Friday, August 17, 2012

Critical Thinking and the Existence of God

I recently participated in a discussion of sorts in this surprising place where lots of thinkers gather: 9GAG.

It must be true, what they say about how a good sense of humor is a sign of intelligence.

This is the post that claims that one does not have to be an atheist to be a critical thinker. If you read the comments, you'll be really amused:

This is a good topic of debate. For years, I've been hearing/experiencing antagonism from the atheist groups, many of whom claim that theists are stupid. I will not disagree because the truth is, many theists DO show signs of stupidity. What makes a theist stupid? Well here are the reasons:
  • Blind faith - "I just believe, okay?"
  • Ignorance - "I don't understand what this science shit is talking about, therefore it's not true."
  • Dogmatism - "This is what my Holy Book says, therefore it is true."
  • Authority - "The Pope said so!"
  • Traditionalism - "It's what we've been doing for thousands of years, therefore it's true."
  • Fanaticism - "We believe and we want you to believe, so it must be true" - as Luiz Henrique Batista puts it
These are all logical fallacies: Begging the question, appeal to ignorance, appeal to authority, appeal to tradition, appeal to the crowd. Sorry to say, but it makes me ashamed to be part of the theist group. What I see is how many of us have stopped thinking, very far from how the ancients were. It isn't seldom that I hear theists say that science is from the Devil. Why? Because for instance, it has debunked the existence of Adam and Eve, it has found that the world wasn't made in 7 Days, and no, it doesn't flood and volcanoes don't explode because God is angry.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. Blind faith is NO FAITH AT ALL. A theist who attributes scientific truth to the devil insults not just the beauty of how nature works, but also insults the work of the Creator. A true believer will not be afraid to search for evidence and to understand how things work.

On the other hand, theists would also claim that atheists are stupid. From reading around, they also do say some stupid things:
  • Absence of Evidence - "You have no proof of God's existence, therefore he doesn't exist"
  • Authority - "Many scientists don't believe in a god, scientists are intelligent, therefore there is no God"
  • Red Herring - "Theists are deluded, therefore they just made up God."
  • Religion - "Christians/Muslims/ have been killing each other, therefore there is no God." 
  • Science - "You can't prove God through science, therefore he does not exist"
Surprisingly (or not so), the reasons why an atheist might be stupid appear to be less than the list for theism. Now my comments on each:

On first point, this is an argument from ignorance. In the words of logician Martin Rees' "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
On second point, this is non sequitur. The existence of something doesn't rely on the belief or unbelief of many.
Third, attacking the (bad) qualities of a person doesn't prove/disprove the subject at hand.
Fourth, religion is not the same as belief in God (although belief can be a component) and attacking it doesn't really contribute anything to the discussion.
Fifth, this one, I'm divided on. For one it is begging the question. Can science really not be used to investigate the matter of "god"? Or are they saying that the matter of the God-concept is something to be left to the realm of philosophy? This is quite tricky because for a long time, philosophy and science weren't really separate fields since they share the same process of inquiry. I guess the difference would be, science deals with physical things while philosophy deals with ideas. For high school level instance:

Science:
  • observation: Plants need sun to grow
  • question: Will an onion not grow without the sun?
  • null hypothesis: This onion will not grow without sun
  • alternative hypothesis: This onion will grow without sun
  • Experimental and Control setup: Onion with sun & Onion without sun
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Conclusion
Philosophy:
  • observation: People have an idea of what's just and unjust
  • question: Why is there such a thing as justice?
  • null hypothesis: Justice is a human invention
  • alternative hypothesis 1: Justice was made known to humans by a perfectly just being
  • alternative hypothesis 2: The idea of justice is something innate to humans (we're born with it)
  • experimentation will be a bit different when dealing with ideas. The philosopher explores the logicality of ideas through a thought experiment. 
    • Justice as figment of the human mind (We create ideas to suit our needs)
    • Justice as human nature
    • Justice as coming from a standard of perfection (We only know things revealed to us)
  • Methodology would then be a series of questions like:
    • if justice is the fruit of the private human mind, then how do we know which actions are just and unjust? Why do we agree that stealing and killing are unjust acts?
    • Left on an island separated from civilization, will humans still have a sense of justice?
    • Can there be an idea of justice / injustice if there is no perfectly just being?
  • Results
  • Conclusion
C.S. Lewis sided with alternative 1, attributing Justice to the existence of a just being. His thought process goes:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if i did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
Many would say that science is superior to philosophy. Something about "testability" makes it the approach of choice. However, thoughts and ideas are testable, too, thus logic. Many would go as far as to say that the first scientists were the philosophers of old, but that's just another point of argument I won't bother elaborating on.

So after this friggin long post, all I'm trying to say is that critical thinking should be applied to all things. Because while blind faith is no faith at all; blind unbelief is just as lazy. *bow*

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