I have recently become involved in a discussion with a theist friend of mine, who made the point that he could not see the reason why I attacked people of faith rather than work together with them to build a better world and further claimed that the scientific method taught us to look at things from both sides. My response was roughly as follows:

I am all for working together to build a better world, but my vision of what constitutes a better world seems to contrast rather sharply with that of the religious. I am not interested in tearing down people of faith; it is only the irrational and unsubstantiated beliefs of religious people that I have in my sights. Theists love to argue that I need to see, “both sides of the story” to arrive at the truth. The problem is that I actually do see both sides of the story, and decline to practice doublethink and the fallacy of argument to moderation.

We have the data. Something like 200 thousand of years of superstition and religion did not get us to the moon, cure polio, or create the infrastructure of our modern technological civilization. It might be argued that say, Abrahamic Theism has ‘only’ had 2500 years to get its bearings. Even if I allow that I am referring exclusively to Christian (New Testament) Theism, we still have a rich 1700 year history and countless sects to examine.

It was not Christian Theism that preserved the philosophy of the Greeks, it was Islam. It was only after Islam’s philosophical course had been hijacked by the work of people like Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī and sent careening toward mysticism and away from reason that the Islamic world fell into something of a dark age. The venerable Aquinas himself was influenced by al-Ghazzālī and similar thinkers.

At that point, Europe had been re-exposed to classical philosophy and we see a gradual increase in logic, reason, and observation in the Middle Ages, until lo–the Renaissance. It was, alas for the Christian Theist, not the influence of their faith’s antecedents but the antediluvian Mycenaean forebears of the Helladic Greeks that generated the initial impetus, and a culture built on the plagiarized plagiarism of the blood myths and superstitious mythology and justifications of Bronze Age goatherds that carried it forward through time into the hands of ‘Christendom’. Constantine may have given the empire to the Christians, but the Ottomans and Umayyad Caliphate repaired Europe’s all but severed connection to classical antiquity.

The fact that the works of Plato, Aristotle, or Epicurus spread so rapidly and so pervasively speaks volubly regarding the value of an examination of their ideas, but is almost silent on the subjects of intellectual honesty of Christian religion and its sincerity in pursuit of truth. Remember that the great majority of output during this period was devoted to the drafting of philosophy, natural or otherwise, into the service of a theology already deeply in the thrall of presupposition.

All of this is, however interesting or revealing it is, remains somewhat beside the point because the scientific method does most emphatically and assuredly not teach one to consider both sides of a story–it teaches us to look beyond stories to reproducible evidence that functions in a convergent manner. Certainly it has its own presuppositions, but I have yet to see a rational argument and pragmatic articulation for a worldview predicated on the assumption that we do not exist and the world does not exist. While we may presuppose God exists, the question it immediately raises is: which god?

By contrast, notice that we have but one method of science: the scientific method. We do not have endless schisms within the scientific community in peer reviewed literature; when someone is proven wrong and their most cherished theory has been disproved, they swear, abandon their theory, and move on with the business of pushing back the frontiers of human ignorance. Multiple people performing the same experiment get convergent results, and if they don’t they look for the reason why rather than assuming everyone else is absolutely wrong and they are absolutely right.They share information, collaborate, and converge at a conclusion that most effectively models reality given the time, resources, and knowledge that are currently available. Or they say they’re clueless, and look into the matter further.

Now look to religion. There are thousands in existence today, and even the most dogmatic or permissive is not immune to schism. There are endless varieties of the major religions, each with a slightly different view of things. As recently as 150 years ago, various forms of Christianity in America viewed each other with the poisonous hatred only family can bring muster–the religiously motivated and targeted laws of the original colonies prove this beyond any doubt. Each is utterly convinced of its own brand of absolute truth, and nothing can dissuade them from their belief, only amend their practices in the interest of evading government censure.

Yet they cannot all logically coexist–Islam claims absolute knowledge that there is but one God, and Mohammed is the final prophet. Hinduism claims a near-endless succession of gods and goddesses, sometimes allegorical and sometimes literal. The Mormon faith claims all other Abrahamic traditions are apostates and contradicts Islam with a regular stream of new prophets. Baptists contradict Mormons on their views of Heaven. Modern Jews are somewhat unconcerned with an afterlife, but do not accept Jesus, Mohammed, or Josep Smith as prophets. Not all of these faiths can be correct logically, it is inconsistent in myriad ways.

As students of history we need to learn from the errors of the past. Slavery was part of our nation’s past–justified scripturally. So were rape, torture, and genocide. The Spanish came to California and South America for God, gold, and glory, and they got what they came for with savage and mindless brutality backed by an explicitly religious mandate. Check the history of the Russians and Russian Orthodox Church in the Aleutians. Check the British treatment of the Iroquois and other tribes.

Certainly it would be unfair to lay the entirety of the blame at the feet of religion, but recall that I am not attacking belief in religion, but rather propositions held to be true without even the most cursory effort at investigation and without a single iota of evidence. Even though I grant that modern Christianity is different than that of yesteryear, the fundamental methodology of faith has not changed in the slightest: tell a child God said you are a miserable sinner and the only way out of eternal torture is complete obediencewith sufficient gravitas and so long as you have caught them young enough, and reinforce it often enough, they will hold onto it with tenacity that would make a bulldog weep. Which God(s), what precisely a sin is, and complete obedience to what seems to be largely immaterial.

In light of this, how can it possibly make sense to pick blind faith in one of thousands of religions over a universally singular, endlessly adapting but always searching mode of discerning truth from falsity that has proven itself trillions of times over the 300 years it’s existed–that is a methodical systematization of the processes we use every single day to deal with reality–and which everyone agrees on for the simple reason that it works.

Why go with the method that represents the first feeble, struggling attempt by humanity to explain reality in the distant reaches of a benighted history filled with atrocities beyond the scope of our most nightmarish imaginings? Why hold onto these things with such incredible vigor when we have other options and the luxury to find things out, make up our own minds, and talk freely with people all across the globe?

This is why we can’t get along, and build a better world together. As long as you insist that you have access to absolute truth by revelation and supply no compelling evidence of it, I will continue to object to the claim implicit in that statement: you know best, and are justified in telling me what to do–and injecting it into my government–because you have a direct line to infinite knowledge.

Sorry, no. Faith is not a path to knowledge, but functions with remarkable efficacy as a one to confidence.

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