Thursday, November 22, 2007


Scott Atran, scholar and anthropologist, asserts that religious beliefs are nothing more than a delusion. According to Atran, religious belief means believing “what is materially false to be true” and “what is materially true to be false.” In other words, Atran contends that religious faith is an inane belief in “factually impossible worlds.”

I respond by asserting that I don’t have faith in what is “materially false.” Nor do I reject that which is materially true, though I sometimes question interpretations of the same. I do have faith in a transcendent God who is beyond the scope and scrutiny of the material world. The God I worship is the creator of the material universe. He is not a part of creation, or subject to its laws.

People like Atran often assert that religious folk base their beliefs on unprovable presuppositions. That is, we believe God exists, speaks and works in the material world without any tangible, provable evidence.

I don’t deny the charge. It’s absolutely true.

What Atran et al won’t tell you is that they—hard-headed scientific rationalists all—DO THE SAME THING. What? No, materialists base their thinking on scientifically demonstrable evidence. It’s religious people who base their life on faith.

That turns out not to be the case.

EVERYONE starts with unprovable presuppositions. We presuppose that what our senses relate to us is actual, reliable information. We presuppose that our brains are accurately processing the information received from our senses. We presuppose we are reasonable and not insane. We presuppose that some things are really “right” and others truly “wrong.”

That is pretty much true for all thinking persons down through the ages. However, we also presuppose things about God. Some of us presuppose God exists, others presuppose God does not exist. In neither case is the presupposition “provable” in the scientific, repeatable, laboratory sense.

Atheists like Atran not only believe the unproved presupposition that God does not exist, they also believe the unproved presupposition that anyone who disagrees with them is mentally deficient.

Fine, there are lazy, unthinking religious people who mouth beliefs they have not thought through. There are a LOT of them. So what? There are a lot of people with college degrees who unthinkingly parrot what they were told in school, too. I’ve been there, I know.

I assert that atheistic materialists have a perfect right to presuppose there is no God. I’d simply appreciate it if they would have the intellectual honesty to admit their thoughts are based on unproved presuppositions as well, just as mine are.

That’s not the end of it, either. Once you’ve admitted your presuppositions you have an intellectual and moral obligation to examine them. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates’ statement is a vivid demonstration that human thought did not suddenly appear a few hundred years ago with the Age of Reason.

What Socrates was saying and I am echoing, is that you and I have an intellectual responsibility to hold our thoughts and beliefs up to the cold light of day. I may not be able to prove it, but I can ask, does what I say I believe correspond to the reality of the life I experience? This is admittedly subjective. However, I’ll give an example. I believe mankind is fallen, that we have deviated from what our Creator desires for us. The world around me is filled with reasonably good, decent people but still full of trouble and pain. Life’s sorrow is caused by the accumulation of a great many small, unkind, and a relatively few, horrendously evil deeds.

We see, experience and absolutely loathe this dichotomous state of being. In our hearts we feel that something is wrong, that we should not treat one another this way. Yet we do. And not just “bad” people, either. Night after night, good, common, decent people lie in their beds, stare at the ceiling and ask “why?" Why did I do that? Why didn’t I do the right thing? Why can’t I change?

I find this a sufficient reason to think my belief in sin corresponds to reality.

Both Science and faith have added great benefits to human life. And the opposite is true as well. Belief in God has been used to justify selfish, ugly, even vicious acts. So has belief in materialism. It is not the underlying philosophy, but fallen human nature that’s at fault. Greed, selfishness, anger, lust and the rest are human failings, not philosophical ideals.

Perhaps we could spend some time examining ourselves and reaching to fulfill the highest expression of the philosophy we espouse instead of calling each other names.

You think?


Stephanie P. said...

hey, umm...can i quote this in my term paper? better yet, can I use this as my term paper??? pretty please?????

Eric said...

Well said.

Eric said...

Ding! Your post made me realize Atran is onto something. Everyone who disagrees with me is delusional. They obviously don't see the world as it really is.

Sarah J said...

This should be required reading for anyone who thinks they know anything for absolute certainty