slick’s argument. Honestly, it’s much too sophisticated for my taste at this point. It will take me a while to get through it all. I’ll just mention one thought briefly in reply to your various comments.

        I do not contend that God “invented” logical absolutes. That would, I agree, make them seem arbitrary. I hold that the laws of logic are necessary truths because they stem from a necessarily existent absolute mind, namely God. Here’s a formal way of stating the argument for God from logical truths that comes from one of my professor’s course notes (Dr. James Anderson):

        – (1) There are laws of logic (e.g., the law of non-contradiction).
        – (2) The laws of logic are necessary truths, i.e., necessarily true propositions.
        – (3) A proposition can only be true if it exists.
        – (4) Therefore, the laws of logic are necessarily existent propositions.
        – (5) A proposition is best understood as a mental entity rather than a material entity; that is to say, a proposition is a thought.
        – (6) Therefore, the laws of logic are necessarily existent thoughts.
        – (7) Therefore, the laws of logic presuppose a necessarily existent mind.
        – (8) Therefore, the laws of logic presuppose the existence of God.

        Hope this helps.

      • Allallt says:

        My contention is with premise 5. It’s a false dichotomy: it’s material or immaterial. Not material or “mental entity”. Abstracts, like circles do not require a mind.

      • joshuaamoore says:

        This is a curious response. How is it that a material entity requires a mind and an abstract does not? Does not one stem from the other? In order to construct something circular (say, like a tire or a bracelet), do we not first have to picture it in our mind? In other words, we have to be able to abstract about things before we can manifest them in the material world or even explain them, etc. The Christian would argue, this is because it is a reflection of God’s nature. All things in existence, whether invisible or invisible, material or immaterial, had to exist in the mind of God before they were ever given expression. I think your argument does not escape its own criticism–there is a false dichotomy (as I understand it), in that somehow some things pop into existence naturally while others are products of an absolute mind. But if the two are connected as I have shown, then what basis to we have to divide them as you have?? Enjoying the dialogue. Good thoughts. Thanks.

      • Allallt says:

        Is God immaterial or dependent on the mind?

        If neither then the dichotomy is not complete.
        But if God is either then there’s a real problem forming for God…

      • joshuaamoore says:

        The question is misleading. By definition, God is dependent on nothing. He is ultimate reality. His mind is ultimate, which means there is nothing beyond it. To ask if God is dependent on this or that is, in essence, to say that He is not God. All reality, material and immaterial, visible or invisible springs from the mind of God; everything is contingent, except God. God is the only necessary being in all reality. That is what it means to be God.

      • Allallt says:

        The question is not misleading. You said the dichotomy was material or dependent on a mind. Which is God?

        If neither then the dichotomy is not true.

      • joshuaamoore says:

        Allallt,

        Thanks again for your replies. However I feel that I am doing a poor job of explaining my position; we seem to just be going in circles. You are defining God in a way that empties Him of what it means to be God. You are saying there is a dichotomy in reality between material things and those things that are immaterial (or “mind-dependent”). This is true as I have said below. In CREATED reality there is such a dichotomy. But God is not created. He absolutely is. That is what it means to be God. Both the immaterial “things” in the universe like necessary truths (like the law of non-contradiction) and the material things in the universe find their origin in God. Both aspects of reality find their source in God. God is the creator of all (excepting Himself). Your attempt to apply the dichotomy to God makes Him subordinate to the dichotomy which implies that there is some higher reality. But the being I am speaking of IS GOD. Which, by definition, means that there is no higher or more absolute reality. That is why your question is misleading–you are using the term “God” but the being you are referring to is actually less than “God.” You may disagree that there is such a person as God, but you cannot redefine Him and then call Him God and say your argument works… You will have to come up with a more rational way of explaining how it is that we have necessary truths (like the law of noncontradiction) and material things without positing God. (Or, how we have non-material things, whatever you want to call them, like the laws of logic and such, while maintaining that there is no God, or that all there is is the universe.) I don’t think it is rationally possible. You have to assume various things that can only be explained by the existence of a personal, absolute being like God in order to even begin to articulate your argument. It fails from the outset… I hope that makes sense.

      • Allallt says:

        Alternatively, you just didn’t offer a true dichotomy.

  3. Allallt says:

    If you think abstracts, like geometric shapes and numbers, require a mind then why?
    Because dichotomies work a particular way, the correct way of saying it is material or immaterial.
    To frame in the way you want it you need a two-tier dichotomy: material or immaterial. If immaterial then mind-dependent or not.

    One of the greatest reasons for this is God. I assume you take God to be immaterial and not dependent on a mind. That means He doesn’t fit into your dichotomy. This should be impossible in a true dichotomy.

    This is where it gets difficult: your use of the word “proposition” is misleading. You can either define a proposition as something that is thought or uttered, in which case it must be mind-dependent (but this is circular reasoning) or you can define it as something that is true regardless of whether it is uttered or not.

    Take, for example, Pluto. It is true that Pluto was a ball of ice before anyone ever uttered it. No one needed to utter it for it to be true. Therefore the “proposition” was not mind-dependent.

    So it is not necessarily true that the laws of logic are mind dependent; like Pluto being a ball of ice, they are just true.

    Knowing now that propositions are not necessarily mind-dependent (even though they are immaterial) you must come up with a separate argument to explain why you think they are mind dependent (because your argument rests on it).

  4. Peter says:

    Listen here, guys, this is all very strange.

    There is a chair standing in front of you.
    You declare “There is a chair.”
    It’s simple and unambiguous.

    Contrary to all of the logical hypotheses you are dropping here, in the mind of a Christian:

    There is God standing there.
    We declare “There is God.”
    We are not playing at philosophy. We are not acting upon logic, we are acting upon observation and experience.
    We are declaring what we have seen and known with our own minds and hearts.

    The fact that you don’t believe what we say does not make it false.
    The fact that it is not reasonable does not make it false.

    • joshuaamoore says:

      Peter,

      Thanks for your thought. I resonate with some of what you are saying. I don’t think that we need to have reasonable and rational arguments to somehow make the existence of God “true.” I think it is obvious that God exists, but our sinful, fallen nature inclines us to supress the truth (Rom. 1:18-19).

      My faith in God is not built upon philosophy by any means. My faith is built upon a real encounter with the living God too! I believe whole-heartedly that God came down in the form of a man named Jesus and lived here on earth with his creatures for a season, was wrongly killed, and rose from the dead, etc. I came to know about this God through friends at my college in real-space time. My life was utterly transformed and I will never be the same! That has little to do with philosophy, I agree!

      I think in many ways that philosophy is the servant of theology (and not vice-versa). We use philosophy to help us better understand and articulate our theology. Though it is not in any strict sense necessary… When well-intentioned folk make arguments against religion it is our responsibility to emply whatever arguments (so long as they are biblical) to help give an account of why we believe what we do (1 Pet. 3:15). All people do this, even atheists.

      Don’t take me for some philosopy guru or fanatic. I’m not. I’m learning. I like philosophy, but I mainly like it because I love Jesus and I want to make him available to all kinds of people who value and resonate with all kinds of different things.

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