Thursday, April 9, 2009

Human Irrationality

The theology blog Parchment and Pen had a recent post about human irrationality. It begins with one of Paul's most quoted lines: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them."

My slightly edited reply follows:

Here's what you are saying about nontheists: you know you will suffer for eternity for choosing wrong, and yet you do so anyway, because you are just that retarded. While truth and offensiveness can coincide, it shuts off chances for dialogue.

This is vastly more extreme than an atheist who responds to any anecdotal evidence with "you are superstitious and deluded" and to any rational argument with "you are simply justifying your delusions." While I think there is some merit to the truth value of these claims, it's completely patronizing and the extent to which I'm forced to fall back on argumentative tactics like these is the extent to which I don't have anything worth saying. And which is more insulting: you're so dumb that you think your imaginary friend is real, or you're so wicked that you deserve eternal torment and so dumb that you know it's coming and yet do nothing to try to stop it?

Two Hitchens don't make a right, but this perspective is needed when deciding just how fiercely the new atheists' tone should be denounced, and if at all. And this isn't even an objection to the people in the church, but only to the words in the Bible itself.


I find it to be strange just how often Christians make arguments that either our reason cannot be trusted, or that people aren't nearly as reasonable as we think. It's not that these claims are false. The problem is that even if true, I don't see how it helps the case for Christianity at all. This is an argument that belongs on the agnostic side of either an agnostic v. atheist or an agnostic v. theist debate. If agnostics are "right", then either God exists and has not revealed himself, or atheists hold the right position for bad reasons.

Just as it debunks the foundation under any argument against Christianity, it debunks the foundation under any reason to believe. If people are a lot dumber than we think, that makes it easier for a relationship with God to be something that's just in your head. It makes it easier for answers to prayer to simply be bad estimations of probability and selective memory of the "hits." It becomes even easier to understand the birth and growth of Christianity - if people are just that irrational, skeptics don't even need a theory to explain the sincere belief of the Gospel writers and Paul.


  1. Nice post. Timely for me because I had that conversation with a Christian recently, "I trust God's wisdom, while you trust your ability to reason." That is the perfect response, that the fallibility of human reason undermines both arguments, not just skepticism.

  2. As it happens, I was reading Chris Hallquist's review of William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith last night, and saw that Craig makes a similar argument. Craig thinks people who reject Christianity do so because they don't want it to be true, however much they say it's lack of evidence.

    It does seem there is a double standard here if a Christian holds to that position but then criticises an atheist for calling them deluded. (As it happens, I'm coming the the conclusion that using such emotive language in arguments with Christians is counter-productive, so atheists shouldn't do it anyway).

  3. I think it a shame that Christians attempt to demean atheists by accusations over one argument or another. I've never thought that arguing will ever come to any profit for either side. I am a Christian, not because of philsophical aruguments, but because I believe the eyewitness accounts recorded in Scripture to be reliable. But I guess that could lead to other kind of arguments :-)