Failed Reconversion Attempt or: Is Being Extremely Reasonable Bad?

I wanted to avoid this at all costs, but today, I was suddenly berated by someone for having “extremist” religious views. This really got my blood boiling — it is not like I go around hating all religion and the religious just because I rather prefer reality undiluted by mysticism and dogma. The labeling made it seem unacceptable and arrogant to want to be so scientific and skeptical. In the history of bad ideas, these traits have always been seen as arrogant and dangerous. I sincerely do not think anyone can be harmed by becoming more reasonable. It is a contradiction to denounce reason by using reason. The next thought that came to me was, “What is so extreme about rejecting unjustified claims about the nature of reality?”

It really angers my relative that I lost my faith about a year ago, so his reconversion attempt is understandable. Maybe I was being too reasonably skeptical in the face of his bogus claims. But, is it also too reasonable to reject the Koran and Sharia Law, which Muslims believe to be handed down by God? Is it too reasonable to reject astrology and witchcraft? Am I committing to any dogma in doing this? Is it likely that I could have a bad commitment to logical consistency and reasonableness? Is there such thing as being too reasonable or scientific?

The answer to these questions, in my view, is plainly, “No.” The contrary position seems to be held by my relative. He is a big fan of C.S. Lewis, who wrote Mere Christianity. He also told me that a local priest (who we both knew) could “run circles around” my arguments. Perhaps this view is reinforced by the fact that my relative is about thirty years older than me. After his statement, I thought, “Really? Could he also “run circles around” a book entitled, say, Mere Free-Thought, or Mere Rationality?” I leave that easy answer up to the reader.

He called me arrogant for rejecting his religion outright. Yet, he later smugly made several unjustified claims, such as that science cannot explain faith, God, or belief in God. He possesses no good reasons to believe this, in fact, it is safe today to bet against him given advances in neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, anthropology, biochemistry, and sociobiology.

He also actually said he was not making unjustified claims about reality, thereby denying that the burden of proof was, in fact, on him to prove that his religion was true. They cannot all be true. This is something he failed to realize: he was in the same situation as every other religious adherent who makes claims that are manifestly incompatible with other religions (and with what passes today as knowledge about reality). He thought that my merely acknowledging that his arguments were neither rational nor convincing shifted the burden of proof on me to disprove his claims! It is equivalently ridiculous for me to assert the existence of the Easter Bunny, and then demand that he disprove its existence.

Another hackneyed tactic of false martyrs he used was that he was being offended! Never mind the fact that he was selling his beliefs to me as true without any evidence at all in his favor. All of this without my provocation. After offering all his dense non-arguments, he said that I offended him with my reductio that him believing in his God was like the ancient Greeks believing in the gods of Mount Olympus. The argument ended with me thinking that I should have asked him to give me every reason he could think of about why he did not believe in the Greek gods, and why he thought the Greeks did. I think that would have made an effective mind-opening experience. Next Easter, I will try to trim the horns, and hide the tail that “extremist” rationality gave me.

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen F. Roberts

~ by jsacc001 on March 23, 2008.

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