A Reply to Mark Frank
|May 21, 2006||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
This reply is too long to put in the comments section to the previous post, so I am making a new post.
Frank writes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is an important difference between believing things to be true a priori and having faith.Ã¢â‚¬Â
BarryA replies: It depends on what you mean by Ã¢â‚¬Å“faith.Ã¢â‚¬Â The first entry in the American Heritage Dictionary is what I mean: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Take your example. Yes, it is true that you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t accept 2+2=4 on faith. But back up a couple of steps and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll find faith at a deeper level. You believe this mathematical formula is true, because you believe in the law of non-contradiction, which in turn means you believe we live in a non-chaotic universe in which there is meaning and in which logic prevails. You believe this not because you can demonstrate it to be true (Popper says, correctly I think, that universal statements can never be verified), but because you have a confident belief that it is true Ã¢â‚¬â€œ i.e., you believe it on faith.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To believe something out of faith is to believe it independently of logic and evidence.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Not true. It is true that some people have a faith that is independent of logic and evidence. We call this Ã¢â‚¬Å“blind faith.Ã¢â‚¬Â But one cannot extrapolate from that fact to the conclusion that all faith is blind faith. Blind faith is a subset of faith. I once read a novel called Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Skeleton in GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ClosetÃ¢â‚¬Â about an archeologist who claimed to have conclusive evidence that he had found an ossuary containing the bones of Christ. I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t spoil the suspense by telling you how the book turns out (I recommend it). I mention it because in the novel a liberal pastor was asked in a TV interview if it were true that the bones of Christ had been found would it have any affect on his faith. He said it would not because he had never really believed in the resurrection anyway. The reporter then asked a conservative pastor what he would do if the bones were proved to be those of Christ. He said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would despair.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I agree with the conservative pastor. My faith in Christ is based upon my belief in his claim to be the Son of God who came to sacrifice himself to take away the sins of the world. My belief that ChristÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s claim is true is not based on blind faith. It is based on a reasoned analysis of the evidence. Christ demonstrated his Godhood through many signs and miracles, the most important of which was his victory over death demonstrated by the resurrection. If it can be proved that Christ did not rise from the dead, my faith would be shattered. So you see, my faith is not independent of logic and evidence. Just the opposite is true. His tomb is empty and from that follows . . . everything.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It may be that logic and/or evidence will support your faith, but what kind of Christian would give up their faith because they come to have doubts about the ontological argument?Ã¢â‚¬Â
I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t speak for others, but the ontological argument has never impressed me that much.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Atheism in this sense is not a faithÃ¢â‚¬Â
Again, it depends upon what you mean by faith. Based upon the dictionary definition I quoted above, it most certainly is.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it [atheism] is an a priori belief either.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I never said that it was. I said that believe in metaphysical naturalism (which seems to me to be a necessary corollary to atheism) is held on an a priori basis. Surely you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t dispute that.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Most atheists come to their position because they can see no evidence for a deity.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Not true. Any child can see the evidence for a deity. It takes someone with a lot of pride in their own limited wisdom (i.e., a fool) to deny the obvious evidence. Atheists donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come to their position because they see no evidence; they come to their position by suppressing the evidence in their mind.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Atheism has no logical implications for any kind of relationship with another being or for how to behave.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Mark, I am sorry I must speak so forcefully, but this statement is simply absurd. For the ethical implications of atheism I will let Dostoevsky speak: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.Ã¢â‚¬Â The 20th centuryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wars of atheism were caused by people who were not restrained by a belief in a transcendent ethical system established by God. If that is not an implication for a Ã¢â‚¬Å“relationship with another being or for how to behaveÃ¢â‚¬Â I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what is.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The morality of an atheist does not stem from their atheism. It comes from other sources such as a desire for compassion and fairness, which is just as much as a human desire as the desire for self-preservation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Not true. There are two and only two grounds for a system of morality. (1) a transcendent moral order; or (2) a subjective moral belief (i.e., each person makes it up as he goes). Let me ask you this: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If an atheistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s subjective desire to have sexual relations with a child is stronger than his subjective desire for Ã¢â‚¬Å“compassion and fairness,Ã¢â‚¬Â on what principle should he choose Ã¢â‚¬Å“compassion and fairness?Ã¢â‚¬Â There is none.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hitler was not an atheist. His religion was all mixed up but he was not anti-religious and to some extent he justified himself with religious language and there is no reason to think he was insincere. To quote from Mein Kampf . . .Ã¢â‚¬Â
First, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care what Hitler said about his religious beliefs (or anything else) in Mein Kampf. He was a mass murderer. He was also a liar. It seems to me to be the acme of naivetÃƒÂ© and credulity to accept his word as any evidence, much less conclusive evidence, for any proposition.
Hitler was a pagan atheist. He was heavily influenced by the militant evangelical atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, who suggested the practice of a kind of neo-paganism, and that is probably the mixed up religion to which you refer. NietzscheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paganism was not based upon belief in a deity, and neither was HitlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Hitler was fanatically anti-Semitic as we all know. But he was also fanatically anti-Christian. That is why Deitrich Bonhoffer and others were martyred by his regime.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Communism does have atheism as one of its foundations but it is hardly the essence of communism . . . Had Marx decided that religion and communism were compatible the whole horrible business might have happened in much the same way.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This is like saying, if red were really green everything would be different. It is not simply a historical coincidence, as you imply, that Marx and Engels and Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot, etc., etc. were militant atheists. A commitment to metaphysical materialism (and its corollary, atheism) is in fact at the very essence of communism. That is why every communist regime has always had the repression of religion as its first order of business. That was true in 1917 in LeninÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Russia, and it is true today in, for example, Belarus, where the communists are making a comeback.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Although the sheer numbers of deaths due to communism outnumber all others it is not at all obvious this was due to the leadersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ atheism.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Not true. Wars of atheism are and will always be much bloodier than wars of religion for the simple reason that religious violence is by definition committed by religious men. And while their acts of violence are reprehensible, as I have already said, they are at least checked to some degree by the ethical demands of their religion. There is no such check on the violence of an atheist. See Dostoevsky above.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Western Europe is full of atheists and yet these countries are relatively free of massacres . . .Ã¢â‚¬Â
Where do you think the Nazis and the communists came from? When they were in charge in Western Europe there were massacres such as the world has never seen.