Regular readers will note I've been posting a lot of The Stupid! It Burns! articles. Besides the pure entertainment value, there's a method to my madness.
One way or another, I've been talking and writing about atheism and religion for about 10 years. I started all sincere and engaged; I really wanted to discuss all the philosophical and scientific issues and figure out what was going on. But the problem with religion is: there is no there there. The arguments for religious belief aren't just mistaken, they're at best not even wrong. At worst, they consist of most egregious logical fallacies: Straw men, outrageously uncharitable interpretations, equivocations, elementary misuse of logic, begging the question. And I'm not just talking about the amateurs on message boards: William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, for example, couldn't reason their way out of a paper bag if you gave them a squirt gun and a starter hole. But they're credentialed academics, so they can't possibly be making elementary errors, right? Sadly, they do. (Egregious misuse of logic and bad argumentation is pervasive in the entire academic philosophical community, not just among theologians and apologists.)
Atheists are chided for not engaging with the "sophisticated" theological arguments. The problem is, there aren't any. None. They all come down to: we're not absolutely certain about anything, it makes me happy to believe that my preferences, biases, and prejudices are objective truths about the universe, therefore God exists. All of theology and apologetics consists of wrapping this core position in as many layers of bullshit and doubletalk as possible, and quite a few very clever people have engaged in this activity.
It doesn't do any good to confront the religious with the facts, because they don't care about the facts. They'll just make facts up out of thin air, and deny the truth of any other inconvenient facts. It doesn't do any good to confront the religious with logical, rational arguments, because they don't care about logic and rationality. They're happy to use the forms of facts, logic and reasoned argument, but when those forms don't suit them, they'll abandon them without a second thought.
This unconcern with facts and reason is obviously illustrated in one tendency in apologetic writing: the religious argument for agnosticism. (There are a few examples in the most recent TSIB articles.) If agnosticism were compelled by the facts, then why are you a believer? The position is nonsensical. The outright lies too are not just exceptions, they're the rule: atheism claims certainty; there are no transitional fossils; the origin of life requires that DNA popped out of nowhere; the list goes on, and on, ad nauseam.
After a certain point, I realized that simply pointing out errors of fact and logic had no more effect than point out to a CEO that he has more money than a worker. He doesn't care that he has more money; in just the same sense the religious apologist doesn't really care that his logic is faulty and his supposed facts are in error.
The "debate" about religion and atheism isn't really a debate. It's not a dialectic between facts and theories, or between conjectures and proofs. It's fundamentally an ethical debate: how should we go about finding the truth? Should we come up with a position and find reasons to support it, or should we discover the actual facts and try to come up with the best explanation for those facts?
My nose wouldn't be so far out of joint if the religious explicitly took the first approach. This is our faith, we believe it before rational investigation, and we enjoy the intellectual exercise of exploring this faith logically. (To his credit Plantinga does explicitly take this approach. Paraphrasing from memory, he says that the best we can say about religion is that it's not internally contradictory.) But, by and large, religious apologists don't take the former approach. Instead, they secretly change the rules of finding and explaining the facts, and then appear to argue that the ordinary rules of scientific inquiry support their theological prejudices. The enormous prestige of ordinary scientific and rational inquiry almost forces them to do so.
Even when they're saying that science and religion are substantively different, that scientific inquiry simply has nothing to say about religion, they're still being hypocritical and disingenuous. The issue goes beyond one particular way of knowing things: religion goes to the heart of what it means to say you actually know something, and, more importantly what it means to say that something is true. Only the most vacuous deists and fideists come right out and say, "Hey, I have no idea whatsoever whether by beliefs are true, but I believe them to be true anyway," and even these fideists are misusing true.
What's true has to be true for everyone; if I say something is true, and you say the same thing is false, at least one of us has to be mistaken. And if I say I know something, then everyone has to be able to know it. When we're not talking about what's true for everyone and what everyone can know, we're talking about preference.
And fine: if you yourself prefer to believe, for example, that gays are icky, women should be subservient to men and babies, then say so. Take ownership of your own preferences. I have at least some respect for a person who says, "I myself just fucking hate those goddamn faggots," than I do for someone who tries to pawn of his own prejudice on God. It goes both ways too: I have a lot more respect for someone who says, "I myself want gay people to be happy, fulfilled and have all the civil rights and privileges enjoyed by straight people." If you say to me, "God loves gay people as much as straights," my first reaction is, "So, what you yourself think isn't relevant? If God told you to hate and oppress gay people, you'd just as happily do so?" I don't care what you think God thinks about gays, I want to know what you think about gays. I can talk to you about what you think.
Once you push any sort of belief onto God, I just can't talk to you about it. How can I change God's mind? I can't engage your reason, because you're not arriving at your beliefs by reason. I can't engage your compassion, your empathy, your sympathy, your fellow feeling, because the minute you push your ethical beliefs onto God — even an ethical belief I agree with — all of your emotional and empathetic connections to other people become irrelevant, in just the same sense that my empathy for someone who falls off a cliff and is terribly injured is irrelevant to my opinions about the law of gravity.
The facts don't matter. Reason doesn't matter. Knowledge doesn't matter. The truth doesn't matter. Religion is nothing more than at best infantile fantasy and at worst a justification for sadism and oppression. You can't reason someone out of an irrational belief. All you can do is praise and condemn, or point and laugh. If enough people choose to condemn religious thought, it will go away (or at least become marginalized). In exactly the same sense, enough people chose to condemn slavery and rape, and these ideas have become substantially marginalized.
After ten years of looking, I'm convinced that there's no gem of truth hidden in the enormous pile of bullshit that is religion and theology. If there were, some clever apologist would have found it. Instead I see the mound of bullshit being piled higher and deeper, so the religious can say at least, "You haven't investigated everything, so you can't be certain there's no truth there." This position is itself patent bullshit. Show me the truth, and I'll change my mind. Until then, I'm going to look at the bullshit, call it bullshit, and condemn the bullshit artists for trying to hide the truth, whatever it might be.