A rather interesting discussion arose out of a very short post on another blog. Some nutter initially attacked the author for being an atheist, I think prompted by his not having a clue what atheism is (among other things, which quickly became apparent). There are lots of things discussed worth elaborating on, but I thought I’d focus on his strong objection to being called irrational for believing in a god.
A belief in the existence of something when there is no evidence in reality for it existing is by definition an irrational belief. That’s not an opinion, that’s fact. Another fact is the foundation for belief in every religion. What is it? Faith. Faith is defined as both loyalty and “firm belief in something for which there’s no proof.” In other words, faith is irrational, so any belief dependent upon faith is therefore irrational, which makes anyone holding such a belief irrational.
Nobody likes to think they’re irrational, but at certain times we’re all prone to it. Lucky ties, knocking on wood, not discussing something for fear of “jinxing” the outcome are all irrational. What people often do is create elaborate reasons for engaging in the irrational. “Every time I wear this tie, I close a deal. It’s a lucky tie.” “Believing in a god makes me feel good, and lots of others believe in one, so my belief is completely rational.” Those are rationalizations, or seemingly rational excuses for engaging in irrational behavior. In fact, that excuse may be completely rational. “If I’m a committed Christian, I have a far better chance of getting elected.” That doesn’t, however, magically turn the irrational indulgence, in this case believing in Christianity, rational.
What religions often do is say god belief is different, that for this and only this issue, faith is ok and the only way to know, understand and accept the belief. That’s simply a rationalization, an excuse to indulge in irrational behavior. It’s not even a rational excuse for it’s essentially special pleading, a logical fallacy.
So god belief is irrational, making believers, at least in the area of god belief, irrational. Do they have rational reasons for believing? Maybe. Are they completely rational otherwise in their daily lives? (For instance, do they look before crossing the street or merging into traffic?) Maybe, but at least on this god belief thing they’re irrational, and there are plenty of people who are quite fine with that. They’ll openly admit they have no basis for their belief in a god, in their team winning the championship, in some great event occurring, or even in someone doing something far contrary to their nature, but they’re going to believe anyway. They may say they simply have a feeling, or faith that they’re right, and what’s faith? Irrational.
Most people, however, are like the clown I had exchanges with. They take great offense to being called irrational, and I’d say for two primary reasons. The first is it’s generally a negative in our society to be considered irrational. The second is the accusation threatens their irrational indulgence by questioning the validity of the excuse(s) they’ve concocted for indulging. I’m sure god belief can bring great comfort and happiness to people just as any drug, alcohol or similar indulgence could. To have that joy threatened is probably very scary and will anger the indulger.
I think no one is going to give up their indulgences easily, however the key might be in the stigma of being considered irrational. That’s why I like to point out how an indulger is generally rational most of the time, and how silly it would be to use faith rather than reason for most everything in their lives, and they’ll usually agree. It’s that “but this is different” thing which is the biggest hurdle. Get over that and you’re probably going to drop the indulgence, or become like those who simply accept that their indulgence is irrational, but they’re gonna do it anyway. I’ll settle for that, because I don’t see how anyone can justify impeding science, science education, and general social advancement due to some indulgence they admit is irrational.