Monday, November 29, 2010

Argument ender? Not so much

The best bar in town is a little microbrewery that has the best porter I've tasted. It's a small, friendly place, and the lack of swill beers (I'm looking at you, Busch and Coors Light) tends to keep the annoying drunks to an minimum. It is, to quote the title of my favorite Hemingway story, "a clean, well-lighted place." My brother, another good friend, and I go down there every few Fridays to knock a few back and discuss the events of the day. I do get nervous sometimes, though. I'm a progressive atheist, my friend is a conservative agnostic, and my brother is a moderate Christian. Pretty much everything we say after the last one of us tells the waitress our order is a potential match to the fuse. It never gets violent, of course, and it only rarely gets angry, but it does get loud quite often. Not "I-wish-they-would-throw-those-guys-out" loud, but definitely a volume level that I'm uncomfortable with even as I participate in it.

We often continue in these things until they start putting chairs on top of tables, but if we haven't burned the topic at hand out by then, my brother and I continue it in my driveway at home for another hour or so (the main reason for him, I think, is it gives him the opportunity to smoke three or four more cigarettes before he heads home himself). For some reason, it doesn’t tend to get as loud here, probably because both of us are more afraid of my wife than any bartender or bouncer, but the debate is no less vigorous. Still, there comes a point where one side or the other will either tire of it or feel that loggerheads have be reached and offer up a “well, at least we can agree on” statement as a token of cease fire.

This generally works, but occasionally one of us will misjudge what the other would consider a contentionless neutral zone. Such was the case when we were arguing over what could be considered evidence for god. After a back-and-forth where he would give what he would consider proof and I in turn would give the reasons why that doesn’t fit the criteria of evidence, he finally sighed and said, “Well, when it comes down to it, if we had proof, we wouldn’t need faith.”

I’m pretty sure at that point I was supposed to nod my head sagely and agree. After all, we’ve had it drilled into us forever that faith is the trump card in all things spiritual. The assumption when this statement is made then, is basically to agree that the practices of scientific inquiry and faith are separate and equal, and both should be valued as ways for interpreting the universe. 

Perhaps I was a bit too lit to recognize the diplomatic aspect of the statement that night because I took it at face face value and said, ”Why do we need faith?”

He looked at me like I’d broken a treaty. We aren’t supposed to question the value of rational inquiry or faith. We’re supposed to accept both as necessary and practical. The problem is that only one of the two stands up to scrutiny. Rational, scientific inquiry has brought us a plethora of benefits as a civilization that are almost beyond mention. Faith has brought us...what?

One of the definitions of faith, and the one that most applies to religion, is “ a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. “ In what other area of our lives do we accept the notion that we don’t need evidence to believe in it?

I got a shot recently to protect me from the flu in the coming flu season. Do we do so because we have “faith” in medicine or because we know that our chance of getting the most current iteration of the virus increase without it? I wash my hands after relieving myself. Why do so except for the reason that we know that not doing so spreads disease? Why do we do our best to keep children from smoking if it isn’t because of the mountainous evidence that smoking does incredible harm?

In almost every other aspect of our lives, we require evidence to make determinations about the way the objective world operates, yet in arena of gods, the world has been brainwashed into thinking that accepting something that has absolutely nothing to back it up is a virtue.

I cannot accept that “faith has its own merits” any more than I can accept “being ignorant has its merits.”

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