Questionable Motives

December 8, 2009

The religious gambit: why should faith alone require an exemption from critical inquiry?

Greta Christina has a terrific article over at AlterNet asking religious believers to show her the evidence and telling us about the responses she receives.

In the marketplace of ideas, only religion gets a free ride in an armored tank.

What evidence do religious believers have for their beliefs?

And when they’re asked what evidence they have, how do believers respond?

In my conversations with religious believers, I’ll often ask, “Why do you think God or the supernatural exists? What makes you think this is true? What evidence do you have for this belief?” Partly I’m just curious; I want to know why people believe what they do. Plus, I think it’s a valid question: it’s certainly one I’d ask about any other claim or opinion. And if I’m wrong about my atheism — if there’s good evidence for religion that I haven’t seen yet — I want to know. I’m game. Show me the money.

But when I ask these questions, I almost never get a straight answer.

What I typically get is a startling assortment of conversational gambits deflecting the question.

I get excuses for why believers shouldn’t have to provide evidence. Vague references to other people who supposedly have evidence, without actually pointing to said evidence. Irrelevant tirades about mean atheists. Venomous anger at how disrespectful and intolerant I am to even ask the question.

Today, I want to chronicle some of these conversational gambits and point out their logical flaws. I want to point out the fiendishly clever ways that they armor religion against the expectation — a completely reasonable expectation, an expectation we have about every other kind of claim — that it back itself up with evidence.

And I want to talk about why believers resort to them.

Find out what these gambits are here. Enjoy.

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