Stupidity on Stilts

One of a continuing series


Bear with me. I had to read this through a couple of times to make sure it’s saying what I think it says. It apparently does:

But just as faith is indispensable to science, so is reason essential to religion. Many find themselves relating to God in a way analogous to the scientists searching for gravitational waves. These seekers of religious truth are persuaded by preliminary evidence and compelled by the testimony of those who have previously studied the matter; they are striving for a personal encounter with the realities so often talked about, yet so mysterious.

In such a context, it isn’t blind belief that fuels the search, any more than scientists blindly pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory. Rather, it’s a belief informed by credible reasons, nurtured by patient trust, open to revision. When I profess my belief in God, for example, I rely upon not only the help of the Holy Spirit. I also rely upon the Einsteins of theology, thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, whose use of reason to express and synthesize theological truths remains one of the great achievements in Western civilization. Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is a LIGO for the Christian faith.

That’s Matt Emerson, author of Why Faith?: A Journey of Discovery , due out in paperback 3 May:

I am an educator and lawyer with a strong background in philosophy and Catholic Christian theology. My work has appeared in a number of publications, including America, Commonweal,, The Washington Post, First Things, and my local newspaper, The Desert Sun. Until recently, I blogged regularly for America magazine at “The Ignatian Educator.” You can read my farewell post here and access archives here.

When Emerson talks about the faith of scientists, my first thought is, “Yes. It’s the faith that the sun will rise in the east.” But Emerson has already covered that:

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies has noted that the work of science depends upon beliefs—that the hidden architecture of the universe, all the constants and laws of nature that sustain the scientific enterprise, will hold. As he wrote in his book “The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”: “Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.”

There is more to be said of Davies. He’s an interesting study, and I will save that for a future post. This is about Emerson.

Let’s start here. Take this clip from the previous quote. I’m giving it special consideration. It needs to be emphasized, it is so startling: “These seekers of religious truth…

Yes, those are the words. “Seekers of religious truth.” What can be made of that? What should be made of that? How about an attempt to interpret “religious truth.” I need to scramble for examples. Here are some:

Animals can talk:

Genesis 3:1 King James Version (KJV)

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which theLord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

Animals can talk:

Numbers 22:28 King James Version (KJV)

28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? 

People talk back to animals:

Numbers 22:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

God is omnipotent. He created the universe in six days:

Genesis 1:1 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

God is incompetent:

Judges 1:19 King James Version (KJV)

19 And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

No problem with slavery:

Exodus 21:7 King James Version (KJV)

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

People can die and then come back to life:

Luke 24:36-40 King James Version (KJV)

36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.

40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.

Faith healing:

James 5:15 King James Version (KJV)

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

There are more.

We may wonder if these are the “religious truths” so eagerly sought after. Besides the ones just mentioned there is also the matter of night and day being created when there was no planet Earth, whose shadow is what gives definition to night and day. There is also the fallacy of a world-wide flood that destroyed all animal life (land animals), requiring reseeding of present-day species from survivors kept on a man-made boat.

At this point Emerson may assert these are not the kinds of truth he is referring to, rather he means spiritual truths. If that is the case, a whole lot of idiocy has to be disposed of before these spiritual truths can emerge. Of course, the foregoing presupposes the religion in question is Christianity, derived from Judaism. In the case of other religions, another set of fallacy needs to be disposed of.

Moving forward, Emerson speaks of “a belief informed by credible reasons.” Yes, that requires some parsing, as well. Bear down on the phrase “credible reasons.” What kind of objects might “credible reasons” be? What counts for “credible?” Certainly not prayer as it relates to healing:

Somehow, in some places, and with some people the word did not get through. Human illness is attributable to natural causes only. A remedy, if there is one, can come only from natural processes. To act in another manner is to invite tragedy, even death:

That story, which I touched on recently, tells of a couple being sent to jail by a court in Philadelphia because they allowed two of their children in succession to die rather than seek medical treatment. In 2009 they allowed their two-year-old child to die from pneumonia, relying on prayer for healing. For this the parents received ten years probation. During their period of probation they had another child and allowed this one, as well, to die of pneumonia, again relying on prayer.

Somewhere along the way “belief informed by credible reasons” has gone badly astray. Is this the kind of thing that Emerson wants to compare to the work done by scientists?

The cold facts are that religion is based on fantasy, has practically no basis in fact, and certainly holds no claim on moral authority. The first two of these have already been addressed. Regarding absence of moral authority, I need to restate points I have made in the past. In the example of the origins of Judeo-Christian morality:

  • What moral teachings that exist in the Bible did not originate with the Bible. Most are commonsense social norms that predate the Bible. Particularly, many of the Bible’s entreaties to morality were copied from earlier works.
  • What moral authority that can be gleaned from the Bible has to be obtained by sifting through a modern sieve. Accommodation for slavery has to be discarded, as well as provision for brutal punishment for minor social indiscretions.
  • Religion’s claim to moral authority is daily eroded by any apparent, derived benefit. Religious people seem equally as likely to engage in immoral acts (lying, cheating, theft, murder) as those without benefit of religion. It only needs to be pointed out that members of all Mafia families were at one time baptized in the church.

Emerson will possibly claim that it’s not just religious extremists wanting to marry science and religion. There are some with serious brain power who cotton to the idea. The Templeton Prize rewards these efforts. Not all commentary has been complimentary:

The prize has been criticized: British biologist Richard Dawkins said in his book The God Delusion that the prize was given “usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion”. Sean M. Carroll, a research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, criticized his colleagues for taking Templeton research grants when they did not support Templeton’s beliefs. Martinus J. G. Veltman, the 1999 Nobel laureate in physics, suggested the prize “bridg[ed] the gap between sense and nonsense”.

Physicist Charles Townes, who won the Nobel Prize for inventing the maser, spoke for the compatibility of science and religion. At the time, Prasad Golla and I made light of this position with a possibly funny cartoon in the newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics.

The silliness is not about to go away. More is coming. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

5 thoughts on “Stupidity on Stilts

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