I just got off of Skype with my good friend Dan, who I’ve known for a long, long time. We met on an online forum a number of years ago and while we initially were “enemies”, we’ve become very good friends over time. I’ve never met him face-to-face since he lives in Georgia, but we e-mail and Skype at least a couple of times a month. The thing is, Dan is a Christian, and if I had to label him, I’d say he’s a fundamentalist Christian. He’s also a working physicist and outside of his religious beliefs is probably one of the most intelligent, rational people I know. That’s why I thought he was probably the one I should ask about my quest to find intelligent theists.
He thinks I’m just wasting my time and unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree.
See, the nice thing about Dan is that, if you know how to push him, he can apply his critical thinking skills to his religious beliefs to at least a certain extent before he runs face-first into that faith wall. He’s perfectly willing to admit that he has no good reason to believe what he believes. He has no evidence, he has no well-reasoned arguments, he has nothing to support his claims, he believes because he wants to believe and there’s nothing anyone can say that will change that.
So I told him my criteria. I want to find theists who are not solely faith-based, who don’t believe solely out of emotional comfort, who are not just indoctrinated into their faith. I want people who have rational reasons to believe, who can lay out those specific reasons why they came to their faith and can evaluate their reasons rationally, critically and have evidence that it’s actually so. In short, I want people who actually give a damn if what they believe is true and can hold an intelligent conversation on it. Essentially, Dan told me not to bother, no such critter exists.
Honestly though, it shouldn’t be that hard to find. There are plenty of college-educated, scientifically-minded, intelligent people out there who hold religious beliefs, is it so absurd to ask for any of them to have applied the critical thinking skills they learned in college to their religious beliefs and be able to discuss it intellectually? If none of these people exist, you know what it tells me?
That religion is killed by rational thought. Anyone who was willing to do what I describe above is almost certainly not a theist any longer. This is the path taken by many atheists away from their religious beliefs, actually caring about reality, actually testing beliefs, actually questioning faith. Most people who are capable of doing these things or who are willing to do these things have almost certainly already done these things. At best, I might catch someone just on the cusp of rolling from theism to atheism, but I’m never going to find anyone who can do these things and still maintains a strong religious conviction.
Unfortunately, I think Dan is one of those people I feel the sorriest for. They know that what they believe is irrational, they know that what they believe has no evidence, they know it’s just an emotional crutch, yet they can’t throw off the shackles of irrationality to just deal with reality as it is. I don’t know if he struggles internally with this, he says he doesn’t, but I can’t imagine a high enough brick wall that would keep me from applying my scientific thinking to everything that goes on in my head. It’s sad to see someone with the tools, yet lack the will to use them. Luckily, it doesn’t get in the way of our friendship, but somewhere deep inside, when we talk, I know he can be a better person, he just chooses not to be and that’s sad.