Combating faith with reason -- can it be done?

Sent in by Monk

First, let me say that I am adamantly atheistic. I want to make that known to put my question(s) in the proper context and identify myself as a sincere seeker of knowledge (as opposed to a rabble-rousing “troll”). Having said that, I ask:

How is it possible to make an informed decision about anything when so many sources claim to have the inerrant truth? (This could apply to several subjects, but let’s limit it to religion for now). I reasoned my way out of what little faith I ever had using solid, verifiable evidence…but what about the religious masses? The findings of science, scholarly history, atheism, etc., etc., are enough for me. Yet, what is true and reasonable to me may not seem that way to someone else.

In my experience, you cannot combat faith with reason. Why? Because you cannot combat emotion with reason, and I would argue that faith is nothing more than an aberrant and misguided combination of otherwise healthy emotions. How can we, as non-believers, proselytize for our cause when our greatest weapons (reason, logic, PROOF, evidence, etc.) are utterly rejected before they are even heard? Must we wait for some fanatic with a ‘nuke to start a REAL Armageddon before the religious communities at large realize their insanities? I sometimes wonder if even the devastation of nuclear war would jar the convictions of some people.

Frankly, this makes me despair.

I see little hope for a brighter, more rational future. I think religion is too firmly entrenched, and I’m afraid it may prove our undoing. For a real wake-up call, read the works of Sam Harris (to which I am very much indebted): Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith. We cannot just sit back and wait. My ultimate question is to ask: “what can be done?”

Input, please.


To monitor comments posted to this topic, use .


Bob said...

You're doing it now! Keep writing to everyone. Letters to the editor of your newspaper is a great place to have a voice. The worst thing we can do is to do nothing and let the fundies think they are correct.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree that one cannot counter faith with reason. After all, this is how most of us who are Ex-Christians came to the position we have now.

However, reason is not the only arrow in our quiver. I think when we educate the Christian about the real history of their "faith," such as the consequences of religious intolerance (crusades, inquistion, etc), there's an emotional reaction -- hopefully a revulsion at what has been done in the name of "faith."

Chucky Jesus

Bloviator said...

I agree with your position regarding emotion vs. rational thought, and as Bob said, our only option is to keep speaking out against what we see as delusion. That said, I also agree with you and Mr. Harris that our prospects look dim. I will use my spouse as an example.

She is intelligent, hardworking, rational and thoughtful in all areas of her life, except one. When it comes to belief in Jesus, she takes on a completely different personality and becomes unwilling to hear differing viewpoints. Not at all a fire and brimstone sort, she is more tied up in the beatitudes, 1st corinthians "love is patient, love is kind" type of belief. I see the difference between her and myself being my willingness to look at another viewpoint and try to see things from there. Sort of like John Loftus' Outsider Test (see the Debunking Christianity website). I know she is far from alone in her viewpoint about keeping 'special places' in her mind that are immune to examination. From this I posit that there are those who, like me, are willing to take a different viewpoint to see where it will lead, and those, like my wife, who will not.

As Chucky Jesus stated, one can counter faith with reason, but only as regards reasonable people.

Anonymous said...

I feel that you CAN counter faith with Reason, but it has to happen internally, that is, YOU have to question your OWN faith.
We were conditioned early on to totally reject any outside questioning as "That old Devil trying to test your Faith", so it just won't work unless you happen across a person who is already questioning things for themselves.

Aspentroll said...

We live at a time when faith still has huge control on certain groups of people. I think that if you start in the south part of the US and travel north into Canada you can see the gradual change in fundyism from extreme to half assed reasonable.
Could it be the hot weather in the south which causes their brains to par boil and make those poor folks different than we northerners?
I don't think there is a quick fix for this problem. I t may take another century before clear thinking in most people will be the norm.
We have tendency push our views about atheism so hard that we sound like them. They have noticed this and are now saying that we sound like we are the "Church of Atheism". We do not belong to "churches", we are freethinkers.
To date the worst form of fundyism is Islam. They want us all to be Islamic or dead.
They are the real threat.

Jamie said...

John of Indiana, I agree. Reason led me away from my faith. But those same arguments, for years, bounced off me until I was ready to look for truth whether or not it agreed with my religion. Once I took the pre-conclusion away, everything else fell apart.

I really am starting to see religion as a sort of insanity, though. In the people I know, it's Mostly Harmless (though globally, we can see otherwise). But it still amounts to deciding first that This Over Here is the Inerrant Truth, and then only taking whatever science leads to that.

Having recently come out as a gay man, I am seeing this like crazy in all the ex-gay literature I find suddenly being sent my way. If you read it for long enough, the truth comes out: Sexual Orientation can't be unchangeable because the bible says homosexuality is wrong. So because of that pre-conclusion, then ex-gay programs MUST work (despite overwhelming evidence that almost never change gay people into straight people).

I noticed the pre-conclusions in a video that my wife and kids watched the other day about how evolution cannot possibly be true. First of all, the reason, according to the DVD, that scientists hold onto evolutionary belief in spite of the overwhelming evidence that we were created by the Christian God is that we don't want to do what the bible says. The rest of the DVD made equally ridiculous leaps in logic. (It also made me realize that I truly have been deconverted).

Jamie, Reluctantly atheist-leaning agnostic.

Hellbound Alleee said...

How can you make an informed decision about everything?

Maybe not. But here's what you CAN do: make calculated risks based on INDUCTION.

There. No need for faith.

Anonymous said...

"Must we wait for some fanatic with a ‘nuke to start a REAL Armageddon before the religious communities at large realize their insanities? I sometimes wonder if even the devastation of nuclear war would jar the convictions of some people."

At first when reading this section of your post, I nodded an affirmative that surely such a religious nuclear war would make them see the truth about their invisible God(s), but then I thought of other catastrophes that haven't made 'believers' even blink an eye in their steadfast faith.

Did such recent catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami disaster in Asia even put a dent in their undying faith.

One would think such disasters would make them wonder how God can permit such indiscriminate death and destruction, but the answers the faithful seem to provide us range from; "God will take care of his own in the next life", or God is sending a message to the planet earth that we need to shape-up or suffer more such disasters, as punishment for our wicked ways; right up to some fundies thinking that God needed to punish the overflow of sinners in those area's; that surely deserved to die.

Let's look at the example of Katrina.

I never hear a reasonable answer to how God chose to ignore what must have been thousands of related Christian prayers, many of them directly from those in the area of Katrina, that begged God from the deepest part of their spirit to let them not die or at least to spare their loved one's.

Did we see any tangible evidence that only those who begged God in a most sincere manner, were the only one's who were saved. Should we assume if you didn't pray hard enough, that either your loved one's died, or you yourself died.
Can we assume that all who survived Katrina, were the ones who's God decided met the minimal requirements for begging for their lives, or the lives of others they prayed for?

Perhaps I have it all backwards and the reward from God is actually to die during such disasters and those who lived were the one's actually ignored by God.
If that is the case, then surely everyone who is both good and a believer, should have died during that storm and on a more global scale, all the good believers should be dying at a young age, to collect their early rewards in heaven?

While Katrina happened in an area of the USA that is mostly God fearing (even while some say they love to 'sin away'), I bet if we could somehow poll those who survived the storm waters that we'd find a couple of interesting mind-sets going on.

1. To those survivors who are still religious, we would find that they are thanking their god for sparing their lives and hearing their prayers. They would ignore that fact that their god permitted their friends and loved one's to perish and their own homes to be obliterated.
These are the folks who insist god works in mysterious ways and who are they to question such things about his strange decisions.

2. Then we have what are probably the few who were non-religious, along with those who lost their faith in god because god didn't hear their prayers, yet we still see both these groups still alive. I suppose the Christian answer would be that god must have hope that these folks will change their minds in the future. Again, who are we to question his infinite knowledge, they will say to us non-believers.

3. Then surely we must have some who clearly were huge sinners in god's eye's and yet they also are still alive. If we speculate that the disaster was to punish the sinners for their errant ways, then how do we explain that some terrible sinners are still amongst the living?
Let me guess, god only killed the sinners he knew had no chance of ever changing so surely what we have left are the "redeemable sinners".

Would taking such a poll show any odd trends at all here?

Would accounting for believing in god or praying one's best prayers, show us that those who were faithful in god met a much different outcome than normal statistics of chance would clearly show us, as to who survived or didn't survive.
Would it show us that those who prayed for their homes to be spared the sweeping flood waters, actually had their homes spared more so than those who failed to pray or believe.

I'm willing to argue that if we could see such a poll, that we'd find that faith in any god, made absolutely zero difference in the outcome of who/what was affected and who/what wasn't affected during this tragedy.

Alas, if we did have such a poll and showed it to the faithful, their response would be either that we didn't take the poll properly, or that Satan himself misdirected the results of the blasphemous poll.

As others have pointed out already, you can not reason with folks who's minds were made up long ago about their own 'reality'.
To debate such things with most of them feels much like trying to convince a 5 year old child who has a stubborn belief in Santa, that there is no Santa to believe in.
If the child isn't mature enough to accept the adult belief that Santa isn't reality, then no amount of evidence will persuade that child that their hero is nothing more than fiction.

No, I'm not saying that I would try to convince such a young child that Santa is phoney, but if that same child still believed in Santa when they reached something like their 15th birthday, I think I would be justified in at least trying to show them the errors of their ways at that point.

My point is that trying to show reality to the god believers is very much like trying to convince a firm child believer of Santa's existence, that those presents aren't really from the north pole.
Such a child will make a million excuses as to why their must be a santa and ignore all the evidence to the contrary, which parallels adult god-believers who do the exact same thing.

No Monk, I have no reason to believe from history that even such a nuclear war would shake the faith of any humans who believe that their god is running the show down here from day to day. They will not conclude that their is no god controlling earthy/human events, but once again will insist that god works in mysterious ways and that us humans with our limited understanding can never second guess God's motives.

They will just go-with-the-flow and maintain their faith, just as most of them continue to do with smaller scale natural disasters we see all the time.
They will surely again attribute any deaths of the enemies to god helping their own cause and make grand excuses for the casualties of their own.

The Atheist Tooth Fairy

resonate11 said...

"Frankly, this makes me despair.

I see little hope for a brighter, more rational future. I think religion is too firmly entrenched, and I’m afraid it may prove our undoing."

For some hope, check out the Edge Question of the Year which is, What are you optimistic about? Several of the responders, including Sam Harris, address religion.

(Sorry, I don't know how to create a link in this format."

Lance said...

I keep bouncing back and forth between hope and despair when thinking about this issue. You already articulated the despair side, so I'll mention one instance of hope I had recently.

In discussion of science and religion with a Christian friend (typical young/old earth stuff), I mentioned how Copernicus and Galileo were persecuted by the church for showing that the bible did not fit with reality.

My friend said "But the bible does not say the earth is flat or that the son goes around the earth." I countered by showing him the exact verses that were used against Galileo and talk about the foundations of the earth, how the earth does not move and the son does.

He had never looked at or heard these verses before, and was surprised to see them. All I got from him was a quizzical "Huh, how about that." and the conversation ended. And thus a seed of doubt was planted.

One thing I will disagree with on Monk's post is his list of weapons we have. He mentions reason, logic, PROOF, evidence, etc., but we ex-christians also have the bible. We know it as well if not better than the christians themselves.

They tend to cherry pick the things in the bible that support their particular flavor of theology, whereas we can use the entire thing to uncover its inconsistencies, errors and just plain silliness.

So if the religious won't listen to reason, logic, etc. then use the foundation of their faith against them, namely the bible. It is in our favor that it is such an easy target.

Anonymous said...

Dear adamant atheists who is also a sincere seeker of truth (wtf?):

You say you despair.

Given your presuppostions, you are right to despair.

After all, you have no future, a hundred years from now...probably much less...all of this cyber chatter will be forgotten, as will we.

Anything else I can do for you?

Do you need windshield wipers? I can get you a great deal.

ESCartist said...

The Atheist = Nihilist fallacy is one of my larger pet peeves. There is only one basic tenet of faith required by atheists to give their life meaning - "It matters." The answer to this question is as diverse as the Atheist population, but you can certainly find 'rational faith', reasons to believe that your life and your actions matter without resorting to believing in an anthropomorphic deity.

As for the original question of this thread... It is clear to me that the gift of rationality is hardly universal. For those of us who share a burning desire to truly understand the universe around us, we can never be content with faith alone, and I believe this website is proof of that. There are many, however, who simply do not care - The 'god' drug makes them feel good, the biblical apologists provide the illusion of rationality through fallacy, but the fallacies simply do not bother them.

For those people, no amount of rationality will be able to combat their simple faith. The drive to expand your mind beyond animalistic faith in the supernatural is something that an individual either possesses or they do not, and for those who do not possess it, there is nothing we can say or do to change their mind.

Lance said...

Hey Blair,
You are missing the point. Monk says nothing of despair about life in general, but only about the issue of living in a world free from the irrationality that is religion in general and christianity in particular.

You have made a logical leap that is not supported by the evidence at hand. And you are mean about it too. WTF?

Anonymous said...

You don't have to gointo the south to find people who who are basically fundies. Just watch the republican presidental "debates".
Stormin Norm

Huey said...

Monk I believe you are correct in saying that faith is “nothing more than an aberrant and misguided combination of otherwise healthy emotions” but I have reservations about the “healthy” part of your statement. I have known since I was a teenager that faith has a far greater appeal to our emotional side than our reasoning side. Christians know this whether they will admit to it or not.

A commonly asked question of christians who are doubting their faith or uncertain about a life situation is “what does your heart tell you?”. This is just another way of asking about the christian’s emotional state, as christians claim that god does not talk to them in their brains rather their hearts, or “heart of hearts” whatever that means. They believe that because they are happy, sad, angry, etc, that it is god “speaking” to them. (I guess that their all-powerful and all-knowing deity can’t speak English!) They are taught from an early age to distrust reason, beware the skeptic, listen to what you heart tells you, etc. The emotional response is everything to the religiously pious.

Reason does not play a part in religion and never has, regardless of the numerous and inane attempts at their making christianity sound scientific. I have almost never seen a christian, who when presented with evidence contrary to their belief, start to doubt (not to say it doesn’t happen, obviously it does). Their most common response is to get angry. After all, any proof against their position is an attack on their god. I live with my best friends parents, who are elderly and need occasional help around the house and they are very good friends of mine. However, if a visitor should start asking me about my beliefs, the husband will jump to his feet and start screaming obscenities at me. I do mean scream and this is just the result of someone making an inquiry. In my life, this is the usual response of members of the laity. Ministers, pastors and the like have always been more level headed, genuinely interested in my “side” and perfectly willing to compare my views with theirs in a rational manner.

I tend to agree with the other posters that a nuclear armageddon would not solve anything. A large part of inciting the populace to war is to assure them that their god is on their side. I offer G. W. Bush as an example. So whoever came out the winner, if such a thing were possible in a full scale atomic conflict, would simply claim that theirs was the righteous cause and that their god led them to victory. However, it is more likely the survivors would desperately need the emotional comfort that religion provides and thus religion would flourish even stronger, with the now dead secularists taking all the blame.

Blair we seek truth that is demonstratable and provable. Your WTF comment is typical of the religious in that they assume that they know the truth and the rest of us are profane. In fact, when presented with contrary evidence we (generalizing this group) will reevaluate our beliefs as part of our goal of seeking truth. When the religious are presented with evidence contrary to their beliefs, they will either deny the evidence or make up a new belief to refute the evidence, immediately incorporate it into their belief system and then claim that it is what they believed all along, that they know in their hearts that it is true, god revealed it to them, etc. That is just one of the many ways that the religious deceive themselves.

Yes I also despair, but not because I won’t spend eternity listening to the agonized screams of my dammed family and friends as I grovel with love and fear at the feet of loving and just, yet vengenful, maniacal power freak. I despair because I see the possible end to what I hold dear, an end brought about because a lot of people have decided that their god is the true god and they are willing to go to war to prove it.

freethinker05 said...

I think religion says it best, when it says nothing at all!....Roger

Kyan said...

"I sometimes wonder if even the devastation of nuclear war would jar the convictions of some people."

There are a lot of people who *want* there to be a nuclear war and are actively trying to start one because it will hasten the 2nd coming. Truly!

Someone gets their house blown down by Katrina, their neighbors are all dead, and they say they are blessed by god because they are still alive! Some blessing!

This is the twisted way religion makes you think. It hijacks your reasoning abilities.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone who has commented. You've all given me ideas and angles I'd not yet considered.

I thank you all.

Some highlights:

Yes, I also extend those thanks to you, Blair. Individuals like you help me strengthen my resolve to do what I can to combat the insanities of religion. I'm in your debt.

I think John of Indiana is correct in thinking we can only be effective when doubt has already been planted, but where does the doubt come from? What causes it? I want to learn how to cause the doubt.

Aspentroll, ironically enough, I am from the South, so we are not ALL insane, though I can tell you that if you think atheists are outnumbered in the US as a whole…well, to be in the South and to be atheist is to be effectively alone. Very alone. DANGEROUSLY alone.

Hellbound Alleee: “How can you make an informed decision about everything? Maybe not. But here's what you CAN do: make calculated risks based on INDUCTION. There. No need for faith.” Well said.

Lance, I had never considered that the Bible was a weapon in OUR arsenal, but you are exactly right. Excellent. The biggest problem I see is actually getting Christians to READ their Bibles. That’s one thing I have tried…with basically no success.

Thanks again, all.

Lance said...

Holy shit I just realized I spelled sun with an 'o' in my first post. And twice no less! What kind of weird ass Freudian slip was that????? Must be all that christian programming embedded deep in there somewhere.

Thanks to you all for not pointing out my gaff.


Anonymous said...

The simplest answer is: We wait. Just as we are repulsed by the constant preaching of christians, the same is felt from the other end. The best course of action would be to stick together, since a devout christian may never see our point. Christians will bring their own undoing that they so love to bestow upon others. They are a self fufilling prophecy. The harder we fight to stop them, the harder they resist.

We as unbelievers must wait. Wait for those that begin to question. Wait for pastors, priests, and other religious leaders to screw up. Wait for the church to crumble from within. Wait for their religous claims to be found false. Wait until enough relize, leaveing a shell of a cult grasping onto its last breath.

As a final measure, we must stick together. Never waiver in our resolve. Extend support to those that understand our stance. Move as one unit that cannot be controlled. WE must continue on, for as long as we fight, we survive. We must show them that unbelievers are not as easily defined, catagorized, or silenced as they could possibly understand.

Anonymous said...

I haven't see anyone comment on the most powerful tool in our arsenals, our own stories. People will not listen when you tell them what you think, but when you tell them your story of what you believe suddenly it's as interesting as gossip.

So make first person statements. I grew up in a home with a devout Mom and Dad. Maybe I was a rebel or maybe I'm a doubting Thomas, but I started really looking into Christianity because I couldn't find anything outside the Bible that corroborated anything in the Bible. Then go from there telling it as a story rather than a debate.

When you argue with people they'll dig their heels in because they don't want you to prove them wrong. When you tell about your personal search, why you started searching and what you've found then it becomes interesting as human drama.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous (and everyone else):

Have you ever tried telling a Christian that you (as an atheist) are, in fact, the one that is persecuted in this country for you beliefs and not them? If so, how did they react?

Huey said...

To a christian, persecution is the label they use for when they are not allowed to do whatever they want, I'm sorry, whatever their god wants.

No Monk, I have never tried that one. I am still trying to come to grips with being told that they "changed" the study results and it is now proven that prayer works, though she can't tell me where she read that one.

Still that is an interesting question and I will try that and get back to you. Living in the Seattle area I don't know any fundies up here. My christian friends are all pretty laid back. But I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

Huey said...
" I am still trying to come to grips with being told that they "changed" the study results and it is now proven that prayer works, though she can't tell me where she read that one."


I just love when religious (or supernatural folks in general) tell you about some 'study' that supports their beliefs, yet they rarely can produce the study itself for one to check-out.

Many times if they do show you something tangible, you realize it was done by the fundie types themselves and wasn't even overseen by someone unbiased.

Sometimes they take a legit non-biased study, such as the one about prayer that was in the news about a year or so ago, and then they 'update' it's conclusions with their 'take' on it and pretend it's okay to do so.

The 'tales' they use to bolster their viewpoints, sound more like urban legends that have no supporting evidence to be factual, but sound real enough to get the emotional response they intended.

As far as prayer itself working goes; every legit study I've read about, shows one of two outcomes.

1. The folks prayed for did no better than the folks who were not.

2. The folks who knew they were being prayed for, did WORSE than the other non-prayed for group.

Perhaps knowning one is being prayed for causes some stress factors, that worsen their medical condition?

Putting aside the prayer studies themselves, has anyone ever seen prayer cause a true miracle?

No, I'm not talking about getting over one's cold faster or even curing some cancer, but something more like a returning soldier growing back a whole new arm or leg.

Jesus said the faithful would be able to move mountains !!!

Do we know of any moved mountains, either from his time or the 2000 years since then?
If so, did anyone tell the map-makers about the moved mountain (g)

I would hate to have a car accident with a moved miracle mountain on say the I-80 interstate for instance.


Pageviews this week: