This Monday’s Times and Seasons post went live a little late, but it’s live now. The title is The Assurance of Love, and if you want to see how a Mormon who talks about the dangers of epistemic humility works out a particularly tough pro-certainty talk (in this case, President Hinckley’s October 1981 General Conference address: Faith: The Essence of True Religion), well then here you go.
I didn’t really explain the image I picked in the post. It didn’t fit. But I’ll provide the explanation here. It’s a painting of Thomas doing his doubting thing (The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Hendrick ter Brugghen), and I went with it because President Hinckley’s talk made me self-conscious about not having enough faith. Of course, I’d like to have enough faith. But maybe I don’t, and maybe that’s my fault. And, if so, then Thomas is my hope. He caught a talking-to, but He was still allowed in the presence of His Savior.
One of the rallying cries of the New Atheists was that–as 9/11 shows–religion isn’t just harmlessly irrational. It’s dangerous.
The logic seemed clear: the more devoutly you believe in God the more likely you are to go and do something violent, stupid, or both in the name of God’s will. The logic was wrong. As the New Statesman reports:
Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? … Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric – think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war” – but religious fervour isn’t what motivates most of them.
This isn’t just speculation or–worse still–some kind of PC effort to protect the reputation of Islam from its own adherents. As it turns out, this conclusion is the same one that was reached by the behavior scientists at MI5:
In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”
But that’s not even the most interesting finding. This is: The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”
In other words: if young, budding terrorists were more religious, they’d be less likely to be terrorists. Terrorism is primarily a socio-political response to insecurity, insecurity that a deep and abiding faith would help to alleviate.
I have a new post up at Times And Seasons this morning, continuing the series of posts that has, intentionally or not, sort of become my Internet testimony. Not sure that’s how it comes across to others, but it’s pretty much how I see it. The post also features a quote from my favorite Dresden Files book. Some might take a quote from popular urban fantasy to be an indication that I’m not taking my subject matter seriously. They would actually be underestimating how seriously I take my urban fantasy. I say this partly in jest, partly because of how much I genuinely love the Dresden Files, and partly because I just really like the idea of finding serious lessons about serious topics in unexpected, mundane places.
I got up early this morning and the kids cooperated by sleeping until nearly eight. As a result, I was able to finish up a post for Times And Seasons: What It Would Take to Not Believe. It’s a followup to the piece that I wrote two weeks ago called As Much As I Know Anything. In particular, I wanted to respond to a question from one of the commenters: “What would it take to convince you that (in as much as you know anything) propositions such as God exists or the BoM is historical are false? Or do you consider such propositions unfalsifiable?” That’s the question that I answered today, with a little help from Paul Samuelson and Karl Popper.
Today’s post for Times And Seasons is basically just my testimony. I’ve had lots of people ask me why I believe over the years, and usually I’ve been incapable of giving a simple, concise answer. When I got asked the question again the week before last, however, I finally had an answer. Along with it, I had an understanding of why I’d been unable to express my faith more easily in the past. Read the post at Times And Seasons for the rest. It’s called As Much As I Know Anything.
Just over a week ago reports with headlines like Big Bang’s Smoking Gun started to appear all across the Internet. Just yesterday the New York Times weighed in on the significance of the discovery, ranking it alongside the Higgs-Boson:
These gravitational waves are the long-sought markers for a theory called inflation, the force that put the bang in the Big Bang: an antigravitational swelling that began a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the cosmic clock started ticking. Scientists have long incorporated inflation into their standard model of the cosmos, but as with the existence of the Higgs, proving it had long been just a pipe dream.
There are already skeptics, but I want to focus on an odd, impromptu interview with Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde and what it says about the relationship between science and faith. Linde is one of the physicists who first proposed the theory of inflation decades ago, and in the video Professor Chao-Lin Kuo surprises him at his home with initial results confirming that Linde has been right all along. Something Linde said really struck me:
If this is true, this is a moment of understanding of nature of such a magnitude that it just overwhelms and… let’s see. Let’s just hope that it is not a trick. I always live with this feeling “What if I am tricked? What if I believe into this just because it is beautiful? What if…?” Yes, so this is really helpful, to have evidence like that. It’s really, really helpful.
Professor Linde’s question really struck me the first time I heard it. “What if I believe it just because it’s beautiful?” What that expresses to me is a much more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of human belief and faith than we are usually allowed to glimpse when the guardians of right and proper rationalism are busy trying to drive their wedges between religious faith and scientific evidence. Just so we’re clear: I’m not equivocating the two, nor am I in any way suggesting that this new discovery itself validates theism.
What I’m doing is just pointing out that belief is about more than just rationality and objective evidence. It’s about intuition and symmetry and beauty and value. I think it would be a terrible misrepresentation of Linde’s faith in his unverified theories to call it “wishful thinking,” or “blind belief,” although there are aspects of both wishing and blindness in it. Similarly, ugly dismissals of religious conviction using the same labels strike me as a fundamentally impoverished view of what it means to be a human being in a world of mystery and contradiction where questions always outnumber answers on any truly meaningful issue.
From where I’m standing, the kind of tentative, pioneering scientific faith that precedes (but dos not obviate) experimental validation is a close cousin of the kinds of thoughtful, humble religious conviction that have animated so many believers in so many traditions for thousands of years. Obviously we should never merely accept this kind of faith where there is the prospect of evidence at hand. But isn’t it just as clear that this kind of faith is intrinsically noble and important? Clearly there are important differences between religious and science inquiry, but this is one commonality: faith is the beginning and not the end of inquiry.