Conversation with a Born Again Christian and Science Denial

Today, I had an unexpected and interesting conversation with an energy consultant at a flea market type venue. After some discussion in which I intended to be skeptical of his claims, he announced that he was a born again Christian after I told him that I work for Examiner.com as the Scranton Atheism Examiner.

He asked me if I believe that "everything came from nothing" and I called out the obvious false dichotomy that is typically posited with this assertion. I told him that natural processes can account for the universe after he asked me, "Well, who created the universe then" and "how did the universe get here, who put it here." He started to talk about the "complexity"of the human eye and I talked to him about how the eye doesn't seem to be designed at all. I called out his argument from ignorance soon after be asked me if I watched the Expelled movie with Ben Stein (lol) regarding intelligent design. Even if it were the case that we couldn't explain how the eye was formed, this doesn't entail that we can rationally posit God as an answer (the typical God of the gaps argument).

He then told me that I have "faith" in science and that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God. I addressed this points rather quickly be saying that neither of us are evolutionary biologists and I simply defer to the experts on matters best left to experts. It's not faith to accept the conclusions of people who are properly trained to evaluate and interpret the data. One of the best features of the scientific method is peer review, the process by which scientists review others' findings. Once a paper would go through a peer review process, we have good reason to accept this data as the best fitting explanation...and especially after a meta-analysis and consensus amongst scientists. Still, the man insisted that this was "faith" and I simply repeated and reinforced my points.

I asked him if he took medicine and if he called taking medicine and vaccines a faith-based position. He said that he believes in the efficacy of medicine. I asked him why...and never really got an answer. One of the major logical fallacies going on with the man was special pleading; he accepts some conclusions from scientists, but dismisses others even though the evidence yields a conclusion in the same manner. Why defer to the experts on matters of medicine and vaccines and then not accept what experts have to say on the matter of evolution?

The idea of "it takes more faith to be an atheist" is nonsense because atheism isn't a faith position, it's simply the lack of belief in any gods. I don't have faith when I don't believe something exists; I come to a conclusion based on the most reasonable an unbiased survey of the evidence. All of the arguments from believers, I have reasoned, are insufficient to establish any good reason to believe in any gods.

He then got into the topic of global warming...a topic which I really have not studied much, but am justified in deferring to scientific consensus on (still not faith). He mentioned that all of the funding for scientists who believe in global warming is from the government and special interest groups who have a vested interest in legislating policy that accords with belief in global warming. This assertion is very dubious to begin with and misses the point of the scientific process; no matter who funds something, the conclusion that the data yields will shine through. While there may be conflicts of interest and "creaming the data," a process of peer review, independent researchers who are publishing peer-reviewed material, and the data itself will yield a conclusion. The beauty of critical thinking skills, I have discovered, is that once you can argue one topic really well and understand logical fallacies, you note huge problems in arguments about topics that you aren't well-informed about...and this was the case here with global warming.

Saying "oh, this is funded, so I can't accept it" is profoundly ad-hoc and is more special pleading. When this man sees data he presumably doesn't like, he doesn't question the data, but rather gives an "excuse" to save his hypothesis of global warming isn't happening. Surely, he accepts data that is funded by the government and special interest groups for other matters, right? Why, then, deny global warming and not everything else that is funded?

Another argument he tried was that there are two sides to the debate and experts can often disagree. In the case of global warming, there is no real debate because there is scientific consensus. There may, of course, be disagreements regarding the rate of global warming, the impact of global warming, and what policies we should put in place (notice, this is politics, not science, but perhaps is scientifically-informed politics), but this does not entail that global warming is not happening. Two sides to a debate doesn't automatically make a position valid, either.

Just because certain politicial groups may support 'global warming legislation' or 'push' the fact that global warming is happening or if it is the case (and it is) that some people are 'making money off global warming' does not entail that there is some sort of conspiracy or flawed scientific methodology. This is a causal fallacy; just because one thing happens does not entail that it is linked to the other...and it's also a non-sequitur (so what if people are making money? This doesn't entail that global warming is not happening). What's happening here is very similar to what '9-11 Truthers' are doing when they say things like "Oh, look! People sold stocks before 9-11, so they must have known about it and were in on a conspiracy." Just because people profit off of something, whether intentionally or not, does not entail a conspiracy.

When I asked him why he believes what he believes in the matter of God's existence, he actually pulled Pascal's Wager by saying "Well, if you're wrong, you're going to Hell and if I'm wrong, I lose nothing." I quickly demolished this horrid argument and he moved on to say that he "feels" that belief in God is justified. (More about my evaluation of Pascal's Wager is here.)

I asked him why feeling something is true makes it so and I was given a very long anecdotal story previously that he appealed to. His son was in a coma and had very low chances of living. Eventually, he recovered after doctors told the parents to 'pull the plug.' Therefore, he believes in God and thinks that this was a wake-up call. Anecdotal stories are really problematic (I can't really know the details or if it even happened), but for the sake of argument, let's assume that it is true.

There are many problems. First, the doctors saved the person, not God. If you take the doctors out of the equation, there would be no surviving. Second, what kind of all-powerful and all-knowing god would put someone through a coma to send a 'wake-up call?' Surely, since he is all-powerful and all-knowing, according to believers, he could have revealed himself in some other manner with ease. Third, even if 'something happened' that was not the work of the doctors or a naturalistic recovery, why assume that it is the Christian god or even any god? It's the old argument from ignorance again: I don't know, therefore God. Extraordinary situations are simply not indicative of miracles!

It doesn't take faith to be an atheist and we don't need to take claims on faith. We can, after a reasonable appraisal of the evidence, come to justified conclusions without taking a 'leap of faith.' While we may be wrong about some things, this doesn't mean that we had a faith-based position or that our reasoning process was wrong to begin with. Tomorrow, for example, we can discover that this world was really an illusion and 'we' were brains in a vat. Should we be blameworthy for believing that the world was not an illusion? No. Was believing that the world was real a faith-based claim? No.

The only real candidate for faith in my life is induction (the belief that the future will resemble the past). Induction, though, as I explain in my capstone philosophy paper, which also talks about why I don't have faith in many claims, is necessary for being a functioning human being and, although there are problems with question-begging, is a forced option that everyone must live by (or else they'd probably end up dead, disfigured, or in a mental institution). This is much different than the faith of a religious believer.