Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Criticizing Faith

What does it mean to have your religious faith criticized? Atheists tend to be more flippant about this than they realize, especially in debates and direct confrontations with the faithful.

In heat of debate, with the intention of scoring points and establishing truths, it's very easy to get detached from the implications that these claims can have on the minds of the religious. Of course, I've seen practically no religious person defend his faith on anything remotely related to sense, but I'm hard pressed to believe that the faithful (clearly intelligent otherwise) actually believe what they are saying. When religious debaters invoke quantum theory/epistemology/Big Bang/obscure scientific research to justify everyday idiocy, it's fair to assume that neither do they really know what they're talking about, nor do they personally believe that the foundation of their faith rests on the latest findings in quantum theory, etc.  The rationale for their faith, in general, is usually irrational, and these sort of arguments are merely cannon fodder to keep the atheist distracted and clutching at straws so that the core irrationality of faith is sort of protected away from attack and scrutiny.

No one really cares about quantum theory, in deciding faith. But it's really a wonder as to how much of a farce the religious apologist puts up, the esoteric gymnastics that he has to go to under the false pretense of scientific scholarship.

But it's sad really, seeing intelligent and otherwise logical people use such desperate means to prove an end (which, btw, would be the same end as the reality of all other seemingly ludicrous imaginary worldviews, like the Lord of the Rings), and not fully understand the implications of the reasoning (or lack of it) they are providing.

In fact, in a discussion with a friend of faith over the same, he concluded that he did not believe in logic, in a plainly desperate attempt to fend off questions. It seems to me, that such a statement of disbelief in sense and logic is a plain admission of madness, except that the religious quite miss the irony. Of course I did not believe him, it was obvious a reactionary defense as any quantum theory argument.

As tempting it is to call this out in real-time, the consequences can be unpleasant. The truth hurts.

The consequences of criticizing faith, to any otherwise rational person, can be quite devastating. It's easy to see why people take it personally when their faith is criticized, simply because it's attacking the very foundation on which their lives have been based. It's more than just saying that they've been mistaken, it's more like saying they've been colossally moronic.

It's such an emotional upheaval as you'd expect when you find that the world has been a lie, leading to a complete inversion of your worldview. The people who you trusted were knowledgeable are suddenly deluded, the hours you spent in greatest faith are suddenly meaningless, the decisions you took on basis of faith seem misguided, the solace you felt is suddenly lost. It's like bringing home reality with a battering ram, leaving you to decide what to do with the broken pieces, and start from scratch.

So it's no surprise really that chances of denial increase when the stakes are higher. Of course this is just another facet of indoctrination that sets up its victims to deny reality or face immense emotional turmoil when confronted with it. The actual consequences of debating with the faithful is probably the last thing on the mind of a rationale-toting atheist, busy rolling out the artillery. This particularly demands consideration, especially with religious relatives, who in all probability will exhibit out-group hostility after discussing the same.

But for the most part:
Debating religion is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and struts around like it's won; no matter how good you are at chess. - Scott D. Weitzenhoffer (Slightly modified)



Aravindh Cee said...

This is why I think that it is better strategy to profess the benefits of science (curiosity, the search for truth and so on) rather than just criticize religion. People need something to hold on when their faiths are being challenged. Carl Sagan was good at explaining the beauty of science and because of that he got more people interested in the skeptical process than many of today's atheists.

ecthelion said...

I get your drift about holding on, but criticizing religion is unfortunately necessary. Ajita Kamal has a very good article on the same ( )

//People need something to hold on when their faiths are being challenged.//
Espousing the beauty of science actually does not challenge faith. As Sam Harris says, it's possible to be a nuclear scientist and believe in medieval dogma, a sort of Gould's NOMA.

And hey! Taking nothing away from Sagan but Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett are definitely the catalysts of New Atheism.

Aravindh Cee said...

Ok, let me rephrase. I'm not saying Dawkins' strategy is unnecessary or bad. I have read that article before and it is one of my favourite articles. It is necessary. What I mean to say is there are relatively few people here today compared to Sagan who explain the wonder and the history of science in a way that make religion really seem trivial. BOTH approaches are necessary if we are to get forward at all. Well, there are Neil Tyson and Brian Cox, but they are to some extent traditional documentary hosts and their messages have almost no visibility compared to Dawkins.