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Sunday, August 30, 2009

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED AND THREE. FAITH AND REASON




Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Aug 31, 2010 8:55 PM PDT


This essay is devoted to Christopher Hitchens, who has issued a challenge to people of faith to show that faith is not inconsistent with reason. His intent appears to be to prove that the two are mutually exclusive. He has generated an army of followers dedicated to their faith in nihilism. He makes a good case against organized religions based on the fact that leaders of most faiths believe they have the only true concept of God, but his followers seem to take this as an affirmation that their own faith that God does not exist is a logical conclusion, when in fact it is not even a valid proposition.



I write about this only because I believe that a movement can only become powerful enough to end war if it is as inclusive as possible. Therefore, it would be helpful to convince as many atheists as possible that their belief that God does not exist is as utterly illogical as the rigidly assumed yet vague concept of God of religious fundamentalists. The point is not to humble either but to help both appreciate that they should honestly respect the opinion of the thoughtful believer at least as readily as the casual atheist or other fundamentalist. I am not trying to sell the idea of religion, even in its broadest sense. Agnosticism is just as valid a belief system.

Any college freshman in his first week of Introductory Logic can explain that since you cannot prove a negative, the assertion that the belief  that God does not exist is "scientific" is a logical absurdity. 
The proposition that God does not exist is only a hypothesis about the nature of reality, one that is not testable, since any negative result can be invalidated by a single counterexample. This makes atheism a matter of faith and not scientific fact. In contrast, it is theoretically possible to scientifically prove God’s existence. The trick is to agree on what God is and set up an experiment to prove that it is much more likely that God exists than that it does not. This does not have the elegance of mathematical proof, but is in fact how we construct most of our beliefs about reality, in a probabilistic manner.

Faith that God does not exist is not only fallacious, or the question might be trivial. More importantly, it might impede the development of a mind capable of grasping objective reality. If in fact God does exist and we are a part of it, as atheists we may miss the fact that our lives do have an inherent purpose. If in fact it does, then we may never understand our role in the larger game of Life if we dismiss the possibility without considering the merits of the argument. If we truly want to understand reality to the fullest extent possible, we may have to admit that it is possible that God’s existence is testable by direct experience.

Each of us constructs our own vision of reality based on our personal experience. No individual can understand every experience that any other has, so those who have not performed an unbiased test of the hypothesis that God does not exist can make no claim to knowledge of whether it does. This is as true for fundamentalists as atheists, of course. To understand the likely nature of reality as fully as possible, the seeker of truth must therefore attempt to understand the experiences of others that shape their minds, bodies and souls. Pagans, Native Americans, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians of all schisms seem to experience something that those blind to the possibility of the existence of the soul cannot or will not comprehend. What that is may be just as real as what we can measure. 

It is not necessary for atheists to believe that God exists in order for them to work with religionists and others in the continuum of faith. It is helpful for them to have an appreciation of the fact that spiritual beliefs do not have to be illogical. Those who have come to believe in God through doubt and an honest test of their faith may be more open-minded and more aware of the nature of reality than those who limit their conception of reality to a model based only on what is measurable. Fundamentalists stop thinking for themselves when they hear a fairy tale that resonates with their prejudices. Atheists should not be proud of doing the same thing.

The Army of Soldiers For Peace International is composed of any fighters for justice from around the world who have vowed to fight powerful oppressors armed only with truth. If our strength is in our numbers, it is important to remember that truth may take many forms. We cannot afford to  reject those who would join our cause because of different ways of viewing the world that do nothing to diminish what we have in common. Our purpose is to unite all men and women who understand that war can only continue as long as the belief prevails that it cannot be ended. There is strength in our diversity. Regardless of where any of us lie on the spiritual continuum, we all understand the concept of interdependence and must be willing to cast aside irrelevant points of disagreement in order to accomplish our objective of ending war forever.

We need the support of all men and women who share faith in or at least hope for the idea that men and women are essentially good. This belief is a prerequisite for democracy. If we do not regard ourselves as essentially good and capable of rational discourse about how to accomplish our mutual goals, democracy is not possible. In the absence of democracy, the powerful will exploit our divisions to conquer us. A form of fascism will be the inevitable consequence of the growing influence of global corporations if we do not join forces to stop it.

Those who believe that men are essentially evil and saved only by faith are deluded if they also think that America is a democracy and a model for the rest of the world. Many are religious fundamentalists who reject the notion that we are good enough to rule ourselves, yet they encourage us to place our faith in them and often, in political leaders who share their sick view of a a society where order is more important than freedom. These are the “patriots” who place their faith in men and women with no vision for a better future and who cling to their political power with one hand while reaching out to corporate lobbyists with the other.

Fundamentalists regard war, famine, disease and want as inevitable in a world filled with evil men. The result is the predictable self-fulfillment of their dark prophecy for the future, one in which free men have given up their God-given right to rule themselves. Some of them are so sure of their deluded beliefs that they have willingly participated in mass suicide and mass murder in the name of serving whatever idol they imagine rules them and guides their actions. Others are doing their best to hasten Armageddon so that they can be swept up and away from the disaster they will have let happen. In doing nothing but holding on to blind faith that someone else will save them from the consequences of their own actions, these so-called “People of God” have truly let themselves be led astray.

There are more people with an unquestioned belief that we will always have violence than there are who even dare hope that may not be true. The truth is that it is up to us both individually and collectively to both to choose to believe whether the end of war is possible and to act according to that belief. We must choose what we will believe is possible if we are to see how to make it real. We must also decide whether to continue to fight over relatively minor differences or join together to force our leaders to solve the many threats facing humanity today.  

Either the optimist or the pessimist may turn out to be the realist, depending on whose vision prevails. If we believe in democracy, we must cling to the belief that Jesus, Mohammed  and other utopian visionaries were right when they taught that the perfect society is possible if we all regard one another with equal dignity and respect. To do otherwise reveals only our fears, prejudices and ultimately our rejection of faith in either Man or God. If we are to stem the rising tide of fascism, environmental destruction, eternal war and unchecked famine and disease, we must join forces now to stop the forces of Empire from enslaving us all in a network of fascist control.

It is possible to win this war to end all wars if we believe in our selves and love our neighbors as we would like to love ourselves if we felt worthy. If sin is a valid concept, then surely it is a sin to despair of success in saving the world from ourselves and leaving our children and succeeding generations a legacy of nihilism and hopelessness. This will only happen if we are too weak of faith to believe that the power of the People can overcome the power a wealthy few who would rule us all if we let them. As a father, I cannot accept this any more than I can imagine giving less than all I have to the cause of making my children's future one worth living.

There is no conflict between well-founded faith and reason. Only a well thought-out system of belief can be considered reasonable, whether or not it includes the belief in a power we cannot directly measure. Those who close their eyes to the possibility of Mankind redeeming itself through its own works are not capable of seeing how seeming miracles are in fact possible. Just as justice and democracy will not exist in the real world until we make them manifest, so will the end of war be only a dream until we choose to make it a reality.








Once more, in the immortal words of John Lennon:






Imagine there's no Heaven.
It's easy if you try.
No hell below us,
above us only sky.
Imagine all the people
living for today.


Imagine there's no countries.
It isn't hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for
and no religion too.
Imagine all the people
living life in peace.


You may say that I'm a dreamer.
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us
and the world will be as one.


Imagine no possessions.
I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger,
a brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people
sharing all the world.


You may say that I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us
and the world will live as one.








Rick Staggenborg, MD
Roseburg, Oregon

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