Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Obstinacy of Religious Thinking

I have spent the past few years on a personal quest to expand my knowledge about things outside the areas of my professional expertise.  In particular, I have been very interested in learning whether there may be some justification for religious belief that I was unaware of that might be worthy of consideration.  This could potentially cause me to change my mind about what I believe, and there certainly are many religious believers that are convinced.  Surely at least some of them should have pretty good reason to believe what they do.

I have been an atheist for a long time, and I don't think there was any particular moment of epiphany.  It's something that I never devoted much thought to.  But I just don't believe the stories in the bible.  Even as a child, I recall sitting in catechism class and thinking This doesn't make sense.  How could Jesus dying make me free of guilt if I did something bad?  As I grew up and became educated in science and logic, I realized that there were so many things in the bible that couldn't have happened (or at least probably didn't happen) the way they are described, I came to regard the biblical stories as just so much bullshit.  And that goes for belief in God as well.  But I didn't dwell on it.

But I understand that things aren't always what they seem.  What if I haven't been exposed to the real knowledge that believers have?  Maybe I just don't have full picture.  So I set out to discover what, if anything, that might be.  I started by perusing the Secular Web.  I found plenty of good material that tended to confirm what I already believed.  I also realized that there are philosophers of religion, and if there was any hope of finding the rationale for religious belief, I should listen to what they say.  Not being trained in philosophy, I wanted to start out in a place where, hopefully, I could be introduced to the philosophical concepts at a level that I could digest.

I listened for a while, and then I started to interact with the commenters there, because I felt that I could clarify my understanding better by questioning them.  I wanted to discuss these issues in order to explore their reasoning, and also to give my own reasoning.  I also did a lot of reading.  So I learned a little about philosophy, I learned about many of the theistic arguments (especially Christian) that they use to justify their belief, and I also learned that it is impossible to use logic to dissuade most of them from that belief.  As I heard these theistic arguments, I often could see that there were logical flaws in them.  And usually when I tried to point out those flaws, it was met with derision or a haughty dismissive attitude.  Aside from a few who were willing to discuss and debate, I realized that most of them saw me as an enemy, not as someone with whom they could debate the questions and issues.  Pity.  I must admit that over time, in reaction to their behavior toward me, my own demeanor came to be somewhat less deferential and more combative. 

Nevertheless, I have found my time there to be of value.  I now can say that I have at least a top-level understanding of theistic arguments.  I think there are no more as yet undiscovered major areas of theistic argumentation for me to come across.  And I can say with greater confidence that there's really nothing there that I should find persuasive.  I've read philosopher Graham Oppy's Arguing about Gods, and he seems to be in agreement with that sentiment.  But I had to find out.  I have concluded that theistic philosophy is little more than a way to rationalize theistic belief.  It is window dressing for superstition, that gives it an air of intellectual respectability.  It often employs very clever parlor tricks to conceal the logical flaws - something that James A. Lindsay has called "hiding the turd".

What I was disappointed to learn is just how impervious to reason religious believers can be.  Try to tell Victor Reppert that the Argument from Reason is based on an unjustified assertion that rational thought can't emerge from purely material sources.  (He'll give you rationalization, but he won't give you justification.)  Try to tell Bob Prokop that the stories about the resurrection of Jesus could possibly have some natural explanation.  (He'll cite more biblical stories as his proof.)  Try to tell Ben Yakov that Thomistic reasoning rests on medieval metaphysical foundations that modern thinking people have no reason to accept as axiomatic.  You will be met by stubborn obstinacy in the face of logic and reason.  In each of these cases, the common thread is religious belief that trumps reason.  And there's absolutely nothing that can beat that. 

So I think there's little left there for me to gain at this point.  Far be it from me to spoil their party.  And there are still so many other things left for me to learn.


  1. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the Christians posting on Victor Reppert's blog are typical of Christians everywhere. They really are not. In particular, Ilion and Ben Yachov are, in my experience, quite unusual in their abuse, insults and lack of reason.

    Ben Yachov has been at this for years. About 10 years ago a blogger, a Catholic like Ben Yachov, said that when she found that he was posting on a blog she avoided that blog. I know just how she felt.

    But there are reasonable and polite Christians on the internet. I hope you can find some of them.

  2. Kathen, thank you for your comment.

    Of course there are reasonable and polite Christians. I noted the there were some on Victor's blog that I had extended debates with, and I always found that to be a rewarding experience. I never expected to change anybody's mind, but it is an interesting exercise to consider their arguments and make my own arguments against them.

    I don't absolve myself of all blame, either. But I never had trouble engaging in polite conversation with those who were willing to do the same. That's kind of the thing that bugs me. I know very well that I am not the best spokesperson for the things I believe. But who on Victor's blog is? Does Papalinton engage in nasty ad hominem attacks? If Victor wants to maintain a civil environment, maybe he should consider where the real problem lies. I doubt that hostility will magically vanish in our absence.