Religion: The Dogma of Cognitive Dissipation

        Unlike many of my fellow hominids, I have never found the religious argument remotely persuasive on either ontological or moral grounds. The argument seems to be something along the lines of "sacrifice your cognitive faculties, i.e. dismiss critical thinking, and rely upon religious authority. Believe us, you'll be much happier for it." So, let's see, illusory bliss in exchange for a life of ignorance?

        My answer to those who peddle the dogma of cognitive dissipation is the following: "No thank you. And while I tolerate your right to hold your opinion, could you please promise to abstain from ever running for public office?"

        I am more than a little disturbed by the undue weight of religion in the affairs of government. It is one thing for the religious faithful to elect intellectual suicide for themselves, but morally indefensible to legislate it for the rest of society. And I could certainly argue the separation of church and state on rational grounds, but how can one argue the rational against the clamoring solipsism that people of "faith" hold in such high regard?

        And here lies the problem: "faith." The word should probably be discarded altogether since it is altogether too prone to semantic ambiguity. A scientist could say that a person may place his or her faith in science, but "faith" here means that one may trust in well-grounded scientific principles that agree with and predict observed phenomena. Scientists and rational thinkers "trust" evidence. However, when religious doctrinaires use the term, "faith," they are espousing epistemological and metaphysical solipsism. Their belief in the invisible is not founded on evidence; it requires no proof. We have a word for this--"delusion." When someone stands up at a public debate and says, "I am a person of faith" (as if this somehow lends credibility) perhaps it might be more appropriate for this credulous individual to say, "I am a person with alarming delusions." And perhaps he or she would receive fewer applause.

        Delusion does not bear scrutiny. The proponents of religion equivocate when faced with reason. Their arguments beg the question, inasmuch as they beg to be granted what they should be proving. The faithful will point to their own subjective experiences, but this does nothing to make a case for the objective reality of their assertions. My answer as always is "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

        I have neither evidence for nor experience of anything like "God." What's more, the term itself is problematic in that it's conceptually vague. No two believers ever seem to be able to agree on a definition. The properties and characteristics of the thing in question will differ depending on the person you ask.

        As for the non-overlapping magisteria argument, that religion and science are not in conflict, I think the record will show that this is not the case. The church has in the past represented itself as the final authority on matters that are now clearly the domain of science. The church has retracted some of its past assertions concerning matters of geology, medicine, biology, cartography, etc. in the face of overwhelming evidence, but still claims to speak with authority for matters best left to physicists. Science and religion are not mutually compatible ways of understanding natural phenomena. Religion is not concerned with what is objectively verifiable. It is not informed by evidence but by faith. Well, hallucinations and received wisdom from ancient myths don't help us much when we want to calculate the correct trajectory, speed, fuel requirements etc. necessary for a space shuttle to reach and maintain orbit. I penned the following anecdote in response to epistemological relativism, i.e. the position that all ways of knowing are equally valid:

        If a mystic were to go before a group of scientists at Oxford University and claim, "The tooth fairy exists!", the scientists, being understandably skeptical, would ask to see the evidence. The burden of proof rests on the person making the claim. But then our mystic says, "I don't need evidence; I have personal experience." The scientists would point out that unless his claim were objectively verifiable, he would have no hope of making a convincing case that the tooth fairy in fact exists. The mystic's statement does not even amount to a hypothesis. I could say that a celestial teapot with wings is doing an Irish jig before my eyes, but unless others can see it, it doesn't do much to demonstrate that the teapot exists anywhere except in my head.

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Comment by Wyatt on April 8, 2012 at 5:20pm

Yes, I have heard apologists like Lennox say that scientists have faith that the universe is intelligible or that a man may have faith that his wife loves him. This is a semantics game. It's something like equivocation, using the ambiguity of the term to support one's argument. But the fact is that scientists are now certain that the ptolemaic model of the universe is false, and we can all now say beyond a reasonable doubt that the earth is round not flat. Not that all science is as easy as that. Scientists follow the evidence, and they do not claim to know all the inner-workings of the universe. In fact, most scientists will freely admit that they know very little about the universe thus far and will even accept that the universe may ultimately not be fully intelligible, since we are a part of the frame of reference. Will we ever reach that all important Grand Unified Theory? It is still possible. Can science provide us with models that predict a wide range of natural phenomena with a high degree of accuracy? Yes. Has the scientific method proved to be invaluable in helping us better understand our universe than we did previously? Yes. Scientists don't have blind faith that the universe is intelligible, but they do have hope and insatiable curiosity.

Comment by Idaho Spud on April 8, 2012 at 4:16pm

One of the Mormon "Prophets" said "A scientist has to have faith.  He has to have faith that there is order in the universe, and he has to have faith that he is capable of discerning that order."  I liked that staetment when I was a Mormon, but question it now.

Since overcoming religious brainwashing, I refuse to use the word faith, or the word believe.  If someone asks me what I believe I say nothing.  If I see some logic in a hypothesis, I will say I think it may be true, and if there is a lot of good evidence for something I will say I accept it as true.  But I refuse to have faith or belief in anything.

Comment by Wyatt on April 8, 2012 at 11:13am

To Reason Being:  I fear that "faith" will not disappear as long as there remain fundamental disparities in the quality of education.  There is a need for children to learn how to think critically from an early age.  Parents must encourage their children to be inquisitive and apply analytical reasoning to problems.  But what argument could we make to parents who have been conditioned to have faith?  How do we convince them that their children have a right to intellectual freedom?

Comment by Reason Being on April 8, 2012 at 10:43am

I agree with you completely.  The way that religions use the word "faith" should be a non sequitur.  It is saying, proudly and with confidence, that we do not have evidence to back up this claim so you must believe it because the bible, priest, pope, pastor, Quran, Imam, etc says it is true.  How this became a defensible position in the post Enlightenment era is a stunning turn of events. 

The fact that "faith" in the religious sense is a valid means for determining a political course of action is quite sad to me.  As you point out, the definition of the word faith as used by religions, in any other discourse would be seen as delusional.  Good Post.

   RB

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