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Religion of Friday, 30 May 2014

Source: Graham Knight

Evidence, not belief or faith

Believers tend to regurgitate a series of logical fallacies to justify their beliefs - circular arguments and appeals to authority.

Husseini BabalWaiz, despite being an Islamic “scholar”, relies on the same formula. In his supposed “strong rebuttal” (http://www.ghanawebt.com/GhanaHomePage/religion/artikel.php?ID=310891) he promised to my article “Scientists Are The Real Prophets”, he failed to address the central point I raised.

Instead, he did exactly what I claim in my article - reinterpreting passages in the Qur'an in the light of science, even twisting science to make them fit. Ask yourselves – did we gain this scientific knowledge from the Qur'an or from science? In doing so he has not refuted my original article but confirmed it!

Reliance on logical fallacies

He uses the similar techniques of most believers – making unfounded assertions (as if saying something makes it true), quoting from his holy book and claiming it's true because the book says it's true, and relying on authority by naming a handful of people who happen to be professors, doctors or scientists who converted to his religion (ignoring those who are leaving it) as evidence his belief system must be true. He conveniently ignores the fact that the 93% of the National Academy of Sciences do not believe in a god. Even if we take the 1999 survey reported in Scientific American of 60% non-belief amongst scientists, the statistics are clearly not on BabalWaiz's side!

Of course, whether scientists, doctors, professors, academics, or just regular people like you and I believe or disbelieve has no bearing on whether these beliefs are real or not. I'm simply pointing out the dishonesty involved in naming a few converts as if that proves Islam, or any religion, is really true.

What is does indicate is that belief relies on authority, and expects us to as well, in order to ascertain what is real. This is not a reliable method as for every authority presented to support belief, others can be found to refute it.

Just because something is in a book is not evidence. Of course ALL religious books contain elements of inspiration and good values, but these can be found in other books too, such as in philosophy and literature. The difference is these books do not claim you must merely accept their claims as absolute morality or absolute truth.

What is evidence?

Evidence can obviously be weak or strong but in science we expect it to be accumulated through observation (don't mistake this as being simply with the naked eye!), controlled experiments, or testability. If a claim is extraordinary and goes against all currently known observations, then stronger evidence needs to be presented. We look at the weight of evidence. Asserting something is true does not make it true. The believer needs to explain why we use reason in every aspect of our lives but when it comes to the ultimate questions we have to discard this and use faith.

Can faith really be a reliable way at arriving at knowledge?

The fact each religion contradicts the others and the fact people within religious traditions can't even agree, we can assume that faith is not a reliable way to arrive at knowledge.

To give an example. Christians believe Jesus was God and resurrected, Muslims disagree and say Mohammed was the last prophet, but then the Latter Day Saints and the Baha'i faith both claim to have successions of prophets that lead their religions. Not all can be true but all could be false. How can we tell? Through faith? Yet faith has arrived at these contradictory assertions. Faith is a way of coming to knowledge that is unreliable. To invoke faith means the end of rational dialogue.

Ignorance is not evidence

“Aha”, say some religious people, “science does not have all the answers!” And this is true. But not only does it not claim to, it does not pretend to know things, and, unlike religions, is the best possible method we having at arriving at answers. The fact there are things we do not know is not evidence for a god. Ignorance is not evidence!

Science and Belief are Incompatible

Contrary to what some believers claim, the Qur'an, and indeed the Bible, contain many scientific inaccuracies (which can be learnt about through a simple Google search). The information in these books reflects the state of knowledge in the Bronze and Iron Ages when they were written.

Believers try to reinterpret these inaccuracies in the light of our current scientific knowledge and many still refute established scientific facts because they conflict with their books.

It is indeed possible for someone to be rational, educated, a professor or scientist and hold religious beliefs. This does not mean religious belief is “true” or even that there is evidence supporting these beliefs. It simply shows our human ability to hold contradictory views in our minds. When scientists do science they follow the 'rules' of the scientific method – they don't use faith.

So please, let's stop quoting books, whether it's the bible or the Qur'an to prove our beliefs are real. Let's use reason when considering belief, as we do in almost all other aspects of our lives. Let's understand what logical fallacies are so we don't fall prey to them, and learn to identify them when used by others. But most importantly, let's not rely on belief or faith, but weigh up the evidence, look at where it leads and form our conclusions based on that.

A confession

I was so sure of the approach Husseini BabalWaiz was going to employ that I wrote this reply before he even published his article!

Ultimately this is not about him. This is a dialogue that presents conflicting approaches to knowledge that I hope will benefit us all.

Graham Knight grahamk61@gmail.com

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