I might change or expand one sentence in the Science and Religion In Focus, because I’ve had some email and blog comments on it. It is a tad assertive. ‘The side that has it wrong, that ignores evidence and logic and just believes, never shuts up.’
Mind you, I think it’s true, but I can see why it needs justification. But the fact is religion does have a special epistemic status, which surely even believers are aware of if they’re honest about it. Believers are not usually embarrassed to talk of belief or faith in their religion – to talk of religious belief or faith – as opposed to knowledge. They must realize there’s a difference between ‘faith’ and knowledge, surely. Just for one thing, knowledge, paradoxically enough, is provisional and revisable in the light of new discoveries and evidence, whereas faith has nothing to do with discoveries and evidence but floats free of them. Faith isn’t really about epistemology at all, it’s a choice, a decision, an act of will. It’s a matter of commitment and loyalty rather than investigation and judgment. It also of course has a great deal to do with tradition and community and solidarity, training and conditioning. Religion is local and specific, knowledge is universal and general. If it’s not, then it’s not knowledge, it’s something else.
It’s for these sorts of reasons that I argue that religion has no right to reproach non-religion, that theists have no basis on which to chastise atheists. But they do it anyway. This is my point in comparing the two sides and declaring them asymmetrical. There are people who claim that the arguments and evidence on the theist side are just as good as those on the other side – but if that were true why would the word ‘faith’ ever be used at all?
One site an emailer sent me a link to offers the argument from design and the anthropic principle. Steven Weinberg discusses this idea and its flaws in his essay ‘A Designer Universe?’ And even besides what Weinberg says – I don’t see why you’ve solved the problem by positing a Divine Intelligence that made it all happen, because you still end up in the same place despite all that running. What made the Divine Intelligence happen? Surely it requires explanation just as much as that which it is supposed to have designed, doesn’t it? That’s the well-known infinite regress that the argument from design always does get into.
And a completely different question is what the hell kind of deity would that be anyway. Is that the one people have in mind when they go to church or say God bless Amurika? I don’t think so. What makes them think it’s anything other than a giant computer? Is a giant computer something to pray to and worship and love?
No. Come on. Everybody knows that’s not what people mean when they talk about God. By God they mean the kind loving all-powerful Daddy in the sky who watches over them and sympathizes when they’re hurting. In bad moments most of them wonder why, if he’s so kind and loving, he set things up this way, so that there’s so much hurting to do. We’re always told how consoling religion is, but I don’t know, believing in someone who chose to make a world with so much pain and fear and sorrow in it doesn’t seem all that consoling to me. More like terrifying.