Monday, October 25, 2010

Logic and the religious

In the current "Scientific American" magazine there is column by the skeptic Michael Shermer praising Christopher Hitchens's "rapier logic." Shermer said he would "pit Hitchens against any of the purveyors of pseudoscience claptrap because of his unique and enviable skill at peeling back the layers of an argument and cutting to its core."

As an example, Shermer zeros in on Hitchens' observation of a television nature show which showed cave-living salamanders who had lost vision, a trait which no longer had any advantage in the darkness of the cave. Yet small indentations in their faces showed where their eyes once had been. Hitchens wrote that Creationists have long used the example of eyes as a major argument against evolution, yet what to say about eyes that disappeared - is this an imperfect God correcting himself?

I find this use of rhetoric rather beside the point when it comes to discussing religion. To be sure, it attacks those religious folk who feel the need to argue such things, but it ignores those whose who couldn't care less. In cases like this, I often think close to home - my mother, to whom faith was completely integral to her happiness. To lose faith would be to lose the meaning of her life. Arguments against faith had no influence on her. She didn't - wouldn't - hear them. Talk about irrelevant!

I think it one thing to argue about the place of religion in politics, but quite another to talk about religion in voters. "Rapier logic" isn't going to change votes. It is more likely to turn them away.

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