Rationality of Various Worldviews
Brian A. Bucher
In the October 5th issue of The Tech, Matt Craighead wrote an article entitled “Religion is to Blame,” in which he makes several sweeping and unsupported assertions about the irrational nature of religion and how “belief in any sacred religious text will undoubtedly lead to evil.” I must say that I was both saddened and amused by his article -- saddened because of his poor portrayal of the Christian faith in particular, which I take as being made in ignorance and not willful misrepresentation, and amused because of his attempt to characterize the theistic religions as not reasonable while arguing from the atheistic worldview. What I would like to do is briefly address his assertion that all faith (and specifically, biblical faith) is “the opposite of reason” and examine his implied claim that atheism is rationally superior. I do not feel qualified to speak for Islam or other religions, so my comments might accurately reflect only the Christian worldview.
Contrary to Mr. Craighead’s assertions, the essence of biblical Christianity is not faith in an unknowable God, but a God who can be known through self-revelation and a personal relationship. This biblical faith, of course, walks hand-in-hand with reason, and not against it. While not all Christians exemplify the model, nevertheless the model remains that Christianity is an intellectually robust belief system. “Faith” based on nothing and against the evidence is simply illusory or self-deception. Perhaps Mr. Craighead’s faith is the opposite of reason, but biblical faith certainly is not. And it is this issue of Mr. Craighead’s (and others) atheistic faith, so to speak, that I would like to examine. While reading his article I found that two of his comments stood out. First, in regards to faith he says that “man is controlled by destiny and not by his own free will,” and second, “faith leads to ruin ... by eliminating the capacity for independent judgment.” What I find amusing is that he applies these statements to theistic, religious faith when they more properly belong to his own atheism. Now, I don’t think for a moment that the reader will blindly accept my assertion over Mr. Craighead’s, so I’ll explain why I believe this is the case.
A generally accepted foundational belief of atheism is that the natural world is all that exists and man is the product of naturalistic evolution. As Carl Sagan said, “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” All that exists is matter and energy, and is described by some completed form of physics. We may not yet know what this physics consists of, but with each scientific advance we move closer to this final form. God does not exist, miracles are not possible, and people are physical beings without an immaterial soul. Now, if man is purely physical, and all matter and energy acts according to the laws of physics, then it follows that man acts according to the laws of physics. This is determinism. “Free will” on this view is illusory. To quote Mr. Craighead, “man is controlled by destiny and not by his own free will.” We are destined to believe what we believe, not because we evaluated evidence and came to a decision by using our cognitive faculties, but because as biochemical machines we act according to the laws of physics. Our “beliefs” are truly just the result of chemical reactions, no more “rational” that A plus B yields C plus D. But if we are not self-determined and cannot use our cognitive faculties to evaluate evidence, we are, by definition, not rational. By “eliminating the capacity for independent judgment,” atheism fails to meet this necessary criterion for rationality. Since all beliefs formed on this belief system are irrational, belief in atheism is as well. The conclusion to be drawn is that belief in atheism undercuts itself and is rendered irrational.
As a side note, appealing to the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics does not help the atheistic cause. Even if we grant that this indeterminacy is ontological (real) and not just epistemological (indeterminate because we can’t predict given insufficient knowledge), we are left with man being ultimately indetermined, not self-determined, and self-determination is required for rationality.
Of course, Mr. Craighead can appeal to his own ‘faith’ at this point. If he chooses to simply believe that he is self-determined even in the face of a deterministic universe, he is free to do so. Unfortunately for him, this would require the very blind faith he castigates religions for. From my perspective, until Mr. Craighead can supply adequate justification his belief that he is a free agent capable of rational thought, he may want to reconsider his attacks on the rationality of religious belief systems which do supply such justification.
Brian A. Bucher graduated in 1999 with a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering.