Well, okay. I didn’t so much pose it as answer it. “Yes,” I said. I argued that religious faith is irrational, by definition, in a way that secular faith isn’t. I argued that religious faith means maintaining one’s faith in the face of any possible evidence that might arise to contradict it; in fact, that it means asserting ahead of time that no possible evidence could ever undermine your faith. In other words, it means asserting that your faith trumps reality. I said that religious faith answers the question, “What would convince you that your faith was mistaken?” with the answer, “Nothing — I have faith in my god. That’s what it means to have faith.” (Thanks to Ebonmuse for this, for about the fiftieth time.)
And yes, I said: I think that’s irrational. Secular faith (and the leaps thereof) often has instances of being irrational: but it isn’t irrational by definition. I think religious faith is.
But to the believers who insist that their faith is rational, I would ask them to consider this question, the question posed by Ebonmuse and cited at length in my previous post: What would convince you that your faith was mistaken? What conceivable evidence would make you change your mind and decide that God didn’t exist after all? Again, if the answer is, “Nothing could change my mind, that’s what it means to have faith” — well, that pretty much proves my point. (If the answer is something other than “Nothing,” don’t just argue your case here — be sure to tell Ebon about it. I’m sure he’d be interested to hear it.)
I applaud these believers’ desire to see their faith as rational. I think the desire to have your beliefs be rooted in reality — or to not have them be preemptively defiant of it, at least — is a good instinct, a noble and worthwhile yearning. But when it comes to religious faith, I just don’t think it’s happening. Again, while secular faith has instances of irrationality — many of them, even — it isn’t irrational by its very nature. I think religious faith is.
and this is very important —
I don’t think religious believers are.
Not all of them, at any rate. Not by definition.
Here’s the thing I think atheists need to remember. It is entirely possible to be an overall sane, rational, functional person, and nevertheless have one particular area of irrational belief. Or even more than one.
In fact, it’s not just possible. It’s damn near universal. To atheists, as well as to believers.
Do any of these sound familiar? From your life, or from the lives of anyone you know? If not, I’m sure you can come up with some of your own, from your past, or maybe even from your present.
And none of these beliefs make us fundamentally irrational people. It is entirely possible to have certain irrational beliefs — even significant beliefs, even stubbornly held ones — and still be a basically rational person in most other areas of our lives. It’s not just possible. It’s universal. We all do it. In fact, hanging on to mistaken ideas once we’ve committed to them seems to be a basic part of how our minds work. And despite that, we’re still generally rational people, able to process information and analyze it effectively and make appropriate decisions about how to act on it… most of the time.
Look. I think religious leaps of faith are very different from secular ones, and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t. I think religious faith is inherently irrational, and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t. But the fact that religious believers hold one irrational belief that atheists don’t hold doesn’t make them fundamentally less-rational human beings than us. And we shouldn’t pretend that it does.