I have several comments—or rather rants—from theists this week, but I’ll put up only one. Reader “heavymetalvomitparty” comments on “Crowdsourcing an answer for a young atheist“, a post in which I asked readers to answer the question of a young woman (13 years old) who asked for a school project, why people still believe in God and the Bible given the recent advances of science. “Heavymetalvomitparty” says I’m unqualified to answer that question because I haven’t studied enough philosophy and theology! My emphasis in his/her attempted comment:
Others likely believe “God exists” for the same reason that you believe “science has proved the fact that we don’t have souls”: namely, someone whom they trust told them so.
In almost all cases and circumstances, belief is adopted on the basis of trust and testimony: we believe whatever the people we think trustworthy tell us about the thing about which they’re trustworthy. This is perfectly rational, so long as we choose good people to trust.
And all that said, I’d encourage you (though I’m sure Mr Coyne won’t actually send my words your way) to not trust Mr Coyne and others like him when it comes to the subject of religion. He has not spent any serious degree of time studying theology, or philosophy, or really anything relevant to your question. If you want to understand what the word “God” means, ask theologians (or monks). If you want to understand why people believe “God” exists, ask philosophers of religions, psychologists, sociologists, and historians — don’t ask a evolutionary biologist who specializes in fruit-fly research.
From the looks of your letter, you’ve already been trusting people like Mr Coyne on these subjects. I’d encourage you to question some of the things you have been told you “know”: that religious people are either purely indoctrinated or purely fear-driven, that brains have been “proven” to create personalities, that scientific theories of origin are in any way relevant to the question of God’s existence, etc. These assumptions are common nowadays, but are promulgated only by people (e.g., Mr Coyne) who don’t know what they’re talking about and haven’t done their theological, philosophical, or even anthropological homework.
Several points. First, I didn’t even try to answer the young woman’s question, but threw it to the readers, knowing that many of them were former believers. Second, there are clearly many diverse answers—as reflected in the readers’ comments—about why people believe. Some are indoctrinated, others find solace in the afterlife, still others a sense of community, and these factors can work together. This is indisputable: all you have to do is ask believers.
Second, why is it only monks and theologians who are qualified to say what the word “God” means? What about what the word means to the regular believers, who make up the vast bulk of religionists? (Note the denigration of my qualifications by saying I do “fruit-fly research.”)
As for the claim that many religious people are purely indoctrinated (does this reader know about madrassas or Catholic schools?), that personalities don’t derive from brains (they do), and that scientific theories of origin are irrelevant to the question of God’s existence (ask the 40% of American who are creationists), the reader hasn’t done his/her own sociological homework. Get out of the seminary and monastery, heavymetalvomitparty, and see what people really believe!
Frankly, I’m tired of people claiming that those of us who have read considerable theology and philosophy, or were believers in our earlier lives, aren’t qualified to say anything about religion because we’re neither priests nor monks. One thing that we do have is evidence—the evidence that supports scientific contentions—and one thing that theists have is NO EVIDENCE: no evidence supporting the existence or nature of any god. That should be the end of the discussion.
I’m continually amazed at how believers are able to be so vehement in their attacks on atheists when, after all, we’re simply pointing out this lack of evidence. The more I see of theists, the more I see them as a group of scared people, clinging to a superstition that they see slipping away: a security blanket that is being removed by atheists and skeptics. And so they grow angry and dismissive, and attack the credentials of anyone who dares comment on God or religion.
Finally, as any fool knows, “trust” in science is not the same thing as “trust” in religious leaders or mentors. Every religious mentor has a different point of view, some completely at odds with those of others. Think of what an imam versus a rabbi or priest might say to someone who “trusts” them, and compare that to the similarity of responses when someone asks several trustworthy biologists what the genetic material is, and how it makes proteins.