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The Blind Faith of Atheism

Like a believer, this man has blind faith, only he is unwilling to admit it.

If archeologists discovered the actual bones of Jesus, I would stop believing on the spot, since that would disprove the Easter story and render Christianity at heart a fraudulent religion. Sure, there are sophisticated liberal protestants who say the resurrection was not really real, but rather a warm fuzzy in the hearts of the apostles who reflected on what a swell guy Jesus was and then went out and preached the Jesus-hippie message, thereby metaphorically “resurrecting” Jesus. These are the same people who say Jesus talked everyone into sharing their already brought fish and loaves lunch, or that Jesus didn’t really walk on water because the water was shallow. It’s their faith that’s shallow, not the water. No, you don’t have to be a fundamentalist and take the whole Bible literally. A Christian need not (and ought not) believe in a literal Garden of Eden or a 6000 year old earth, especially with the incontrovertable scientific evidence for evolution. But one thing science hasn’t (and can’t) disprove is the miraculous. The entire point of Christianity is God’s love is stronger than death; if Christ’s resurrection is only a metaphor, then death is the end and faith is pointless. But I digress. Why do I bring this up? I’ve just shared what kind of evidence might cause me to lose my faith. I want to know what kind of evidence might bring a non-believer to actually believe in God, although I suspect the answer is none.

I’ve heard atheists say if God came down from the sky and spoke on CNN, they’d believe. The implication is that they, unlike believers, are too rational for blind faith and thus must put everything to the test of reason, science, and evidence before giving assent or dismissal. This elides the fact that everyone from Buddhist to Muslim to agnostic and liberal to moderate to conservative uses reason and skepticism and the scientific method every single day, whether it’s checking the temperature of cooked chicken to see if it’s ready or doing mental math at the grocery store to see if there’s enough money in the wallet for eggs and milk. Believers and non-believers alike also, get this, follow emotion, impulse, and gut feelings when they take, yes, leaps of faith and choose to date this person and not that person or decide to attend this university and not that one. Sure, we use reason and any evidence that can be gathered when making important emotional choices like who to befriend and who to marry, but these types of choices are emotional, from the heart, and ultimately a matter of trust and faith. Atheists, like everyone else, form friendships and pick spouses without knowing for certain if it will work out, yet, when it comes to God and eternal life, they are like Thomas; they want absolute scientific certainty and won’t settle for anything less than touching the stigmatic hands of the resurrected Christ.

But even a miracle or divinely inspired CNN guest appearance would not convert a convinced skeptic. It’s not “seeing is believing.” It is and always has been, “believing is seeing.” Before the mind can work, before the mind can use the scientific method and the powers of reason, it must have a belief system from which to see and interpret the world. There is no such thing as evidence in the abstract. All evidence is evidence as interpreted by some sort of pre-set framework or belief system, a belief system that itself can only be put to the test if it is set aside and interpreted according to another (adopted) belief system. Belief comes first. Reason cannot be put to the test of reason (that would be circular); reason must be believed in or you cannot get started interpreting the world according to its tenets. Because faith comes first, no evidence would be sufficient for an atheist because his belief isn’t based on reason but is, like all beliefs, a pre-rational belief rationalized outward. Dostoevsky says it beautifully in his wonderful novel The Brothers Karamazov:

“The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him.”

Why does St. Paul convert on the road to Damascus? Why does C.S. Lewis convert on, yes, a random motorcycle ride? Why do some hearts remain hardened, like Pharaoh’s after the ten plagues or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor after the appearance of Christ? God only knows.

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About keithstache

I'm Keith Hernandez's mustache. And you're not. I like bad baseball teams and good beer.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “The Blind Faith of Atheism

  1. “But one thing science hasn’t (and can’t) disprove is the miraculous.”

    You’re right.

    Of course, science doesn’t disprove things. It proves things with evidence.

    If we have no good evidence for something…like, say, the miraculous…why believe it?

    It’s like saying ‘science hasn’t disproved Bigfoot, so we should totally believe Bigfoot exists until they do.”

    “yet, when it comes to God and eternal life, they are like Thomas; they want absolute scientific certainty and won’t settle for anything less than touching the stigmatic hands of the resurrected Christ.”

    What you seem to forget is that, according to the story, Thomas got the evidence he asked for and was not rebuked for asking for it.

    So either the story didn’t happen, or your god plays favorites.

    Posted by NotAScientist | April 2, 2012, 8:38 am
    • NOTASCIENTIST, thanks for your thoughtful reply. You do make a great point about Thomas. I do talk about blind faith a lot here, but I also agree that there is nothing wrong with asking God for answers. The entire book of Job is pretty much a non-stop questioning of God. (God gives no satisfactory answers in that book, and is rather blunt, rebuking Job with a haughty, “Did you create the heavens and earth?” implying that Job, since he is not God, is not worthy of knowing the meaning of existence). Yet, as you rightly point out, God does give Thomas an answer. But we are still left with the question of why this evidence satisfied Thomas. I’ll share the concluding part of my earlier Dostoevsky quote on faith and miracles (this quote literally begins with the sentence that follows my quote above):

      “Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also. The Apostle Thomas said that he would not believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, “My Lord and my God!” Was it the miracle forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed solely because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret heart even when he said, “I do not believe till I see.””

      Dostoevsky suggests here that Thomas was already inclined to believe. The appearance of the resurrected Christ, for Dostoevsky, does not compel Thomas to a previously not held faith, but reawakens a faith that was already there. Which brings us back to a point I made (or asserted) earlier, that evidence is never evidence in the abstract, or evidence as such, but evidence is always evidence in light of pre-held beliefs and assumptions.

      Are you familiar with Milton’s Paradise Lost? Two central characters, Satan and Adam; each is aware of his own existence, and each does not know how he came to be. If you forgive me, I’m going to use Stanley Fish’s analysis, since he is much smarter than me (he’s also much smarter than Richard Dawkins, but I digress). Adam reasons, “since I don’t remember how I got here, I must have been made by someone. Satan reasons, since I don’t know how I got here, I must have made myself, or as we might say today, I must have just emerged from the primeval slime.” Fish says it better than I can, so I’ll quote him in full:

      “In neither case does the conclusion follow necessarily from the observed fact of imperfect knowledge. In both cases something is missing, a first premise, and in both cases reasoning can’t get started until a first premise is put in place. What’s more, since the first premise is what is missing, it cannot be derived from anything in the visible scene; it is what must be imported—on no evidentiary basis whatsoever—so that the visible scene, the things of this world, can acquire the meaning and significance they will now have. There is no opposition here between knowledge by reason and knowledge by faith because Satan and Adam are committed to both simultaneously. Each performs an act of faith—the one in God and the other in materialism—and then each begins to reason in ways dictated by the content of his faith.”

      Sorry for the long rambling and overly quoted reply. I do thank you for your response. I do agree with you that science proves things with evidence. Of course, I would qualify that by pointing out (again) that evidence is always filtered through and interpreted according to pre-set beliefs. Most of the scientific facts I know are facts I accept on faith, because I trust the authority of the astronomers and evolutionary biologists who have studied things beyond my understanding (of course, some scientific findings, like the reality of gravity, I can “see” and experience for myself, without the need to take the word of scientists on faith). And I still hold firm that most things in life, like friendship and love and beliefs about life after death, are beyond the realm of science and are things that all people, believers and non-believers, accept on faith and trust.

      Posted by keithstache | April 2, 2012, 9:21 am
  2. “Which brings us back to a point I made (or asserted) earlier, that evidence is never evidence in the abstract, or evidence as such, but evidence is always evidence in light of pre-held beliefs and assumptions.”

    And despite what you, the Bible or Dostoyevsky say, I disagree.

    Which is not to say that evidence of the miraculous would immediately convince me. I wouldn’t be like Thomas in that respect. I would investigate matters and try to determine what I was seeing/experiencing. But if it really was miraculous, then I expect it would hold up to my investigation.

    I follow the evidence. Wherever it leads.

    “Most of the scientific facts I know are facts I accept on faith”

    I think you are misusing the word ‘faith’ here.

    “And I still hold firm that most things in life, like friendship and love and beliefs about life after death, are beyond the realm of science and are things that all people, believers and non-believers, accept on faith and trust.”

    Friendship and love are things formed in the minds of humans and in the interaction between us. Those are concepts and relationships, and so aren’t ‘real’ in the same sense that my computer or my desk is real. If you’d like to classify the supernatural in a similar way, I don’t think I’d have a problem with that. But I imagine you believe your deity, or the afterlife, exists as more than just a concept.

    Posted by NotAScientist | April 2, 2012, 10:17 am
    • I follow the evidence. Wherever it leads.

      As do I. As do most people. But, unless you are lucky enough to have a totally objective God’s-eye view of reality, you interpret any evidence you find according to your own pre-set beliefs; belief in the power of science, belief in the power of reason. I, too, believe in the power of science and reason to answer many (but not all) questions. But, as I’ve said before, reason is not the starting point. Belief is. Once our beliefs and assumptions are in place, we can then start seeing, interpreting, and understanding the world according to those pre-set assumptions. Before reason can be put to use, it must be believed in; reason cannot be put the test of reason or the process of reasoning, itself, cannot get started. The scientific method cannot be put to the test of the scientific method; it either needs to be accepted on faith, or proved through another test (and that other test must be accepted on faith or put to yet another test, which itself must be accepted on faith…at a certain point, something must be accepted on faith or no scientific procedure can get started).

      Of course, sometimes people change their beliefs. Sometimes, an atheist becomes a Christian. Sometimes a Christian becomes an atheist. It is not because of the evidence, but because they have (unconsciously) adopted a new framework or paradigm shift and have thus begun judging their previous beliefs according to their newly adopted beliefs.

      The word of credible scientists is enough for me to accept evolution, the vast size of the universe, and the existence of micro-organisms. The word of credible religious leaders, and the word of people who have had mystical religious experiences, is enough for me to accept the existence of God.

      Posted by keithstache | April 2, 2012, 10:52 am
      • Bravo! Very well explained. I imagine people stop replying to you when they no longer have a valid response to your valid response. 🙂 Thanks for the great article!

        Posted by Helen Anderson | June 5, 2013, 12:19 pm
      • Thank you 🙂

        Posted by keithstache | June 6, 2013, 1:41 pm

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