Religious apology comes from the Greek “Apologia” – a speech in defense of one’s self – so it’s not really an apology for being religious, but it probably should be. Religious apology uses science and reason to establish a foundation for a belief in god. The problem lies in one fact; science and reason don’t backup a belief in the supernatural. In fact, science necessarily requires something physical to test and religion provides nothing physical.
When we know something is true, the sky being blue, for example, we don’t say, “I believe the sky is blue”. We just say it’s blue. There isn’t any qualification to that statement. The sky IS blue! We can, however, debate the validity of the statement and this is what religious apology does.
Is the sky really blue? No, it isn’t, in fact, it’s invisible. That’s why it’s black at night or red in the morning and there is a very detailed and fascinating answer to “Why is the sky blue?“. In fact, there is a detailed and fascinating answer to a great deal of life’s biggest questions and religious apology is, chiefly, the practice of spin-doctoring what we know about the natural world with the goal of perfecting the “God did it” pitch, while simultaneously rejecting facts if they don’t support your particular views.
Dr. William Lane Craig is my favorite apologist by far. He’s highly educated, a philosopher and theologian and boy, does he sound like he has the answers. His best argument for god is the Kalam Cosmological argument otherwise known as “the something from nothing argument”, which goes like this:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
- That cause is god
He makes it sound convincing, so much so that the first couple of debates I saw him in, I thought he might have a good point. The problem with the argument is that it presupposes every single point. We have no example of “nothing”, no concept or model of τ=0 (no spacetime) and Cosmologists don’t even think the “Big Bang” actually banged. They refer to the origin of the universe as inflation, like a balloon and we see that it’s still inflating. It is possible that the universe did not begin to exist, maybe it was all stuffed into a quantum fluctuation. Thanks to Einstein, we know that time didn’t exist before the universe. Time and space are inextricably linked. The idea that everything that exists has a cause, may not be true. In short, it’s possible and looks likely that the universe never began to exist, it could not have existed until it already existed. Yes, its a brain twister and we humans have trouble with it because we’ve evolved to understand the physical world.
In any event, cosmologists don’t fully understand the beginning of the universe and perhaps they never will. While I suppose god could be the cause of the universe, I’m an atheist because I think it’s highly unlikely that a supernatural consciousness had anything to do with it, there is absolutely no evidence to support that idea nor is there a good reason to believe it. Imagining that you could prove a supernatural cause is behind the beginning of the universe, how do you make the leap to that being the Christian god? Craig has never done this to my knowledge. He’s never actually described or demonstrated how he figures that it’s Yahweh behind the origin of the universe. If it is, why did Yahweh wait 14.7 billion years to begin to interact with his chosen people? Seems like a long time to let the inhabitants of Earth rule over themselves if your intent is to judge them later.
On this point, Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis as well as the Discovery Institute has the right idea; complete denial of science in all of its forms unless it can be used to support the bible. As Ken Ham rightly says, if you believe in millions of years (he means billions) and “molecules to man evolution” (as he calls it) then you must throw out Genesis. If you throw out Genesis, then the bible is fallible and if it’s fallible, then so is god and you just undid the whole thing. It’s better to insist, despite all of the evidence to the contrary that the bible is totally correct, it’s not allegory, it’s not hyperbole, it’s literal.
Many apologists work the biblical infallibility angle with great aplomb. Kent Hovind comes to mind when I think of defending biblical inerrancy. Mr. Hovind is another who speaks with great confidence on his topics. However, it’s clear he relies on his audience being uninformed, biased and uninclined to fact check him. “Doctor” Kent Hovind who received a bachelor degree from a real school and a doctorate from a correspondence school in Colorado, of which the state of Colorado says “degrees or diplomas (from that school) have no state recognition“. Hovind was a high school science teacher at private Baptist schools. Clearly, he didn’t teach the state curriculum to those poor kids; but I digress… He’s been about as honest with his apologetics as he has with his doctorate, but I’m sure it feels real to him.
Mr. Hovind has recently run in to some trouble so he’s off the circuit for a while, but his son Eric has taken up the cause in his stead. I’m almost embarrassed to mention the Hovinds because they are just so sleazy, it feels like a cheap shot to bring up Kent’s troubles, but Kent and Eric Hovind have done real and serious damage to the general public with their over the top dishonesty in apologetics, so it must be mentioned.
The Hovinds aren’t alone in their dishonesty though. Many apologists use intellectually dishonest tactics to make their arguments. Take the “argument from design” from Ray Comfort as an example. Comfort borrows the idea from Craig’s “a painting necessarily requires a painter” line and they both construct a straw man with it. When talking about evolution, Comfort’s straw man goes something like “a tornado in a junkyard could not possibly construct a fully functioning 747.” Well, no one thinks a tornado could build a 747, that’s not how this works and we all know it. First, evolution doesn’t speak to the origin of life on this planet. There are two prevailing theories, one called abiogenesis, that is the “primordial soup” theory you know about and the other is panspermia, where life began elsewhere and perhaps came to Earth on a comet or meteorite. Scientists have discovered an essential amino acid in the vapor trailing from a comet so we know the building blocks of life are “out there”. No matter what kicked off life on this planet, evolution is a fact and it’s undeniable.
“Creation scientists” use new-and-improved terminology to defend their creationist ideas. For example, they made a new term, Intelligent Design to try to slip creation into our classrooms. Thankfully, a judge was called on to decide if intelligent design was a thing and he decided it was just repackaged religion with intelligent agent swapped in for god.
Did you know that an atheist can not get elected to high office in this country? Atheists are still listed as one of the most untrusted groups in the world. Some states even have laws in place to prevent atheists from taking any kind of office within that state by insisting that the elected official swear an oath to a god. Without the affirmation, the candidate can not take office. The same is true for re-enlisting in the Army. My point is that we as a society, seem to believe that when someone has faith in god, they somehow have more integrity than the next guy. I discovered recently that I’ve been an atheist all my life and that little trick still works on me. I hold religious people, especially highly pious people in higher esteem than just some schlep off the street. That is an attitude I need to dump because I realize it’s the exact same thing as racism or classism. In fact, I should hold religious people in greater contempt because I have to assume that they have not analysed what they believe and why they believe it. They’ve taken an old idea, handed down by parents and clergy and accepted it as fact. In philosophy we’d consider this an argument from authority. Just because your parents, teachers or clergy say something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Not that they are lying necessarily, they probably believe it, but that doesn’t make it true.
So, what is faith? By definition, faith is the strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. Matt Dillahunty, one of the hosts of the Atheist Experience, a weekly public access cable channel T.V. program has more appropriately defined religious faith as “the belief of something despite good evidence or evidence to the contrary”. Aron Ra defines faith as such; “Faith is an assertion of absolute conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason”. I respect both Dillahunty and Ra very much and I think it’s fair to say that neither of them are trying to pin a dishonest position on all believers, but most theists just have not considered their beliefs to any substantial degree.
If religion wants to have an honest position in society, they need a whole new view of belief. Instead of bible study, churches should offer “belief” study. Instead of trying to understand what Deuteronomy 23:1 means – or why it’s even a thing, we should take a look at why we think these words have power. Why do we believe what we believe? Do our beliefs hold up against what we now know about the natural world? How many excuses do we have to make and how much spin is needed to make the bible or any other holy book fit with what we’ve learned in the last 3000 years?
If you’re holding on to religion because it’s popular and a billion people can’t be wrong, just know that they can. More than a billion (1.646B) people are Muslim. If you are Christian, you think they are wrong. Unless you are Roman Catholic, you’re in the minority of believers. Officially, Catholics don’t hold these fundamentalist beliefs anyway. They accept evolution, they accept science, they use the word “tradition” to support their faith.
All faiths have their apologists, from William Lane Craig to Kent Hovind for your fundamentalist and evangelical Christians to Deepak Chopra for your woo-y pseudo-christian feel good churches and Hamza Tzortzis and Mehdi Hasan in the Muslim camp. They all have one thing in common. They already know how we got here, why we are here, what happens when we die and the whole of the rest of the really deep questions people ask. Science takes the other perspective, it says “We don’t know why we are here, but let’s try and find out.” Then religion accuses science of conspiracy for seeking and finding some of the answers to those deep questions.
Religious fundamentalism is about the control of hearts and minds. It has the added benefit of separating the faithful from their money, instilling harmful social policies and derailing the progress of our species. That’s why religious apology makes my head explode.