There’s one thing I keep seeing out of the theist community, something that pops up in virtually every discussion, particularly when theists are trying to claim that faith is somehow rational. I’ve seen theists make statements that faith must be rational because it manages to provide answers to questions that science simply cannot answer.
This is ridiculous. The reality, whether they choose to accept it or not, is that science looks for actual answers that demonstrably explain a given phenomenon or observation. Science does not simply propose an idea, invented out of whole cloth, because they are personally uncomfortable not having a ready solution to their problem.
Just because you want an answer to your question doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have one, or that you can just make one up that appeals to you. Holding up an imaginary answer to a real question is pointless. We also need to remember that “answering a question” is pointless if the question is just about someone’s opinion. “Oh look, my religion can answer my question about what my favorite flavor of ice cream is, therefore my religion is superior!” is not a valid statement.
When I was growing up, I remember that for the longest time, people said that science couldn’t explain how bumblebees could fly. They were considered so un-aerodynamic, their weight-to-lift ratio was so wrong that they shouldn’t be able to fly, yet they can. Science understands very well how they can fly, but let’s assume for the moment that it didn’t. Would it then be rational to think that bumblebees fly because they use tiny anti-gravity generators provided to them by magical pixies? Is that a credible answer to a question that we’re going to pretend otherwise has no answer? Of course not.
Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than when theists will demand they know that God is real because they had some experience and can’t come up with a better explanation than “God did it!” This is the classical “argument from ignorance” and is far too widespread among theists, I run into it virtually every day. They claim that they know, for a fact, that God is real because some event or some experience happened and that proves God. No, all it proves is their own irrationality and inability to examine a situation critically.
It’s shameful how many people seem utterly incapable of looking at their beliefs step-by-step, proceeding only from the evidence and not from their emotional desires. I’m sure we’ve all heard something like this from theists, but I went and grabbed a random claim online.
I prayed to Him to please tell me what was going on with someone. I was so stressed out. In my dream that night He came and told me all about what the guy was going through and I had no prior knowledge of and said that I needed to be his friend first. Within a week a mutual friend told me the exact same things that the guy was going through!
Now most of us would take a look at something like that and immediately say “you’re an idiot”. It makes so many absurdly unsupported assertions that I find it hard to keep a straight face. First, this individual is hoping to use God as a means for spying on someone, that tells us already what kind of a mindset they have. Secondly, how do they determine, rationally, that God did any of the things that are claimed? Did they likewise pray to all the other gods man has invented on different nights to see if they got similar results? Or did they pray to God again on a different night about a different person and have the same experience? It would seem that such an idea would eliminate the need for political or industrial spying, just pray to God to know the secrets of your enemies, take a nap and you’ll magically know it all when you wake up! God is the ultimate voyeur! Not only is this a perfect example of the “argument from ignorance”, where you take an experience without a known explanation and arbitrarily assign an emotionally-comforting explanation to it, it’s also a fine illustration of “confirmation bias”. In fact, in this case, the two fallacies play together to form the conclusion. The individual has no reason to suspect the answer that they give, but they pick an answer which they were already biased toward.
This is especially for theists, but can be useful for anyone. If you want to be at all rational, you have got to look at events in your life critically. Ask yourself how you get from point A to point B. Faith is not an adequate answer. After all, if you have an experience and attribute God, why can’t someone else have the exact same experience and attribute Zeus? In fact, I remember cases I’ve heard about where people were involved in a disaster and survived and each attributed a different “cause” to their salvation. How do you determine which is actually so? Or do you assume that each person’s individual god saved his follower and no other? Just because you’d like to believe that God saved your life, just because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, that doesn’t mean it’s so and if you can find no objective evidence that points to God being factually involved, the best explanation you can actually come up with is “I don’t know”.
I’m willing to bet “I don’t know” is much more common than you’d like to think. Religion doesn’t answer questions, it demands ad hoc explanations in place of rational evaluations. You can fill in anything you like, from gods and ghosts to your dog, without corroborating evidence, you’re just pulling your “answer” out of your ass.
And that stinks.