JT Eberhard is a persuasive young man. An atheist and advocate for freedom of thought, he speaks regularly about atheism and how to discuss religion and atheism with religious believers. During this talk, JT Eberhard asks a number of questions that hit home and trace my path from reasonably devout Catholic to an irreligious agnostic, or “free thinker” as some like to say. Believers would probably just call me an atheist. Labels are easy. Understanding is hard.
“We’re not arguing about possibility; we’re arguing about plausibility.” ~ JT Eberhard
In a nutshell, that’s the distinction that helped dissolve my Catholic/Christian faith. Yes, there is a non-zero possibility that God and unicorns exist. But is it likely? If there is no solid evidence, why should I bother to believe in either? But to get to that realization, we may first need to answer this question:
Why do we believe what we do?
If our reasons are based on more unfounded beliefs (like,”Because the bible says”) then we need to dig deeper and ask why we believe those deeper assumptions are true. As we peel away layer after layer, we may find we’re left with nothing more than “Because we we told it was true by our parents” or some authority figure or friend. Or we may simply say we believe because we feel it’s true in our hearts. No one can argue with that, right?
I think we can because the feelings are not unique to your faith. Human being around the world, throughout history, and from many different faiths have felt those same feelings. Christians, Muslims, Jews–even atheist–can feel those same feelings when they meditate or pray or sit quietly. It’s a universal human experience that’s not based on a particular faith but on biology, psychology, or our fallible senses.
“What is morally true is dependent on what is actually true.” ~JT Eberhard
If the Christian God was proven to exist, and if the now proven-to-exist God wrote the bible (through inspired men), then we should try to follow the bible’s commandments. But since we can’t prove that the Christian God exists, the bible should not be the foundation of moral truths. Again, What is morally true is dependent on what is actually true. There is no evidence for the existence of God. If the religious are not addressing that ascertain, they are avoiding the main point.
Eberhard response to “You can’t prove that god doesn’t exist” is to say accusingly: “You’re a thief!” Invariably, the believer will say, “I am not! There’s no evidence I’m a thief.” To which Eberhard replies (if the person hasn’t realized the point by now), “And there’s no evidence for God’s existence either.”
Richard Carrier, a hero of Eberhard’s, made a statement that sums up this whole plausibility debate quite nicely:
“There was once a time when nothing was explained. Ever since that time, everything we have explained has been found to be the product of mindless forces acting on inanimate objects. How will all the rest turn out?” ~ Richard Carrier (paraphrased by JT Eberhard)
Isn’t science about faith? Not in the same way as religion. An essential part of the scientific process is forming a hypothesis, and the scientist may be said to “believe” that hypothesis is true. But then the scientist looks for evidence to refute his hypothesis. And even if he doesn’t find that evidence to refute his hypothesis, he’ll never say he’s proven his hypothesis. He’ll only say he has no evidence to refute it, or that the evidence so far supports the hypothesis. His hypothesis/belief is never proven in the scientific sense, and if it ever is refuted by an observation or experiment, he will have to abandon the hypothesis and form another one to test.
Religious faith is not open to such testing or refutation.
WHAT IS MORE LIKELY?! That was the question Sam Harris got me asking over and over again while reading his book, The End of Faith. That was the question that defeated any religious faith left in me. “But I feel God when I pray.” Our senses are unreliable. Our brain is easily fooled. Again, what is more likely? That there is a God. Or that your experience is common to most people who sit still and repeat something meaningful to themselves.
“Can you distinguish faith from gullibility?” asks JT Eberhard. If not then perhaps your “faith isn’t as noble as you thought.”
BUT “if your religious faith is about having reasons–Great! We can talk about those reasons.”
“Being reasonable is a responsibility we share with our species.”
Watch JT Eberhard’s talk below. It’s challenging, but not unreasonable 🙂