Reason vs faith: part 1

"The division between faith and reason is a half-measure, till it is frankly admitted that faith has to do with fiction, and reason with fact." Leslie Stephen

You almost never see a religious conversation end with someone saying, “That’s a good point. I never thought about that. You win. I’m going to change my beliefs now. Thank you.”

The reason this almost never happens is because when you base your beliefs on faith you don’t need proof to justify those beliefs to yourself or anyone else. Well, if someone admits that they don’t care whether or not their conclusions can be proven then it’s futile to try and prove to them that their conclusions are wrong. They’re not going to listen. They’re not supposed to. And if you can manage to draw them into a debate they have free reign to reverse engineer whatever justifications they need to win the argument. They don’t have to follow any rules of logic, problem solving, or scientific discovery. Their only allegiance is to their preconceived beliefs. And even if you were able to defeat all their cooked up arguments and “win” the debate they’ll still be morally obligated to find another way out. Maybe they’ll cordially agree to disagree. Maybe they’ll tell you, “I just have faith.” Or maybe they’ll find a flaw in you personally and use that to dismiss your argument. Whatever the case may be, you can’t convince someone who has faith that their beliefs are wrong no matter how wrong they may in fact be. That’s the point of faith.

You can see how futile a religious debate is. I think the fictional TV character, Dr. House, put it best when he said, “If you could reason with religious people there would be no religious people.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep gathering and publicizing as much evidence as exists that all religions are man-made, mythological, culturally relative, ethnocentric, archaic, illogical cults that do nothing but control the weak minded while exploiting them and holding back society from its natural pursuit of scientific, moral and cultural progress. All the evidence supporting that conclusion should be readily available so people can be forewarned and not fall prey to religious parasites. It’s also good for religious people to hear these things so if they happen to start asking the hard questions and thinking about them objectively they’ll be better prepared to see the truth.

However, to actively engage in debates with religious people about why their conclusions are wrong is generally futile because of their faith. Not to mention…that horse has been beat to death already. Chances are if you’re arguing with someone over 25 you’re not telling them anything they haven’t already heard before.

Therefore, skeptics who wish to continue arguing would be wise to shift the focus of their debates away from debunking particular religious beliefs and more towards debunking the thought process that brought the religious believers to their conclusions: faith.

If we’re going to argue about religion then let’s argue about faith. Is it good or bad? Why or why not? If it is bad then what’s a better way to think and why?

To answer these questions we need to address the fundamentals. Why are beliefs important? To a mature human being the goal of asking a question or engaging in debate should be to arrive at the truth (aka a true belief) because nothing is more important than truth. Truth is vital because it cuts to the heart of the human experience and the meaning of life. Let me sum up the entire saga of life real quick:

We all woke up one day in our childhood and found ourselves marooned in this surreal existence. When we woke up we were lost. So lost in fact that we didn’t even know we were lost. Some of us stayed lost forever and dedicated our entire time here to merely surviving as long as possible and fulfilling our base animalistic desires to satisfaction. To the people locked into that shallow frame of mind I can offer no sympathy or help. However, for those of us who hope to validate our existence the struggle of life is not to get as much money or booty before we die. Our struggle is defined by the search for truth. The goal is to start from a position of complete ignorance and work and think and study reality until we perceive the truth of where we are and how everything works here so we can use that information to deduce why we’re here, what we’re supposed to do now that we’re here, and what the best way to do that is.

People who truly value life and are truly serious about making the most out of life and validating their existence won’t settle for half answers, opinions, or self-serving answers. They want to know the real, provable truth because if you don’t have the truth then you don’t have anything real. Thus, you don’t have anything, at all…period. So to settle for anything less than the truth is to sell out your very life. Let the magnitude of that statement sink in. If your understanding of reality isn’t based on truth then your entire life will be misguided and spent in vain. So when you argue about what is true, understand that the stakes are nothing short of life and death. That’s why truth is important.

Unfortunately, most people have a short sighted understanding of what truth is. Most people just see truth as the correct answer to a question. What they fail to appreciate is that an answer is always the product of a question. Thus, to the extent that it’s important to get the right answer to a question it’s just as important to ask the question correctly. In fact, you could even say that the answer is merely incidental to the question and that truth is more a matter of how you ask than how you answer. See, an answer isn’t self-contained or self-evident. Anytime something is true there’s a reason why, and it’s the reason why that makes the answer true.

Understanding all of that, someone who truly values truth will surely live according to the following maxims: The more important it is to know the correct answer to a question, the more important it is to calculate the answer correctly. And the more you value truth the more proactively, thoroughly and objectively you’ll be motivated to calculate the answers to your questions and question your answers.

If truth is so important, then we have to ask ourselves, what is the most accurate way to find the answer to a question? Luckily for modern humans, our ancestors have been studying the process of answering question for centuries.

Actually, luck has nothing to do with it. Every iota of society’s progress has depended on being able to come to an accurate understanding of how things work. In order to make sense of the universe humans have developed the scientific method of study. And it’s served us reliably in every aspect of our lives we’ve applied it to. And the best part about the scientific method is that it’s open ended. So even if one human fails to take all the variables of a question into consideration, fails to make the necessary logical connections, or even intentionally manipulates his answers the scientific method allows room to correct its answers. Thus, it’s designed to yield a 100% success rate (given enough time).

Despite the fact that the scientific method has proven itself the most reliable method of answer questions by providing us with every advancement in our understanding of the universe we live in which has resulted in every advancement in medicine and technology that has created the modern luxuries we couldn’t imagine living without today…and despite the fact that understanding truth lies at the crux of the meaning of life…and despite the fact that the more important a question is the more important it is to answer the question accurately…it’s widely considered acceptable, and even encouraged, to demonize the scientific method when it comes to analyzing religious beliefs…which are arguably the most important beliefs we need to get right in order to make the most out of life and validate our existence! Of all the questions we need to do the most work on, this is it.

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