Atheism: Equally Irrational

Insightful article at Newsweek.

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Many atheists think that their atheism is the product of rational thinking. They use arguments such as “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science” to explain that evidence and logic, rather than supernatural belief and dogma, underpin their thinking. But just because you believe in evidence-based, scientific research—which is subject to strict checks and procedures—doesn’t mean that your mind works in the same way.

When you ask atheists about why they became atheists (as I do for a living), they often point to eureka moments when they came to realize that religion simply doesn’t make sense.

Oddly perhaps, many religious people actually take a similar view of atheism. This comes out when theologians and other theists speculate that it must be rather sad to be an atheist, lacking (as they think atheists do) so much of the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfillments that religious people have access to—stuck in a cold world of rationality only.

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The science of atheism

The problem that any rational thinker needs to tackle, though, is that the science increasingly shows that atheists are no more rational than theists. Indeed, atheists are just as susceptible as the next person to “group-think” and other non-rational forms of cognition. For example, religious and nonreligious people alike can end up following charismatic individuals without questioning them. And our minds often prefer righteousness over truth, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has explored.

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Even atheist beliefs themselves have much less to do with rational inquiry than atheists often think. We now know, for example, that nonreligious children of religious parents cast off their beliefs for reasons that have little to do with intellectual reasoning. The latest cognitive research shows that the decisive factor is learning from what parents do rather than from what they say. So if a parent says that they’re Christian, but they’ve fallen out of the habit of doing the things they say should matter—such as praying or going to church—their kids simply don’t buy the idea that religion makes sense.

This is perfectly rational in a sense, but children aren’t processing this on a cognitive level. Throughout our evolutionary history, humans have often lacked the time to scrutinize and weigh up the evidence—needing to make quick assessments. That means that children to some extent just absorb the crucial information, which in this case is that religious belief doesn’t appear to matter in the way that parents are saying it does.

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Even older children and adolescents who actually ponder the topic of religion may not be approaching it as independently as they think. Emerging research is demonstrating that atheist parents (and others) pass on their beliefs to their children in a similar way to religious parents—through sharing their culture as much as their arguments.

Some parents take the view that their children should choose their beliefs for themselves, but what they then do is pass on certain ways of thinking about religion, like the idea that religion is a matter of choice rather than divine truth. It’s not surprising that almost all of these children—95%—end up “choosing” to be atheist.

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Science versus beliefs

But are atheists more likely to embrace science than religious people? Many belief systems can be more or less closely integrated with scientific knowledge. Some belief systems are openly critical of science, and think it has far too much sway over our lives, while other belief systems are hugely concerned to learn about and respond to scientific knowledge.

But this difference doesn’t neatly map onto whether you are religious or not. Some Protestant traditions, for example, see rationality or scientific thinking as central to their religious lives. Meanwhile, a new generation of postmodern atheists highlight the limits of human knowledge, and see scientific knowledge as hugely limited, problematic even, especially when it comes to existential and ethical questions. These atheists might, for example, follow thinkers like Charles Baudelaire in the view that true knowledge is only found in artistic expression.

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And while many atheists do like to think of themselves as pro-science, science and technology itself can sometimes be the basis of religious thinking or beliefs, or something very much like it. For example, the rise of the transhumanist movement, which centers on the belief that humans can and should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology, is an example of how technological innovation is driving the emergence of new movements that have much in common with religiosity.

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Even for those atheists skeptical of transhumanism, the role of science isn’t only about rationality—it can provide the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfillments that religious beliefs do for others. The science of the biological world, for example, is much more than a topic of intellectual curiosity—for some atheists, it provides meaning and comfort in much the same way that belief in God can for theists. Psychologists show that belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety, just as religious beliefs intensify for theists in these situations.

Clearly, the idea that being atheist is down to rationality alone is starting to look distinctly irrational. But the good news for all concerned is that rationality is overrated. Human ingenuity rests on a lot more than rational thinking. As Haidt says of “the righteous mind”, we are actually “designed to ‘do’ morality”—even if we’re not doing it in the rational way we think we are. The ability to make quick decisions, follow our passions and act on intuition are also important human qualities and crucial for our success.

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It is helpful that we have invented something that, unlike our minds, is rational and evidence-based: science. When we need proper evidence, science can very often provide it—as long as the topic is testable. Importantly, the scientific evidence does not tend to support the view that atheism is about rational thought and theism is about existential fulfillments. The truth is that humans are not like science—none of us get by without irrational action, nor without sources of existential meaning and comfort. Fortunately, though, nobody has to.”

 

 

Are we all atheists?

William Lane Craig offers a good response.

No, we’re not atheists.  We believe in a God.

atheism:  disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

We simply don’t believe in other gods.  For gods, such as Thor, Ra, and others we find no compelling evidence.  I don’t believe in Thor for the same reasons I don’t believe in Allah or Vishnu.

Why Faith is Good for your Health

Dan Peterson shares the sad story of a young man who left the Church and later took his life.  Dan points out positives associated with faith.

Peterson quotes Bertrand Russell’s dreary thoughts about the pointlessness of life.

Bertrand Russell

“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave;

that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.

Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

 

The best solution to lack of faith and despair is a return to faith and hope.

Among other things, Peterson shared research by Harvard scholars and compared C.S. Lewis’ life to Freud’s.  They correlated better mental health with faith and church attendance.

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

Great podcast!  Faith is reasonable.  And is a choice.

Abstract: In this article I argue that faith is not only rationally justifiable but also inescapable simply because our decisions regarding ultimate questions must necessarily be made under conditions of objective uncertainty. I review remarks by several prominent thinkers on the subject — both avowed atheists and several writers who have addressed the challenge implicit in issues related to faith and reason. I end my discussion by citing William James, who articulated clearly the choices we must make in addressing these “ultimate questions.”

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

Peterson likely used notes from this talk in this debate with Michael Shermer.  Many of his points and some stories appear identical:

Blind Faith in General and Atheists’ Blind Faith

Elder Bruce Hafen gave this talk in early 2017 at BYU-Hawaii:  “Faith is Not Blind.”

Atheists often accuse believers of blind faith.  Faith without a shred of evidence!

This, unfortunately, may be true in some cases. Just as it’s true for many uneducated atheists who have not deeply contemplated their positions. After all, many atheists were raised in atheist homes, and have not been challenged.

But it isn’t true in my case or for many I know.  Indeed, we should all develop our beliefs in an environment of faith and reason.  Study and prayer.  Blind faith is untested faith.

Faith, reason,  and evidence are closely bound together.

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Learning and study enhances belief. Faith (belief) and reason (study) are complementary.  Not mutually exclusive. The scriptures support this position.

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God wants us to have faith,  but not blind faith.  Developed, nurtured faith isn’t blind.

Faith in your wife, after years of loyalty in marriage, is neither blind faith. Not at all, though it’s still faith! 

The Apostle John (see John 20:30-31 below) included some — but not nearly all — of the events in Jesus’ life so that we might believe in Him.  That thereby we might have eternal life.

In other words, understanding Jesus’ life, miracles, and teachings helps us believe.  John didn’t want us to believe blindly.

John himself was an eye witness.  Consequently, John shared the best evidence from Jesus’ life so our faith would be anything but blind!  He shared evidence so our faith would be evidence based. 

John 20:30-31 King James Version (KJV)

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

Lennox below makes a good case that atheists themselves exercise faith. Just as believers do.  Faith in the rational intelligibility of the Universe.

And, given their view — that evolution is a mindless, unguided process — they shouldn’t trust their own minds and the Science they produce.

But they do. Blindly!  Oh, the irony!

In a 2-minute segment below watch John Lennox discuss this topic of faith and blind faith with a very uncomfortable Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins is arguably the most militant atheist living.  Atheists believe in faith.  Don’t let them convince you otherwise.

Lennox argues that faith is based in evidence.  Dawkins says faith is only present where there is no evidence.  John points out that Richard Dawkins also exercises faith.  Faith in his wife, given past actions/loyalties.

Lennox is a brilliant, kind, and talented teacher.

Science developed in Western Europe precisely because Christians believed in a law giver.

In China and other areas, there was no unifying concept of a Creator.  The Gods, if they did believe in one or more, we’re capricious. One couldn’t systematically learn of the Universe.

Alvin Plantingsa asserts evolution itself undermines naturalism (more extreme form of atheism).