Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Moving Goalposts of Theism

Coming off the heals of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham creation debate and subsequent discussions has got me thinking about the way in which believers in god find ways to hold onto their cherished, comforting beliefs.

Whether it's through a debate on Creationism, a forum discussion on Big Bang cosmology, or a blog post about science in general, theists often bring up the gaps in our current understanding as a form of proof (or at least, excuse) for justified belief in their particular deity.  I've said several times in several places that once the theists arguments are refuted, they hold onto one of three things or a combination thereof as unshakable reasons for them to keep believing: faith, personal experience, and the gaps in our understanding.  I've talked about the first two many times on this blog, but the point I wanted to make in this post is on the latter excuse.

This argument (which I've also discussed here and elsewhere) is the God-of-the-gaps fallacy.  All throughout history, when human beings didn't understand something, they thought strange things about it.  This is one of the major reasons for theism, and it still remains even when some bit of knowledge is gained -- the believer just moves the goalposts back.  "You haven't dismissed God, you've only explained how he did it!"  The problem with this childish game should be apparent to any rational person.

If you have an idea that keeps getting shifted to the beginning of some causal chain in our understanding, you should realize how intellectually dishonest this practice is.  The honest thing to do is to discard that idea until there's a reason to add it to the chain in the first place.

Faith to many people is a form of security blanket.  It's comforting to think that you're on the right side of truth, to know that your life has been designed specially for you, and that there is reason and purpose to everything.  But simply feeling good about something doesn't make it true.  I realized several years ago that I cared about what I believed, and wanted to believe as many true things and as few false things as I could.  I wanted to know the real answer to things; a placation isn't going to cut it.

Semper Fi
But for a lot of people, they hold fast to their belief even in the face of contrary evidence.  It isn't always due to the security-blanket effect either...religion itself promotes and encourages it.  Many churches preach the shunning of critical thought and doubt, telling believers to "lean not on your own understanding."  The believer didn't start at an intellectually honest point and they continue to fill the blanks in our knowledge with "God did!".

I was daydreaming about some utopian future today in which we get to the "final level" of understanding.  There was no more gaps in our knowledge; we knew what happened "in the beginning" and could explain everything up to that point.  But it still wasn't good enough for the theist.  They would continue to claim that God is still "just beyond" that level of understanding.  This was a thought experiment while driving around town today, but the methodology is. I think, a valid example of how many theists operate.

And even if this where a valid way to evaluate the world, it's still a form of special pleading to somehow fill the gap with your god.


No comments: