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If you believe in God, do you have a rational basis for your belief? In the debate between science and God, atheists describe all belief in a Creator as irrational.
The framework for this series of essays—an Intelligence Squared debate that pitted two Christian believers (Dinesh D’Souza and Ian Hutchinson) against two atheists (Michael Shermer and Lawrence Krauss)—started with a singular motion up for debate: science refutes God. (In a formal debate, the motion is the premise both sides agree to argue.)
In the Intelligence Squared debate, Team A (for Atheist)’s opening statement said:
… Michael and I have the distinct advantage here of arguing in favor of the motion because in fact we have evidence, reason, logic, rationality, and empirical methods on our side, whereas the opponents have vague hopes and fears, and they’re arguing in favor of a motion that’s hanging on for its existence by mere shreds of emotional and ideological spaghetti, much like this type provided by the flying spaghetti monster, one of the equally irrational gods which science provides no support for. (emphasis added)
This opening statement does not so much summarize a strategy by which the Atheist Team means to prove that science refutes God. Instead, it employs a tactic that questions their opponents’ capacities and methods.
Even if the moderator disallowed this personal, ad hominem commentary, the audience could hardly unhear it. The portrayal of Team B (for Believer) as irrational beings who have only “vague hopes and fears” immediately prejudices the audience. In using this tactic, Krauss created a filter through which he asked the audience to hear whatever the opponent may say as irrational and motivated by fear or wishful thinking. (I appreciated that Team B did not characterize their opponents in this way.)
In reality, either side in the debate can avail themselves of evidence, reason, logic, and empirical methods if they so choose. Conversely, either side can indulge in false reasoning, wishful thinking and character assassination.
Atheist team member Krauss made what’s called a category error when he likened the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the God of historical faith. The FSM—a parody “religion” that satirizes creationism and religious interpretations of science—is the brainchild of a single human being. I’ve sat on Spaghetti Monster panels at Science Fiction conventions. They’re fun and occasionally profound, but the FSM has no place in a serious discussion of science and faith. Inserting it trivializes and mocks one side’s point of view.
Were God a human invention, He would not have the virtue of a long history of interactions with people from every age, locale, and culture. Not to mention the multiple, reaffirming genesis stories that convey cosmological information in metaphorical language suited to the capacity of the audience in just about every culture and civilization.
That God is not a human invention is supported by a collection of easily obtainable evidence. For one thing, His existence and nature are confirmed across widely diverse cultures and through millennia of revelation by individual messengers or prophets. These prophets, who come from every walk of life, make the same claims and teach the same basic spiritual principles, while flexing social teachings to fit the time. They describe their own role in bringing faith to humanity in strikingly similar terms. They are all cultural misfits. They all initially suffer rejection and persecution. Every true prophet reveals moral and spiritual teachings that initially benefit humankind and refine our characters.
The Baha’i teachings clearly say that the major prophets of God—the founders of the world’s great Faiths—have given us different paths at different times, but always with the same essential light:
Baha’u’llah continually urges man to free himself from the superstitions and traditions of the past and become an investigator of reality, for it will then be seen that God has revealed his light many times in order to illumine mankind in the path of evolution, in various countries and through many different prophets, masters and sages. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 8-9.
One might contend that this is entirely coincidental, and that the messengers have a peculiar form of madness—a madness that manifests itself similarly across cultures and centuries, and that is so intoxicating to those exposed to it that it has caused billions to accept the delusion unthinkingly, regardless of their level of intelligence or the application of their rational faculties. I think Occam’s Razor—the principle of scientific preference for simplicity in all conclusions—would come down sharply against the likelihood of this kind of massive coincidence on such a grand scale.
There is no real parallel here. If someone can show historical provenance for the concept of the Flying Spaghetti Monster that is genuinely and sincerely held by a large population, then we can talk. Otherwise, the FSM is merely one more impediment to a real dialogue, and God knows we don’t need any more of those.