Questions, Answers and Beliefs

Get Answers ButtonThere’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.

7 thoughts on “Questions, Answers and Beliefs

    1. Of course, they are fond of forgetting anything that gets in the way. They want to think that faith is every bit as valid of a way of finding out about the world around us, but that's a laughable idea.

  1. Good old prayer that never works. Its amazing that theists cling to this especially when there are studies that show it does not work. Although of course they have "rational" explanations like…You should not test God.

    How that makes sense in someones mind is beyond me… I suppose its like my dad used to say about the Bumblebee it can fly because no body told it cant. Which is just his nonsense way of saying it makes no sense but we don't know why.
    My recent post A list of things that proves a creator (intelligent designer)?

    1. The problem is, they don't have rational explanations, they simply don't understand the meaning of the word. You'll see a lot of theists claiming that their explanations are "rational" because it makes sense to them and therefore it's got to be valid.

  2. "Holding up an imaginary answer to a real question is pointless."

    It's worse than pointless, it's damaging. "I don't know" drives people to find an answer, or at least be receptive to an answer someone else goes out and finds. "God did it" keeps people from looking and makes people reject the answer someone else discovered

    My recent post Why Do We Keep Repeating Ourselves?

    1. I agree with you there, once you accept an emotionally-comforting answer, you stop looking for the actual answer to the question and that's a problem. It can even be life-threatening if you accept the wrong answers just because they make you feel good. Mike told me a story, I'm not sure if it got into the podcast last week, about a woman whose doctor wanted to test a lump in her breast that she found but she was afraid so she went to a faith healer who told her that she was healed and therefore, she wasn't going to have it tested because she was convinced that it was now gone. That woman is probably in for a world of hurt if it's cancerous, but her idiotic beliefs are keeping her from seeking out the reality of the situation. And people say religion isn't harmful?

  3. While I wish “I don’t know” was common, Ihave not found it to be so.

    Sadly it seems most are afraid saying they do not know as they think it makes them look uneducated. So they make crap up or guess at an answer.

    I have no problem in either saying I do not know or admitting when I am wrong. And it is beyond me, why most others do not do the same.

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