Isn’t it ironic? Believers the world over cry especially loudly whenever their right to worship is infringed, but their own gods deny you this right. If I practice any other than the god’s officially approved religion, I’ll be tortured forever. Many countries where freedom of religion is proscribed come under heavy criticism, but if those critics are religious themselves, on what basis do they object? At least the theocratic leaders of those countries are being consistent. And why not? Isn’t their god’s law above man’s? If you truly believe you have the truth and everything else is falsehood, then why not make your own religion the law of the land? Granting others the right of belief suggests doubt in your own.
Dr. Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True (a fine addition to my library) and proprietor of a blog of the same name, sometimes strays from his usual posts about evolution and atheism into the realm of politics. These, unfortunately, are almost always disasters, exhibiting the kind of awful reasoning one typically finds among religious apologists.
Today Dr. Coyne was upset about comments made by Rand Paul, who won the Republican nomination for the Senate in Kentucky on Tuesday, on private business’s right to discriminate, which Dr. Paul believes falls under the general right to freedom of speech and association. This, charges Dr. Coyne, makes him a bigot and a racist.
Were any actual comments by Dr. Paul stating an opinion on the alleged superiority of one race over another–you know, the kind of sentiment usually expressed by bigots and racists–ever cited? No.
Were any actual deeds by Dr. Paul demonstrating bigoted or racist behavior ever cited? Again no.
It seems there’s quite a paucity of evidence for the claim that Dr. Paul is a bigot and racist. And the reasoning used to brand him as such is quite…malleable. It seems if you don’t support laws outlawing [insert behavior you don’t like here], that makes you a proponent! By that “logic,” if because Dr. Coyne doesn’t support laws outlawing, say, Christianity, then that makes him in reality a supporter of Christianity.
I pointed out in a post on his blog that chastising others for making claims based on flimsy or unsubstantiated evidence while doing the same yourself is hypocritical. As of now, the post has not yet seen the light of day. For as long as Dr. Coyne continues to maintain that Dr. Paul is a bigot and racist without providing any evidence to support his claim, he’s a hypocrite in my book.
If people like Dr. Coyne are truly rational skeptics as they claim, measuring their beliefs according to the evidence, then they should apply that stance consistently. Religion, it seems, is not the only phenomenon that causes one to abandon rational thinking.
I was in a discussion with some Christians recently who assured me that their beliefs were based on reason. A few centuries ago, such an admission would have likely earned you 10 lashes or worse by the disciples of some of Christianity’s preeminent theologians, but that was before the Enlightenment and all the goodies it produced. Today, reason is seen a Good Thing™, and many religious strive to show how it’s in fact on their side.
I’ve previously argued in Reasonable or foolishness?, when it comes to Christianity at least, the theology denigrates reason (e.g., “man’s wisdom”), extolling faith instead, which proved itself extremely useful for defending any belief, no matter how crazy or unsubstantiated. Here I want to broaden my argument to explain why religions that preach retribution for non-belief cannot in fact lay claim to being reasonable.
To see why, consider the following thought experiment. Suppose I come up to you and claimed evolution is true. Perhaps you believe me right away, or perhaps you want to make up your own mind; after all, lots of people tell you things that don’t turn out to be true. Go ahead and do that, I tell you, but if you arrive at any other conclusion besides mine, I’m going to throw you in jail, where you’ll rot for the rest of your life.
Most people would immediately see the problem here. Have I in fact allowed you the luxury of reason to investigate and believe my claim? No, I haven’t, because I’ve really only one given you one choice, and that’s to simply accept the claim that evolution is true. Even providing you with what I consider rock-solid proof of evolution doesn’t alter the calculus in any way. When I threaten you, I automatically remove reason as an allowable means to accepting my claim. I’ve in effect determined your choice. If you were truly free to exercise reason, I would have to accept its outcome no matter what, even if I considered you gravely mistaken. Punishment for arriving at a wrong conclusion turns reason into a thought-crime.
So when believers like Christians or Muslims contend their faiths are based on reason, one may simply object that this can’t be so because their god in fact doesn’t allow it. Using reason to arrive at any other belief than the correct one will earn you an eternity in hell. Thus, reason is in reality an evil to be avoided, as Martin Luther concluded a long time ago. Blind, unquestioning, and unexamined belief is what the theist’s retributive god truly desires, not a belief grounded in reason. Some theologians have essentially acknowledged this, asserting that certain theological beliefs must simply be taken for granted, or presupposed.
In my next post, I’ll show why reason is explicitly excluded in religions like Christianity.