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Introduction: How to reason
Section 3: Start with the question
Start with the question: "what does the evidence tell us about the possible existence of God?" - not with the answer: "God exists; now let's look for the evidence that proves it."
A corny scenario from pulp fiction and B movies...
Two detectives are investigating the murder of a young man in his room. One is sure that he knows who the murderer is
- the victim's rival in love. He knows that they have argued before. Besides, the rival's fingerprints are everywhere
and he was seen running away from the scene of the crime.
The other detective isn't so sure. There's other evidence that doesn't fit that scenario. How did the murderer gain entry?
Where's the murder weapon? What does the girlfriend say?
The first detective is more senior. He arrests the rival, who's put on trial, refuses to testify and is found guilty.
The second detective is unhappy with the verdict.
He revisits the scene, takes into account other evidence and puts together the true sequence of facts. The victim was a
drug user who was killed by a dealer. The rival discovered the body, thought that the girlfriend was the murderer and was covering up for
The point we make here is example is similar to the point made in Section 6 (Don't jump to conclusions...). That's not surprising.
We are looking at the same problem - how to think clearly - from different perspectives.
Reasoning isn't complicated but many people aren't used to it. We train our muscles by exercising them repeatedly;
to develop our mental faculties we need to do the same.
Note the basic difference between the detectives. One starts with the answer - the rival did it - and focuses on the evidence that supports his
thesis. The other starts with the question - who did it? - and examines all the evidence to see what conclusion it leads to.
The first detective is rationalizing. The second one is reasoning. We humans are
good at rationalizing - first we come to a conclusion, then we try to justify it; we're
not so hot on reasoning - keeping an open mind until we've
considered all the evidence.
A simple way to remember the difference between the two is:
How good is your reasoning?
Can you distinguish lies from truth? Or a good
argument from a false one? Can you when tell someone is trying to pull
the wool over your eyes?
We keep physically fit by exercising regularly and eating healthy
food. The same is true of our minds - we need regular mental exercise and a good diet of
solid facts and logic.
This chapter offers basic reasoning skills to help you understand the contradictions
that lie at the heart of all religion.
Does God exist? Before we try to answer that question we
need to have a clear idea of who or what God is. How do we
describe God? What versions of God are on offer?
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Reasoning starts with a question and
an open mind: what evidence do we have and what conclusion does it point to?
Rationalization starts with an answer and a closed mind: this is the
situation and now we need the evidence to prove it.
The God Question is particularly susceptible to
rationalization. We want to believe in God
so we do believe in God. And once we believe in God it's
easy to come up with reasons for his existence.
It's much more difficult to be open-minded. Whether or not we want to believe in God we can't do so without
evidence for his existence.
At first sight some facts appear to point towards God. Believers point to them and say they prove God exists. But we are the
second detective. We are slower and more patient. We can see that there are many other facts that need to be taken into consideration. We need time to gather evidence and work it all out. We're a long way from any conclusion.
In other words,
start with the question:"what does the evidence tell us about the possible existence of God?" - not the answer:
"God exists; now let's look for the evidence that proves it".
"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."
Thomas Jefferson Third US President and principal author of that country's
Declaration of Independence, in a letter to his nephew (date uncertain).
Like many, if not most, of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was more Deist than
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If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
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