A Freshman Summary of Every Naive Faith Argument
I ran across this gem by freshman Sharon Neely this morning at the Tufts Daily. It would be nice to think such a person would go through college and come out 4 years later well-educated as to the naivete of their foolish youth. But what is striking about this piece is that it pretty much hits every common logical fallacy in the book and yet still mirrors the state-of-the-art of apologetics I’ve heard from Ph.D. theologians:
Last Thursday, Xavier Malina wrote an op-ed entitled “Not a belief system, but a reason-based alternative to religion.” It was a response to an earlier op-ed, entitled “A case for God,” which was about atheism. In his piece, Malina defended his opinion on the subject – an entirely legitimate thing to do – by refuting the claim that atheism was a type of belief system.
However, I was troubled and saddened by the assumptions Malina made about faith and its role in people’s lives. And while I’m going to use my own experiences and thoughts as an active believer in God to, in turn, refute Malina’s claims, I write in full confidence and awareness that there are many, many others out there who share my views.
She’s off to a roaring start with argumentum ad populum.
My first concern was the definition of faith used by Malina. Regardless of the fact that I think it’s almost laughably absurd to use an atheist’s definition of faith, I furthermore do not agree that faith is “belief without, or in spite of, reason.” I’m sorry that that is what some people’s view of faith is.
Convenient and capricious redefinition of terms. Dictionary.com’s definition #2 for faith reads: “belief that is not based on proof”
I see proof for my faith everyday, in what I’m assuming most atheists put their “faith” in: science.
Now after just having said that faith is not belief in spite of reason, she provides her “proof” then changes the definition back to the traditional by claiming that atheists have “faith” in science, which is clear equivocation.
Yes, I believe in God and evolution and global warming and that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and I see God behind it all. Scientists have discovered the quark, but we still aren’t sure why they stick together to make atoms. We’ve delved into the brain, found the dendrite and the axon, but still haven’t figured out how memory really works.
But her “proof” turns out to be argument from ignorance.
But my answer to that is God. What else could have made such a beautiful and complex and spectacular universe? And I’m not alone; even prominent scientists, in the course of their reasoned studies, have seen the brilliance of the stars in the galaxy and have come away knowing there must be a Creator behind it.
I see the Creator in the beauty of the leaves turning red and the ability of a penguin to hear the call of her child amongst thousands. I feel as if I’m communing with the Divine each time I learn a new law of physics or see how a math problem works. Reason and science and thought lead me to God. I don’t find that the “available evidence” for God is lacking – rather, I believe that it’s so abundant that you can almost be numbed by it.
The God of the gaps, or argument from personal incredulity, with another dash of argumentum ad populum (and even argumentum ad verecundiam–authority or respect–for ‘prominent scientists’) thrown in.
My second – but no less worrisome – concern is the claim that theism is “founded on the basis of the acceptance of certain unflinching truths.” My experience is that faith and belief are not that simple in the slightest.
Faith is about going on a journey, it’s about struggle and it’s about wrestling with what happens in the world head on. It’s about asking questions and not agreeing with the answers and continuing to search. Sometimes it is about doubting and leaving your faith until you come back realizing that you want to believe. Only then is your faith stronger.
The flip side of argument from personal incredulity, is of course personal credulity, or what Dr. Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief.”
So you might not think it, but faithful people need to be “verifying and integrating new data” into our schemas as much as the scientist – because faith provides answers that are hardly “static.” Different faiths each have their own sects, which all have their own theologians saying different things.
Relativism and belief in belief again: The differing and contradictory notions of faith are OK, because what’s important is that you have faith, not the content of your faith.
Part of the journey is finding what the truth is for yourself. It seems to me that atheism, in fact, provides the static answer, while faith makes you deal with the fact that God does exist, and, despite this, the world is how it is.
More relativism. My truth vs. your truth, instead of just “truth,” or better yet empirical evidence.
So when I read Malina’s article, I was bothered by it. I like to think that I see the world “as it exists” – don’t we all? But my faith never hinders my belief in that. Rather, my faith inspires me to respond to the state the world is in. My faith gives me a purpose in life, and assures me that there is a God who created me and every other person in the world – and loves us all the same.
Laying claim to teleology. Gratuitous back-handed insult. The implication is that people who don’t have faith lack purpose. People who don’t have faith are “mean” and want to take away “God’s love.”
It isn’t that I hide behind a dogma or have been brainwashed by cult leaders. Though unfortunately there are people out there who pervert organized religion into something horrendous and politicians who give belief a bad name, you’ll find that most believers are regular people who have found a connection with something greater than themselves.
Finally, Neely wraps up with the silly catch-all that we should all prostrate ourselves before “something greater” in some kind of a master-slave system of self-effacing ethics. And she fails to see that atheists and scientists are themselves humbled (but impersonally) before the mysteries of life and the universe.
I keep waiting for faith heads to come up with some different and better arguments, but it never happens. And I’m afraid this freshman seems unlikely to change her views no matter how many years of school she completes.
If she doesn’t figure this out by the time she graduates, it will be a tremendous waste of $100,000 tuition. I hope Tufts is up to the task of giving her a real education.