I’ve been in a number of debates in person and online where emotions flared and the conversation eventually boiled down to a variant of the following:
Why can’t you just respect a person’s beliefs?
Here’s the problem with that: not all beliefs are created equal and not all are worthy of respect. The person saying the above is usually emotionally invested in the beliefs I’ve questioned and is usually unable to present any rational reason for a person holding those beliefs in the first place. What they’re really saying is, “Since I can’t defend my untenable beliefs I really wish you would leave them alone so I don’t feel like I have to!”
I was emptying out a three-ring binder yesterday and found a paper I had written on August 3, 1999 for a Philosophy 1100 class at Webster University. I still considered myself a Christian in 1999 and it wasn’t until the following year that I even entertained the idea that I might be agnostic or an (gasp!) atheist. I’ll continue to document that journey through my regular posts, but I wanted to take a moment to transcribe this paper and show that even I, on the verge of a huge shift in worldview, could cling to the most outrageous and fallacious arguments in the hopes of retaining that failing grasp on a faith that had, for most of my life, defined me. In a strange and somewhat satisfying twist I’ll address my own faulty reasoning and debunk myself. Enjoy!
everal times during my childhood I heard a pastor preach on the creation story in Genesis. While I was still a Christian I thought it was just about the coolest story I’d ever heard — every time I heard it. Here’s the run-down:
In the beginning there was god. God got the urge to create stuff so he fashioned a planet with land and water and light so he could put plants and animals on it. In order to make this his crowning achievement he then placed humans and a talking serpent on the planet. The habitable area on this planet was constrained to a garden, in the middle of which was a tree that god had created knowing that it would destroy the humans someday.
Pretty awesome, right? Well, kind of. When I was a Christian I followed along in my book while the pastor read and never asked questions. This is how the sermon almost always went:
“Genesis 1: 1 — In the beginning, GOD. Now, that’s all I need to know. This tells me that god was always there, is there now, and will always be there even after I die. Praise the lord!”
itting in Sunday School and church, you’re constantly confronted with the idea that man’s knowledge is not only flawed (a point with which I wouldn’t necessarily argue) but foolish. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:19 states:
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”
Whenever this comes up in a lesson or a sermon you always hear a resounding, “AMEN!” from the congregation. While I was a believer I never really thought about the implications and I doubt that many believers really do. In the light of debates over evolution, the Big Bang, and the ever-narrowing god-shaped gap in our knowledge it’s nice to be able to point to a verse and say, “See? The things you think you know are utter nonsense in the face of god’s wisdom!” The Bible is a never-ending source of derisive rebuttal to anything even remotely logical. That’s why I loved it so much as a kid. No matter with whom I was talking, I could always feel confident that my god considered them fools and I was right.