CHATTER squareAttacks on religious belief have recently come on two fronts: a political front and an intellectual front.

The political front particularly targets Islamist extremism and generalizes it to the entire religion. Bill Maher’s thoughts on the subject have recently provoked the most literature, but as the man’s thoughts on Islam (“it’s the only religion that … will f—ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book”) force us to believe that he has never taken a history class in his life, I’m not sure if his rant warrants a rebuttal. Perhaps I’ll write on the issue later, but for now, I’ll just include a link to Reza Aslan’s response and move on.

It brings to mind a New York Times piece in which author David Barash concludes that religion cannot possibly be reconciled with evolutionary science. Barash supports his statement with three arguments. The first is a refutation of the watchmaker argument, popular with theists who appeal to Intelligent Design to argue for the existence of God.

The argument goes: Just as a complex watch requires an intelligent watchmaker, a complex world requires an intelligent creator. Barash points out that science has shown that such complexity can be derived by random mutation and natural selection.

However, in refuting this argument, Barash really just pushes down a strawman because virtually no theistic philosopher associates himself or herself with intelligent design. Furthermore, by refuting an argument for theism, Barash has not forwarded an argument for atheism, so he gains almost no ground with this step in his “demolition” of rational theistic belief.

Next, Barash attacks religion’s “illusion of centrality.” He argues that while humans are regarded as divine in most religions, evolution shows that organisms are phylogenetically linked, meaning that there is no scientifically based supernatural superiority to homo sapiens.

Barash is essentially attacking the imago dei, or the idea that the Book of Genesis says that humans were made in the image of God. Were such a supernatural distinction between humans and animals to exist, it surprises me that Barash would think it would be evident at a physical level. What isn’t surprising to me is that there is no such thing as an imago dei gene present in human genomes. Barash’s mistake here is that he is looking for a supernaturalist distinction through naturalistic observation.

Barash could make a better argument by questioning metaphysical epistemology, or how we could know anything about things that we cannot scientifically observe. The concept of the imago dei is admittedly obscure and has puzzled theologians for centuries. And furthermore, as Barash limits his critique to a Judeo-Christian understanding of religion, he ignores Eastern religions such as Hinduism, which see no supernatural distinction between man and animal.

Lastly, Barash invokes the famous Problem of Evil: How could there be so much suffering if an omnibenevolent, omniscient God exists? This is undoubtedly one of philosophy’s toughest questions, but it is important to note at this point that Barash is overstepping his boundaries in making a philosophical argument without having proper philosophical training.

The point I want to make is that it is too complex of a problem for us to accept or reject so easily. For instance, it’s actually quite difficult to define what evil would even mean if God did not exist in the first place. C.S. Lewis delivers this point effectively: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I was calling it unjust?”

My thoughts are that we can certainly find the Problem persuasive, but not deductively valid.

Overall, neither theism nor atheism can be reached through reason alone. Even one of intellectual history’s most effective critics of religion, David Hume, once said that “[he did] not have enough faith to believe there is no god.”

The necessity of faith to deviate from agnosticism is exactly what people like Bill Maher do not understand. Religious extremists are really not religious at all because they lack faith, which is an essential attribute of religion.

Faith only means that you can’t prove whether or not God exists based off of reason alone, but you want to take a stand anyway, so without sufficient evidence, you leap to one side. Religious extremists know with certainty that they are “right” and everyone else is wrong, so they enforce their beliefs on others. But philosophy is never so easy.

We never know when we’re right, so the least we can do is be humble when we take on sharp metaphysical beliefs.

 

 

IMG_6428Ayan Mandal is a freshman in the College. TECHNOLOSOPHY appears every other Wednesday at thehoya.com

 

 

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*