Sunday, February 4, 2007

A "Proof" of Faith?

This post is an outgrowth of these prior posts:
  1. Feb. 27, 2006: Imagination Vs. Reality
  2. Apr. 8, 2006: Once Upon a Time
  3. Aug. 30, 2006: This I Believe...
  4. Sept. 6, 2006: And Knowing is Half the Battle


Did you know that in at least four states, as an atheist, it is illegal to run for political office? It's quite true, actually, although I doubt these laws are enforced actively. It's hard to see how an atheist could run for a political office and win in a country that seems so "pro" sky god. But recently, atheism has "come out of the closet," so to speak, in that, since the great and mule-headed Shrubya came into office, and even more so since the 9/11 attacks, it seems that more people are comfortable with being known and described as a "nonbeliever" in light of the fact that Muslims are considered a greater threat to mainstream and conservative Christianity. I dare say, a lot more Christians today are more comfortable with the "gay neighbors" or the "atheist neighbors" than any Muslims who might be moving into or currently living in any neighborhood, wouldn't you agree?

But while atheism is on the rise and making it's way into the mainstream of the United States (although for how long or how strong a movement it becomes remains to be seen), there are many misconceptions about what an atheist is, as in, most people in the United States define an atheist simply as one who does not believe god exists. And while there may very well be people who simply stop there and say, "Yes, I'm an atheist," most atheists are atheists for one very simple and important fact: there is no incontrovertible, scientific proof that such a being as a god exists. Atheism is based on the kind of faith that says, "Well, every morning I've put my key in the ignition and my car has started; therefore it is rational to believe that any time the proper key is inserted into the proper ignition, it will cause a car to start." Of course, there are times when the car does not start, but an atheist would then entertain other such rational notions, such as "The battery might be dead"; or "I may be out of gas." Both are logical, rational conclusions, also taken on faith from past experience whether of their own or another individuals, of what may cause a key to not start a car.

Faith as practiced in religious circles is quite a different matter; in fact, much of the "proof" of their expressions of faith comes from either hindsight, emotional feelings, or tradition. And while many people of faith can use rational reasoning when it comes to their cars and why they may or may not start, something seems to happen to the laws of logic and reason when it enters into what can be categorized as a "super natural" or "unexplainable" realm. The question is: Why can one reasonably deduce, using standard scientific methods, why their car won't start, but not deduce a logical rational explanation for, say, a sudden recovery from illness?

Allow me some time to explain: Aunt Claire get sick--really sick. Loved ones begin to pray for healing, speedy recovery, wisdom for the doctors, or any of another host of acceptable religious methods for dealing and coping with the terrible illness of a loved one. If Aunt Clarie recovers, a sudden and immediate send-up of praise for miraculous intervention ensues; if Aunt Claire dies, the religious console themselves with axioms such as "It was god's will" or "God called her home," or a hundred other "comfort" quotes. One wonders (okay, I wonder) why they don't simply say to themselves (if Aunt Claire recovers) "The doctor knew what he/she was doing and used his expertise and knowledge to heal Aunt Claire." Or, if Aunt Claire were to perish, simply say "The disease must have been too strong for her body to handle, even though the doctors probably did their best." Why is this supernatural intervention, or even supernatural non-intervention, considered as an important factor?

Of course, some Christians, when their car won't start, stop and pray, and then try the ignition again. Some atheists stop, take a deep breath, and then try the key again; in both instances, the car has an equal chance of either actually starting this time, or not starting this time (depending on what the issue could be that would prevent your key from doing what it was designed to do). Even if the Christian didn't send up a prayer, or the atheist did suddenly find him/herself doing a "prayer" of some type (quite atypical for both), the car still has that 50/50 chance of either starting or not: the outcome is in no way changed by the actions not involved in inserting or turning the key. In fact, the outcome may not even change with actions involving the inserting and turning of the key, but again it is not due to the prayer or non-prayer--there is a reasonable, mechanical explanation as to why the car won't start. It may be a pain in the ass and not what either person was expecting to happen, as most of the time faith in the key has proven to be very reliable; but rational deduction of the issue tells people that the fault doesn't lie with the key, the faith of the key-turner, or whether god is or isn't deciding to intervene in your monotonous pre-work activities--the fault lies somewhere outside of these factors somewhere within the inner working of the automobile.

But when Aunt Claire lives or dies, while some credit will be attributed to the human individuals involved and the actions taken to save Aunt Claire from death, most people of faith will look to the sky and say a prayer of thanks or a prayer of sorrow--even though, if one were to look at the "sick" car, no one could reasonably say that a deity intervened in either a good or bad way.

Faith is usually defined as "belief without proof." As in, you don't need "proof" of god because the divine allows certain people to "feel" the proof, or "experience" something which encourages or backs up a previously held notion, in this case, a divine. But faith can also be defined as the confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing, such as with the key and the car example. One relies on either "truth" and "trustworthiness" (the key/car), or they rely on "feeling" or "emotion" in which one "just knows" because of the divine. After all, proof is the antithesis of faith. We never have proof that our key will start the car in the morning, only a reasonable deduction based on the trust built between one and their vehicle. Just as people of faith never have proof of their god, only a reasonable expectation that what they feel should be true and "will" be true--without the benefit of a key.

All arguments for sky god are philosophical in nature. In that, at no point in time has god ever consistently or methodically involved himself in the affairs of mankind. So it must be based on "perhaps" and "maybes," a reading into what might have been divine intervention, or what could have been a sign. And, much like prophecy of any type, religiously inspired or not, we can allow ourselves to read into things that happened that we don't understand and attribute it to a divine. We can say to ourselves, "Since I don't have a reasonable explanation for what happened, it must have been divine," or even "I can find no reasonable, logical explanation for what has occurred even after consulting with _______ (friends, family, experts in this area), therefore it must have been divine." Sometimes, in fact, when science or the laws of the universe have provided an explanation or reasonable course of action, there are those who still read into the occurrence the intervention of the super natural, and hence, preconceived notions are strengthened emotionally for the individual who had previously existing doubts in the scientific method. (This last could be construed as having less faith in the reasonably deduced to the benefit of the irrationally deduced.)

People discuss these things at great length (much like I do!!) in an attempt to understand the human condition. Since god has no set-in-stone standard for when he will or won't do something (assuming he is there to intervene at will), no "key" can be turned in which trust can be built between certain actions and expected results. In fact, since god seemingly intervenes randomly among millions of individuals, there could not even reasonably be assumed to be a certain key, or certain expected results. It pretty much adds up to a "trial and error" type of scenario except that, even with repeated experiments with set rules and standards and a concise formula followed to a T, with sky god you never can know whether it will be a "yes" or "no" at any given time, the very antithesis of the scientific model used to find out facts, truths, and theories, in which case one can only conclude one of two things: Either
  1. God doesn't exist, or
  2. God does not follow his own universal, natural laws.
The atheist realizes that when we look into matters we cannot explain, and attempt to explain them, or find out the "why" as such, we find a natural law at work, or some other reasonable, logical solution to the issue at hand; the religious simply latch onto the first and proclaim such as either an answer to prayer or a miracle.

Of course, if god did set up a standard by which, given certain parameters and certain formulas, god did perform such-and-such every single time against reasonable and logical means (such as, every time there was a wedding and the wine had run out, if one simply bought a bottle of Evian and sprinkled it with holy water, it would turn into wine) there would be no need for unproven faith, and therefore, god would have been proven to exist as water doesn't turn into wine unless certain fermentation processes and the squashing of fruit and leaves is made to happen.

And while one could attempt to argue that the reason we have gravity (as an example of a universal, natural law) is because of divine intervention, logic and deduction says we have gravity because the earth spins at such-and-such a speed around the sun, which in turn has gravity because of such-and-such this, and such-and-such that. (Not being a universe/gravity physicist, I couldn't even begin to explain the ins and outs of it all, but I have faith that scientists who have been studying the phenomenon known as gravity for hundreds of years kind of know what they are talking about--that is, they have found a key, and when that key is turned, they almost always get the expected results, and therefore are reasonably certain as to why gravity is what it is and does what it does.) It is a universal law which applies to all things that spin, and is not random in results in experiment after experiment. Unlike, say, prayer for your car to start after having unsuccessfully started the engine after repeated attempts at turning the key; prayer or non prayer leads to the same conclusion if your battery is dead, or if you are out of gas--prayer has never led to spontaneous battery recharging, or a suddenly-full gas tank in test after test of bible college students in West Virginia... If prayer always led to a suddenly-full gas tank, one could reasonably assume a sky god, as there is no logical reason for gas to suddenly appear in a gas tank as it goes against universally known laws of pumping liquids of any type into containers or vehicles of any type.

Much of the "proof" of god is only in those who already believe that he exists; they "feel" it in their "hearts," or in "answered prayer." Again, going against reasonable, logical deduction, or lacking faith that these methods could result in a satisfactory answer, their "feelings" and "emotions" become a "proof" that cannot be proven, therefore seemingly "impenetrable" by the godless or faithless. This "faith" which isn't really anything at all except a whim of emotion and hindsight becomes a wall against reason and logic in all things pertaining to the supernatural, the divine, or anything yet to be reasonable explained by science (or in spite of reasonable explanation by science).

In essence, if one simply can't believe that a stove could cook food by electricity and heat, one simply has to claim "faith" in the divine as an explanation (which means no explanation need apply) for why their soup is now hot. Or, if one lacks an understanding of tectonic shift, one only needs a "divine explanation" for why the volcano erupted and killed thousands of people who lived in peace at its base for hundreds of years...

Of course, with this non-explanatory faith comes non-explanatory "reasoning" that sky god has his reasons, which is really just a cop out for "we don't know." And what is another word for "we don't know" besides blind faith? Agnosticism. Agnosticism allows for the possibility of a divine, with the premise that one could never understand or reasonably expect to understand such a divine, and the possibility is equally as great that there is no divine anyway. If you take out the last "possibility," you have yourselves a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or any other deity-believing individual. They don't know why, they don't know how, and most of the time they don't want to, or claim they couldn't, understand if they tried. They have "faith."

What's really a shame is that most of the time, they don't realize they aren't holding a key, but they think the car is running just fine...

12 comments:

FCSuper said...

Is your statement made from the POV of being an aethest? :)

Jason Hughes said...

Hmm... perhaps... :D

dennis said...

Well, are you an atheist or are you not? After reading super's comment, I am not sure if you are or if you dont really know if you are or not.

Anonymous said...

http://www.christiananswers.net/evangelism/beliefs/atheism.html

Jason Hughes said...

To Dennis: Yes, I am an atheist. Welcome to Life and Otherwise!

To Anon: It's amazing--you treat the internet like your holy book--you let others tell you what you should and shouldn't believe instead of just trying to wing it on your own. God forbid you share a thought not spoon-fed to you through a religious source, eh?

Anonymous said...

You might want to re-state your comment since I actually did write the article on atheists.

Jason Hughes said...

Well, then, Ray, you should learn to put your name on things...

Which exactly of the three did you mean to specifically counter my post? Or is it kind of like a value meal?

Darkmind said...

Wait...I am having some trouble understanding this. What exactly is your grievance in this post(in two sentences or less)? BTW, I only drink coffee in jail!

Jason Hughes said...

To sum up: Faith in god is irrational...

Will you be needing a cake with a file in it? :D

R Nicolas said...

Not fair! You have more nutbag antagonists than I do.

Darkmind said...

OIC, Jason. I thought you meant blind faith was irrational. Thanks for clarifying. I almost had a problem with your argument. And no, I don't need a cake with a file in it. You mentioned earlier that I seemed like I had too much coffee. I never seek it out, but I have drank it before...in jail!

dennis said...

Well, are you an atheist or are you not? After reading super's comment, I am not sure if you are or if you dont really know if you are or not.