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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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. 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.
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…
 This review can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Superstition-Science-Robert-L-Park/dp/0691133557. Accessed on 3.28.2012.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/superstition. Accessed on 3.27.2012.