Friday, February 25, 2011

On Reason, Religion, and Ontological Arguments

So, it took a while, but I got in my first religious argument in a class, on an online forum. It started with me talking about Philip Pullman’s most recent book, “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ,” and questioning whether we can be critical of stories while still being respectful to the people who “own” them (in this case the Christians). Throughout the discussion there had been mention of science and religion having “different ontological arguments,” or different “fundamental assumptions,” with the implicit undertone that the only difference between science and religion is that you start off with different basic assumptions, and that, from those basic assumptions, both are equally valid.

I have heard this brought up before (at Murphy’s while talking to the head of the Navigators after our last panel discussion, for example), but I had never been able to articulate why I find this notion problematic. But because it came up in class I have been doing some thinking on the topic, and here’s what I came up with.

We should start by talking about reason, since I think that there are some fundamental disagreements here when talking to religious people. One thing I have specifically heard on the class forum is, "The tendency these days is to crown reason king," but I don't think that is quite accurate. I think that the tendency has ALWAYS been to crown reason king, since the dawn of humanity. It is only now that we feel the need to bring it up, as more and more people are forgetting the fact. It is thanks to our reasoning ability that we are where we are today. Of course reason is king. Without reason we are nothing. How do we decide on fight or flight? Whether to get up or not in the morning to go to work? Whether to go to drive or walk to the store? To ask someone to marry you? We use our reasoning skills for all of these. And we don’t even think about it. We don’t need to.

All reason is is the idea that we should only believe something if we have sufficient evidence to believe that it is true. I believe that I should eat dinner because my stomach is telling me that I am hungry, and, in the past, that has been a pretty good indicator that I am, in fact, hungry. This is what has worked for hundreds and thousands of years and put us where we are today. Reason isn't anything special. It's just a part of who we are. It's hardwired in our brains.

I would say that the definition of "faith" is to believe something even if there isn't sufficient evidence to. This is, in fact, in direct contrast to reason. It is saying we can ignore reason when convenient. When it comes to faith, there is no way to reasonably justify it; it actively opposes reason by its very definition. It’s not an assumption in the same way that reason is; it is just saying we can ignore the assumption of reason when we feel like it. So anything that stems from the underlying assumption of faith is therefore unreasonable. A belief that depends on faith lacks reason. There is no such thing as a rational argument for anything that has faith as a basic assumption.

The real question is, "Can we justify the existence of a God using reason as our basic assumption, NOT faith?" Can we come up with sufficient evidence for God that faith is unnecessary for belief? And many Christians believe that the answer to that is yes. But by bringing in anything that requires faith is already disregarding reason, making any arguments that stem from it invalid.

It is not correct to say that there is an ontological argument to believe in reason; ontological arguments themselves already require it. And the only way an ontological argument for God could be valid is if faith or belief is not an underlying assumption, since those require us to suspend reason.

So, when you talk to religious people or read books attempting to rationalize religious beliefs, always ask yourself what their underlying assumptions are. If you dig deep enough, you will almost always find that, somewhere buried deep down in their argument, is a belief unjustified by reason, regardless of how much reason they pile on top of it to cover it up. But it is not until you dig it up that truly useful dialog can occur.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A time travelling dISSAster! ISSA meeting date correction

Contrary to popular belief, ISSA did not travel back in time to make this week's meeting on the 14th. It will, in fact, be on the 24th (of February!), which is conveniently tomorrow, at our usual time and location.

To appease for our error, I have searched youtube for "atheist cat" in hopes of finding a video you guys might find humorous. But instead I found one that is probably the scariest thing I have seen this week. My apologies. There's just something wrong about that cat...

Hope to see you there! If you haven't seen Jesus Camp you basically have no choice and must come to this meeting; it's really an eye-opener.


Can't get enough of us? ISSA online!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just when you thought the ISSA was melting...

Greetings, fellow freethinkers!

Winter weather is upon us again! And so another week of indoor events begins -- but don't fret! ISSA brings the party (or theological debate, or free speech activism, or... what have you) wherever we go! Just look at last week's Ask An Atheist! Outdoors or in, it went swimmingly. Photos for your viewing pleasure here.

Now, down to business...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ask An Atheist!

Event Organizer Karthik Manamcheri
Come visit some nonbelievers willing and eager to answer your burning questions about atheism! We'll be stationed within the quadside vestibule of the Union between 11 and 3 tomorrow, February 17th. Ask away!

"Gravity ISSA not responsible for people falling in love." - Albert Einstein

Greetings, secular sweethearts!

We hope you had a great Valentine's Day, though -- personally -- we're inclined to believe it was hugely overshadowed by the objective awesomeness that was Darwin Day. If you didn't make it to ISSA's table on the quad this past Friday, you missed out! Our Darwin cake was a thousand times better than any of that unscientific chocolatey-floral feel-goodery, and it was free to passersby! NOMNOMNOM-worthy photos here.

We've got an exciting week planned just for you... Read on!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Room Change: We all make mISSAtakes

Hello all,
Due to a room scheduling conflict, our meeting this week will not be in MEB 253. We are currently looking for a new room. We will have officers posted near the room in order to direct you to the new room. We apologize for the confusion.
Here's a humorous video, as consolation:
Our bad,
ISSA Officers

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The mystery of the beginning of all things ISSA insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic." - Charles Darwin

Greetings, fellow nonbelievers!

Comb out your beards, don your best bowler and toss those beagles a bone. It's DARWIN DAY!

...Well, almost. As the International Darwin Day Foundation describes it, "Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around February 12, the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809. Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin... More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity." Awesome, right? We're pumped!

So begins our week of Darwin, Darwin, Darwin...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Here's hoping the snow day hasn't kept you too ISSAlated!

Greetings, skeptical schoolmates!

...Hope this email finds you cozy and warm indoors! We'd tell you to pray for another snow day, but a fat lot of good that'll do.

School or no school, we want to keep your blasphemous brains engaged! Here's what we've got in store for you this week...

THIS WEEK --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This week's meeting will be at the usual time in the usual place: Thursday, February 3rd at 7pm in Mechanical Engineering Building, room 253. Click here for a map.

On the agenda...
We're thrilled to once more welcome our good friend Phil Ferguson of the CU-Freethinkers! Phil will be speaking to us about the anti-vaccination movement -- a trend so mind-blowingly stupid and dangerous that every skeptic worth his/her salt should make a point of knowing the facts about it. Phil's presentations are always a treat, and we hope you'll brave the nasty weather for this one!

On another note, CLUB TEES ARE IN! Get yours ASAP! Only $12, cash or check. Please make checks payable to Ben Ostick. LADIES: We need your input -- would fitted tees appeal to you? If there's significant demand, we'll be putting in an order for some nice light-weight, slim-cut ladies' shirts. Please reply to this email with your thoughts on the subject and/or let us know what size you'd like.

ISSA at Murphy's!
After the meeting, we'll adjourn to Murphy's, as is our tradition. We welcome anyone and everyone who can make it, regardless of whether or not you plan to drink. It's a great chance to get to know us -- your officers -- better!

Food for Freethought @ Sam's Cafe -- February 6th
This week's Sunday morning smorgasbord will be held at Sam's Cafe (in downtown Champaign) at 11am, and we'd love it if you'd grace us with your presence! Just give us a heads up if you need a ride! Please note that, from this weekend on, we'll be experimenting with new brunch locations on and off campus. To keep from spamming the rest of you, we've started an additional email list specific to Food for Freethought. If you wanna stay in-the-know, please reply to this email with a statement to that effect.

UPCOMING EVENTS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Blood Drive -- February 5th
ISSA will be co-sponsoring a Red Cross Blood Drive (with our friends from Cru) at the Wesley Foundation United Methodist Church on Saturday, February 5th, 11am - 3pm. It's a great opportunity to save some lives, and is generally followed by yummy food and fraternization! The church is located on the corner of Green and Mathews. View the Facebook even page here. If you can donate, please register a time slot that works for you! If you can't give, volunteers are also greatly appreciated.

Darwin Day -- February 11th
Darwin Day is fast-approaching, and we'll be on the quad celebrating! You know what that means -- CAKE! Darwin Cake. Yum.

Ask an Atheist -- February 16th
Yet another fun day on the quad! We'll have a snazzy little booth set up (from noon to 4pm) to answer folks' questions about atheism, all-the-while raising money for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank!

BAR CRAWL -- the week of February 21st
The exact date is TBA, but it's going to be a helluva night! We'll be representin' in our snazzy new ISSA shirts, so you better get yours while supplies last!

Greta Christina -- March 10th
We're thrilled to welcome atheist blogger, sexpert and LGBT advocate Greta Christina to the U of I campus!

Open call for blog entries -- ONGOING
Got something [secular] on your mind? BLOG ABOUT IT! Articles from members are always welcome -- contact Mat Rayman, Franklin Kramer or Becca Tippens for further details!

...And much more to come!
Keep up with our emails! This promises to be an eventful semester, and we want you on board!
<3 <3 <3
Your ISSA Officers

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