Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rx for Worry

Why did I stop believing in God? It's always interesting and more than a little strange to talk about the cult beliefs with my mom. She thinks of the cult as an "unhealthy church" or a "toxic faith" (as opposed to some other benign/beneficial faith). She rejected the extreme fringe beliefs but kept her core beliefs in Christianity in tact. I lost my faith in Christianity once I knew my childhood had been in a cult. In one sense I'd been gradually questioning, examining, and rejecting various beliefs for over a decade; in another sense, it was a matter of weeks between rejecting the cult and disbelieving in a god or gods.

In that critical time between the two states - blind faith and positive atheism - I asked an evangelist woman to pray for me. I also asked her how I could know which churches were safe, and which were cults. I told her I didn't know how to trust God, if he would let someone lie in his name and not stop it. She didn't have answers, but she prayed and she gave me a book from a local apologist.

I was still utterly ignorant of basic scientific principles, of the rules of logic, and of various rhetorical and propaganda techniques. The book convinced me, the very last time I was able to be convinced, that Christianity was still true. Today I decided to take out that book again, to see how weighty the arguments seem in light of my past year and a half of acquired knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Like many apologists, James P. Gilis, MD (a LASIK eye surgeon), is writing for a purely Christian audience. There's no way a Muslim would read his arguments for the existence of God as arguments for the divinity of Jesus or the superiority of Christian scripture. Likewise, no secularly-raised nontheist is going to be converted on the strength of these arguments. They're not even arguments - they're bold assertions meant to bolster the waning faith of true believing Christians. Honestly, there's so much bollocks per square inch I almost just want to type a page here and let you see what kind of crappy arguments used to persuade me. Here are the doozies from just one paragraph of Chapter 4 "Reality in the Cosmos."
  1. "Scientists marvel at the astounding facts they have discovered as they probe the beauty of God's cosmos."
  2. "There were over 100 parameters that had to be precisely exact for life to exist on planet Earth. Life does exist - created and sustained by God."
  3. "A clear, scientific understanding of what God has done only enhances our view of Him."
  4. "How can [God's] power fail to dominate our every thought and action, to rescue us from our everyday insecurities?"
  5. "It is not that God has failed to demonstrate His nature; it is just that we are slow to understand."
  6. "Scientists studying the handiwork of God..."
Ouch. It's so frustrating to realize that the justifications I used to quiet my doubts were such paper thin ones. There is no meat on these bones. They're not even bones; they're toothpicks. And I continued to believe bad things for bad reasons. It's embarrassing, humbling, and kind of frightening. What if I'll always be gullible? What if I'm easy prey for blind acceptance of unsupported propositions?

So let's shoot these ones down. Well, first there's the smarmy false implication that scientists who study the world around us are doing so for theistic reasons - "studying the handiwork of God" and "God's cosmos". For the second point, he (I believe intentionally) misrepresents probability and sort of connects it to intention. But the unlikelihood of life existing on earth in its present form is no greater than the unlikelihood that any other specific form of life might or might not exist. The fact that it's a long shot has no real significance. If I pick up three dice and I say, "I'm going to roll three sixes." The odds that I will randomly roll three sixes using three dice is 1 in 216 (1/6 x 1/6 x 1/6). Here's the thing: The odds are exactly the same that I will roll a 2, a 4 and a 5. Or a 1, 2, 3. Or two 5s and a 4.

Then there's the bald assertion that life is created and sustained by God. It would be nice to have some kind of evidence for that, but apparently the apologist didn't feel a need to back this one up. We're supposed to take it "on faith", as it were. Then "A clear, scientific understanding of God". I'm not trying to go bandwagon fallacy, honesty, but 93% of America's top scientists don't believe in a personal God. So to me, I'd say that rather than "enhance" our view of God - a clear, scientific understanding would seem to give people the view that God is imaginary, or at least not very concerned with us (no "creating and sustaining").

Okay, how can god fail to dominate my thoughts? That's a damn good question IF you believe a god or gods exist and wants to be worshiped. How are Christians and Muslims able to think of any other thing, when it's so clearly stated that they serve a Jealous god who does not want them to serve two masters. To me this is an argument *against* belief - the fact that god doesn't dominate our thoughts.

And regarding us being slow to understand god, aren't believers the ones claiming god made us? (Yes, Mormons, I realize now that doesn't include you.) Even if it's OUR inability that's the cause of disbelief, rather than his failure to produce evidence (or failure to exist), why did he jmake us unable to believe him, or unable to understand him? If he's all-powerful and created the game we're playing, why did he design it so that the vast majority would not win (whether you think I'm getting annihilated or tortured in hell, religions tell you I don't get the pearly gate prize you're expecting.)

So, rather than freak out that I'm going to be ignorant and gullible forever (big fear), I'll take the silver lining. I've grown so much and learned so much in the last 17 months since I first read that book that I can see it's complete nonsense. I'm an atheist and an outspoken one. I'm raising my kid free of fear of eternal punishment, obligation to love an absentee father figure ("god" or the dumbass I let get me pregnant), or indoctrinated logical fallacies. Hell, I've learned that medication and diet do a lot more for my anxiety disorder than crappy apologetics books do.

Who knows how much more logical and thoughtful I'll be 17 months from now?