Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Appeal to Ignorance: religion's secret weapon

Ever since humanity’s beginnings, religion has been inserting knowledge where there previously was none. Needless to say, so far no religion has ever been correct about the workings of the universe. For thousands of years, science has advanced its understandings, theories, and methods, while religion has retreated. During the heyday of ancient Greece, no one knew what the sun actually was. This was a spiritual question back then, because not only was it a complete mystery, but the sun was the giver of all life. So the Greek religion claimed that it was Helios, the sun god, riding across the sky in his chariot. No one knew what the seasons were, so their mythology said that the goddess of summer and growth had her daughter stolen by Hades every year, causing winter, then returned to her later, reinitiating summer. Christianity is no stranger to propagating incorrect ideas that align with its theology (i.e. geocentrism, young earth, creationism), so why should we trust Christianity’s claims of today?

The only thing that Christians can do is appeal to ignorance in an attempt to increase the validity of their claims. Even a successful dismantling of evolution and the big bang would merely reduce us to a state of ignorance about life and the universe, it wouldn’t validate some other claim. Today’s religious people move from absolute ignorance to absolute knowledge by saying that because we don’t know the answer, it must be God.

The problem is that “we don’t know” should be the end of the conversation. “We don’t know” in no way justifies any claim about the subject, so it cannot justify religion. On top of this, criticisms from the religious against scientific theories more often than not reveal an ignorance of the theories, research, and methods themselves, and are not even valid criticisms. Such statements include:
  • evolution cannot produce irreducible complexity
  • carbon dating is a lie and shouldn’t be used to tell the age of the earth
  • saying that life evolved is like saying a tornado assembled a jet in a junkyard
  • if crocodiles and ducks are related we should see half-crocodiles, half-ducks today
Not only are these false arguments, but even if they were valid, they would say nothing about whether religious claims are true, only that our science has problems. Christians believe that if science is wrong, then their religion is right.

This also happens at the macro level in Christian theology. What is the meaning of existence? Why is this universe the way it is? It must be God. It couldn’t possibly be anything else. But why must it be God? Is there an actual reason besides “it couldn’t be anything else”? No there is not. The fact we cannot begin to answer some of these questions yet in no way validates belief in God. When it comes down to it, there is no actual positive evidence that God has done any of the things that Christian theology claims. The dependence of Christian apologetics on these so-called “god-of-the-gaps” arguments is staggering, and is one of my main reasons for not being religious.

- Evan

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