Perusing a couple of my favourite blogs this morning, I noticed that Blanders, as is his wont, posted an article on the incongruity of an advertisement in one of our info rags.

The first respondent missed the point completely, commenting that Blanders’ article was an ad hominem (against the person) attack on, presumably, Richard Dawkins.

An ad hominem attack, no matter how dressed up in nice writing, is still that, and is no substitute for an argument. The reader of that book, whoever it was, should be commended for not swallowing whole “on faith” the childish fantasy stories that are invariably invoked to justify belief in a deity. I imagine I’ll be banned, ridiculed, or attacked for this comment. The only thing I don’t expect is a calm reasoned defense of religion.

The fact that they missed the point entirely speaks, if not volumes, at least a feature article in Quadrant; that we too often let our bias blinker us, and we end up not only being wrong, but embarrass ourselves.

“Religion” is a false target anyway: you need to specify what assertion of what religion you are arguing for or against; for example, why the argument that “the existence of a Flying Spaghetti Monster is analogous to that of the Yezidi Peacock deity” is flawed.

Again, if this person hasn’t met a “calm, reasoned defense of religion” they haven’t been studying the issue from both sides, or thoughtfully, or thoroughly, or for long enough.

The mark of how well you understand an issue is how well you can argue both for and against each side. Blanders’ co-respondent believes that theists “invariably” invoke “childish fantasy stories” to defend belief in a deity speaks of unfamiliarity with theistic arguments. Presumably he or she means that when asked to give evidence for belief in God, a theist will respond, “Because God caused the Flood” or “Jesus did miracles”, which would be a silly response, because it’s a circular argument. I don’t know anyone who would respond in this way.

One could argue from Aquinas’ five proofs (I’ve puzzled over the ontological argument and I’m not convinced at the moment), which (if I recall correctly) are based on the Aristotle’s assertion that we find evidence of the worker in the work: so an innate sense of right and wrong, the complexity of life beyond the ability of probability, would be such arguments. Their validity is another matter.

I don’t recall whether design was one of Aquinas’ five, but teleology – purpose – was: that is, if something appears fitted for a particular purpose, we can infer intent, and therefore a creator. Michael Behe does a neat critique of the arguments from design and purpose, responding to both theist and atheist arguments. One of Behe’s points was that the more (irreducibly) complex the mechanism, the less likely it is that is happened by accident. Second, a thing may serve several purposes; we infer what its chief purpose is by finding the most complex function it can serve, or that which uses all or most of the parts in an irreducibly complex system with adequate (Behe calls it “minimal”) function. (Again, if I’m recalling Behe’s argument correctly: certainly not comprehensively.)

On another point, the belief that faith only exists independent of evidence is a common misunderstanding, common to theists and atheists alike. We exhibit faith every time we eat, or sit down or do anything. We have faith that a chair will hold us up, so we sit on it. This is faith based on evidence: our previous experience of sitting on chairs. Your faith in something may be well informed or it may not. We might not be skeptical enough or we might be too skeptical. We might give too much authority to one type of evidence and not enough authority to another. We might give too much credibility to our bias. Faith should be based on evidence, but that evidence doesn’t necessarily have to be tangible. There are some entities or events that we cannot measure or prove, strictly speaking, scientifically. We might be able to use scientific tests on the effects of the entity or event and make reasonable inferences from those, but those inferences, no matter how rational and logical, are not, again, in the strict sense of the phrase, scientifically proven. But that’s why we have other types of authority and evidence (like documents) – to reach the places that science can’t.

Someone once said that “if Jesus was proved wrong, I would rather stay with Jesus than with the truth.” Myself, I do not like to be wrong. If there is no afterlife, nothing beyond this life, that is what I want to believe. I would, however, wish with Voltaire (Rousseau? I think Voltaire) that if my neighbours believe in God I shall be robbed less and cheated less. Certainly the history of politics, even recent history, shows what atrocities people are capable of when they believe that they are the instruments of the state, or of a god, or of no one but themselves. It isn’t always true of course – good people in bad religions, bad people in good religions and good and bad people in no religions and all that – but atheism has always led to the greater crimes against humanity. But if there is no god, we can thank those people or regimes for reducing the population so the rest of us can have more. Just hope that you’ll always be among the “rest of us”.