The Irrational Foundation of Faith

They were passing out bibles just outside Shibuya Station the other day, and I thought I’d stop by for a chat. The young American man heading the operation (we’ll call him Tom) was kind enough to engage me in dialog, and soon both of us were presenting our positions on the question of the existence of the biblical god.

I began by questioning the very notion of faith, suggesting that, unless the degree of belief matches the degree of the evidence, the belief is irrational and certainly not anything any creator of rational humans would consider virtuous.

Tom countered by suggesting there was more than sufficient evidence to warrant a belief in the biblical god. When I asked Tom to elaborate, he cited the more than 300 prophecies that Jesus is alleged to have fulfilled.

I decided to focus on one of those alleged prophecies; the prophecy that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. I pointed out that Jesus and his disciples eager to proclaim him as the Messiah were no doubt well aware of this prophecy, and clearly had the power to make it happen as prophesied, thus making the notion that the prophecy was “fulfilled” ridiculous. (This is not even taking into consideration the probability that the entire Messianic story was fabricated by writers who had an intense vested interest to paint Jesus as the Messiah.)

Instead of conceding my point, Tom shrugged and said

“Well, there are 299 more prophecies that Jesus clearly fulfilled.”

This is the degree of honesty common among Christians. Instead of weeding out of their list of “clear” prophecies those that are clearly not, they shrug the arguments off, demand you explain away the other 299 prophecies, and will most certainly be adding the dismantled prophecy back into their list as soon as they begin making prophecy claims to someone else.

This phenomenon is identical to the one you’ll encounter among believers of alien abductions. as soon as you dismantle one account by approching the claims with the tools of science, they’ll point to the other hundreds of accounts if alien abduction, demanding you disprove them all before they’ll consider whether they themselves may be in error.

Tom had standards of evidence that he applied inconsistently across belief systems. When I introduced the prophecies and miracles found in the Quran as identical in form to his own, he abandoned the weak standards of evidence he wished me to take when assessing Christianity, and adopted more scientific standards when assessing quranic claims. He did so without the slightest hint of recognition of his hypocrisy.

The discussion then moved on to biblical contradictions. There are 2 accounts of the death of Judas Iscariot. The account in Matthew has Judas dying by hanging himself, and in the book of Acts, he falls “headlong”, and his bowels burst out. I pointed this contradiction out to Tom.

Tom’s response? He assured me that both Matthew and the writer of Acts (presumably Luke) were merely relating one aspect of the whole story. What had really happened, he asserted, is that Judas Iscariot tried to hang himself, the rope broke, then he fell “headlong” and his bowels burst out. (It is unclear how a broken rope around a neck would result in falling “headlong”.)

I asked for clarification.

“Are you actually claiming that Judas Iscariot died spectacularly as you related, and neither Matthew nor Luke found it necessary to tell the whole story, choosing instead to write, presumably under the inspiration of God Almighty, only half of the incident?”

Tom assured me that is what happened, claiming that divergent testimonies are common in modern courts of law when relating a single event.

I then posed a parelled hypothetical event.

“Tom, suppose you had 2 adults witness a man attmpting to hang himself from a bridge. The rope breaks in this attempt, and he is immediately run over by a bus. Are you suggesting that some of the witnesess might only tell half the story? Are you suggesting that the witnesses of such a spectacular and memorable event would relate only half of this event, and, incredibly, the opposite halves of this spectacular and memorable event? Are you suggesting that the alleged god-inspired writers of a Holy Bible would relate only half of an event as spectacular and memorable as the the one you’ve described, and, incredibly, the opposite halves of that spectacular and memorable event?”

Here Tom says

“God has never lied before. Why would he lie in this account of the death of Judas?”

Faith again rears its irrational head. Your god will never appear to lie to you if you continuously put each apparent lie to bed by pointing out that he has never lied before. This is the rationalization that often makes dependent hearts the last to accept the obvious fact that their spouse has been unfaithful.

“John has never lied before, and there is no reason he would suddenly start now. That condem wrapper and hotel receipt were mistakenly placed in his pocket by an intoxicated guy friend.”

This is about standards of evidence. I asked Tom,

“Were a Muslim to come to you with two passages of Quranic scripture that described a death in the contradictory ways Matthew and Luke have, would you not dismiss the Quran as inconsitent based on this apparent contradiction?”

Tom gave no response this question. But it is this question that reveals the inconsistency (dare we say hypocrisy) of theists; they do not apply their standards of evidence consitently across the board. This is an inherent dishonesty that makes their claim of a personal relationship with a righteous god an absurdity.

In recent years there has been a sea change in apologetics thought. Whereas previously there was an emphasis on faith as traditionally defined, there has been a move to paint god-belief more respectable by 1) attempting to demonstrate that biblical faith is actually and evidenced-based belief, and by 2) attempting to equate scientific belief with religious faith. Tom failed in respect to #1 (as do all Christians) by refusing to grant the Quran the same low standard of evidence he grants the Bible. He fails in respect to #2 by pretending (presumably consciously) that confidence based on the progressive successes of science is identical to the emotionally-based and evidence-starved god-belief of theism. Am I warranted in calling this dishonesty? How could anyone be so self-deluded not to notice their clearly inconsistent standards of evidence?

The truth is I’m rather forgiving of this form of dishonestly having practiced it for 25 years. It is merely a desperate attempt to shore up the crumbling walls of an ideology that many want desperately to believe due to its many (false) promises, (imagined) purpose, and (imaginary) unconditional love. These factors are often enough to drive the most capable humans such as Tom to abandon intellectual integrity, and to treat the absuridty of faith as if it were a virtue. Faith is no virtue, and diminishes this life, the only life we have.

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30 thoughts on “The Irrational Foundation of Faith

  1. Andrew says:

    I found that this small piece of the article caught my eye: “I began by questioning the very notion of faith, suggesting that, unless the degree of belief matches the degree of the evidence, the belief is irrational and certainly not anything any creator of rational humans would consider virtuous. “.
    I am assuming that the scientific method and logical reasoning are the bedrocks upon which you have attempted to build your world-view.
    So I wondered what you would say if I questioned the very notion of rationalistic trust in evidence interpreted by sheer, unguided reason? Or to put it another way, how do you know that the scientific method and logic is a reliable way to arrive at truth without placing a priori trust in the scientific method and logic? I’m sure we’ve talked before; but I don’t think I ever got around to asking you this question. Maybe I did. I can’t remember.

    • Reason is unguided? Explain. Two person on opposite sides of the earth can both correctly conclude through reason that black clouds bring rain more frequently than blue sky. Reason IS the guide that provides consistent and universal productive beliefs. To say reason is unguided is like saying the Supreme Court’s decision is illegal.

      Reason is the logical framework of thought. It has resulted in the explosion of science and technology and higher standards of living and understanding. The results validate the method.

  2. Andrew says:

    Oh, you know it’s reliable because it is. You are essentially arguing that you know reason is a valid way to asses the world around you through the use of reason. So let me ask you more or less the same question you asked “Tom”. Would you allow a christian to argue the same way? I have my doubts.

    • I clearly used the word “productive” in my response above.
      Reason is reliable because it reliably works.

      Go ahead and try to argue your god has provided mankind with the same degree of knowledge and technology that science, grounded in reason, has.

      You can’t.

      To paraphrase a verse, “By its productivity you shall know it”.

      And I don’t have to be telling you this. You already know it. At this point you have to be experiencing extreme cognitive dissonance to suggest faith has anywhere near the successes science has. Don’t you think it’s long past time to leave the foolishness of faith?

  3. Andrew says:

    You said: “Reason is reliable because it reliably works.”
    Right. You know it’s reliable because it is. I don’t see how that response on your part adds anything to my assessment of your position.

    You said: “Go ahead and try to argue your god has provided mankind with the same degree of knowledge and technology that science, grounded in reason, has.

    You can’t.”

    I see a false dichotomy and a false representation of my position here. I don’t need to pit God against technology and science. The problem with your worldview isn’t your use of reason. The problem is that if your worldview were true then knowledge wouldn’t even be possible. On the other hand, the scientific method is rooted in the assumption that the universe makes sense and is predictable. And it is whether you believe in God or not. But therein lies the rub. If God didn’t exist there would be no way to justify your use of reason other than an appeal to reason itself. For evidence of that look no further than your use of circular reasoning in order to refute my implied charge of circular reasoning. But don’t Christians use circular reasoning? Well, yes we do. Everybody does when defending their ultimate authority. That is why you could not make a dent in Tom’s faith. He defended his ultimate authority (the bible) by referring to his ultimate authority. You do the same thing. The difference is that my worldview can actually justify itself and the use of reason. With God as creator I expect the world to be ordered, and logic to work. The scientific method is necessarily valid if the biblical worldview is true. But there is no reason to assume the validity of reason in a materialistic universe. In fact if we just went on atheistic assumptions about reality then the scientific method would be impossible. You must borrow assumptions from our worldview in order to make yours work. That is a sure sign of an irrational worldview.

    You said: “To paraphrase a verse, “By its productivity you shall know it”.”

    Again I’m not arguing that reason, science, and logic are not productive. They just are not products of atheism. Wishful thinking masked by sophistry not withstanding.

    You said: “And I don’t have to be telling you this. You already know it. At this point you have to be experiencing extreme cognitive dissonance to suggest faith has anywhere near the successes science has.”

    Not really.

    You said: “Don’t you think it’s long past time to leave the foolishness of faith?”

    Don’t you think it’s time to stop pretending that rationality is possible in a universe governed by nothing?

    • Andrew, let me get this straight.

      You actually believe that I have no warrant to place confidence in the inductively dependable successes of reason until I attribute the source of reason to some god or other.

      Is this what you actually believe? As you said, “knowledge wouldn’t even be possible”. Right?

      For you own intellectual reputation, I would certainly hope you say no. If you say yes, I’m going to logically tear you apart, even though you’ve then made your illogicality more than apparent to readers.

      In fact, let me challenge you to a debate. The proposition will be as follows: “Rationality is not possible without first identifying the source of reason.” You’re for, I’m against.

      Your move. You’ve nothing to lose but your intellectual respectability.

      The format will be identical to the following debate.
      http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com

  4. Andrew says:

    Phil:”You actually believe that I have no warrant to place confidence in the inductively dependable successes of reason until I attribute the source of reason to some god or other.”

    Me:That’s not what I said.

    Phil:”For you own intellectual reputation, I would certainly hope you say no. If you say yes, I’m going to logically tear you apart, even though you’ve then made your illogicality more than apparent to readers.”

    Me:I’ve no concern for my reputation and am not intimidated by your quasi intellectual bluster.

    Phil:“Rationality is not possible without first identifying the source of reason.”

    Me:That is not a proposition I would care to defend; and it isn’t my argument.

    I will read the debate you sent me and consider your challenge; but first see if you can get my argument right. So far you have failed to accurately state it back to me.

    • Then simply give me your most rigorous statement against my confidence in rationality, and we will debate that if it be anything more than emasculated. Don’t run away. Simply tell me in unequivocal terms what you DO believe. This is your big chance for vindication of your arguments I’m claiming are logically absurd. What is the strongest thing you can say against my confidence in the successes of rationality. Or are you back-tracking from all your vague statements now? Did you actually say something about my ownership of rationality? Be bold. Don’t mince words. What do you want to say about me and rationality? That is what we’ll debate provided it has any content.

      Let me give you a start here. You said “the problem is that if your worldview were true then knowledge wouldn’t even be possible.” Elaborate and substantiate this to the degree you can. If you can’t, simply admit so. But I want a clear statement of your beliefs, not some vague mumbo-jumbo you can walk away from as if you never said it.

      (The other debate is only an example of the format. I want to debate you on your position against my legitimacy to invoke rationality. Make a statement that most rigorously reflects your opinion, and I’ll do my best to dismantle it. I probably can’t. You might have shown me to be utterly clueless about logical rigor. This is your big chance to put some substance into your hitherto specious assumptions.)

  5. Andrew says:

    I have not been vague. You have simply been obtuse. I would be happy, if given some time to prepare, to defend a proposition like : “The God of the Christian bible certainly exists.” I ask time to prepare only because I have never engaged in formal debate before. I can’t say what kind of time I would need; but how about a January 1st start date? That may be a bit much; but it gives me time to prepare. If I feel I am ready to go sooner I will surely let you know. What do you think?

    • Andrew, pay attention.

      Come up with a single defensible proposition that accurately reflects your precise position in your comments above about my illegitimate use of reason.

      Or is there no substance to your comments?

      That single defensible proposition will include any substance in your comments “the problem is that if your worldview were true then knowledge wouldn’t even be possible” and “In fact if we just went on atheistic assumptions about reality then the scientific method would be impossible.”

      If your comments have no substance, do the right thing and admit it.

      If they do have substance, you have the privileged of showing me who’s boss in a debate.

      Following either your admission of error or the debate on my illegitimate use of logic, I’d be honored to debate your claim that the god of the bible certainly exists.

  6. Andrew says:

    “The existence of the Christian God is necessary for knowledge to be possible”. Is that clear enough? That’s what I was saying and upon a moments reflection it becomes clear that it’s essentially the same debate as “The God of the Christian Bible certainly exists”. They’re different propositions; but in the long run they address the same big question. So what of my request for time to prepare?

    • Excellent! We can simply follow the debate parameters use at http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com/. You can submit your 1,000 word initial volley anytime. Take as much time as you need to prepare. I’ll set up a blog devoted to the debate, and you have the freedom to do the same. Our blogs will not contain injected comments that exceed the parameters established. Comments will be allowed only after the debate has been completed, and then only beneath the contents of our debate. And of course, you’ll need to carefully define knowledge in terms that don’t assume a god. Agreed?

  7. Andrew says:

    I would like to suggest some tweaks to that format. Is that agreeable to you?

  8. Andrew says:

    I’ll define knowledge in any way I see fit. Anyway I suggest a format that allows only for positive presentation of each one’s case in the first round. My understanding is that if I am defending the prop then I go first. Is that right? If so that would preclude you from spending any time on my opening statement in your opening statement. I want to make that a rule of the debate. Should we ever cross blades again and I go second I would gladly follow the same rule. I would also like to make the first round 1,500 or even 2,000 words. And then I would like there to be two 500 word rebuttal sections (I am not married to word number. We could do more if you like.) and then I would like us to be able to pose maybe two or three questions to each other. three from me to you and then vice versa. Then I would like to suggest a 1,000 (or even 1,500) word summation for each of us. It’s a rigorous format; but it would make for a much clearer debate. Should there be time limits for entries? Or should we trust each other to be timely?

  9. Andrew says:

    I guess that’s more like a total overhaul than a few tweaks.

    • No, you will most certainly not define knowledge as you see fit. You’ll define it in anyway that does not make your proposition circular. This means its definition will be independent of the existence of a god. Logic 101.

      And I’m not sure what you are saying about my opening. Are you actually saying you do not want me to respond to your opening statement in my opening statement? You are the one making a claim. I am responding to the claim. Did you miss that concept?

      And why do you need more words? Note that my last interlocutor had more then enough words allotted, and he wasted those words on promising to provide evidence. You’ll not do the same. Simply pray and ask the Lord to give you the concise phrases to make your point within 1,000 words. Why would you need more? I’m limited in the same way. We can have a follow-up debate if we both so desire after the first.

      And are you unfamiliar with the word “tweak”? Does your request that I agree to your “tweaks” before you detailed those “tweaks” speak to your level of honesty in any way?

  10. Andrew says:

    Why don’t you worry about whether I’m being circular once we get to a debate and defeat me by pointing it out there? You don’t get to tell me what to say or how to argue. Anyway I’ve already admitted to circularity in my approach to knowledge and pointed out how your approach is circular as well. I will be addressing the topic of ultimate authority and that requires circularity for christian and atheist alike.

    “And I’m not sure what you are saying about my opening”
    I have never formally debated before; but I have listened to many scholarly debates between various religious and non-religious people. That’s been the format for openings in any debate I can remember seeing or hearing. What you are suggesting essentially gives you the last word and an extra rebuttal. That is not an equitable format.

    “And are you unfamiliar with the word “tweak”? Does your request that I agree to your “tweaks” before you detailed those “tweaks” speak to your level of honesty in any way?”

    Let’s not get all dramatic. I simply used the wrong word and hadn’t formulated exactly what I wanted in my mind when I first suggested changes. It isn’t necessary to immediately assume some nefarious intent on my part. Notice my correction before your last comment. Anyway, I want a longer format with the opening I described, one or two actual rebuttal sections, and a closing argument. The cross-exam questions are not a deal breaker for me. I can take them or leave them. I am open to a counter offer; but the format in the debate you posted is not acceptable to me.

    • The word knowledge in in the proposition. Let’s have your definition of it so I know I’m not wasting my time debating someone at the level of define knowledge as “that which comes from my god” to prove “the existence of the Christian God is necessary for knowledge to be possible”.

  11. Andrew says:

    I wouldn’t define knowledge in that way. It’s too broad.
    I would define it as an awareness of what is actually true. I’m pretty sure that’s what people think of when they see the word “knowledge”.

    • If you define knowledge in that way, I cannot agree to the debate since I don’t believe we can access what is actually true with absolute certainty, but with only a high degree of certainty.

      Here’s an alternative proposition that will work for me.
      “the existence of the Christian God is necessary for rational belief to be possible”.

      You can argue this point convincingly, right?

  12. The debate format I set up at http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com/ I set up knowing I’d go first and that my opponent would have the last word. This is standard for debates. We still both have an equal amount of words, and you get to capture the audience’s attention with your opening. Wow them. I’ve intentionally reduced the word count for the ending so the person with the last word can’t simply preach. There is nothing wrong with the format. You are in exactly the same position I placed myself in at http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com/. Consult other people familiar with debates and listen to their assessment of the fairness of the format. And you know very well that, if a person can’t make their points or counter-points within a total of 1,700 words on a single proposition, they’re just preaching fluff. Why would anyone need more words? And if agreed, we can simply revise the proposition and have a second debate. Let’s do this.

    (Your following statement baffles me. “If so that would preclude you from spending any time on my opening statement in your opening statement. I want to make that a rule of the debate.” What am supposed to be doing with my 1,000 words if not addressing your argument?)

  13. Andrew says:

    I’m going to leave aside your comments and questions regarding format for the moment. How would you define truth? And in regard to this statement:
    “I don’t believe we can access what is actually true with absolute certainty, but with only a high degree of certainty.”

    That statement is absurd. It’s similar to the oft made assertion “there is no absolute truth”. Both are statements that are immediately shown to be false the moment they are shown to be true.

    • If you don’t understand my postion on objective truth and our subjective relationship to it, and believe it to be logically absurd, you’ll have the priviledge of demonstrating that in our debate.

      But let me give you this. We are wholly rational in concluding truth is objective. We would be irrational were we not to conclude truth was objective. (I’m assuming you mean “objective” when you use “absolute”.) That’s my position, and I’m fully prepared to defend it in our debate.

  14. Andrew says:

    “What am supposed to be doing with my 1,000 words if not addressing your argument?”

    Um…address the resolution of the debate. That’s what the opening is for; and that is standard debate practice. It’s not the only way; but it’s that way or no way. I’ll negotiate on number of words; but I’ll not have you getting the last word and what amounts to an extra rebuttal. In regard to you going first I’ll have to insist otherwise if I am defending the resolution. That is standard.

    “If you don’t understand my postion on objective truth and our subjective relationship to it, and believe it to be logically absurd, you’ll have the priviledge of demonstrating that in our debate.”

    Do you not see your own double standard? You want me to assume your notions about truth and then argue against them in a debate in order to get out from under them. That would severely limit my ability to make my own positive case. But earlier you refused the notion that I should be able to argue for truth from my own presuppositions and that you would have to argue against those. I would like to do this debate; but I will not allow you to stack the deck in your favor. You have tried at least twice now and you are no dummy. I can only conclude that you are well aware of what you are trying to do. We will set up the debate in a opening arguments/1st rebuttal/2nd rebuttal/(cross examination optional)/final argument format or it doesn’t happen. This is not negotiable for me. I will give ground on the length. How about 1,000-500-500-500? That’s not that far off from what you proposed.

    • Andrew, you’re acting like a child, and I’ve realized I’ve been considering giving unnecessary concessions I myself would not demand, to someone who claims to have divine truth and the power of god on their side. I, without the power of any god or fairytale character, happily went first in the debate at http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com/, made no complaints about my opponent immediately responding to my opening, nor fretted about him getting the closing statement.

      Why?

      Because I was confident in my conclusion.

      Go away and think about your beliefs. Pray to your Almighty Jesus. Don’t come back until you’re confident about them as I was about mine in my debate, and are willing to follow precisely the same format.

      ____________

      For other readers, Andrew does not have the power of god to win a debate. He is simply on the wrong side of truth.

      If he did have an actual truthful and powerful Jesus on his side, he would not be here wanting more of an advantage than I gave myself (a mere apostate) in a debate I organized.

  15. Andrew says:

    I don’t want an advantage. I want an equitable debate. It seems Phil will only argue with those who will accept his assumptions and presuppositions about reality and argue from there. After all, why should Phil be required to give any account of his own worldview? That burden apparently falls only on those with whom Mr. Stilwell disagrees. But even that is not quite enough. He needs the last word and an extra rebuttal in order to agree to the debate he proposed in the first place. Those realities taken with Phil’s resorting to mockery in place of actual argumentation or a debate (which he proposed) is all the commentary anyone needs. Phil likes the format of the last debate because his opponent argued fecklessly. He would have beaten that opponent in any format. None the less it seems that Phil lacks the willingness to really asses his own self-refuting worldview.
    Phil, you are a coward. You have no interest in debating someone who will actually demand that you give an account for your own worldview. That is what this is about. Your attempt to intimidate a poor, benighted, christian into intellectual submission failed; and like all cowards, you ran away scared when you realized you weren’t scaring anybody. Have the last word if you want it.

    • Oops Andrew, You did not read my last comment.

      I clearly stated that our debate will be no less fair for you than my debate at http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com/ was for me.

      The formats will be identical!

      Plus, you presumably have the Holy Spirit on your team!

      You’re pathetic. You can’t do it, you know you can’t do it, and you know why you can’t do it; you do NOT have the Holy Spirit, you are NOT privy to divine truth, and you can NOT compete on the playing field I’ve place myself. I’ll mock you every bit as much as Elisha mocked the false prophets. Build your own altar, invoke the same god as Elisha to give you the 1,700 words to say, then watch me humiliate you with the equal number of words. What a piece of work you are, calling me the coward for not allowing you the training wheels that I did not allow myself. What a fool.

      It’s best if you move down to the little league where the proponents of other failed gods play their games. You don’t belong here in the realm of reason. Pathetic.

      • If anyone else would like to debate me, propose a proposition.
        It will be the same format as found at http://snakeoiljesus.wordpress.com/, but if the proposition reflects more my positive existential, epistemological or ontological claim, I’ll go first, no problem.

        But a word of caution; if you wish to confront my “worldview”, it may be useful to first ask me what my worldview is, unlike this fool Andrew who simply assumes he knows, tells me he knows, yet refuses to tell me what he thinks he knows about my worldview. He then tells me it’s self-refuting, and thinks he’s said something important. It’s untenable presumably, but what exactly about it is untenable is a mystery that will remain in Andrew’s mind. For you see, if he were to reveal his devastating argument against my worldview, it would then be subject to criticism. But why would that be worrisome to Andrew?

  16. If you “regard it as a success to be threatened with deletion” as some troll named Jake did, don’t bother posting comments here.

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