Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Now's your opportunity

What’s the best argument you have for your faith?

I’m genuinely interested. I read a lot on the atheistic side because that’s where I place myself. However sometimes it can be like being in an echo chamber, and I’m not learning much that’s new to me. A recent critique (by Rupert Murdoch, I think, but don’t hold me to that) pointed out that using the ‘net as a main source of news and information was that a person is likely just to visit those sites that reinforce their own biases, and that our exposure to new ideas was being lowered. I think that’s a legitimate concern.

So I open this up to anyone who wants to outline their reasons for their faith. Why is it that you believe what you do? What is the argument that you would use if trying to convert someone else? (These could be two different things. Do either, or both.) It can be specific to your religious denomination, or just in reference to a “God” in general. No restrictions. I probably won’t reply to your statements – I’m just genuinely interested. I don’t know of any good arguments for faith, so if you’ve got one, now’s the time to roll it out for me. You don’t need to keep it short – take whatever space you need to make your case well.

To ensure you feel as free as possible to make whatever arguments you like, I undertake not to reply, or initiate a debate, unless specifically asked. I’m making this invitation simply in the spirit of intellectual curiosity, not to start another debate. If you want one, you can have it, but I'm not opening the gate to that unless asked.

Also, have a think about what it would take to convince you that you’re wrong. If you flip that around, then it could be the base of a good argument in favour of your beliefs. If, however, your immediate response is “There’s nothing – I know I’m right,” then go away right now: reason is a closed book to you and you have nothing to say that will interest me in the slightest.

(What it would take to convince me I’m wrong? Oh, there are lots of things that would work. I’ll go into them in a future post, maybe. There are too many to go into right now.)

You may wish to use this as an opportunity to try to convert me. Go right ahead. If you do, though, then there are some things that are unlikely to impress me. I’m not saying you can’t use whatever arguments you like – it’s your dime – but just be aware that these tactics are profoundly unlikely to convince anyone.

1. Arguments from authority.
2. “The Bible/Koran/Jamie Oliver says so”. That’s just a variation on point 1, and don’t get me started on the reliability of the Bible.
3. Arguments from incredulity. “Isn’t that amazing? And because I can’t imagine how that happens, it must be God!” Bzzt. Wrong. Because we don’t yet have the scientific basis for fully understanding a phenomenon – or you don’t personally have that knowledge – in no way logically requires the existence of a God to explain it.
4. Logical fallacies of any description.
5. “I just know I’m right.” Yes, and I believe I’m right, and millions of Muslims/Buddhists/pagans/Zoroastrians etc. “know” they’re right as well. So what? As an objective argument, this fails on every conceivable level.
6. “Millions of people can’t be wrong!” Yes they can. See point 5 above – as all those points of view are contradictory, then necessarily millions of people are wrong.
7. “If you came to church, you’d see.” I do go to church. And that’s where I hear some of the silliest stuff I’ve heard in my life. Case in point: someone said recently “I’ve often wondered why you don’t get immediately Raptured to Heaven when you convert. It’s because we’re left here to witness to others!” Actually, being swept up to Heaven in a flash of light as soon as you converted would be a very effective demonstration of the truth of your faith. A moment’s reflection by that person would have shown the weakness in their argument.

There are others, but let’s just get on with it.

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