Still settling in here in the land of endless (and depressing) sunshine. More on climategate coming shortly.
Two months ago, the Center for Inquiry sponsored a Blasphemy Contest. The results are in, and the winner is…
Faith is no reason.
This, it will become clear, philosophically unsound slogan was dreamt up by Ken Peters, who lives in—wait for it—California (I’ll let you know if I bump into him).
Thrilled with the chant, CFI president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay said “This entry, using only four words, summarizes nicely one of the key principles of post-Enlightenment thought. Beliefs should be based on evidence and reason. Faith is not a basis for logically sound belief.”
When the CFI first announced this contest, some people dared call it a bad idea. Some said that CFI was “soliciting hate speech.” Others “likened CFI to Nazis publishing anti-Semitic attacks.” CFI rejected these criticisms as “mischaracterizations.” “In holding a blasphemy contest, we wished to underscore our position that religious beliefs are subject to examination and criticism, just like other beliefs,” said Lindsay. “Sometimes that criticism may take the form of a scholarly essay; sometimes the criticism may take the form of a pithy, pointed remark. Both are appropriate forms of free expression.”
A nice reply, that. But only if it is used in answer to an argument that held CFI should not be allowed to hold their contest—a position nobody held. Lindsay should have known that he was stuffing a straw man, given his organization is supposed to deal with logical thinking.
Worse, nowhere does Lindsay attempt to defend the most common charges that the contest was juvenile, mean spirited, crass, pointless, and asinine. Probably for the good reason that these would be have been, in fact, impossible to refute given the logically false winning entry, and given the evidence of the four runners up:
- “There’s no religion like no religion,” submitted by Daniel Boles of Thailand
- “I wouldn’t even follow your god on Twitter,” submitted by Michael Hein of South Carolina
- “The reason religious beliefs need protection from ridicule is that they are ridiculous,” submitted by Michael Nugent of Ireland
- “I survived the God virus,” submitted by Perry Bulwer of British Columbia, Canada.
Of these, only Boles’s manages the tiniest gloss of humor. Hein’s Twitter entry is a symptom of the low-IQ, Daily-Show quality of thinking that passes for reasoned arguments nowadays. You’re supposed to chuckle when you hear things like that, and then allow a warm glow of superiority to suffuse your cockles. This induces a euphoria-like state in the mind of its victims and is what allows them to, for example, knowingly purchase a Noam Chomsky book.
Nugent’s “ridiculous” charge has never been leveled by any scholar of religion, for the excellent reason that it is easy to show that it can be rational to believe specific religious claims. Not all claims and not for all religions, certainly—I have yet to see a defense of money-hungry Scientology, for example—but there are many works showing the advantages, such as group cohesion, etc., that accrue from adhering to religious ceremony.
Bulwer’s is the standard communist party line, and hearing it reminds us why we are fearful of the left’s innate blood lust (which was amply indulged over the past century). To hard-core Progressives, religion is a medical phenomenon that, if it can’t be forcefully cured (for the good of the infected), can at least justify the removal of the “vectors” from polite society.
Back to “Faith is no reason.” Faith, used in this sense, means belief without resort to empirical evidence. There exists a large philosophical literature on the subject of a priori knowledge, which asks if we can know certain things without resorting to external evidence. That is, if our intuitions can sometimes be relied upon (nobody argues that it always can).
Of course, not all philosophers agree that a priori knowledge is possible. But all do agree that there are at least promising arguments for it. They know that in certain fields, such as mathematics, such knowledge forms the base—the unproved solid ground—upon which all else is based.
This isn’t the place for a complete defense of the idea, but consider this brief one: you can’t first know that an empirical observation supports a theory (or statement, or proposition) without first knowing that empirical observations can be used to support theories. And you can’t learn that from experience. That much must be innate and taken as true.
Which is to say, that faith can be and is a reason for belief. Lindsay should have known that. But it wouldn’t have been as pithy to say, “Faith is sometimes a reason—but just not for religion.”