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Unbelievable and Inhuman: “Faith is Belief Without Evidence”

Posted on Oct 29, 2013 by Tom Gilson

This is the third in a short series on the New Atheist belief that “faith is belief without evidence,” and its accompanying “faith is pretending to know things you don’t know.” Previously I wrote two versions of an argument showing that this position refutes itself.

That’s bad enough. It’s worse than that, though. These beliefs fail the tests of believability and of humanity.

They require us to believe that once Western civilization made it through the Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Vikings, etc. and moved into its recovery and growth phase in the early Middle Ages, it was built by people whose basic orientation toward life was to ignore evidence, and believe what they wanted to believe regardless. Its leaders were men (mostly) and women of faith: people whose fundamental stance toward knowledge was (supposedly) to believe without evidence, and blithely to pretending knowing things they did not know.

That’s not terribly plausible, if you ask me. Great civilizations are not built by such small people.

Granted, it fits a certain picture of Western history, for example that religion and science have been in perpetual conflict, or that Christians were quick to burn libraries. The religion/science conflict thesis has been rejected by responsible historians for decades now, though. (Some people are not open to learning, however, and they cling to the “knowledge” of the first half of the twentieth century on this.) The other prejudice, that Christianity stood in the way of learning, is equally as erroneous. (Links below)

And so there are some who believe that virtually nothing good happened in Western civilization between about 100 AD and the Enlightenment, that the Enlightenment sprang up practically out of nowhere in historical terms, and that it was informed exclusively by Greek and Roman classical thinking (which included such gems as the idea that women were virtually chattel, that slaves were slaves by nature, that compassion for the poor and sick was rather unseemly, and that the natural world was better understood by thought than by experiment).

That’s not plausible either.

Neither is the idea I’ve already mentioned, that whatever good happened before the Enlightenment was accomplished by people who were as stupid as atheists consider Christians still to be today. This includes the great Muslim advances in mathematics, the development of the university, the rise of international banking, the first hospitals, the elimination of slavery (until after the Enlightenment) in Europe, considerable new technology (clocks, mills, and much more), the gradual rise of the middle class, the development of the guilds, the grand architecture of the cathedrals, churches, and so on, and much great art and music.

The implausibility increases the more one thinks about it.

And there is another major problem with this pair of atheist beliefs: taken together they are the seed of dehumanization: that believers in God, being essentially stupid, are somehow less than human. Dawkins recommends ridicule. Peter Boghossian says in his Manual we ought not to be allowed to sit at the Adult Table. This is stereotyping, belittling, and bigoted behavior, and it flows directly from these beliefs about Christians and Christianity: beliefs that fail the test of believability and also the test of humanity.

From James Hannam:

From other sources:

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22 Responses to “ Unbelievable and Inhuman: “Faith is Belief Without Evidence” ”

  1. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    They require us to believe that once Western civilization made it through the Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Vikings, etc. and moved into its recovery and growth phase in the early Middle Ages, it was built by people whose basic orientation toward life was to ignore evidence, and believe what they wanted to believe regardless.

    Only in some areas, mostly those outside of everyday experience. Atheists talk about that division a lot – there’s plenty of calls for people to hold gods and the supernatural to the “same standards of evidence” people already use for other things.

    I’m not saying there aren’t atheists, even a fair number, who believe distortions about history. I’m just saying that (a) it’s by no means all, and (b) the distortions aren’t quite as cartoonish as portrayed here.

    that believers in God, being essentially stupid, are somehow less than human.

    It’s possible to believe someone is mistaken without believing them to be ‘stupid’ or ‘less than human’. But it can be difficult – I think I recall you having to rein in Holopupenko a few times, for example, on this site.

    In general, I think the ‘belief without evidence’ concept owes a lot to extrapolation from things like this, or the widespread belief in things like astrology not just without, but despite evidence.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not understanding what you mean by “Only in some areas, mostly outside of everyday experience,” or “that division.”

    As for “cartoonish” distortions, I’m not talking about distortions of history here. I’m talking about distorted views of faith, and the necessarily distorted view of people of faith that goes with those distorted views of faith.

    And of course I’m not talking about all atheists, just those who hold the distorted view of faith that I have in view here.

    It’s possible to believe someone is mistaken without believing them stupid or less than human, yes. But is it possible to believe what Boghossian believes about religious believers without considering them stupid or less than human? This is not just about mistakes, but about a completely “unreliable epistemology,” as he delicately terms it. It’s about a completely false orientation toward knowledge in general.

    Boghossian thinks people of faith should not be allowed at the “Adult Table,” but should be firmly escorted to the “Kids’ Table.” In other words, he thinks us unqualified to participate in adult conversation. The same would necessarily apply, I think, to virtually all those who rebuilt and then continued to build Western civilization from the fall of Rome onward for more than a millennium.

    If you don’t agree, that’s good, and I’m not painting you with his colors.

  3. SteveK says:

    I think Ray was saying that the religious ignore evidence only in the area of religious belief, whereas in everyday life, the religious rely on evidence.

    If I summed that up correctly, Ray, this is false. Tom has written about that in his Dr. Bog series.

  4. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I’m not understanding what you mean by “Only in some areas, mostly outside of everyday experience,” or “that division.”

    Even in Middle Ages Europe, there was a concept of the difference between the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’. (A notion that’s much less developed in, say, Islam.) I’m referring to “that division”.

    If you don’t agree, that’s good, and I’m not painting you with his colors.

    Then how about, for example, calling it ‘the belief of many New Atheists’ rather than “the New Atheist belief”? That might help.

  5. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK – That was indeed what I was saying – and I didn’t endorse that so much as point out that it’s materially different from “basic orientation toward life was to ignore evidence, and believe what they wanted to believe regardless.”

    In other words, there are a few different atheistic notions that I don’t see being clearly distinguished:

    1. Religious people have a basic orientation to ignore evidence in all areas, and believe what they want to believe regardless.

    2. Religious people ignore evidence in the area of religion, and in that area believe what they want to believe regardless.

    3. Religious people have consciously and explicitly different standards of evidence in the area of religion, which are less stringent than the ones they tend to hold in other areas.

    4. Religious people have unconsciously different standards of evidence in the area of religion, which are less stringent than the ones they tend to hold in other areas.

    The first and second are in the main false (though they do exist; I linked to a contemporary example). I think the third and fourth tend to obtain most of the time.

  6. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Assuming you are correct, since the same exact thing (with a swap or two, e.g. less for more) can be said of atheists, what is your point?

  7. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues – My point is what I said: “[T]here are a few different atheistic notions that I don’t see being clearly distinguished” here.

    Note that I didn’t argue for any of those ‘notions’ at this point. In the spirit of ‘a swap or two’, a successful argument against Islam would not necessarily invalidate monotheism. There are significant ‘doctrinal’ differences within atheism – even “New Atheism”.

    For example:

    Assuming you are correct, since the same exact thing (with a swap or two, e.g. less for more) can be said of atheists, what is your point?

    Are you saying that one of the four (with ‘more’ swapped for ‘less’) applies to all atheists? Note that I didn’t claim that all of the original four ‘can be said of theists’ – I said “I think the third and fourth tend to obtain most of the time.”

  8. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Are you saying that one of the four (with ‘more’ swapped for ‘less’) applies to all atheists? Note that I didn’t claim that all of the original four ‘can be said of theists’ – I said “I think the third and fourth tend to obtain most of the time.”

    What is difficult to understand about what I am saying? It is exactly the same as what you are saying, provided the relevant swaps made.

  9. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    What is difficult to understand about what I am saying?

    As I see it, the sequence is that Tom addressed a “New Atheist belief” that religious people ‘have a basic orientation to ignore evidence in all areas, and believe what they want to believe regardless’.

    I pointed out that that’s not universally held among New Atheists, let alone atheists generally. I listed a few generally related, but distinct, beliefs that might get confused for the former. I didn’t argue that any of those beliefs were true (though I did express a guarded opinion). I just pointed out that Tom’s article leaves them unaddressed, though his language seems to indicate he intended it to apply to “New Atheists” generally.

    Then you pointed out that people can have parallel beliefs about how and what atheists believe.

    Okay, granted, people can indeed hold such beliefs. If you intended that as some kind of refutation, I admit it skipped on past me. If you had some other point, I don’t see that either.

  10. BillT says:

    “I think Ray was saying that the religious ignore evidence only in the area of religious belief, whereas in everyday life, the religious rely on evidence.”

    The problem with this view is that it was the religious views of the people in the Middle Ages that lead them to the great things they brought to the world. As the title of Rodney Stark’s book states it was “The Victory of Reason” that lead to the flourishing of Christian Europe. Christianity and it’s underlying philosophical understandings were the bedrock upon which were built universities and brought the end of slavery. We’re suppose to believe they were only applying their reasoning in secular tasks but not religious ones? And that’s not to mention that what the people of the Middle Ages thought about their faith is hardly a mystery. Their writings fill entire libraries. Is that what we would believe in reading say, Thomas Aquinas.

  11. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT – Note that I didn’t say that “the religious ignore evidence only in the area of religious belief, whereas in everyday life, the religious rely on evidence”, but rather that when it comes to religious topics, different standards of evidence frequently obtain.

    Note that alchemy and astrology were the precursors of, and the motivation for, the development of chemistry and astronomy. That doesn’t make alchemy or astrology more credible.

  12. BillT says:

    Ray,

    Different standards of evidence are part of every field of study Ray. Different kinds of scientific study, the study of history, the study of philosophy all have different standards of evidence . And in fact, it’s something mentioned here over and over when skeptics ask us for “proof” of God and we have to explain that “proof” is the wrong standard of evidence. Are you just restating the obvious or is there a point you’re trying to make.

  13. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Okay, granted, people can indeed hold such beliefs. If you intended that as some kind of refutation, I admit it skipped on past me. If you had some other point, I don’t see that either.

    Figures.

    In other words, there are a few different theistic notions that I don’t see being clearly distinguished:

    1. Atheistic people have a basic orientation to ignore evidence in all areas, and believe what they want to believe regardless.

    2. Atheistic people ignore evidence in the area of religion, and in that area believe what they want to believe regardless.

    3. Atheistic people have consciously and explicitly different standards of evidence in the area of religion, which are more stringent than the ones they tend to hold in other areas.

    4. Atheistic people have unconsciously different standards of evidence in the area of religion, which are more stringent than the ones they tend to hold in other areas.

    The first and second are in the main false (though they do exist; [I could link to examples]). I think the third and fourth tend to obtain most of the time.

    There, I have corrected things for you.

    If your claim is correct, so is my altered one. And a lot more could be added. Either way, why engage in this rank psychology game, if the sword cuts both ways?

  14. BillT says:

    Ray,

    Going back to your #5 I think the issue whether religious people have different standards of evidence in the area of religion misses the point. Of course they do because they should. The real question, it would seem, is whether the different standards of evidence in the area of religion are appropriate for the area under consideration. Your post #5 seems to want to convict religious people with innuendo. As if having different standards of evidence is de facto proof of some bias or lack of integrity. If you want to show that you have to show where the different standard is inappropriate for the kind of evidence being considered.

  15. SteveK says:

    If you want to show that you have to show where the different standard is inappropriate for the kind of evidence being considered.

    Good point, BillT. We regularly do this for skeptics, like when they fall prey to scientism. There are times when the standards of science don’t apply to the question being asked.

  16. JimQ says:

    Reason is very much a part of my belief in the God of the Bible. Oftentimes, in times of unexplainable sorrow, reason is what keeps me connected to the irrefutable evidence of God in the universe and in the history of His people.

    I am well-educated (doctorate from a major university) and reasonable (a C-level officer in a multi-hundred million dollar international business) exposed to all the world. My faith is based on reason and even the Bible tells us to “come and reason together.”

  17. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues – I don’t care whether any of those propositions – yours or mine – are true. That’s irrelevant to the point I’m making.

    What I am pointing out is that Tom Gilson’s argument in this post can only address version #1; if any of the other positions are false, this post of Tom’s doesn’t establish that.

    Recasting them in atheist terms does nothing to refute that proposition.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    And why not version 2?

    And if version 3 or 4, so what?

  19. BillT says:

    “One can believe that the good developments of Western civilization arose from non-religious thinking.”

    If one ignores the weight of the evidence. That would be G. Rodrigues’ #2 I believe.

  20. MJA says:

    Is is is and everything else is not.
    One doesn’t need faith for is, only for not. =

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Cute, MJA.

    No contribution to the discussion whatsoever.

    But still cute.

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