Responses to “Why You’re Wrong”

A collection of the original response, plus the responses to the response. 

Published March 5, 2013

Photo by Hudson Lofchie

You can find responses to my other columns HERE

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You can find my original column HERE.

Here is the original response, published Feb 28, 2013, the day after my column was published.

As a Roman Catholic, I suppose I should be upset after reading Hudson Lofchie’s angry op-ed (“Why you’re wrong”) skewering the faithful as ignorant sheep obstructing scientific progress. Then again, Christians are so used to being straw-manned into looking like backwards, ignorant buffoons by self-righteous “pro-science” zealots that the criticisms and insults no longer have the same edge. Hudson’s condescending arguments are not new. Many of them we’ve been hearing since middle school, used to berate those who quietly practice their own faith in an attempt to convert them to the assailant’s more “open-minded” non-faith.

Besides from the dismissive tone of his writing, Hudson’s article is rife with logical fallacies (strawmen, over-generalizations, “no true atheist”) and convenient factual omissions. Gregory Mendel, a Catholic monk, is credited as the founder of the science of genetics which is critical to the study of evolution. A Catholic priest first discovered the Big Bang and was subsequently ridiculed by secular scientists. Catholics and many other religious groups embrace evolution as perfectly reconcilable with their religious beliefs. These are things anyone could learn from a quick Google search or even just talking with one of their religious friends. But judging from his obviously vitriolic opinion of anyone that doesn’t share the same worldview as him, I would be surprised if Hudson had many around to discuss this with.

When I finished reading his article, I noticed Hudson’s email was science@theaggie.org. There isn’t anything wrong with this. Science is absolutely wonderful. But I would like to elucidate a nuance about religion (or at least my own faith) that Hudson and others seem to chronically miss, highlighted by the email he uses. There is an encyclical written by the late Pope John Paul II called “On Faith and Reason.” In it, the Pope emphasizes the perfect relationship between the two forces, each exploring a different realm of the human experience and emphasizing their dependence on one another. Science is not monopolized by atheists, or scientists, or Catholics, or any other group. Reason is the very foundation of faith, without which faith withers into myth and superstition. Science and religion are not at odds, and Hudson’s challenge for religion to somehow “do better than scientists” is just foolish. The countless religious scientists throughout history would like to have a word with you.

There are many more colorful words I could have chosen to express my distaste for Hudson’s article. Do I think he would have made such a vile sexual joke if he weren’t mocking Catholics, but some other group on campus? No, I don’t. I don’t know the source of Mr. Lofchie’s spite against the religious, but sadly it’s becoming more and more common to experience. So I guess while Hudson and others continue to nail the religious to a tree for imaginary crimes and the sins of others, there’s one last lesson I can learn from an outdated and illogical book of fairy tales. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

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Now, I’ll admit, the author, lets call him Jimmy, made solid points here; maybe I shouldn’t have called out the Pope on pulling out early. After all, Christians are historically such a subjugated group, right? I can just imagine how hard it is to comprehend the idea that someone could possibly believe something different than they do. BLASPHEMY.

But, like I said, this response made some good points. He called me out on my “logical fallacies” and “convenient factual omissions” like Mendel being Christian. And you know what? Hes absolutely right — Mendel was a catholic. Jimmy is also correct about the discoverer of the Big Bang being catholic. And this is a point that many individuals seem to miss. Back when these religious scientists were making their discoveries, nearly everyone in the “civilized” world was religious. These men and women could be called religious the same way that a bird born in a barn could be called a horse.

In fact, it was their discoveries in the first place that made them challenge their own beliefs. It says right in the biography of George Lemaitre (the Big Bang dude):

“In 1951, when Pope Pius XII tried to use his theory as a justification for Creationism, Lemaitre resented. In fact, he convinced the Pope to stop making proclamations about cosmology. While a devoted Roman Catholic, he was against mixing science with religion.”

And as far as his big bang theory is concerned, he is even quoted as saying “As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question.”

I was honestly ready to take Jimmy’s response in stride, and let it go…until I reached the half-way mark. Making an ad-hominem argument against my EMAIL ADDRESS? Come on Jimmy…you can do better. I write for the Science and Technology page, so my email address, science [at] theaggie [.org], is completely reasonable. Maybe you would feel better if we changed the email address to “science-but-also-tolerant-of-faith@theaggie.org.

My favorite part is the bible quote. It’s like an open invitation to respond in kind. Some people are against using the bible to prove the bible wrong, saying that many of the ideas within are outdated do not apply anymore. Well, that may be true, but if you are going to quote a book to try to prove your point to me, don’t be surprised when I quote that book right back to you. Ive already expressed my distaste of biblical material. I wrote about it HERE and HERE.

Thats all I want to say on the subject.

Below are some of the responses to Jimmy’s response.

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Hello Jimmy

You poor Catholics, always being victimized and straw-manned. It’s so horrible that you guys are such victims.

Not really.

What you might want to first straighten out is what “logical fallacy” means. It sounds so rhetorically nice to put that in your argument. Sadly, that was just the start to the mistakes and low level of argument that you provided.

A straw-man is an informal fallacy. That isn’t a logical fallacy. Though I’m sure it feels like you’re winning an argument when you use words like that. They sound so powerful. Over-generalizing (or “generalizing to the particular” as it’s called by people who actually do logic)IS a logical fallacy, so you got one out of three right (good job!). That’s terrible. That’s a low F.

But, I mean, besides empty rhetoric and mistaken use of arguments, your substantive claims really take the cake for failures. So, let’s look.

The fact that religious people have done science does not make religion not hostile to science. That doesn’t show that, as you’ve claimed. It merely shows that people can do both. Why is that important? Because it is the crux of your claim. If it can be shown to be false, then your claim can be shown to be false. Furthermore, we CAN go further to prove that not only is religion hostile to science, but that it is NECESSARILY hostile to science.

What religion is, insofar as Lofchie presented it, is faith based reason. People can have that while simultaneously practicing a form of mental acrobatics which allows them to practice empirical research.

But Lofchie’s WHOLE CLAIM was that faith based reason frequently does cause people to ignore empirical evidence. Is this false? Absolutely not, especially in his primary case, evolution. He never actually said every religious person does this, which would be the “over-generalization” that I think you spoke of. The claim is that there is a general tendency of religion (aka faith based views of what the facts are) to opt against empirical data. Is this anti-science? Yes.

But Mendel! Yes, Mendel, alright. What does Mendel show? I think there is an important point here, one that you’re missing. The bible never talked about genetics, so Mendel did not have faith about that. But he, and anyone who does believe the bible, CAN NOT base their views about the origin of life or the universe on empirical data. So, yes, WITHIN BOUNDS religion is tolerant of science.

Science demands unbounded empirically based reason. Religion demands bounds on empirically based reason. Therefore, religion demands anti-science. (Those last three sentences are in a deductive argument form called “modus ponens”…. ya know, so you can learn about formal logic a lil’)

The major point is that faith based belief IS hostile to science insofar as science might want to empirically verify any of the claims which the faithful adhere to. Once again, the relevant sense of religion is “faith based belief.” You could make a religion without that, but it ISN’T the thing Lofchie, anyone, or I talk about or are concerned with. Religion, in this sense, including Catholicism, is NECESSARILY anti-science because it demands faith rather than reason in at least one area (furthermore, it demands it in MANY areas). That is all that is required for Lofchie’s claim, a claim that I clearly agree with.

Faith is anti-science. It is anti-reason. It is completely reasonable, contrary to your suggestion, to challenge the religious to show the fruits of their faith. Their fruits (countless deaths over centuries, the upholding of tyrannical ideology, Mother Mary appearing as a stain on a sewer wall in Brooklyn, etc) are so vastly outweighed by the fruits of unbinding the limits of empirical observation, which religion IS opposed to NECESSARILY, that we have empirical proof, ironically, that religion is a hindrance to progress.

Religion deserves condescension.

And if god’s real, how come god’s not real? (this is a fun case of a formally valid argument which is informally invalid. Isn’t formal logic fun? You can do it, I know it!)

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 And another

Religious belief is not necessarily the stuff of fools. In fact many religious people over the course of history have been very intelligent and influential thinkers. What the issue of faith vs. reason comes down to, ultimately, though, is a question of epistemology (the study of knowledge): how do we know things? by what means are we aware of reality? how does our consciousness (that faculty which gives us awareness of reality) operate?

What is reason? Reason is the faculty of awareness that human beings have qua rational animals–i.e. that ability to think abstractly, use conceptual language, use inductive/deductive logic, etc. Fundamentally, how does this faculty operate? It operates by organizing the perceptual data (i.e. everything we see, hear, feel, etc.) in the world into concepts that we can then use to grasp the nature of these entities and relate them to each other. Knowledge is the awareness of the facts of reality, which on the conceptual level occurs for humans alone. We are conscious of reality, and nothing else–(or we are unconscious).

Faith involves an attempt to disconnect the foundation of knowledge (that perceptual data that fundamentally links us to the world) with knowledge itself–with the conclusions, concepts, and arguments upon which they must be based.

Since this cannot be done, faith is ultimately based on emotions, appeal to authority, or other methods, i.e. “this is true because I feel this way,” or “this is true because I like him and he says this,” etc. However, these are not means to knowledge, and this can be easily demonstrated by reflecting upon the fact that our consciousness has no control over external reality–our wishes do not make things true, we cannot makes things true by saying they are true.

Of course if all you mean to say by “faith and reason are compatible,” that we can use both methods, that is true. The key point is that when Gregory Mendel was doing science, he was not relying upon faith, and when you are studying economics, you are (presumably) not relying upon faith. (There’s also a funny question about how you decide that Muslims or Hindus are wrong, since they are also basing their views on faith–what would it meant to use a “correct” method of faith vs. an incorrect one?)

Pope John Paul II was making a much stronger claim, though. He was claiming that faith and reason are epistemologically compatible, which I have just shown to be false. If you want to use faith when you are at Church and reason when you are at college, how did you decide that? Using reason or faith? If you would delegate some of your most important beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality (God, heaven) and morality (Judeo-Christian ethics) to faith, why not everything else? Would you have faith in my claim that everything you learned about economics is false? But then why do you have faith in the claims in the Bible or made by the Pope? (By the way, how did you arrive at the conclusion that Catholicism is the true religion as against the others?)

There’s a good OP-ed on this very topic by the way that I recommend if you are interested, though it’s polemical in nature.

http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5334

By the way, I haven’t read Hudson’s article myself, so I won’t comment on the merits or lack thereof of your criticism of his column–I just wanted to point out that you are clearly wrong if you think faith and reason are compatible qua methods of knowledge.

I can’t speak for Hudson, but I for one don’t particularly care about “converting you to non-faith” (though I wouldn’t really count that as an instance of conversion–atheism is not a religion). You are entitled to your opinion. I just want you to realize what you are committed to if you are committed to faith being a means of knowledge, and what you are fundamentally committed to opposing on pain of inconsistency.

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One thought on “Responses to “Why You’re Wrong”

  1. Pingback: Responding to Responses | digitalsnackz

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