Friday, 8 October 2010

Intellectual Honesty

I have to admit that I like a good debate. Not necessarily about everything I do or think (as much as the next guy I suppose), I try to stick to things I consider important or worthy. This particular blog is mostly dedicated to religion and the experience of such a phenomenon in the 21st century. Perhaps I point out something that I encounter disturbingly often.

Generally speaking people are pretty happy to discuss the supernatural or religion with me, to converse and explore their beliefs with an interested party. Some don’t go too deep, preferring to paddle in the shallows and maybe skim a few stones out to blue water. By and large such interlocutors sprinkle a pontificating line with a seasoning of anecdote to knock home their personal reasons for belief in a deity. They don’t bother about reason (the real ‘reason’, as in logic etc) or evidence or proof, they probably understand that either they don’t know of any proofs (lack of research) or that their faith is built, not on rationally filtered ideas, but on a deep sense of their god’s existence (a certain, unshakable ‘feeling’ that they’re confused and worried that I don’t share). I respect this approach to the debate about god/s because it’s an honest method. There’s no ambiguous semantics being thrown around and no waffling hubris, everything that’s said is backed up by professing a firm faith and that is all. I can’t share such a faith, indeed a belief in something as inherently unknowable as the supernatural just comes across as, well, unnecessary. An unnerving amount of static cascades my ears when such ‘feelings’ are revealed.

What I don’t appreciate is the other type of debate partner. This particular specimen is a believer in whatever supernatural movements takes their fancy. They’re not a whimsical believer as if they attach themselves to any popular superstition wafting their way; they cling to their supernatural realm by altogether stranger talons than the solely faithful. These types perform a curious routine starting with a discussion apparently showing through ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ (sometimes even trying out the latest theory casually captured from the top physics or biology labs) how the existence of a god is not only plausible and a more rational position that the alternative, but that their particular god is the guilty culprit. You name the argument I’ve had it launched against me. What I don’t like about this debater is the fact that when pressed they will resort to a statement resembling,”our minds are simply too inferior to god’s to understand him” or “perhaps god’s reasons for [x] are good, we just will never know. We must therefore trust him”.

That’s having it both ways though, surely. First they’re spouting one intellectual argument after another but when they are beaten back or have a syllogism deflated they’ll morph into their compatriot and hide behind the ever-present cardboard fortress called “faith”. This is intellectual dishonesty and conduct befitting of a child. If a religious person is faithful, be at peace with that. I won’t try to dissect or eviscerate your faith if it genuinely must be left alone (I can’t respect the base position of religious faith, that’s another matter entirely). But seriously, if you’re going to start down the road of argument and present evidence for your faith or god then be aware this road is long and winding. Sometimes you can’t see the end, nor the beginning, but know that this trek shouldn’t be taken lightly. The one caveat to expect when providing arguments for one’s god is that there are counter-arguments that may be more forceful than yours. If the proof you supply is insufficient or false, intellectual honesty behoves you to re-evaluate your position. I can guarantee I will reciprocate, can I say the same of my debating partners? I hope so.

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