Sunday, June 7, 2009

Church, Atheism, and Faith

An interesting, perhaps ironic situation I find myself in.

Whenever I wind up in church, I find myself having a crisis of faith. I listen to the inaccuracies, misinterpretations and outright lies the pastor and congregation feed back and forth to one another and think "I know this stuff is wrong. All of it. At best, some of what they're saying is correct but taken out of context. At worst, it's outright lies. I don't believe anything that they're saying." Except, of course, that I really do believe some of the core tenets of the faith, but like I said, associating with believers shakes my faith to its core.

I often cruise through Atheist, Pro-Evolution and Anti-Fundamentalist blogs. Quite a few are funny, although it's often scathing anti-fundie humor. Bay of Fundie, Fundie Watch and Evolved Rationalist, I'm looking at you. Sometimes it's more thought provoking analysis of the divide between theists and atheists, like Dangerous Intersection. Wandering through those sites, seeing the arguments put forth, I realize that there really isn't any concrete evidence for the faith I have. However, a common argument put forth really brought things into perspective for me. The argument, in its most basic form, goes something like this:

1 - The theist has no logical basis for his faith (cue long queue of examples of failed proof)
2 - The burden of proof for the existence of god lies with the theist (tea, anyone?)
3 - The theist fails to prove god via logical or rational means
4 - The theist should now dispense with the belief in a deity

Now, it's that last one where I see the logical flaw in the argument. I heartily agree that anyone who wants to convert others to their mode of thinking should do so through reasoned discourse. However, the core problem with the argument is the belief that faith is rooted in rationality. Faith can be rooted in emotion, tradition, or just about anything, but I've rarely seen it rooted in logic. Most belief I've seen personaly is a combination of emotion and tradition, sometimes with a smidge of denied self interest ('my business relies on my image as a pillar of the community, but I am not fundamentally dishonest enough to go to church without believing, ergo I must believe, so I do').

However, all that led me to really look at why I believe. I agree with the atheists; there is no proof of god. At the same time, I really don't see any good proof of not-god either. The best proof of not-god I've personally seen has a glaring flaw in that it is fundamentally circular. It presupposes a failure condition in the argument, then assumes that argument is meaningful. To use examples from the preceding link, my immediate response to premise 1 in argument one, or premise 3 in argument 2 is "Why?". Maybe it's a factor of growing up with too many anti-heroes, but why does 'good' mean 'kind'? No, seriously, someone shoot me a link on that, if you have one.

OK, so I don't see any positive proof for god, but I don't see proof for not-god either. I dislike making what are or may be important decisions for emotional reasons, so I have to avoid that if possible. However, I do believe in personal choice in matters of belief where all evidence is equal, so I have justification in making a choice. With the knowledge that there is no proof of god, and the likelihood is that there never will be, but there may someday be proof of not-god, I therefore choose to believe in god.

What, a fellow can't be perverse?


  1. The arguments for that kind of thing are difficult to prove or disprove. For example, that list of arguments could be used against any emotion, like:

    1 - The lover has no logical basis for his love; (cue long queue of examples of failed proof)
    2 - The burden of proof for the existence of love lies with the lover (tea, anyone?)
    3 - The lover fails to prove love via logical or rational means
    4 - The lover should now dispense with the belief in love

    See? How about:

    1 - The optimist has no logical basis for hope; (cue long queue of examples of failed proof)
    2 - The burden of proof for the existence of hope lies with the optimist(tea, anyone?)
    3 - The optimist fails to prove hope via logical or rational means
    4 - The optimist should now dispense with the belief in hope.

    Faith, being an emotion, has no basis in logic, which is what trips people up. If you can't see it/smell it/feel it/touch it/taste it, it doesn't exist. Fine. Show me one gram of hope, one inch of love, one ounce of compassion. Touch hatred. Measure disdain.

    You can't, because they're emotions. And faith, whether we want to believe in a god or not, is an emotion.

    P.S.: Yes, I paraphrased Terry Pratchett's argument to prove my point, because the man was right.

  2. I deal with this a lot too. I have plenty of faith, but I'm against organized religion. My mom goes to church every week, but she keeps switching churches as soon as the pastor says something that she thinks is wrong. So she just hops around from place to place. It seems to work for her.

  3. Not sure that I agree that faith is an emotion. Not everything is either emotion or logic, that's a commonly held false dichotomy. There are concepts that have relations to each, but are beholden to neither. Faith is, however patently an abstract concept, as you've noted.

    Actually, on thinking futher about your examples, Love (at least in the English language) is a homonym. It is one word with multiple mostly unrelated meanings. It can refer to separate emotions as disparate as infatuation and parental care. I can also refer to a set of actions generally believed to indicate one or more of those emotional states.

    My point there is that natural languages are quite frequently the cause of analytical confusion. In this case, when referring to 'Faith', I'm referring to belief without logical basis, but that doesn't mean belief on an emotional basis. I do not believe because it makes me feel good. I believe as an excercise in free will; there is no logical reason for me to believe and several indicating belief is counterproductive, there is no logical proof for what I choose to believe in.

    I believe not because it feels right, but because every logical argument and every emotional response tell me I shouldn't. I suppose if you were of a particular bent, you could call me an Erisian Christian.