The Inconvenience of Belief

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Increasingly religious beliefs are being classified as self-deception or a means to justify prejudice. Not too long ago, a couple who had chosen to wait until marriage would have been respected even by those who did not share the religious conviction. But if you had the opportunity to listen to some of the professors at NC State talk about it, you would quickly realize that they believe anyone who advocates for abstinence until marriage must be misinformed, ignorant, or oppressed. In the minds of modern skeptics, religious conviction lacks the necessary conditions from which belief is justifiably built.

From their perspective, adequate proof must exist prior to belief and beliefs must always exist in proportion to the evidence. Religious belief in their minds does not fit this criteria. Instead, religious belief requires no experimentation, changes from person to person, and is made up by the imaginations of people who are picking out what things they’d want to be true. It is like children who play house with none of the inconvenience of actually collecting an income, paying taxes, or mowing the lawn.

And so it is no wonder that skeptics who see religious belief in this way would look upon it with some, if not a great deal, of disdain. Of course, they are right that religious belief is a very different thing from what I most commonly hear called “scientific belief.” But they get two things wrong by categorizing belief in this way. Continue reading

A few thoughts on rigor, precision, and reason-based discussion

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We are sharing a guest post by Rob Blair.

Let me start by saying, very clearly, I am deeply concerned by Trump’s executive orders. The ones that are purely symbolic, readying-for-legislation stuff are worrisome. The ones that have present-tense impact are (with possibly one exception) devastating. These things are not okay. And I am all for following the advice of Captain Picard:

“We’ve made too many compromises already. Too many retreats. […] Not anymore. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further.”

But I also want to raise a concern I have with how we are talking about the current situation. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for my assertive tone. Continue reading

Don’t Fall Into Trump’s Trap By Calling Him A Racist

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Article co-written by husband and wife team: Brainy parts by Brian, witty parts by Dia

Trump has proven himself a pretty despicable human being, but when we blanket-charge him with racism we join with him in his insufficiently considered blather.

Trump is known for insults. To be fair, so was Winston Churchill, but the difference is between some of the greatest English zingers of recorded history and the sad equivalent of playground bully mouthing off. “Not nice,” “dopey,” “unfair,” “a joke,” “a real dummy,” “overrated,” and one of his favorites, “loser,” show up again and again on Trump’s Twitter feed. They’re his go-to favorites, blown off at the least sense of competition or loss of ego. Thinking people, whatever their party lines, dislike this unthinking, imprecise brazenness (Josh talks about what people do like about this kind of talk here). But in our dislike for Trump (or any politician) do we sometimes also speak with (fatal) imprecision? 

We have got a thing against racism in this country. “Racist” is almost the most serious charge there is, in certain prominent circles at least. Until the election, I thought that making multiple comments that were perceived as racist or misogynistic was automatic political suicide. (For most politicians, I’m still confident that it would be. I suppose Trump avoided his political demise by appealing to a different audience than most politicians.)  Continue reading

Trump’s Mormon (Tabernacle Choir) Problem

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

It is no secret that Trump has a Mormon problem (see this NY Times article and this Washington Post article, for example). During the troubled campaign, the LDS Church released a statement implicitly responding to (and opposing) Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, and church-owned Deseret News published an editorial condemning Trump’s misogynistic behavior and rhetoric, calling him to withdraw from the race–something all the more notable because the newspaper had not taken sides politically for 80 years. And although Trump ultimately won Utah, Mormons (in Utah and elsewhere) opposed Trump’s presidency more than any other traditionally conservative religious group. Yesterday, it was announced that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be performing at Trump’s election. Continue reading

When did Privileged Become a Handicap?

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I don’t like how we talk about privilege. It’s like we’re asking people to apologize—please excuse my privilege. It is always evoked derogatorily as something that stands in the way of seeing clearly—something that blinds us from seeing another perspective accurately. Or it is the dynamic by which society is made inequitable. And when people acknowledge their privilege, it is seldom with adulation for the people who helped them succeed, but as a form of virtue posturing. They seem to hope that by acknowledging it, people will be able to see past it. Like it’s an ugly blemish on their otherwise upstanding character.   Continue reading

The Stupidity of Belief Against Evidence And The Essence of Faithfulness

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.  {my favourite Dante quote.}:

Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/129478558011794613/, “Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”

There is a facile enthusiasm about “believing” that is manifest every Christmas season and often enough in-between. Sentimental movies like “The Polar Express” and “The Miracle on 34th Street” chime in with their paeans to believing, and even works like “The Life of Pi” suggest that it is proper and even admirable to accept as true “the better story” even when it is the unlikeliest story imaginable.

At the front end, let me admit that there is a kernel of truth in these expressions. But there is also great danger is assuming that optimism can or should trump reason, and that belief in the truth of whatever appears good or lovely is itself necessarily good.

At least in questions where the relevant evidence is capable of being comprehensively considered, the proper formula is very simple: belief should be according to the evidence. Continue reading