Thursday, May 19, 2011

Logic and Atheism

Anthony Layne has a post about a common logic error atheists make. He starts with this quote:
The problem basically is, you and all the other believers in all the diverse religions in the world will shut your ears to the logic that says for a start, two religions cannot be correct because they contradict each other. For example, the gods of Islam and Catholicism are not the same god, no matter how you try and make it so. So we see convinced passionate faith from both and yet a Hindu knows with equal certainty both are wrong.
He does a nice job of showing how that logic fails. But people are convinced by it none the less. Why is that? It is not because they can't think logically. At least that isn't the typical reason people accept bad logic. I think the common reason is the unspoken assumption. There is an extra premise in the argument who's truth is so deeply ingrained it is never stated let alone questioned. What is the premise here? That no one religion is likely to be more right than the others or at least no one religion can be known to be more right than the others. This is something every religious person would reject. Religious people are not vaguely religious. They belong to a specific religion. They believe that this specific religion is the truth or very close to the truth. If they didn't they would not be a part of it. I believed that when I was reformed. I believe it now as a Catholic.

So why do people accept this premise? The idea that because everyone claims to know the truth that nobody does? I think the root of it is in protestantism. When I first looked seriously at Catholicism one of my first aversions was to the very idea of a pope. The notion that one man or one office could somehow have a better connection with God than anyone else seemed just silly to me. Where did I get that reaction? Protestant tradition. It is one of the bedrock assumptions of protestantism that no office like the pope can exist. What bible verse is it based on? There isn't one. We just knew the papacy is nonsense.

But how far is that assumption from the assumption that no religion can be right when everyone else is wrong? It is almost the same idea. If there can be no pope there can be no Jesus. If there is no vicar of Christ then how can there be a Christ? Christ just means "anointed one". If Pope Benedict cannot be anointed to teach the true faith in a way nobody else is then how can Jesus be anointed to teach the true faith in a way Mohammad is not?

So if protestantism is granted it's premise that the papacy cannot be taken seriously because God simply does not work that way then the atheists logic suddenly looks a lot better. The notion that one religion is true among the many does not make sense because it boils down to a pope. You can find smaller and smaller subgroups that have the best truth and it comes down to one individual or group that is at the center of the truth. If that is ruled out then the argument can be shown to be valid.

But what if you explicitly stated that as a premise?
  • There are many contradictory ideas about religion.
  • There is no infallible individual or group
  • Therefore no religion can be correct
If a protestant could see that his anti-papal premise logically leads to the conclusion that all religion is false then he might re-examine it. I mean how many pope-like figures do we have in the bible? Moses, Abraham, David, the kings, the prophets, etc. How many religions have grown up without a pope-like figure? Calvin. Luther, Wesley, Joseph Smith, how pope-like were they?

Once you examine the role of such leaders you come to realize the power of the argument. It is not a matter of whether you have a pope but who it is. It could be yourself or your pastor. But why could it not be the bishop of Rome? Why is it so hard to believe that in such a mass of religious opinion God will give you a light and He will do it precisely that way?

1 comment:

  1. Hey, nice build on the original argument! BTW, I'm not sure how the "link to this post" functions, either.